Things to do in Manchester: bustling city, green open spaces and fascinating museums

Whether you're a resident or visitor to this part of the world, if you find yourself in the city with time to spare, Local editor Rachael's here to point you in the direction of all the best places to go. 



Manchester is a thriving, bustling city with diverse communities. It has a large student population housing three universities, the shopping is brilliant, and we are fortunate to have a wide choice of museums, art galleries and theatres. Never a weekend goes by without a choice of places to go or events taking place.

Right, we're ready for a full-on day. Seems like a good idea to stop for coffee before we take on the city - where's the best place to go with kids?

Bean & Brush Art Cafe in Sale is open seven days a week for coffee, cake, soups, stews and much more. They source their ingredients from local producers and they have an art mezzanine for both children and adults - you can't help but be inspired.

Alternatively you could try Trove Cafe. It's an independent coffee shop and bakery, also the home to one of our Mumsnet meet-ups, a small but welcoming space with great coffee.

longfordparkOkay, we've had our caffeine fix, now where can we get some fresh air?   

Longford Park, situated in Stretford on the borders of Chorlton, has a pet corner, play area (not fenced) and a cafe for ice creams in the summer and hot chocolates in the winter. It is looked after by the community and volunteers.

"Up early with my little one, beautiful day so went to Dunham Massey.. No place like it!"





heaton park

If we have a whole day to fill, where should we go?

Heaton Park is the largest park in Manchester, and you can easily spend the whole day here whatever the weather.

There is the draw of the animal centre and the play area which has captured the needs of older and younger children alike. Space is in abundance for a picnic or a walk away from it all. Great children's events always run during the holidays too.


And for something a bit off the beaten track? 


For children, The Bridgewater Hall is a hidden gem. Manchester is lucky enough to have this space for music lovers who wish to experience something truly special with their children.  It cleverly teaches children about the sounds of music through its treasure trail. It is also famous for its Christmas family carol concert and this year will host The Snowman with The Halle Orchestra.


central libIf we want to experience another side of Manchester, what's a great community venue to visit?

Beautifully refurbished and newly opened, Manchester's Central Library is one of the city's most historic landmarks. For adults it breathes knowledge and learning and it has been clever enough to include a themed children's area 'The Secret Garden' where you quite literally can spend hours curled up with your children and books.


What free visitor attractions does Manchester have on offer? 

The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) focuses on the achievements that made Manchester a world leader in science and industry. It's a real hit with the children, as there are many interactive exhibitions. It is also home to Manchester's annual science festival, which has become a must in many children's calendars. 

mosiAnother place to visit is the architecturally brilliant Imperial War Museum North, which sits across the water from the new media city home to the BBC and the Blue Peter Garden and its new neighbour Coronation Street.

Here you can discover how war has shaped lives and the learning studio has a whole host of free activities for the children and even a soft play area for younger visitors.


And if we want to get a treat before we go home, where are the best shops?

trafford center

The Trafford Centre, five miles west of the city, has over 250 shops to choose from including the newly opened Hamleys. The Orient food hall is the focal point with a theme of a huge ship; it has seating for over 1600 where you can experience any amount of different foods. It also has a 20-screen cinema and a creche, although as you can imagine this gets booked up quick! 

"The Trafford Centre's gotta be one of the best places to shop"

LEGOLAND and Sea Life are adjacent, as is the ever popular Aerial extreme. It's no wonder there are now hotels nearby as one day is just not enough.

For something a bit smaller, Manchester now has local markets on every weekend of the year, where you can pick up any manner of gifts. The children always love coming along as they are never sure what they may find or what they might eat.


What about if we've got a whole night to spend (without the kids!)?

In Chorlton sits the truly authentic tapas bar Bar San Juan. They never take bookings and never turn you away! Having lived in Spain for many years I know this to be the real deal. If you're lucky to be there late you'll often be treated to an impromptu baile.

bar san juan

If it's music you're looking for then Manchester has its own Albert Hall - a Wesleyan Chapel closed and hidden for over 40 years, revamped and now open attracting alternative performers. Watch this space.

In the city centre it would have to be one of the many bars (too many to name one) in the Northern Quarter, it's an area with a constant buzz, whether it be for coffee and shops in the day or the late licenced bars and music in the evening.


It sounds like there's a lot to do in Manchester. Is it a good place to settle down?

South Manchester is very popular with families, partly due to its proximity to the city centre and regular, efficient transport links in and out and being close to all main motorways. Its vibrant local independent shops, cafes, restaurants and countless children's clubs prove a hit and keep shopping local high on the agenda. There's also a really good choice of schools and plenty of parks geared up for the children.

Didsbury, Chorlton and Sale in Trafford are among but a few of the most popular places to live. Levenshulme is a bit more affordable and an up and coming area with a strong community. 


About the Local editor 

Rachael came up to Manchester from London 20 years ago to go to University and never left. 

"I remember getting off the train and seeing the black cabs and thinking, 'I'll be all right here!'  I have since married (a fellow southerner) and had my three children here - they are northerners. It is now definitely home.

I love Manchester for its diverse communities and friendly community spirit. The myth is true: people go out of their way for you.  

One of my aims when I became the Local Editor was to create a What's On guide for families; there is so much to do with the children and yet you have to go to many different places to find it. I hope I am some way into creating this."



Last updated: about 3 years ago