Inspire the next David Attenborough
Get down among the mini-beasts and explore the glorious flora and fauna of Alkrington Woods Nature Reserve, in the grounds of the former Alkrington Hall estate. (Manchester Old Rd, Rhodes, Middleton, M24 1WF, www.rochdale.gov.uk).
Treat your little devils
If you’re living in a red household, then a trip to the Manchester United Museum, including a behind-the-scenes stadium tour, is bound to go down well. Open all year round, it’s full of fascinating memorabilia. Relive the heroic, tragic and truly special moments in the club’s history, and don’t miss the current George Best exhibition. (Sir Matt Busby Way, Old Trafford, M16 0RA, www.manutd.com).
Go on telly
The BBC’s MediaCity at Salford Quays is a state of the art broadcasting centre – and the great news is, it’s well designed for visitors of all ages. Let your little ones get a glimpse of how the TV and radio shows they love are made, on the CBBC Interactive Tour for ages six to 11. (MediaCityUK, Salford, M50 2EQ, www.bbc.co.uk).
Put your (son or) daughter on the stage
The Royal Exchange, one of Manchester’s most respected theatres, runs affordable performance workshops every week. For £75 per term, the Flying Saucers Drama Club is a chance for young people to spend Sundays honing their acting skills and learning new techniques that can help boost their confidence in daily life, too. (St Ann’s Square, M2 7DH, www.royalexchange.co.uk).
Gallery Oldham is a dynamic art space that’s easy to get to and inspiring for young creative minds. Plan your trip for the first Saturday of the month and join their drop-in Creative Family Fun sessions for artist-led activities like painting, drawing and crafting. The Super Saturday sessions run from noon to 4pm and are free. (Oldham Cultural Quarter, Greaves St, OL1 1AL, www.galleryoldham.org.uk).
Fly through the sky
Enjoy the feeling of skydiving without the hairy flight in a little plane first. At Airkix indoor skydiving centre, anyone aged four and over can feel the amazing sensation of floating in mid air, thanks to a specially designed vertical wind tunnel. No experience needed, just a bit of bravery. (Trafford Quays Leisure Village, 9 Trafford Way, M41 7JA, www.airkix.com).
Improve your swing
If your family is golf-mad, the Trafford Golf Centre is the ideal place to nurture a serious talent. They have junior coaching sessions with trained professionals, so your budding golfer can learn the skills and the etiquette of the game. They do kids’ golf parties, too. (Old Park Lane, Trafford City, M17 8PG, www.traffordgolfcentre.co.uk.)
Go pond dipping
Phillips Park is 31 fabulous acres of wide open space close to Sportcity, great for running around, playing hide and seek in the woodland, walking the dog or swinging about in the children’s playground. (Fairclough St, M11 4TN, sportcity-manchester.com).
Take a spin
Manchester is a city that’s serious about sport, and thanks to the major events held here in recent years, the facilities are first class. The National Cycling Centre is a joy for anyone who prefers two wheels to four. From sessions where they teach you how to ride a bike to advanced skills workshops and maintenance courses, there’s lots here for everyone. (Stuart St, M11 4DQ, www.nationalcyclingcentre.com).
Score a strike
Dog Bowl is a great city-centre bowling alley with lots of funky atmosphere, and without the often overwhelming bustle of the big out-of-town alleys. Under-18s can bowl here every day of the week until 7pm. They do special birthday packages, too. (Whitworth St West, M1 5WW, blackdogballroom.co.uk).
Discover your home town
The People’s History Museum is a welcoming and inspiring place to explore. Kids love seeing traces of their parents’ and grandparents’ early lives in the artefacts and exhibitions, and you all go home feeling a little more in touch with the people and places around you. (Left Bank, Spinningfields, M3 3ER, www.phm.org.uk).
Get nose to beak with an owl
Take a short ride out to the countryside south-west of the city for a day trip to Cheshire Falconry. Watch the falconers fly birds of prey from all over the world, while they tell you all about these incredible creatures. Admission to public displays is just £3 (children £2.50) and you can add the aviary to your visit for just £2 more. (Blackmere Craft Centre, Chester Rd, Sandiway, Northwich, CW8 2EB, www.cheshirefalconry.com).
Glide on the ice
You don’t have to wait until winter to enjoy ice skating in Manchester. Altrincham’s Silver Blades ice rink is open all year round – the perfect place to cool down if the heat gets too much this summer. They have deals for skating in the school holidays, lots of special sessions including Tuesday evenings for families, and birthday party facilities. (Oakfield Rd, Station Site, Altrincham, WA15 8EW, www.silver-blades.co.uk).
Do a maze run
Apple Jacks Adventure Park is a day out in the countryside, handy for Manchester, where kids can run about in wide open space, go roller skating and try driving a quad kart. You can race each other on ziplines and take the adventure hayride, too. It’s a busy place, with a hay ball mountain for climbing, bouncy trampolines and challenges like archery. There’s even pig racing to watch! (Stretton Rd, Stretton, WA4 4NW, www.applejacksfarm.co.uk).
Take to the waves
The Helly Hansen Watersports Centre is no boring old swimming pool. This amazing facility at Salford Quays includes indoor and outdoor challenges, from climbing and kayaking to powerboating and open water swimming. (15 The Quays, Salford, M50 3SQ, www.salfordcommunityleisure.co.uk).
Discover more fun activities
Travel back in time
The East Lancashire Railway is a beautifully preserved chance to get onboard an old steam train and take a trip through the countryside. There are lots of points where you can start or finish your journey (Heywood, Bury, Summerseat, Ramsbottom, Irwell Vale, Rawtenstall) and each station is like a living history lesson in itself. Check the website addresses for each station on the line (www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk).
Frolic in the fields
The wide open space of south Manchester’s Wythenshawe Park is perfect for kicking a ball around or testing your Frisbee skills. There’s a great children’s playground too, if you want to let your little ones clamber, swing and scoot, and a community farm just next to the playground. The eight tennis courts are free to use and there’s a pitch and putt area, so take your own sports gear and enjoy. (Wythenshawe Rd, M23 0AB, www.manchester.gov.uk).
Catch a show
The Lowry theatre and arts centre on Salford Quays always has a busy schedule of performances for children and families. From charming theatre for under-fives to the classics for kids to dazzling child-friendly cabaret with whizzy special effects. (Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ, www.thelowry.com).
Go wild in the ‘country’
Get lungsful of fresh air and enjoy a runaround in the leafy acres of Debdale Park in Gorton. There’s so much to do here for all ages, including a play area for ages 12 and under, a skate park, a football pitch and a pitch and putt course. If you have a budding Andy Murray on your hands, take along your racquets – the tennis courts are free to use. (1075 Hyde Rd, M18 7LJ, www.manchester.gov.uk).
Release your inner squirrel
If you think the kids need a screen break, get them stretching and swooshing through the trees at Aerial Extreme. You might think this high ropes adventure centre is way out of town, but there’s actually an Aerial Extreme at the intu Trafford Centre (13/14 Regent Crescent Car Park, M17 8AA, www.aerialextreme.co.uk), so put your brave face on and get zipwiring!
Inspire a new Picasso
Since it was extended and refurbished, the Whitworth Art Gallery has transformed from being a charming museum of visual arts to an exciting and dynamic place to explore creativity with your family. See works by great artists from Van Gogh and Cezanne to Hockney and Emin. Pick up an Art Hamper for free, filled with materials to help your little ones get arty while they’re here. (Oxford Rd, M15 6ER, www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk).
Have a splashing time
The Pelican Centre in Tyldesley is a good-news story for community determination. Converted from an old cinema into a swimming pool in the 1960s, it closed in 2011, but after years of tireless campaigning was reborn as the Pelican Centre. The beautiful pool is now a cherished local amenity, with the potential for more development to come. (Castle St, Tyldesley, M29 8EG, www.pelicantyldesley.co.uk).
Get busy with the frogs and fossils
The Manchester Museum has plenty to fire up curious little minds. As well as stunning dinosaur skeletons and galleries full of specimens, there are also live animals to meet. Once you’re done gazing on millennia-old Greek, Egyptian and Roman artefacts, and stuffed animals, check out the Vivarium and get close to lots of weird and wonderful living frogs, lizards and reptiles. (Oxford Rd, M13 9PL, www.museum.manchester.ac.uk).
Go free range
Just a short drive out of Manchester centre takes you to so many beautiful countryside locations, including Dove Stone – a wonderful RSPB reserve near Mossley. With hills rising up all around you and easy to follow paths through the moorland to the reservoir, this is a stunningly beautiful place to explore wildlife, waterfalls, streams and woodland. (Mossley, OL3 7NE, www.rspb.org.uk).
Get all steamed up
Across the road from Bury Bolton Street station you’ll find the Bury Transport Museum. There are lots of lovely old buses and steam engines to take a close look at, and even an old horsedrawn tram that used to be a chip shop. Fascinating for young visitors and a delightful trip back in time if you take gran and grandpa too. (Castlecroft Goods Warehouse, Bolton St, Bury BL9 0EY, www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk).
Hear about heroes
Thanks to the incredible collection of artefacts and artworks at the Fusilier Museum in Bury, visitors young and old can get a sense of a soldier’s life in war and peace. Take a close look at everything from Robert Ross’s tunic, worn as the British battled at Washington in 1814, and Napoleon’s books, a gift to the regiment from Bonaparte shortly before his death. (Moss St, Bury BL9 0DF, www.fusiliermuseum.com).
Step into the City
If your household often rattles to the sound of family members singing ‘Blue Moon’, treat yourselves to a tour of Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. The guided tour includes a chance to visit the press room, see the players’ lounge, walk down the tunnel to the pitch and sit in the manager’s seat in the dugout. (Eithad Campus, M11 3FF, www.mcfc.co.uk).
Do the kids like to turn your bed into a trampoline while you’re trying to change the sheets? Give them the chance to get all that bouncing out of their system at Go Air Trampoline Park. Here the entire space is covered with trampolines – they even go up the wall. (Riverpark Trading Estate, Eastlands, M40 2XP, www.goairtrampolinepark.co.uk).
Get hands-on with history
There’s been a family home at Clayton Hall since the twelfth century and it’s one of Manchester’s rare examples of a moated medieval site. Over the years it has been occupied by many grand families and today you can visit it as the Clayton Hall Living History Museum – a wonderful chance to make history vividly real and much more exciting than classroom lessons. (Clayton Park, Ashton New Rd, M11 4RU, www.claytonhall.org).
Say ‘Oink’ to the park life
Take a stroll around Wythenshawe Park Community Farm and see who’s in each of the big pens and sheds – pigs, cows, sheep, goats, horses and ducks. The farm has a full breeding programme, so you might well spot a few adorable piglets, lambs or calves. Open daily. (Wythenshawe Rd, M23 0AB, www.manchester.gov.uk).
Learn about war and peace
Located in a futuristic aluminium-clad building by the quays, Imperial War Museum North is an exciting, modern museum that looks back over the history of modern Britain in wartime. Compare your height with a full-size fighter jet and see artefacts that reveal what life was like for troops and civilians living through conflicts since the First World War. There’s an exhibition about spies, too. (Trafford Wharf Rd, Stretford, Manchester M17 1TZ, 0161 836 4000, www.iwm.org.uk).
Inspire your budding Picasso
Right in the centre of town and free to visit, Manchester Art Gallery is a lot more lively inside than you might think. As well as a large collection of nineteenth-century masterpieces, there are many art works that depict the city through the years. Get the kids to look close and see if they recognise the places in the paintings. (Mosley St, Manchester M2 3JL, 0161 235 8888, www.manchesterartgallery.org).
Fire a brilliant young mind
If you have a child who’s always asking ‘What’s that?, ‘What makes it go?’ and ‘How does that work?’, put their brain cells to good use at the Museum of Science and Industry. Free to visit, this bustling hands-on museum includes virtual reality displays, artefacts from the age of steam, and the chance to find out more about how biology, chemistry and physics affect our daily lives. (Liverpool Rd, Manchester M3 4FP, msimanchester.org.uk).
Score the winning goal
Open daily and free to visit, the National Football Museum is a brilliant choice on days when rain has stopped play in the park. With an unparalleled collection of artefacts, the museum tells the story of the beautiful game from its roots to its exciting modern-day highlights. For obsessives, there are regular Panini sticker swap days and drop-in sessions where you can get your own memorabilia valued. (Urbis Building, Cathedral Gdns, Todd St, Manchester M4 3BG, 0161 605 8200, www.nationalfootballmuseum.com).
Play, discover and relax
Heaton Park isn’t just a beautiful green space for picnics and running around, it has dedicated play areas, an animal centre, a tram museum and facilities so you can have a go at horse riding, if you’re up to it! In summer, there are free events to watch too (Middleton Rd, Higher Blackley, M25 2SW, www.manchester.gov.uk/heatonpark).
Get nose to snout with a shark
With over 5000 aquatic creatures to gaze at, in a range of zones including Turtle Beach, Jellyfish Seas, Shark Shipwreck and the new Octopus Hideout, Sea Life Manchester is the perfect day out for budding marine explorers. Walk through the ocean tunnel while shoals of fish glide overhead and dip your hands in the rockpool to see what starfish and sea anemones really feel like. (The Trafford Centre, Barton Dock Rd, Manchester M17 8AS, 0871 221 2483, www2.visitsealife.com).
Climb to new heights
If your kids are little monkeys who turn every sofa they see into a climbing frame, give them a taste of the real thing: at the bouldering centre, Rock Over Climbing, in Julia Street. Rock Over Climbing has walls to suit all abilities and their team includes experienced mountaineers to ensure everyone stays safe. (Clarence Hatworks, 45 Julia St, Manchester M3 1LN, 0161 288 1218, www.rockoverclimbing.co.uk)
Let your imagination take flight
At Manchester Airport’s Runway Visitor Park you don’t need an airline ticket for a far-flung destination to feel part of the action. Watch aeroplanes take off from the playground and park, then take a closer look inside an RAF Nimrod, a DC-10 and Concorde – the fastest passenger plane ever to take to the skies. (Sunbank Lane, Altrincham, WA15 8XQ, 0161 489 8336, www.manchesterairport.co.uk).
Go wild in the country
One of the most beautiful wide-open spaces close to Manchester has to be Tatton Park. Run about, meet the rare breed animals on the Park’s working farm and explore centuries of country house life (upstairs and downstairs) at the Tudor Old Hall. (Mereheath Dr, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN, 01625 374400, www.tattonpark.org.uk).
Pet a piggy
Visit an inner city farm with the kids and enjoy the delights of the countryside within the city limits. At Wythenshawe Community Farm you can spend time petting one of many pigs or stroking a sheep. (Wythenshawe Park, Wythenshawe Rd, Manchester, Lancashire M23 0AB, Wythenshawe Community Farm).