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A Free & Self-Guided Manchester Walking Tour

Last Updated on 20th September 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

Best known for its countless canals, industrial past, and sheer size (in both population as well as area covered), Manchester is one of the major cities of Northwest England. Here’s a free and self-guided Manchester walking tour you’ll want to follow…

After all, it’s here in Manchester where you’ll discover intrigues such as the first free public library in the UK, as well as a museum that explains that it was here in Manchester where the atom was first split in 1919. And thanks to its wealth of train, bus, and air links to the rest of Europe and beyond, it couldn’t be easier to book a visit to this bustling and busy metropolis.

 Free and self-guided Manchester walking tour. Looking for the best things to do in the Northwest British city of Manchester? Here’s how to get to know the city on a local level, including the best museums, attractions, where to stay, and where to get coffee!

Manchester Walking Tour: tips, tricks & practical advice

If you’re looking to visit Manchester, then there are a few things to know before you go. First things first, the city is great to visit all year round. Whether you want to enjoy the city in the sun during the summer or want to soak up the best Christmas Markets in Manchester in winter, there’s never any shortage of things to do.

For this walking tour, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring along a waterproof jacket or umbrella. Like the rest of the UK, the weather in Manchester can be unpredictable, windy, and rain is always a possibility!

For football fans, aside from the football museum, there is perhaps a no better way to experience Manchester’s football scene than by going on this guided tour of Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. 

While the city has plenty of accommodation thanks to its sheer size, in order to secure the best deals and prices, you’ll want to book your stay well in advance. Check here for the best accommodation in Manchester.

If you’re looking to get another perspective of Manchester, then consider this canal cruise. Finally, fans of the hit TV show, Coronation Street will be delighted to know that this one hour tour includes a fully guided tour of the external set of Coronation Street.

Walking time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Distance covered: 3.6 miles

Manchester Piccadilly

If you’re visiting the city from the rest of Europe (and even when visiting from the rest of the UK, including my home city of Exeter where the flight is six hours less, and up to £200 cheaper than the exorbitant train fares!), then you’ll likely arrive in Manchester via its international airport.

Trains from the airport to the city centre are fairly inexpensive and the journey time is generally less than half an hour.

When it comes to Manchester Piccadilly itself, the station’s roots date all the way back to the 1840s, though the station has only held the name ‘Manchester Picadilly’ since 1960.

Today, the rail station serves a staggering 24 million passengers on an annual basis. Nearby, you’ll find sites such as the Alan Turing memorial and the Vimto Statue (yes, this larger than life-sized sized sculpture is a real thing!)

Alan Turing Statue in the autumn, Manchester

Roman Fort Mamucium Ruins

The history of Manchester dates back millennia. So much so, that during Roman times, Manchester was established as the ‘Mamucium’ fort. Established in around 78 CE, at one point, this heavily guarded settlement would have housed around 500 men along the River Medlock.

For those who are looking to learn a little more about Manchester’s rich history and past, this book will reveal all of the insider secrets you never knew about one of the largest city’s in England (and how the Manchester of today came to be). Back in the city itself, if you head to the Mamucium Ruins, you’ll discover the remains of a fortified wall close to a railway bridge.

Roman fort ruins in Manchester, under a railway bridge

Science and Industry Museum

Steps away from the Roman ruins, it’s hard to miss the impressively large free-to-visit museum. Situated within a set of former warehouses and factories, you could easily spend several hours wandering around the Science and Industry Museum and learning about how famous residents of Manchester have accelerated human discovery and innovation in various ways over the years.

Set across several buildings, the Museum is perfect for all ages and is easily one of the best rainy day activities that Manchester has to offer. Highlights of the cultural learning space include the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station as well as plenty of interactive displays.

Science and Industry Museum, manchester

Manchester Art Gallery

Housed within three inter-connected buildings (two of which date from the 19th-century and are designed by acclaimed architect Sir Charles Barry), Manchester’s Art Gallery is publicly owned and free to visit. Open on a daily basis, the museum counts some 25,000 objects and works of art among its collections.

Of note are the thematic displays in various rooms and the plethora of artwork by some of the city’s most famous artists over the years. Some of the most famous artwork to be featured in the Art Gallery in Manchester include works by L.S. Lowry and by J.M.W Turner.

Manchester At Gallery: painting with a bench and red wall

John Rylands Library

Easily one of the most beautiful libraries in England, you can’t visit Manchester without paying a visit to the John Rylands Library. After all, a trip here is easily one of the best things to do in Manchester!

Open on a daily basis, the library is free to visit (though donations are always welcome). Perhaps what will surprise you the most about a trip to this bibliophile paradise is that there’s so much more to see than simply just the reading room.

Instead, there’s room after room with book-focused exhibitions, works of art, and intricate architecture to admire. There’s even a stunning staircase that’s reminiscent of a Harry Potter novel!

John Rylands Library rare book room

Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square

Oh-so-Victorian and Neo-Gothic in architecture, Manchester’s town hall stands in pride of place in the very heart of the city. It’s also here in December, in a central square in front of the Town Hal, where one of the city’s biggest Christmas markets takes place on an annual basis.

Though the interior is currently being renovated as part of a wider project, it’s worth noting that the interior of the hall is often used as a replica for the Houses of Parliament! Of particular note is the Great Hall, which features stunning frescoes by Ford Madox Brown.

How to visit the Christmas Markets in Manchester, England. Here's your total 2018 guide, as well as locations, opening times, and themed markets.

St Ann’s Church

The only place left in the city where you’ll find early surviving tombstones, St Ann’s Church was consecrated in the early 18th-century. At this time, i.e. prior to the Industrial Revolution, Manchester was a tiny and rather insignificant town populated by many a timber-framed building and cobbled lane.

Estimates suggest that, during the early 1700s, Manchester had as few as 10,000 residents. Of course, all of this changed with the introduction of cotton mills and the like a little more than a century later.

St Ann’s Church remained in the heart of it all, staying largely unchanged as trees were planted in the nearby square to mimic the grand squares of London and even when newer buildings were constructed around it.

As the population grew, so did the number of churches in the city. However, while St Ann’s can still be visited today, many of the newer churches were demolished, including St Matthew’s, Campfield.

St Ann's Church Manchester exterior

Manchester Cathedral

In the historic district of the city, Manchester Cathedral is easily one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings that England has to offer. Dating all the way back to the 15th-century, though little is known of the prior churches that most likely sat where the current one now stands.

Archaeological evidence suggests that a Saxon church probably stood in situ as early as 700 CE. Step in this large ecclesiastical building today and highlights include several stunning stained glass windows and a rather impressive Rood Screen.

A walk around guide can be purchased for a nominal fee once inside Manchester Cathedral. Visit during the early months, step just outside the main entrance, and you’ll soon spy a beautiful cherry blossom that’s one of the best places to see the blooms during the spring!

Manchester Cathedral interior: looking at pews and organ in England

National Football Museum

Free to visit for Manchester residents (and varying prices for visitors- for example, adult £10, child £5), the National Football Museum is open every day of the week and may well be of interest even if you’re not an avid footie fan. Once located in Lancashire, England’s national museum of football displays all sorts of football-related memorabilia.

National football Museum in Manchester, England

Explore the Northern Quarter

Best-known as Manchester’s hippest district, the trendy Northern Quarter of the city is filled with coffee shops, street art, and plenty of independent stores selling everything from records to vintage clothing.

Highlights of this Manchester district include the ever-so-secretive speakeasy-style bar, The Washrooms and spotting all of the bee-themed art around the place. The Northern Quarter doubled for New York in the hit TV show The Crown.

Northern Quarter coffee shop, Manchester, England

Enjoyed reading this free and self-guided tour of Rotterdam? Pin it now, read it again later:

Free & Self-Guided Manchester Walking Tour, England, UK. Highlights of the big city including John Rylands Library, Roman fort of Mamucium, Science and Technology Museum and more!
 Free and self-guided Manchester walking tour. Looking for the best things to do in the Northwest British city of Manchester? Here’s how to get to know the city on a local level, including the best museums, attractions, where to stay, and where to get coffee!

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