Things to do and see in Leeds

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Looking for a short break in the United Kingdom? Here’s a look at things to do and see in Leeds.

Leeds, in West Yorkshire, is a great base for a weekend away with mates. It also makes for a good location for a romantic break. Chic shopping, numerous tourism attractions, a broad selection of places to dine and drink plus a decent choice of hotels near the station mean you can tailor a visit to suit an array of interests.

Disclosure: Some of the links below — marked with (£) — are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Many of Leeds’ industrial buildings have been refurbished in recent years, helping give West Yorkshire’s most populous city a chic look and upbeat vibe. Here’s a look at some of the many points of interest that provide reasons to visit.

Dip into The Tetley

The Art Deco building was built as the corporate headquarters of the Tetley Brewery in the early 1930s. It now hosts a contemporary arts centre, featuring free-to-visit temporary exhibitions, with a laid-back bar and restaurant on the ground floor. The Number Three Pale Ale, served at the bar, is locally brewed to a recipe dating from 1868.

Many of the rooms within The Tetley have been converted in to artists’ studios. However, the Tetley board room has been retained. It’s possible to step inside the wood-panelled room and see the long wooden table and leather-backed chairs where directors held board meetings. A film about the history of the brewery is shown up on the second floor. Additionally, a collection of artefacts, relating to brewing and Tetley’s marketing, are displayed in the building.

Browse stores at Leeds Corn Exchange

The Leeds Corn Exchange is a remarkable piece of Victorian architecture. The domed structure opened in the 1860s as a place for merchants to trade grain. It’s now a gorgeous location to sit and an enjoy a coffee or browse the boutiques on the upper levels of the airy building, whose natural light allowed the corn merchants of Victorian times to familiarise themselves with the grain they were purchasing.

The fanned pattern of the ceiling makes it a great spot for photography. My Cameras, a vintage camera and photography equipment store, is another reason to visit if you enjoy photography.

If craft beer’s your thing, head to the Little Leeds Beerhouse, which stocks an array of brews from regional breweries, in addition to international products.

If you enjoy shopping and appreciate architecture, you’re likely to love exploring Leeds. The County and Cross shopping arcades, in the Victoria Quarter, feature patterned wrought iron, mosaic flooring and designer stores. The Victoria Gate, meanwhile, is home the largest John Lewis store outside of London..

Locals may proudly tell you that Kirkgate Market is the largest indoor market in Europe.

The Leeds Corn Exchange was built so that Victorian merchants could trade corn. It now houses boutique stores.

Head to The Henry Moore Institute

The Henry Moore Institute is part of what has become known as the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, along with The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.   

The institute, at The Headrow, is named after the Yorkshire-born sculptor bast-known for his semi-abstract bronze artworks. The free-to-visit gallery is open seven days a week. Guided tours start at 2pm each Sunday.

Moore’s Reclining Woman: Elbow stands by the entrance to the adjacent Leeds Art Gallery, a Victorian building that displays the artworks of the Leeds Collection, including Lady Elizabeth Butler’s painting of a charging cavalry unit, Scotland for Ever. The gallery’s ornate Tiled Hall Café is an attractive place to relax with a slice of cake and a warm drink.

Moore’s work outside of the Leeds Art Gallery and Library on the Headrow.

Explore the Royal Armouries Museum

Over five levels the Royal Armouries Museum exhibits a part of the United Kingdom’s national collection of arms and armour. It encompasses items ranging from samurai swords and to beautifully detailed suits of medieval armour.

The Royal Armouries is not merely artefacts on display. Short films, touch screens and actors in character bring stories and tactics to life. Jousting is held during the summer. There’s also an opportunity to shoot a crossbow on the upper floor of the museum.

Poke about in the Thrackray Medical Museum

This medical museum was established in 1997 and is an insightful and fun place to visit. Exhibits illustrate how medical treatments have evolved since Victorian times.

The Thackray Medical Museum is housed in the building that opened as Leeds Union Workhouse, back in 1861, then became a hospital before being converted into its present use. Should you be wondering, the attraction is named after a medical supplies company that was established as a family-run business in Leeds in the early 20th century.

Over two storeys, displays in a series of rooms throw light onto subjects such as the common illnesses of the Victorian era, implements used by surgeons and dentists, plus the evolution of theories relating to germs and vaccines. It’s interactive in places — kids have, among other things, opportunities to test their reflexes and measure the height of their jump in the LifeZone gallery.

If you’re into medical care the Thackray Medical Museum has a serious side too. It’s collection of medicines and medical equipment totals more than 47,000 artefacts, facilitating the interpretation of the provision of health. On the first Saturday of each month guest speakers talk about aspects of healthcare through the ages.

Sign for the Bierkeller pub on Park Row. Renowned for its nightlife, don’t plan too many things to do and see in Leeds after a big night out in the city!

Look at the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills

Once the world’s largest woollen mill, Armley Mills is now an industrial museum. It tells the stories of workers lives, textile manufacturing and steam engine production in West Yorkshire.

Looms. Sewing machines, printing presses and machinery count among the artefacts on display. You can look inside workers’ cottages, watch a black and white film and see vintage cameras in a cinema that dates from the 1920s.

Did you know that it was in Leeds, rather than Hollywood, that the world’s first film was shot? Louis le Prince, a French inventor, filmed Roundhay Garden Scene in 1888.

The Leeds Wool Festival is held each summer, in early June, at Armley Mills. The mills are a couple of miles northwest of the city centre (buses 15, 33, 33A, 508 and 757 run towards the mills).

Industrial heritage closer to the city centre. The Central Station Wagon Hoist was powered by steam and operated from the 1850s to 1950s, lifting railway wagons.

Peek inside Kirkstall Abbey

Into medieval history? Don’t miss the opportunity to mooch about what’s left of Kirkstall Abbey.

The abbey was established as a Cistercian Monastery in 1152. Airedale, in which the remains of the monastic building stand, proved fertile grounds for the Cistercian brothers to grow and harvest crops. Local landowners helped finance the building of the chapterhouse and church, dedicated to St Mary, that still stand today. The visitor centre tells the abbey’s story.

In 1539 agents of King Henry VIII arrived at the abbey and the abbot signed the deed of surrender that dissolved the community. The abbey now stands in a partially ruined state.

If you travel to Leeds using public transport, it’s worth knowing that buses 33, 33a and 757 run the three miles to Kirkstall Road from the city centre.

Into tasting local produce? From March until November a food and craft market is held from noon until 3pm on the Saturdays and Sundays on the last weekend of the month.

Step inside Abbey House Museum and stroll in Abbey Park

Abbey House Museum is located within the building that was once the gatehouse for Kirkstall Abbey.  Inside, it recreates streets from Leeds in the 1880s, including a Victorian pub.

The museum hosts events for children during school holidays. It also study events and talks that delve into details of historical themes and aspects of the museum’s collection. The Childhood Galleries display toys and slot machines that still operate using old coinage.

If you enjoy strolling in gardens, tale a look around the Abbey Park. The 24-hectare site is part of West Leeds Country Park. Bring a football and you can have a kickabout on one of the pitches within the park. The pathways in the park are easy to follow if you’re looking for a place to run. Take a walk along the bank of the River Aire if that sounds too energetic.

Afternoon tea’s your thing? Then step inside the Gate House Café and enjoy refreshment beneath the historic building’s vaulted ceiling.

The Victoria Gate shopping centre. Shopping counts high on the list of activities to see and do in Leeds.

Mill about at Thwaite Mills

You can combine insights into Leeds’ industrial heritage with a stroll in woodland and along waterways by visiting Thwaite Mills.

The watermill is approximately 2.5 miles from the city centre (number 10 buses stop about 15 minutes’ walk away). It stands on an island between the River Aire and the Aire and Calder Navigation. The waterwheels have been proving power for two centuries. Putty was one of the products of their output.

Why not take photos when you are out and about using a D-SLR (£):

Thwaite House, a Georgian building, was once used by the mill’s managers. It has been restored to how it was during the 1940s and features an Anderson bomb shelter, used by Britons during World War Two during air raids by the Luftwaffe.

Time your trip well and you can combine it with one of the free boat trips that operate on the canal.

There's lots to see and do in the city centre of Leeds.    Statues of local dignitaries stand outside of the Old Post Office building on City Square.
There’s lots to see and do in the city centre of Leeds. Statues of local dignitaries stand outside of the Old Post Office building on City Square.

Watch sport in Leeds

Leeds has a strong tradition as a venue for football, rugby and cricket.

Elland Road, the 37,890-capacity home of Leeds United Football Club, opens for stadium tours. They include access to the dressing rooms, the tunnel leading onto the pitch and the pitch-side dugouts.

Outside A statue of Billy Bremner, the Scotland midfielder who captained Leeds during the club’s glory days during the late-1960s and early-1970s, stands with with arms raised high outside of the ground, which is a couple of miles from the city centre. Fifty Shades of White (£) is a book about the club’s recent history (£):

Prefer cricket? Pop to Headingly, which hosts Yorkshire and England matches.

Pre- or post-match entertainment? A Pizza Express restaurant and the Brewdog pub in central Leeds.

Stroll in the countryside at Lotherton Hall

Lotherton Hall is at Aberford, 11 miles eastwards of Leeds city centre. A sizable country home holds a collection of decorative arts, standing stands amid extensive grounds with nature trails and a deer park. It was utilised as a military hospital during World War One.

Pack a picnic and have an al fresco meal before viewing the collection of carriages and historic stables. The bird garden is at its most active early in the day.

Lotherton Wildlife World plays home to creatures such as Humboldt penguins and tapirs, animals that members of the Gascoigne family, to whom Lotherton Hall previously belonged, would have seen on their travels

Each year, from March until October, clothing and textiles are displayed in Lotherton’s fashion gallery.

Travelling with the family? There’s a woodland play area, ideal for older children, with twin zip lines, plus a playground for younger kids.

Like walking or keen to find free things to do and see in Leeds? Follow the River Aire on the Leeds Industrial Heritage Trail.

Eat and drink in Leeds

Central Leeds offers a good night out and has plenty of hip places to eat and drink. For stylishly presented Japanese cuisine book a table at Issho, a chic restaurant with a rooftop bar that’s a good spot for drinks on fine evenings. For delicious charcuterie in an informal setting, stop by Friends of Ham, where a broad selection of beers are served.

The Northern Monk Brew Co. has established a reputation as one of England’s most dynamic craft breweries. The brewery has a tap room, known as The Refectory, and is within easy walking distance (at least on the way there!) of Leeds station.

If you like classy, old-fashioned British boozers it’s difficult to top visiting Whitelocks, a traditional pub at the Turks Head Yard.

Prefer cocktails? Try those mixed at The Blind Tyger or the neighbouring Death and Taxes on Cross Belgrave Street. From there you’re in position to take your pick from the multitude of bars on Merrion Street.

There’s also plenty of places for cake and coffee in Leeds.

Looking for other things to do in Leeds?

Like the idea of seeing behind the scenes in Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House? Tours of the Victorian entertainment venue, designed by George Corson, last an hour. The theatre opened in 1878 and today has a capacity of 1,550. Alternatively, you could always combine viewing the public areas while watching a show.

Take a look at the Visit Leeds website for further ideas about things to do and see in the city.

The Welcome to Yorkshire website has information about activities and places to visit in the surrounding region.

The book Secret Leeds (£) may provide lots of interesting details about the West Yorkshire city ahead of a visit (£):

How Leeds Changed the World (£) is a book about how the city impacted our planet (£):

There is, of course, lots more to do and see in Leeds beyond this listicle. Got tips that you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for visiting MannedUp and reading this post with things to do and see in Leeds. If you enjoy travel why not check out other posts on this site, including this one with reasons to visit Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

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  1. Phil Hickey says:

    We love visiting Leeds after walking in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s such a vibrant city.

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