This guide to visiting Manchester on a budget can help your money go further © Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images
Manchester may be cheaper than London, but a trip to this Northern powerhouse can still set you back a pretty penny. Visiting outside of high season and avoiding weekends when big football matches are on will help keep your bank balance healthy.
There’s also a bevy of other money-saving tips to bear in mind. From a free bus service that runs continuously around the city center to cheap hotel deals and half-price dining offers, here’s how to enjoy Manchester on a budget.
Take advantage of the free city center bus
Manchester city center is actually fairly compact and easily walkable. If you've only got a couple of days to explore though, you could save some time by flagging down the free bus.
Run by Transport for Greater Manchester, there are three different route options that weave around the city. All of them start and end at Manchester Piccadilly station and leave regularly every 10 to 20 minutes. Note that route three only runs in the evenings until 11.30pm.
Go on a free walking tour
Exploring a city for the first time can be a little overwhelming, and even more so if you haven’t got much money to spend. A great thing to do if you’re a newbie to Manchester is to take advantage of the Free Manchester Walking Tour. These convene daily at 11am at the Alan Turing Statue in Sackville Gardens. They’re run by born and bred Mancunians who not only know their city like the back of their hands but love it to bits, too.
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There are budget accommodations in the lively canal-side area of Castlefield and the stylish Northern Quarter © palliki / Getty Images
Check into one of the city’s hostels
Choose your accommodations carefully and you can save some money on your visit to Manchester. The vast majority of the budget hotels and hostels in Manchester are safe and well located. This includes a YHA a short hop from the canal-side pubs of Castlefield. Keen to stay in the Northern Quarter? Private rooms with cool vintage-inspired decor start at £60 at Selina NQ1.
Visit the free museums
Some of the best cheap things to do in Manchester won’t actually cost you a thing. This includes its many museums which, like most other UK cities, are completely free to enter.
The Science and Industry Museum is packed with interactive exhibits on everything from Manchester’s early railways – the first in the world – to modern space travel. You could also expand your knowledge of women’s suffrage at The Pankhurst Centre or discover more about Manchester’s most notorious criminals at the Greater Manchester Police Museum.
And don’t forget those free art galleries, either
Have a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites? Or is it Warhol’s bold pop art that catches your eye? Manchester is home to a handful of galleries with permanent collections that are both impressive and free. Manchester Art Gallery is easily the largest and it sits a few minutes from Manchester Town Hall. Alternatively, walk or bus down Oxford Road to the Whitworth Gallery that’s surrounded by one of Manchester's best city parks.
Students often get discounts
Manchester has a huge student population, so it’s really no surprise that so many businesses offer brilliant discounts for those still in education. These range from fashion stores and restaurants to coffee shops and supermarkets. You can even get 15% off escape room experiences at Escape Hunt in the Corn Exchange.
Heaton Park is the city's largest open space, ideal for a budget day out © Dave Jones / Getty Images
Enjoy some fresh air at Heaton Park
On the subject of parks, heading to one for a stroll or a lazy picnic is another budget-friendly thing to do in Manchester. Heaton Park is by far the largest and it’s about 6.5km (4 miles) north of the center.
Take in the views of pretty Heaton Hall, wander through areas of wild woodland, or find a private patch of grass to spread a blanket out on. The park is easily reached by tram or you could save yourself a little bit of money with a Manchester PlusBus day pass that gives you unlimited bus travel for £4.20.
Shop for bargains at the city’s thrift stores
Many people head to Manchester to splurge, whether that’s in the mammoth Trafford Centre on the edge of the city or in the chic designer stores along King Street. If you’ve got less cash to spend, there are also some real bargains to be found in Manchester’s many thrift stores.
The Northern Quarter and East Didsbury house some of the best options, although some stores have better stock than others. Oxfam Originals always has some real gems including recognizable luxury labels. Afflecks Palace – an independent shopping emporium packed with quirky boutiques – is another great place to pick up vintage Levi’s, rare band tees, and high-quality jackets.
Visit between January and May for the cheapest deals
The best time to visit Manchester for cheaper hotel prices and fewer crowds is between January and May. This falls outside the busy festive period and before the new football season kicks off in late August/early September.
It’s still worth booking your accommodations a month or so in advance. If you're traveling by train, cheap rail tickets to Manchester are usually released six weeks in advance by major companies like Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express. You can also bag cheap flights to Manchester from various UK and European cities.
Some restaurants in Manchester offer great discounts and lunchtime deals © trabantos / Getty Images
Look out for discounted food deals
Eating out needn’t be expensive. Many restaurants in Manchester offer 50% off your food bill in January, while a bunch also have regular deals throughout the year.
Tuck into half-price burgers and gourmet sandwiches at the Pen and Pencil on Mondays or enjoy half-price pizza slices from buzzing music venue YES every day between 12pm and 6pm. Celebrating a special occasion? 20 Stories – one of Manchester’s poshest restaurants with 360 degree views – has a surprisingly affordable mid-week lunch menu that features three courses for £23.50.
Treat your taste buds on the Curry Mile
One of the best places to find cheap food in Manchester is the city’s so-called Curry Mile. This culinary melting pot has restaurants and takeaway outlets spread out along Wilmslow Road in the studenty area of Rusholme.
There are over 70 venues (many award-winning) serving up fragrant delicacies from India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. Most are very affordable; check out Jaffa Restaurant for mouth-watering mezze or order spice-laden curries from no-frills Al Madina.
Enjoy the pay-per-minute coffee at Oppidan Social
Oppidan Social’s pay-per-minute business model makes it a cheap place to catch up with friends, do a little bit of work, or grab a coffee in between attractions. The Manchester branch is on Edge Street and feels a little bit like visiting an older relative's house thanks to its eclectic mix of cozy furnishings and tables piled high with complimentary sandwiches and cakes. For just 8p a minute though, you can’t really go wrong.
Eat for a good cause – and to save your bank balance – at Open Kitchen
Check out the relatively new cafe-restaurant in the lobby of the People’s History Museum. Open Kitchen’s ever-changing menu features ingredients that are either completely sustainable or have been rescued from being binned by other Manchester businesses. Meals are cheaper than your average cafe too, with small bites and sandwiches starting at £3.50.
Introducing Manchester, England
Plan a budget night out at one of Manchester’s free music venues
Cheap nights out in Manchester are entirely possible and there’s usually somewhere offering free entry. The Deaf Institute frequently hosts free gigs in its beautiful upstairs music hall. Alternatively, the Night & Day Cafe in the Northern Quarter stays open late and its Saturday Loose Joints DJ sets are always free entry.
Heaps of Manchester bars and pubs additionally host live music nights during the week. This includes jazz concerts at Matt & Phreds in the Northern Quarter and acoustic sets at The Thirsty Scholar pub next to Manchester Oxford Road station.
Daily costs in Manchester
Hostel room: £12–35 (dorm room)
Basic room for two: £50–100
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): From £65
Public transport ticket: £4.20 PlusBus day ticket, Metro all zones pass £7.10
Cup of coffee: £2.50–3.50
Brunch in the Northern Quarter: £8–12
Beer/pint at the bar: £4–5
Music gig tickets: £5–50