Manchester is a city made up of culture vultures, and whether you’re into niche, artsy appreciation, or just want somewhere to take the kids, there are plenty of affordable exhibitions to visit in Manchester that’ll satisfy that cultural craving with some offering free entry. Take a look around the life and works of a scientific genius, delve into ancient history, or discover fantastic art that has defined our region. Here’s our list of the best free exhibitions to visit in Manchester.
1. L.S Lowry Exhibition, The Lowry
Of course, the largest collection of L.S Lowry‘s work has to be on display at his namesake gallery, and now once again complete with his infamous painting Going To The Match, which sold to them for almost £8 million at the end of 2022, The Lowry boasts its most comprehensive selection ever. Lowry’s so-called ‘matchstick men‘ populate his paintings based on locations around the North West where he spent most of his life, especially Pendlebury, Lancashire, and often evoke a familiarity in northerners, whether through the industrial landscapes they portray, or familiar activities such as ‘Going To Work‘ or milling around a ‘Market Scene‘.
In addition to his paintings, the gallery also houses an extensive archive of photographs, press cuttings and exhibition catalogues associated with Lowry, providing critical and curatorial analysis of his work for a deeper look at the person behind the easel. This permanent exhibition is perfect for anyone familiar with his work who wants to get a real-life look at their favourite pieces, but also newbies keen to take in some North West culture at the true home of L.S Lowry.
📍The Lowry, Pier, 8 The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ.
2. Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories, The Lowry
The major new exhibition exploring popular children’s books such as The Gruffalo, Zog, Stick Man and Room on the Broom in collaboration with publishers Macmillan Children’s Books and Scholastic will celebrate the acclaimed partnership between writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.
Known as Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories, the exhibition will bring to life some of the world’s best loved characters in contemporary children’s fiction. Until the end of the year visitors can discover more stories behind well-known characters from the terrible tusks and terrible claws of the Gruffalo to the Witch, her cat, and her very tall hat, and Stick Man on his journey home to the ‘family tree’ at this exhibition. Free tickets here.
📅 Until 1 January 2024.
📍The Lowry, Pier, 8 The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ.
3. Dinu Li: A Phantom’s Vibe, esea contemporary
A Phantom’s Vibe is a solo exhibition by artist Dinu Li, featuring newly commissioned and existing works that combine music, sculptural assemblages, and video installation. The exhibition explores the complexities of colonial history, cultural memory, and hybrid identities. The wonderful exhibition will take place at esea contemporary, the UK’s only non-profit art centre specialising in presenting and platforming artists and art practices that identify with and are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) cultural backgrounds.
📅 Until 29 October 2023.
📍esea contemporary, 13 Thomas St, M4 1EU.
4. People’s History Museum
Manchester’s People’s History Museum is the UK’s only museum entirely dedicated to sharing the stories of the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who strive(d) for change. We recommend checking out the entire collection at PHM as it’s ever-growing and truly fascinating. From suffragette banners and badges, to political posters and artwork, the PHM tracks the political and community history of Manchester, focusing on those who have, and still, fight for justice and equality.
PHM also champion ‘ideas worth fighting for‘ by proudly exhibiting works linked to disabled people’s activism, with their ‘Nothing About Us Without Us‘ and ‘Quiet‘ exhibitions, and LGBTQ+ history with ‘OUTing the Past‘. PHM also aim to be as disability-inclusive as possible, especially with championing disabled people’s rights, so accessibility is no issue. New exhibitions are constantly being added, and although entry is always free, donations are appreciated.
📅Exhibition durations differ – explore them here.
📍People’s History Museum, Left Bank, M3 3ER.
5. (Un)Defining Queer, The Whitworth
This exhibition delves into The Whitworth’s collection to examine how we can use a queer lens to define what the term ‘queer’ means. Presenting collection works that have never been on display before, as well as loans, the exhibition includes artists such as: Ajamu X, Niki de Saint Phalle, General Idea, David Hockney and Maggie Hambling.
Co-led by an intersectional group of people who self-identify as LGBTQIA+, the project sets out to interrogate language, histories, and narratives within The Whitworth’s practice and collections. More specifically, the project and exhibition seek to redress historic omissions that have existed as a result of heteronormative museum practice. Although entry is free, some events require booking/tickets.
📅Until 3 December 2023.
📍The Whitworth, Oxford Rd, M15 6ER.
6. Lily Parr Display, National Football Museum
Emerging in the 1920s as part of Preston’s Dick Kerr Ladies, Lily Parr scored nearly 1000 goals in a three-decade career. The display in the museum’s Match gallery features never-seen-before photographs of Lily and her teammates – which were found in an old suitcase hidden in a loft for four decades.
Lily Parr played in some of the world’s first women’s international matches and was a trailblazer for women footballers the world over, and the National Football Museum unveiled a statue of her in 2019.
Among the objects on display are original photographs from the 1930s, which belonged to Lizzy Ashcroft, a friend and teammate of Lily. These images depict football’s first female superstars in the inter-war years, at the height of their game and fame – playing in front of huge crowds around the globe.
📅 Until 2025.
📍National Football Museum, Cathedral Gardens, Todd St, M4 3BG.
7. At Home With The Pankurst Family, Pankhurst Centre
Ever since No.62 Nelson Street was saved from demolition in the 1980s it has been the Pankhurst Centre’s privilege to protect and preserve this important historical building and to ensure the story of Emmeline Pankhurst is told to inspire and motivate the next generation of radical activists.
This engaging and immersive exhibition explores the extraordinary achievements of the Pankhurst Family in the house where they lived and where the very first meeting of the Women’s Social & Political Union took place in 1903. One for the whole family, you can book tickets here (https://www.pankhurstmuseum.com/booktickets) for free, with donations encouraged.
📅 Permanent exhibition.
📍The Pankurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson St, M13 9WP.
8. Golden Mummies of Egypt, Manchester Museum
After a hugely successful tour across the USA and China, this stunning exhibition offers unparalleled access to Manchester Museum’s world-class Egypt and Sudan collections. Featuring more than 100 objects and eight mummies, Golden Mummies of Egypt presents a rich perspective on beliefs about the afterlife during an era when Egypt was part of the Greek and Roman worlds.
The exhibition is held in the museum’s brand-new Exhibition Hall, which has been created as part of our £15 million transformation, and you can book free tickets here.
📅 Until 31 December 2023.
📍Exhibition Hall, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, Oxford Rd, M13 9PL.
9. Stephen Hawking at Work, Science and Industry Museum
Like many of the exhibitions at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester this one is free, with Stephen Hawking at Work giving an insight into the working life and personality of the world-renowned theoretical physicist. Marvel at the extraordinary contents of Hawking’s office, which was acquired for the nation by the Science Museum Group in May 2021.
Highlights of the display include a rare copy of Hawking’s PhD thesis, his spectacles, which were specially adapted to aid communication, and even an invitation to the time travellers’ party Hawking hosted. The special collection is displayed in the Changing Highlights section of the Revolution Manchester gallery, and you can book free tickets here.
📅 Until January 2023.
📍Science and Industry Museum, Liverpool Rd, M3 4JP.
10. Unpicking Couture, Manchester Art Gallery
Celebrating pioneering creativity and design, the two main themes of the exhibition are: investigating the links between fashion and emotions, in the form of dopamine dressing which encourages dressing for joy; and focusing on repair and restoration, inviting us to consider the life cycle of a garment and the way it is valued and cared for. Created by influential designers and fashion houses, each outfit represents a groundbreaking moment in fashion and includes works by Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Azzedine Alaïa, Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto, Bruce Oldfield and Alexander McQueen.
The exhibition will reveal the recent restoration of a 1930s silk velvet jacket by Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, Unpicking Couture promotes sustainable approaches to repairing and preserving much loved and well-worn clothes. Unpicking Couture will expose the work that underpins the care of dress collections through a mediative film that captures the process of dress mounting and how the craft and skill involved, mirrors the work of dressmakers and couturiers. Admission is free and no tickets are required.
📅 Until 12 January 2025.
📍Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, M2 3JL.