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Top Manchester Museums

Our Guide to exploring Manchester’s exciting history

Published: Guide No.18 - August '23

The City, and the wider Greater Manchester region, offer visitors a wealth of history to discover and many including the Museum of Science and Industry have amazing interactive experiences and displays for all ages.

Experience the feeling of first-class flight by boarding the Concorde at Runway Park at Manchester Airport.

Learn about the amazing planes built by Avro, here in the Northwest, including the Nimrod and its submarine hunting programme.

Find out how Manchester has shaped our social society with a trip the People’s History Museum, or experience contemporary artwork at HOME and the Bury Sculpture Museum.

Football your thing? Then the National Football museum is a must where the story of the nation’s favorite Game is told.

You even get the chance to pit your skills at the Penalty Shootout or Short Stopper.

Here we present some of the very best Manchester Museums that we can thoroughly recommend for you and your family to visit.

Manchester peoples history museum

People’s History Museum

Proudly proclaiming itself as the national museum of democracy, the vibrant surroundings of the People’s History Museum explores the fight for our past, present and future, furthering Manchester’s significance as a cauldron of ideas and radical figures.

Challenging visitors to consider their place in society, the museum’s exhibits ask visitors who they are, the impact of their choice to vote and to consider world-changing ideas such as workers rights to fair pay, women’s right to vote and equality for all.

All are welcome to explore these ideas in a safe and connecting environment. Displays cover trade unionism (the museum is the holder of the largest collection of trade union banners), the women’s suffrage movement, the cooperative movement, the 1945 general election and football. Digital interactives and period displays bring the museum’s unique collections and stories to life.

To give an idea of the diversity of the items held by the museum, they range from Hayley Cropper’s red anorak from Coronation Street which highlights the rights and changes to the representation of the LGBT+ community through to a Suffragette banner used by Emmeline Pankhurst during some of her most significant speeches in Manchester.

As well as tackling current ideological theory, the museum looks to the past and its collection has items relating to the Peterloo Massacre, the infamous meeting at St. Peter’s Field (now the Central Library) which turned into a disaster when the local Yeomanry were ordered to contain the 60,000 strong crowd, killing 15 and wounding over 600 in the process.

An exciting programme of public talks, performances and events add to the displays and take them further and entry is free to the museum, though donations are appreciated.

Located at the edge of the Spinningfields district of the city, you could combine a visit to the museum with a visit to the restaurants and pubs there, or take a wander down Deansgate’s shopping area.

Should you fancy delving deeper into Manchester’s Social History and its nation impact we can recommend visiting:

Working Class Movement Library - 51 Crescent, Salford, M5 4WX

You’ll find the walls not just full of books but covered in posters, paintings and other visual material to represent the diverse voices of the working classes.


The Central Library, St. Peter’s Square, M2 5PD

The library holds a unique archive of documents relating to the event which you could explore in the surroundings of the incredible domed Wolfson Reading Room.


The Pankhurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson Street, M13 9WP

The only museum dedicated to telling the story of women’s right to vote and the Suffragette movement.

People’s History Museum, Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER


Open: Wed - Sun 10am-4pm

free entry, suggested donation £5

Recommended visit time: 2-3 hours

Manchester elizabeth gaskells house

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Located near to Manchester’s University Quarter, no trip to Manchester would be complete without walking in the footsteps of one of Manchester’s most famous writers.

With the aim to celebrate the life and literature of Elizabeth Gaskell, it celebrates one of the most important writers of the C19th.

Her work will be familiar to anyone immersed in the sweeping Sunday evening epics of North and South or Judi Dench’s portrayal in Cranford.

Penning the novels Cranford, North and South and Wives and Daughters amongst others, Elizabeth Gaskell lived in this now Grade II listed building from 1850 to 1865.

The house also played host to a who’s who of the 19th century literary sphere with Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and Harriet Beecher Stowe visitors to the house.

Rooms in the house including the Drawing Room, Study, Dining Room and most recent addition Elizabeth’s bedroom have been restored to their 1857 look.

Much of the inspiration for the likely style of the house comes from Elizabeth’s own letters with period furniture and even a rescued Victorian pattern for the carpets reused to bring the house to life.

You are encouraged to immerse yourself in the period, stay and enjoy the house. Take a seat and unlock your inner muse where Elizabeth Gaskell wrote her novels, or explore the collection of novels in William Gaskell’s study for inspiration.

The Tea Room also includes access to two rooms packed with second hand books, a must visit for literary lovers as the stock is replenished regularly.

There is also a dedicated Elizabeth Gaskell shop containing copies of Elizabeth’s novels and a range of Gaskell related gifts.

If you are inspired by Manchester’s literary past, consider visiting:

International Anthony Burgess Foundation, 3 Cambridge Street, M1 5BY

Immerse yourself in regular screenings and discussions about literary works. Chill-out in the Café to consider the world of the Clockwork Orange writer.


Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, M13 9LW


Open: Wed, Thurs and Sun 11.00am – 4.30pm £5.50/£4.50 concessions, pre-booking essential

Recommended visit time: 1-2 hours

Manchester john rylands library

John Rylands Library

The gothic interior of the John Rylands Library is an often overlooked gem located between Manchester’s bustling Deansgate and stylish Spinningfields areas containing one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts.

Researchers find the collections essential, and for visitors it’s a magnificent architectural triumph and a portal to another time.

Founded in 1888, the library opened in 1900, becoming part of the University of Manchester in 1972. John Rylands was one of the most successful businessmen in Victorian England, becoming Manchester’s first multi-millionaire on the back of the textile industry the city would become famous for.

The library founded in his name is home to one of the world’s richest and most unique collections of books and manuscripts, with objects dating back as far as the 1500s.

Harry Potter fans may feel as if they have tumbled into the magical world of Hogwarts such is the classical styling of the building. And don’t forget to look up as you marvel at the building - the vast, ornate ceilings are often overlooked by visitors.

The iconic Historic Reading Room with its high vaulted roof and private alcoves has the stylings of a cathedral. The spectacular window floods the room with light creating an atmospheric and absorbing space.

Nowadays, the alcoves allow for private study and visitor displays in the Reading Room encourage you to relax, take in and be inspired by the amazing surroundings.

Another must see is the original staircase that would have been used by readers to enter the library. With its impressive stonework, this staircase affords stunning views of the building and its Neo-Gothic architecture.

Located at the base of this staircase are the original 1900’s Victorian toilets - the oldest working Victorian toilets in Manchester.v

Regular exhibitions take in stimulating topics that delve into the library’s collection and make use of the warren of reading rooms, with evening discussion talks, readings and events also proving to be popular.

A gift shop with literary, tasteful and quirky items and lovely food at the cafe make the John Rylands Library a peaceful diversion from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.

The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate. Manchester. M3 3EH

John Rylands Library

Open: Thurs to Sat 10am-12pm, 1.30pm-5pm

Free to visit, but tickets must be pre-booked

Recommended visit time: 1-2 hours

Manchester art gallery

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery has been at the heart of the city for over 200 years, providing access and appreciation to a range of works of local, national and international significance.

This historic building hosts a rotating display of special exhibitions, which have recently included Grayson’s Art Club, exhibits created by viewers of the hit Channel 4 show and Jarman: Protest! Celebrating the work of acclaimed director Derek Jarman.

Recently the gallery has been transforming its spaces and has opened with ‘What is Manchester Art Gallery?’

Staff from across the gallery have delved into its archives to select objects that reflect its origins as the Royal Manchester Institution.

Elsewhere within the building there are galleries celebrating work and showcasing key exhibits from the Pre-Raphaelities and Romantic eras, and 18th, 19th and 20th centuries including works by Francis Bacon and George Stubbs.

The gallery is proud to feature displays of contemporary art. Pieces on display include fine art, glass, ceramic, costume and more from its collection of over 25,000 items.

Not to be missed are the Lowry paintings and those from his mentor Valette, a the chance to get close to many of these iconic artworks.

Valette’s evocative misty landscapes of Manchester at the turn of the 20th century bring the area to life, whilst Lowry’s matchstick representations of Manchester’s people continue to speak down the generations.

The gallery’s cafe and shop provide the perfect rest shop to perhaps engage in a spot of urban sketching, or the chance to delve deeper into your favorite artist.

We also recommend The Whitworth Gallery:

It has a dynamic programme of exhibitions make it a culturally relevant place that exposes the relevance of art against the backdrop of modern day society.

The museum is an ideal companion for an arty day out. Works on display include historical fine art, contemporary and modern art and an unrivaled textile collection.

Whitworth Art Gallery, Oxford Road, M15 6ER


Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL


Open: Wednesday - Sunday: 10am–5pm

Recommended visit time: 2-3 hours

Manchester university museum

Manchester Museum

The Manchester Museum is one the largest university museums in the UK. Its neo-Gothic styling was created by renown architect Alfred Waterhouse and its foundation stone was laid down over one hundred and thirty years.

It is an important research space for the university and a museum open to the public.

Re-opened in February 2023, its completely refurbished exhibit halls where reimagined to improve how collections are created, displayed and interacted with by visitors.

Its top floor, while mostly a research space, is an exciting visit being home to the amazing Vivarium. Here you will find a conservation collection of live amphibians and reptiles, including many endangers species.

Kept in very specific habits including precise temperature, lighting and even mimicking turbulent tropical streams.

The Museum collection includes over 4.5 million objects that span a wide range of specialities including Botany, Earth Sciences, Zoology and Archaeology, to name but a few.

It is also home to one the UK’s largest collections of Egyptian and Sudanese objects that illustrate everyday life and the afterlife beliefs for these ancient cultures.

Part of that collection explores everyday objects used by the pyramid builders, known as Kahun, many of which are over 4000 years old.

Not to be missed is the expansive ‘Golden Mummies of Egypt’ Exhibition.

It features more the 100 objects and eight mummies representing a rich perspective about the cultures beliefs concerning the afterlife during an era when Egypt was part of the Greek and Roman worlds.

Tickets for the Golden Mummies Exhibition are free, but access is by timeslot, so booking tickets is recommended.

One of the biggest attractions, and certainly for families, continues to be the Fossils and Dinosaur galleries.

Marvel at these prehistoric giants, come face to face with Stan the museums Tyrannosaurs Rex. Discover amazing fossils such a 300million year old tree to the Ice Age animals found at Creswell Crags.

The Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery hall draws on contextual historial links between Manchester and China. The collection offers a diverse and dynamic understanding of Chinese culture and highlights personal stories of migration, friendship and collaboration.

The South Asian Gallery, created in conjunction with the British Museum, is a contemporary take on South Asian and British Asian Culture.

Its pieces are drawn from the British Museum and the Universities own extensive collection. Presented as a multilingual gallery it has been design in partnership with Asian educators, artists and historians.

The Manchester Museum has beautiful galleries that provide opportunities for curiosity and wonder!

Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester, Oxford Rd M13 9PL


Open: Tuesday - Sunday: 10am to 5pm

Opens 8am on Saturdays

Free to visit with donations appreciated

Recommended visit time: 1-3 hours

Manchester football museum

National Football Museum

In 2011 the National Football Museum moved to Manchester and now boasts more than 40,000 items – including the FIFA collection – in what is arguably the beautiful game’s greatest collection of memorabilia in the world.

England is the birthplace of ‘the people’s game’ and, as home to two of the country’s most successful teams.

Manchester makes for the perfect setting with the museum providing an exciting day out not just for football fanatics, but for anyone who appreciates the sport’s national cultural heritage.

This extensive archive of football relics attracts a global audience. Exhibitions on show currently include ‘Batteries Not Included’ created to excite the whole family.

This special exhibition, running until the end February ‘24, explores the history and development of football toys and games, their influence on our lives and understanding of the beautiful game.

It takes visitors on an immersive journey, from the Victorian era through to the latest cutting-edge virtual reality technology.

With no fewer than 17 interactive games and exhibits you experience how it was to play these football themed toys and games.

The museum offers two guided tours at 11am and 2pm, included in the admission ticket.

The tour explores the collection, and its crown jewels, while taking you through a journey of over 100 years of football history from the first international match, in 1872, right up to the present day.

Get down to Cathedral Gardens and check out the National Football Museum in the Urbis Building.

Interesting in discovering more about Manchester’s two major football teams? Both City and United have museums at their respective grounds and offer tours of their world famous stadiums and the backroom team support spaces.

National Football Museum, Urbis Building, Cathedral Gardens, Todd St, Manchester M4 3BG


Open: Monday - Saturday 10am to 5pm

Sunday 11am to 5pm

Recommended visit time: 2-3 hours

Manchester a City of ‘Quarters’

Bury - Part of Historic Manchester


Only 30 minutes by Tram from the City Centre, Bury and its attractions make a good day trip



Nestled between the Irwell and Medloack rivers Castlefield is where the Romans established 'Mamucium'. Experience the old and modern and explore its attractions

China Town - City Centre

China Town

China Town, a stone's throw from Piccadilly Gardens, offers restaurants, specialist supermarkets and entertainment all in one space



Connecting most parts of the city, this mile-long road is worth a stroll along and offers some great shops and places to eat

Read About All Manchester‘s Quarters