Whether you live in Leeds or you’re planning a visit, you’ll be surprised at the amount of free activities on offer throughout the city. Architecture enthusiasts, lovers of the outdoors and museum addicts will all find something to keep them busy without spending any money at all. Planning a weekend in Leeds on a minimal budget? Read on to discover our top tips for exploring the city for free.
Leeds Owl Trail
Owls are the unofficial symbol of Leeds, appearing on the coat of arms and scattered all across the city in an abundance of unusual places. Make a wander around the city more interesting by trying to spot all 25 owls that appear on and inside a variety of Leeds’s most interesting buildings on emblems, as statues and even as part of mosaics. This easy-to-follow map will point you in the right direction of where to spot the owls, including the City Library, Leeds Municipal and the Town Hall.
One of the best preserved abbeys in the UK is located only a short distance outside of Leeds city centre. The ruins of the 12th-century Kirkstall Abbey are free to explore, surrounded by beautiful green scenery that attracts many locals for walking their dogs, picnics or relaxing in the sun. Even on a gloomy winter’s day, the abbey is breath-taking, making it an ideal location year round for a free day out.
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 exhibits, there are also free workshops and activities and occasional open days where visitors can explore all of the hidden corners of the building.
Leeds City Museum
Access to the Leeds City Museum is usually free (with a small charge for some visiting exhibitions), providing 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 fascinating artefacts to unearth on the museum’s four floors. Ensure that you pay a visit to the Collector’s Gallery if you’re curious about people’s strange obsessions.
Henry Moore Institute
The work of one of Yorkshire’s most famous sculptors is celebrated in this city centre gallery that also plays host to rotating historical and contemporary sculptures from some of the biggest names in the world. Containing one of the largest collections of sculptures in Europe, it’s somewhat of a nice surprise that entry is free, and there is also a programme of events and discussions on offer.
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. The games are available to all until 4.30pm every day, although you may want to arrive early to avoid having to wait your turn.
Leeds Welcome Art Crawl
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 Windows of Leeds colourful letters at the train station to the Mabgate Mural on the exterior wall of a former mill. Along the way you’ll discover historical statues, contemporary sculptures, interesting street art, poetry on the pavement, an Einstein quote and the biggest stained glass window in the UK – all for free.
The Gallery at Munro House
Looking for a more unusual exhibition, perhaps by a local artist or centred on the fields of fine art, illustration and photography? Head to The Gallery, tucked away inside Munro House, where you’ll find a regularly rotating array of creative work that you can access for free. Be warned that their exhibits change every couple of weeks, so if there’s something you’d like to see, don’t delay.
One of the most domineering structures on the Leeds skyline, the 19th-century Gothic Revival minster is also one of its most impressive. 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.
Crowd of Favours Cinema Club
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’re spoilt for choice in Leeds with its array of beautiful parks and gardens and surrounding countryside. One of the best and most accessible spots for escaping the busy city centre and enjoying a little fresh air is Roundhay Park. One of the largest city parks in Europe, this pretty park is a pleasure to stroll around with gardens, woodland and even a large lake to enjoy for completely free.
Leeds and Liverpool Canal
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 the country, but start from the city centre and take a short stroll next to the water as a welcome respite from the busy high street. Dependent on how long you walk, you’ll discover colourful barges, interesting wildlife and green spots perfect for picnics.
Resist the urge to shop and visit the Victoria Quarter simply 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 reside in them. The arcades are particularly stunning when visited during the week or early in the morning, before hordes of shoppers descend.
Located at Leeds Docks, the Royal Armouries are far from a boring historical museum. There are over 10,000 artefacts to admire throughout the six themed rooms, ranging from collections of arms and armour to The Hall of Steel. Kids (and those young at heart) will love the interactive experiences such as learning to fire a crossbow and a variety of theatrical shows.
Leeds is synonymous with music, thanks largely to the iconic music festival that is held just outside the city every August. Many local and touring bands of all genres play around the city each night, and it’s surprisingly easy to seek out free live music. If you’re into blues, country or jazz check out the events at The New Roscoe or The Smokestack, but if you’re more into the hippest bands, make Brudenell Social Club, Belgrave Music Hall and Headrow House your first ports of call.