With its iconic industrial backdrop, proud football heritage, and numerous illustrious former inhabitants, it’s not surprising that Manchester has such an excellent – and eclectic – range of museums.
As with all major UK cities, most of Manchester's museums are free to enter. There’s a venue for every kind of interest too, with many conveniently situated in the city center. Here’s our round-up of the best museums in Manchester.
The Pankhurst Centre is Manchester's most enlightening museum
Manchester was famously the birthplace of the Suffragettes. Back in 1903, the movement’s first ever meeting took place at 62 Nelson Street and it’s on that same spot that the Pankhurst Centre opened in 1987. It’s probably one of the most significant museums in Manchester, not least because it was also the former home of Emmeline Pankhurst. See where meetings were regularly held in the Pankhurst Parlour and learn all about the Suffragettes' struggle to secure the right to vote.
As well as a museum, the Pankhurst Centre continues to be a haven for women's activism. It’s also the headquarters of Manchester Women’s Aid, which provides assistance for those experiencing domestic abuse.
Manchester Art Gallery is the best place for admirers of fine art
If you like to look at pretty paintings, make a beeline for Manchester Art Gallery. Its grand facade, complete with six ionic columns, makes it an unmissable sight on Mosley Street.
The gallery’s collection of fine art, exquisite sculptures, and detailed ceramics has been built up over 150+ years and has helped elevate it to one of the best galleries in Manchester. There are over 25,000 artifacts in total, including an exceptional number of Pre-Raphaellite paintings. The ever-changing temporary exhibitions of modern art rarely disappoint, either.
The Manchester Art Gallery is just a short stroll from the Town Hall and Central Library, giving you a ready-made itinerary for a day out in the city.
The National Football Museum is unmissable if you're a soccer fan
Follow football religiously? This will hands-down be the best museum for you in the city center. The National Football Museum sits in the striking Urbis building in Cathedral Gardens and features four full floors dedicated to the history and prestige of the game.
Footie fanatics will no doubt appreciate viewing George Best’s football shirts up close or examining photographs of various key players at major matches from the past 40 years. There’s also the Play Gallery where a range of interactive games will put your own skills on the field to the test.
The National Football Museum is the only museum in the city that’s ticketed unless you’re a Manchester resident. Entry costs £10.50 for adults and £5.50 for kids. You can, however, re-enter for free within 12 months of your first visit.
People’s History Museum focuses on social justice and democracy
Lodged inside a Grade II-listed former pumping station, the displays at the People’s History Museum are brilliant reminders of Britain’s unwavering fight for fair pay, voting rights, and other democratic issues.
Political posters, personal letters, trade union materials, and other memorabilia tell the stories of some of the UK’s most prolific reformers and activists from the past two centuries. You can also learn all about the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, which took place less than half a mile away in what is now called St Peter’s Square.
The Science and Industry Museum is the city's best museum for families
With its interactive exhibits and intriguing live demos, it’s easy to see why the Science and Industry Museum is considered the best museum for kids in Manchester. It’s housed inside several brick warehouses on Liverpool Road and is only a stone’s throw from both Castlefield’s canals and the city’s reconstructed Mamucium Roman Fort.
Manchester has always been an innovative city, and that’s very much the focus of this museum. The Textile Gallery, complete with original Victorian machinery, gives you insight into the often harsh realities of the city’s profitable cotton industry. You’ll also see displays about the UK’s role in space exploration and an entire room dedicated to sensory science experiments for children.
Wannabe historians should make a beeline for Manchester Museum
It’s easy to forget that Manchester had a past before its mills earned it the nickname "Cottonopolis." The Manchester Museum lies in the heart of the University of Manchester campus and it’s the best place to learn about the city – and indeed the world’s – more ancient secrets.
The beautiful neo-Gothic building hosts heaps of archaeological, anthropological, and natural history exhibits featuring all sorts of obscure objects. There are even dinosaurs here, plus extraordinary displays that explore the fine line between nature and art.
Manchester Museum is currently closed for renovations until February 2023, but you can still enjoy some of its displays online.
Greater Manchester Police Museum is the perfect place for true crime enthusiasts
The Greater Manchester Police Museum often falls off the radar due to its unassuming location on Newton Street in the Northern Quarter. Nevertheless, the fact it’s set within a former (and rather eerie) Victorian police station should be reason enough to seek it out.
The museum leaves nothing to the imagination with its detailed history of the city’s law enforcement that’s graphically retold through old photographs, police records, and various vintage weaponry. Head down into the restored police cells to experience incarceration in the 19th century or sit in a replica of the Old Denton Court House where hundreds of felons were convicted. What’s more, the museum is mostly run by retired police officers who always have a fascinating story or two to share.
Imperial War Museum North has modern exhibits on global conflicts
This offshoot of London’s Imperial War Museum is only a few minutes from MediaCityUK. In addition to a striking venue designed by Daniel Libeskind (the architect behind Berlin’s Jewish Museum), the IWM North lives up to the hype of its cousin in the capital with its powerful, people-centered exhibits.
Uncover unknown tales from the Cold War and view objects with huge historical significance, including the gun that fired the opening shot of WWI. The IWM North’s Big Picture Show is also worth a watch. It’s screened once an hour and delves into the experiences of people who lived through major global conflicts using a combination of captivating photography, videos, and sound bites. There are loads of fun immersive displays aimed at kids, too.
The Museum of Transport is packed with vintage vehicles
Whether you’re an admirer of locomotives or not, this small yet succinct museum on Cheetham Hill is a great spot to while away an hour or two. Many people know that Manchester was the location of the first passenger railway line, but did you know it hosted the UK’s first public buses and one of its earliest tram networks?
The Museum of Transport is jam-packed with vintage vehicles and authentic memorabilia – including ticket stubs and colorful travel adverts – from bygone eras. A particular highlight is the free heritage bus rides that run on certain weekends throughout the year and during the Heritage Open Days in September.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is the best museum for literature lovers
Manchester has nurtured many creative geniuses over the centuries. This includes Elizabeth Gaskell – best known for her novels Cranford and North and South – who lived in the city during the height of her career.
Her former home, a Grade II-listed villa on Plymouth Grove, is now known as Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and serves as a museum of her life and works. As well as seeing how she and her family lived, the venue reveals plenty of details about her most famous novels and how they painted an accurate portrait of life (especially for the poor) in Victorian England.
The Regency-style home has been restored to its original mid-1800s state. Strolling around, it’s not hard to picture Gaskell writing in her study or sipping tea in the handsome drawing room with prolific literary acquaintances such as Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë.
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