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Planning a weekend in Leeds on a minimal budget? Read on to discover Culture Trip’s top tips for exploring the city for free.
Owls are the unofficial symbol of Leeds; not only do they appear on the coat of arms, but they’re also scattered all across the city in a range of unusual places. Go on a hunt around the city’s most interesting buildings to try and spot all 25 owls hidden in emblems, statues and even as part of mosaics. This easy-to-follow map will point you in the right direction and includes clues to finding the birds in the City Library and the Town Hall.
The River Aire runs right through the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, making this iconic landmark even more picturesque. The scenic abbey ruins are frequently visited by tourists and locals, and it’s easy to understand why people keep returning to this quiet, peaceful place. Offering a mix of history and nature close to the heart of the metropolis, the grounds of the Abbey are ideal for a slow Sunday stroll or an evening dog walk.
Art lovers should make a beeline for The Tetley to explore three floors of contemporary art in the former brewery. One of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Art Deco architecture is reason enough to visit even if you’ve already viewed the current exhibition. Not only does the gallery offer free admission for its exhibitions, there are also free workshops, activities and occasional open days where visitors can explore all of the hidden corners of the building.
Access to the Leeds City Museum is usually free (with a small charge for some visiting exhibitions) and provides an entire afternoon’s worth of archives to explore. Whether you’re interested in Egyptian ancient history or Greek pottery, you’ll find an extensive array of artefacts to unearth on the museum’s four floors. One of the highlights not to miss is Nesyamun, also known as the Leeds Mummy, which has been in the museum since 1823.
The work of one of Yorkshire’s most famous sculptors is celebrated in this city centre gallery, which also plays host to rotating historical and contemporary sculptures from some of the biggest names in the world. Entry is free, and it is worth checking their programme of events and discussions to see if anything catches your eye.
Feeling competitive and looking for something unusual to do outdoors on a sunny day? Head down to Victoria Square and challenge a friend to a game of giant chess or a fast-paced round of table tennis. You may want to arrive early to avoid having to wait your turn.
Take in a creative array of public art by making your way around Leeds Welcome Art Crawl. This predominantly outdoor art tour takes you all the way from the colourful graphic letters of Windows of Leeds to the Mabgate Mural on the exterior wall of a former mill. Along the way you’ll discover historical statues, contemporary sculptures, poetry on the pavement, an Einstein quote and the biggest stained glass window in the UK.
If you’re looking to explore works by local artists or see some incredible illustrations, head to The Gallery, tucked away inside Munro House, where you’ll find a regularly rotating array of creative work. Entrance is free and their installations change every couple of weeks. If there’s something you’d like to see, don’t delay, and if you’ve already seen the latest artworks, you won’t have to wait long for the next ones to be unveiled.
The 19th-century Gothic Revival minster is one of the most domineering and impressive structures on the Leeds skyline. If you’re looking for a quiet spot to sit and think, or simply want to admire the architecture in more detail, it is completely free to venture inside and have a look around. You can also check the times of their choral services and listen to some traditional bell-ringing.
This laid-back spot is great for a relaxing pint or a Sunday roast, but if you’re looking to spend as little money as possible, head down on a Tuesday night for their free cinema club. Get there early to claim a comfortable spot, lean back and enjoy a screening of a classic cult film.
If you love the outdoors, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Leeds with its array of beautiful parks, gardens and surrounding countryside. One of the largest city parks in Europe, Roundhay Park is a pleasure to stroll around with scenic gardens, playgrounds, woodland and even a large lake where you can sit and watch the sun set.
Another great spot to enjoy the great outdoors is along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. It may be a bit of a challenge to walk the entire length of the longest canal in Northern England, but starting from the city centre and following the water gives a welcome respite from the busy high street. Along the way you’ll discover colourful barges, interesting local wildlife and green spots perfect for picnics.
Resist the urge to shop and visit the Victoria Quarter just to admire the beautiful architecture of these Victorian arcades. The mosaics, stained glass and ornate detailing are just as luxurious as the designer shops that surround them. Visit during the week or the early morning to enjoy the finer details of the stunning arcades without the crowds of eager shoppers.
The Royal Armouries at the Leeds Docks has five floors of impressive displays. Pass through collections of arms and armour to discover The Hall of Steel, an enormous staircase with a breathtaking display of swords and other trophies. Kids (and those young at heart) will love the theatrical shows and interactive experiences which include a session where you can learn to fire a crossbow.
Leeds has a buzzing live music scene, and many local and touring bands of all genres play around the city each night. It’s surprisingly easy to seek out free gigs if you know where to look. If you’re into blues, country or jazz check out the events at The Smokestack, and to scout out the latest up-and-coming bands make Brudenell Social Club, Belgrave Music Hall and Headrow House your first ports of call.