Giggs was born at St David's Hospital in Canton, Cardiff, to Danny Wilson, a rugby union player for Cardiff RFC, and Lynne Giggs (now Lynne Johnson). Giggs is mixed race – his paternal grandfather is from Sierra Leone – and has spoken of the racism he faced as a child. As a child, Giggs grew up in Ely, a suburb of western Cardiff. His younger brother, Rhodri, is a former manager of non-league Salford City.
He spent much time with his mother's parents and playing football and rugby league on the roads outside their house in Pentrebane. In 1980, when Giggs was six years old, his father switched from rugby union to rugby league, and signed for Swinton RLFC, forcing the whole family to move north to Swinton, a town in Salford, Greater Manchester. The move was a traumatic one, as Giggs was very close to his grandparents in Cardiff, but he would often return there with his family at weekends or on school holidays.
After moving to Salford, Giggs appeared for the local team, Deans FC, who were coached by Manchester City scout Dennis Schofield. Schofield recommended Giggs to Manchester City, and he was signed up to their School of Excellence. Meanwhile, Giggs continued to play for Salford Boys, who went on to reach the final of the Granada Schools Cup competition at Anfield in 1987. Giggs captained the Salford team to victory over their Blackburn counterparts, was man of the match, and the trophy was presented to him by Liverpool chief scout Ron Yeats. Giggs also played rugby league at schoolboy level.
While playing for Deans, Giggs was observed regularly by local newsagent and Old Trafford steward Harold Wood. Wood spoke personally to Alex Ferguson who sent a scout, and Giggs was eventually offered a trial over the 1986 Christmas period. Giggs played in a match for Salford Boys against a United Under-15s side at The Cliff and scored a hat-trick, with Ferguson watching from his office window. On 29 November 1987 (his 14th birthday), Ferguson turned up at Giggs's house with United scout Joe Brown and offered him two years on associate schoolboy forms. They offered to waive YTS forms, and persuaded Giggs to sign by offering the opportunity to turn professional in three years. Using the name Ryan Wilson, Giggs captained England at schoolboy level, playing at Wembley Stadium against in 1989. He changed his surname to that of his mother at the age of 16, when his mother remarried, two years after his parents' separation.