Manchester is certainly full of child-friendly fun things to do. Personally, I like mixing-up the more well-known, big-deal attractions you can find in the city centre with the smaller, quirkier, lesser-known stuff. Here are my top five places to take the kids!
Pictured: The John Rylands Library
1. Spend a day outdoors riding crazy bikes at Simply Cycling
Ever ridden a tandem bike? Or one you can pedal with your hands? Or how about one you steer with your bottom? We hadn’t either, not 'til we whizzed the kids along to one of the ‘Simply Cycle’ sessions at Longford Park in South Manchester. It’s All-Ability cycling, including wheelchair accessible bikes, side-by-side cycles and bikes with cool trailers just right for putting your tiny ones in. Our four-year old budding bike-nut loved it on the tandem and our ten-month old giggled with glee as we tore off on a trailer-bike. It’s £2 per person for up to 2 hours (1.5 hours on a Sat) so good value and there are friendly helpers to get you going and free squash for the kids. There’s no need to book; you can just turn up and try whatever barmy bike you fancy.
2. Get arty in Whitworth Art Gallery and Park
The Whitworth is one place we always go when we fancy an adventure. There’s always something fun going on here - and it’s free! In term times there’s Art Baby (Mondays), Outdoor Art Club (Saturdays), Mossa Movement Dance Class (Saturdays) and Art Sundays and there’s always the Art Picnic Hampers you can pick up at any time up which are filled with art materials and ideas. But we like it best during the holidays when the Whitworth runs special activities for families. At Easter it was ‘Wild Whitworth’: we had a fab time outdoors in Whitworth Park, building dens and finding wellies on the Welly Walk. There’s also a great playground for older kids (no traditional swings for babies though). After having a swing, a slide and a climb we enjoyed a picnic in the park and then ventured inside to have a coffee in the beautiful cafe which overlooks the park (and makes you feel like you’re amongst the trees). The cafe is quite expensive but does great brownies if you are looking to indulge. As for parking, we found it best, and free (for two hours), on Denmark Road - but watch out you don’t end up on Oxford Road where it’s buses and taxes only, and you may get stung with a hefty fine.
3. Meet a T Rex at Manchester Museum
Manchester has got some great museums but one of our favourites has to be Manchester Museum itself. It’s free and has a wide range of weird and wonderful stuffed animals. Our kids loved getting close up with creatures they’d never usually get to see in the wild, like snakes, owls and tigers. There are also some live frogs and lizards to look at. However, the biggest draw for our four year old (and any dinosaur loving kid) was Stan the amazing T Rex skeleton - with his huge teeth, ginormous bones and imposing feet. He is pretty much the first thing you see when you enter the museum and takes up most of the Hall. He looks like he’s in pursuit of prey ready to tear down anything in his path. Stan is the second most complete specimen of a T Rex in the world and the museum is worth a visit for him alone. Manchester Museum also has a lovely family friendly cafe which had craft activities going on whilst we were there.
4. Walk around The Quays and spot CBeebies stars at MediaCityUK
A super time can be had by taking the tram to Salford and Media City with its star appeal and Quayside views. Start your day by exploring the Blue Peter Garden. It is beautifully landscaped and there are lots of little areas to explore and benches to lounge on. Media City is traffic-free so it's nice and safe to wander around. Our kids loved having their pictures taken with the Upsy Daisy and Pudsey statues and clambering over the strange silver bench sculptures next to the Blue Peter Garden which they seemed to think were slides. There are lots of chain restaurants if you fancy a meal out but, if it's nice weather, you could opt for a picnic on the grass. It’s right by the tram so our two little ones enjoyed watching the trams and trying to spot their favourite CBeebies stars, Mr Tumble and Andy Day, coming out of the BBC buildings. We then charged over the bridges to The Lowry. Located alongside the Lowry Galleries is The Lookout which is a chilled-out space to unwind and be creative. It has a cushioned area with puzzles and craft activities - very handy to hang out in after a tiring day.
5. Pretend to be Harry Potter at The John Rylands Library
A fun place to explore if you’ve got older kids is the wonderfully dramatic, neo-Gothic, John Rylands Library. It’s like stumbling into the set of Harry Potter with its vaulted ceilings, gothic arches and the beautiful cathedral-like space. It’s the perfect place for your mini Harry or Hermione to lose themselves in their Hogwarts fantasy, pretending to cast spells and fight Lord Voldemort. Harry Potter fans aside, the John Rylands Library runs some fun, free, family events; There’s a trail to explore the library, where you can search for Grumbolt the Dragon’s lost spectacles, and there are craft-making sessions available as well as Toddler Tales, a free storytelling and playtime session for under-fives.
So, there we are. Five fun things to do with the family in Manchester. Have fun - and don’t forget the picnic!