Featuring free train travel, immersive science exhibitions, day trips aboard Thomas the Tank Engine, giant outdoor sandpits and even mermaid meetings, Manchester’s eclectic and all-encompassing Summer Holiday calendar guarantees families a budget-saving selection of memorable day trips for parents with children of all ages.

Check out our guide to this summer’s best family-friendly exhibitions here, and click here to find out where kids can eat for free this summer.

Summer at the Science and Industry Museum | The Science and Industry Museum | Fri 22 Jul - Sun 3 Sep | FREE-£10 (Selected exhibitions)

Alongside a delightfully disgusting odyssey through the human digestive system with brand new exhibition Operation Ouch! Food, Poo and You, visitors to the Science and Industry Museum can enjoy a dizzying variety of interactive entertainment throughout the holidays.

Kids can bring their favourite fluffy friend to the Teddy Hospital to discover more about the human body and how to care for ourselves – and each other – in the Department of Bones, Department of Heads, Department of Hearts and the Department of Bottoms.

In the interactive Experiment gallery, families can enjoy the mind-bending magic of science brought to life with glow-in-the-dark art, thermal camera heat vision, shadow walls and more, before heading to the Textiles Gallery and Revolution Manchester to learn about the machines and people which made Manchester the first industrial city, and its proud history of world-changing ideas.

Open until Sun 3 Sep, Power UP invites parents and children alike to try out hundreds of iconic video game titles across over 160 consoles, from first-generation 80s setups to inconceivably advanced VR headsets.

In Stephen Hawking at Work, visitors can discover the fascinating intricacies of the celebrated physicist’s personality and professional life through an array of incredible objects and artefacts, including his PhD thesis, a cast photo from Star Trek and even the invitation to the Time Traveller’s Party Hawking hosted.

Liverpool Road, Manchester, M3 4FP
Yayoi Kusama: Kids and Babies Play Resources | The Social, Factory International | Tue 18 Jul - Mon 28 Aug | FREE

Inspired by Factory International’s flagship exhibition and on display as part of its inaugural summer programme, the Social at Aviva Studios hosts a summer of free drop-in activities for kids featuring colouring-in sheets, sensory toys and a selection of pumpkins, mushrooms and vibrant tentacles to decorate with dots. There are also educational activities available, including a special exhibition guide full of creative writing, art and fashion exercises, all of which link to the national curriculum.

The Social, Aviva Studios, Manchester, M3 4JQ
The Great Northern Giant Summer Sandpit | Great Northern Square | Thu 13 Jul - Thu 31 Aug | FREE

Alongside an endless variety of events, entertainment and season-long discounts running as part of their Summer Sundays series, the Great Northern’s school holiday programme features a giant outdoor sandpit in its famous amphitheatre. Kids can grab a bucket and spade and spend the afternoon at Deansgate’s beloved city centre beach, while parents can relax nearby before heading to some of Great Northern’s bars and restaurants on Deansgate Mews, all with terrace seating.

235 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 4EN
Kids Travel Free with Transport for Wales | Manchester Piccadilly | Throughout 2023

Offering blissfully affordable seaside excursions, historic hikes and scenic day trips throughout 2023, Transport for Wales allows any child under 16 to travel completely free from Manchester Piccadilly. Up to two kids can go free per paying adult, and tickets are only available from the ticket office or from an onboard conductor. Under-16s can travel for free on off-peak trains, while under-11s can board for free at any time.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea Garden Trail | Tatton Park | Knutsford | Until Sun 3 Sep | 10-6pm | £2

Running until Fri 1 Sep, Tatton Park’s season-long Garden Trail invites kids to engage with nature while discovering the classic tale of The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Mapped throughout the park’s idyllic spring gardens, the trail encourages kids to explore the great outdoors, get hands-on in Sophie’s Kitchen and snap a photo witheveryone’s favourite furry feline.

Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN, Tel: 01625 374400
Day Out with Thomas The Tank Engine | East Lancashire Railway | Bury | Sat 5 Aug - Sun 6 Aug | From £44.40

Offering nine scheduled trips over the first weekend of August, the East Lancashire Railway invites families on a wondrous day out aboard Thomas the Tank Engine himself. Beginning at Bury Bolton Street Station where passengers are greeted by Sir Topham Hatt, the enchanting journey chugs through gorgeous countryside before pulling into Ramsbottom for a quick break. Upon arrival back at Bury, children can enjoy a variety of Thomas-themed activities at Bury Transport Museum, including stories, live performances, singing, dancing, face-painting and more.

23A Bolton St, Bury BL9 0EY, Tel: 0333 320 2830
Picnic in the Pool | Victoria Baths | Wed 16 Aug | 12pm-3pm | FREE

On Wed 16 Aug, families with kids of all ages can head to Victoria Baths for a free afternoon picnic in the Gala Pool. Bring your own food and picnic paraphernalia and settle in for a day out with a difference, featuring ‘lawn’ games, a building trail, a craft area and a dedicated kids’ zone.

Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road, Manchester, M13 0FE
After Hours with Mermaids | SeaLife Manchester | Fri 18 Aug - Sat 19 Aug | 5pm-9pm | From £21.50 (Pass holders £5)

Taking place over two enchanting evenings, SeaLife Manchester’s real-life mermaids join resident turtles Ernie and Cammy for a mesmerising aquatic display, in a special after-hours session during which visitors can explore the entire aquarium over the course of a magical marine evening.

Trafford Palazzo in TraffordCity, Next to The Trafford Centre, Trafford Park, Stretford, Manchester, M17 8AS
Funtopia | Woodbank Memorial Park | Stockport | Sun 27 Aug | 11.30pm-5.30pm | FREE-£5

Designed especially for under-10s, Funtopia returns to Stockport’s Woodbank Memorial Park with an endless supply of family fun. Alongside inflatables, role play areas, shows, competitions, character meet and greets, giant games, large-scale water fights, a food court and more, the one-day festival offers an Under 5’s area filled with bouncy castles, soft play, ride-ons and a ball pool.

This year, Funtopia also hosts an hour-long autism-friendly session from 10.30am, with limited numbers, sensory games and no music.

Woodbank Memorial Park, Turncroft Lane, Offerton, Stockport, Greater Manchester, SK1 4JR
Play Time | The Whitworth | Tue - Thu through August | 10.30am-1pm Tue, 1pm-4pm Wed & Thu | Free

For the fourth year in a row, The Whitworth and Pentagon Play have teamed up for Play Time, a series of free afternoon activities for families. Children can choose from an array of outdoor and indoor interactive games with guests welcome to come and go as they please, with no need to book tickets or plan ahead.

Oxford Rd, Manchester M15 6ER, Tel: 0161 275 7450
Wolf McFarlane
Published on:
Fri 4 Aug 2023