Manchester is more family friendly than you might think
The summer holidays are nearly over and parents everywhere are longing for a return to routines, even if it means desperately searching for school shoes at 8.15 every morning and trying to remember the logins for the seven different homework hubs. The summer has been fun of course, with museums and cultural venues dedicating time and energy to providing fun and educational experiences for the family.
But once the big kids have gone back to school you might think that Manchester goes back to being a city designed for adults. Not so. There are plenty of ideas for places to go and hang out en famille. Toddlers and babies can also make the most of some surprisingly friendly spots and when the new Mayfield Park (complete with transparent slide) opens, Manchester will have everything a kid could want. Need a snack to go with that? Check out our list of top places to eat with the kids.
Read on for our picks of fun spaces for kids you might not have thought of...
Music classes at Band on the Wall
The legendary music venue reopened in March this year following the completion of its £3.5 million expansion project, to the joy of music fans everywhere. But did you know that as well as hosting bands of international repute, BOTW has a dedicated learning programme for young 'uns too? Encourage your little ones to explore the joy of music through their interaction with instruments, songs and dance at Mini Music Makers or Baby Club on a Friday morning; or haul tweens and teens to a more grown-up music class on a Saturday where they can try out new and unusual instruments and jam with other like-minded kids.
27 Swan St, Manchester M4 5JZ
Good Life Skates at Escape To Freight Island
While Escape To Freight Island might be more associated with grown-up party times, there are occasional events that are suitable for all ages. One space that is especially good for the kids is the 8,000-square-foot roller rink located on the mezzanine level. Good Life Skates runs introductory classes for kids on the weekends in age bands that start from three years old all the way up to 16 (see if you can grab a free taster class). Summer passes and kids' parties means that once they are hooked you can extend the fun - plus the food here isn't bad at all.
11 Baring St, Manchester M1 2PY
Children's Library and Escape Room at Z-arts
Ok this one is so secret that it isn't actually open yet but in the next few weeks, family venue Z-arts will be revealing its brand new children's library and, for older kids, a family escape room. The library will celebrate classic children's literature and is designed to meet the reading needs of kids of all ages, even teens. Not too much detail is available on the escape room yet but it is recommended for ages 8+ so will be on the more challenging side. While we wait for this special space, the rest of Z-arts is open as usual, with a cracking autumn programme of theatre and events plus ongoing interactive exhibition Fairytales.
335 Stretford Road, Hulme M15 5ZA
Storytime Sessions at Waterstones Deansgate
The massive Waterstones on Deansgate is a bit of a favourite for bookish kids at any time, but did you know that the children's section runs two weekly family events that are free? Babies, Bumps and Books take every Friday at 10.30am, with a sweet story time for under 2s. Mindful Storytime is run on a Saturday morning by bookseller/yogi Kristina for children up to the age of 7 (accompanied by parents or carers of course). Head up to the second floor cafe to find the gang, no need to book.
91 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BW
Skating at Projekts MCR
Projekts MCR skatepark is just a short walk (or skate) from Piccadilly station, hidden under the flyover. It hosts skateboarding and roller sessions for a range of ages and abilities, including a girls-only session, plus home ed and holiday clubs. It has a welcoming vibe but do remember adults also come along to the open sessions so it's worth checking ahead what time is most suitable if you have a novice skater on your hands. Coaching sessions are available, book ahead.
97 London Road, Manchester, M1 2PG
Garden Explorers at Hulme Community Garden Centre
An oasis of nature just outside the city centre - a long walk or short bus ride will take you to Hulme Community Garden Centre. Every Thursday the gardening club for toddlers is on come rain, wind or shine. Activities might include planting seeds or spotting tadpoles. Always fun and often muddy, make sure you book ahead and wear wellies.
28 Old Birley Street, Manchester M15 5RD
Textile City at Science and Industry Museum
Slightly cheating here, as of course the Science and Industry Museum is a well-known place to take the kids on a rainy day, but the secret spot you might not know about is the Textile City exhibit in the 1830 Warehouse tucked behind the main museum. Artist Jenny Steele has put together an immersive exhibition of soft foam blocks that can be arranged and rearranged as imagined cityscapes - and knocked over again. The exhibition is on until 4 September, when the space will get repurposed for the Science Festival in October. Until then there is the Experiment Gallery upstairs, and Power Up, a fun collection of computer games for kids big and small.
Liverpool Road, Manchester M3 4FP
Boulder Park at Rockover Climbing
Climbing centres usually frequent big box retail parks, so it's brilliant to see a climbing space only a 10-minute walk from Manchester Victoria. With junior taster sessions, development squads, family climbing sessions and children's parties hosted by a qualified instructor, kids can satisfy the desire to climb over everything in sight in a safe environment. The boulder park, a combo of climbing and soft play, is especially fun for little kids.
Park Garage, Cheviot St, M3 1LN
Book Nook at the Great Northern
More of a stop-off for tired feet than a destination in itself, this glass pod filled with books for you to browse has a little area for younger kids too - great for occupying some time before the train or tram home. There is a matching pod of play items called Little Northerners close by that isn't always open unfortunately but it is a good resource when it is (closes in the early afternoon). There is also the sandpit outside the Great Northern for sunny days.
Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN
Lion's Den at Manchester Art Gallery
MAG has always been a lovely spot for families, but when the Clore Gallery on the first floor closed many parents wondered what would be available for kids. Well, wonder no longer. If you swerve to your left when you come in the main entrance, you'll find the Lion's Den, a creative space for gluing, sticking, drawing and everything in-between. There is a dedicated Baby Stay and Play every other week plus autism-friendly sessions monthly. The gift shop has a great section of gifts and books, too.
Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
Playroom at GRUB
When Manchester's original street food collective moved from Mayfield to Red Bank, they made sure the new venue included an indoor playroom, so kids could get on with the important things while parents decided between tacos or sushi. Watch out for the occasional Family Friday events which usually include crafts, lawn games, workshops, film screenings and face painting, of course.
Red Bank, Manchester M4 4HF
Let's Get Muddy at MUD
Manchester Urban Diggers cultivate a lovely kitchen garden at Platt Fields Park. Many of their events are family-friendly, with a regular forest school session in the week run by Manchester Bees. If you want to wander further afield there is also a BMX track and a large playground to explore.
Platt Fields Park, Manchester M14 6LA
Read next: Arts, theatre, gigs: Manchester's cultural calendar for 2022
Read again: Massive new festival coming to Salford Quays this September
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