Leeds: The Top 24 Must-See Stops for an Unforgettable Visit

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Andrea Henthorn

The third largest city in the UK, Leeds, in West Yorkshire, England, blends British tradition and history in a bustling metropolitan setting. A hub for art, culture and history, it is also home to four universities, a flourishing financial district, and the second busiest train station outside London. Here are the best things to do and see in Leeds.

1. Kirkstall Abbey

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Person walks in front of a large old church - Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds
@korng_sok / Unsplash

On the bank of the River Aire, northwest of Leeds city centre, are the impressive ruins of an 800-year-old monastery, Kirkstall Abbey. One of the victims of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the abbey’s remains are an enticing and dramatic monument to its chequered past. You can enjoy the surrounding park, browse the market, or for more stories of its juicy history, join a tour of the Grade I-listed abbey.

2. Temple Newsam

Building, Park

English country estate, Temple Newsam, Temple Newsam Road, Leeds, UK
@r1chjames / Unsplash

Temple Newsam is a glorious country estate in Leeds. Taking up more than 1500 acres (600ha), and spanning 500 years of history within its walls, the estate is an exciting mixture of Tudor and Jacobean architecture. Popular with tourists for its enchanting woodland and extensive art collections, Temple Newsam is also a working farm, with activities to captivate all ages and interests.

3. Royal Armouries Museum

Museum

The clue is in the title of the Royal Armouries Museum, which displays 8,500 armaments from the museum’s huge collection. The impressive array of weaponry is arranged across several galleries, along themes of tournament, self-defence, hunting, and, interestingly, peace. The museum also houses impressive objects previously on display at the Tower of London. This is a great venue to make you look at history from a different angle, and to learn about the way weapons have advanced over time.

4. Roundhay Park

Park

Roundhay Park, Roundhay, Leeds, UK
@lison / Unsplash
This award-winning park is one of the largest and most charming city parks in Europe, sprawling more than 700 acres (280ha). Stroll around and take advantage of the amazing (and rather unexpected, for such a large city) greenery on the outskirts. With lakes, gardens and an impressive mansion to explore, as well as a 19th-century castle gate, there’s a wealth of exciting outdoor activities to choose from.

5. The Grand Theatre

Theatre

If you’re in the mood to be entertained, consider splashing out on a ticket to the Grand Theatre and Opera House in Leeds. Ballet, opera and plays are all part of the programme, and this venue is a highlight of the city. Dating back to the late 19th century, the theatre seats 1,500, with every space in the elaborately designed interior warm and welcoming. It’s a great way to spend a cultural evening in a beautiful setting.

6. Leeds Cathedral

Cathedral, Church

Formerly known as St Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds Cathedral was restored in 2006. Designed in the gothic revival style and rebuilt in 1901, it continues to hold mass and has a thriving congregation. It’s one of the most striking points in the city’s landscape, and is a monument to the religious history of the city, which has often oscillated between Catholic and Protestant faith. Whether you’re religious or not, this is a beautiful place to enjoy English design and soak up the atmosphere.

7. Leeds Art Gallery

Art Gallery, Museum

A jewel in the city’s crown, Leeds Art Gallery features a collection of national importance. Founded in 1888, it was established in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and the exhibitions feature the best of 19th and 20th century British art. The Leeds Art Library is an interesting component of the gallery, providing extensive, unbeatable materials for art history and culture enthusiasts.

8. Leeds City Museum

Museum

Leeds City Museum reopened in 2008 to great fanfare after a major refurb. It showcases titillating aspects of the city’s history; one of its most popular curios is the Leeds Tiger, which ostensibly began as a tiger-skin rug, and was later combined with other animal skins and stuffed to create the current, rather imposing Victorian artefact. While away your time in the museum’s many exhibitions, exploring everything from natural history to ancient worlds.

9. Thackray Museum of Medicine

Museum

The Thackray Medical Museum is a marvel of medical history. The official museum opened in 1997, but the grounds in which it’s built once housed a workhouse and infirmary, and later a hospital. Learn about the exciting developments that have transformed the practice of medicine, through interactive games and tours. There are also exhibits that will transport you back in time to Victorian Leeds, giving you a glimpse into city living before, mercifully, national health regulations were introduced.

10. Leeds and Liverpool Canal

Natural Feature

Canal boat sailing down a black water canal with red brick buildings on the side
@supergios / Unsplash

Leeds canal links Leeds to the city of Liverpool, via Britain’s longest, single waterway. Stretching 127mi (200km), the canal was completed during the early 19th century and is an ideal place to head out on a canoe, or amble along the bank during leisurely afternoons. Seek out a quiet spot for a stroll and a drink with friends.

11. Craft Beer Scene & the Brewtown tour

Brewery

Leeds has an enviable position in the craft beer scene, and the best way to get a real sense of the local offering is to take a Brewtown tour. If you choose the classic brewery tour, you’ll be collected by special minibus, and taken to three of the most significant local breweries – Quirky Ales, Northern Monk and the North Brewing Co. You’ll get the chance to try a range of their beers, buy some to bring home with you, and get the best tips on pubs and bars to visit once the bus drops you off back in town.

12. Rodley Nature Reserve

Natural Feature

Within easy reach of the city centre, Rodley Nature Reserve is an idyllic little pocket of wilderness begging to be explored. Ponds, meadows and sections of woodland are made accessible by a medley of footpaths, and you can pick up a species guide at the visitor’s centre to help you spot the numerous types of birds, fish, and insect life which populate the reserve.

13. The Henry Moore Institute

Art Gallery

Art lovers will relish the opportunity to explore this extensive collection of the sculpture works of Henry Moore with over 15,000 objects including drawings and textiles on display. The gallery also features a variety of temporary exhibitions from other artists, and it hosts regular evening events, talks and discussions. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

14. Harewood House

Botanical Garden, Museum

Georgian Palace - Harewood House, Leeds
@rafikwahba / Unsplash

Visitors to Harewood House will be pleasantly surprised by the array of attractions on offer. Not only can the house and gardens be admired, but there is also a farm experience and a series of interesting events including theatrical performances and costume exhibitions. Visitors can even visit the resident Humboldt penguins at feeding time! Recommended by Emma Lavelle

15. Chevin Forest Park

Forest, Park

Enjoy a little fresh air with an invigorating walk around Chevin Forest Park, a short drive from Leeds overlooking the town of Otley. The walk shows off the best of Yorkshire’s natural scenery, taking in dramatic views, rocky outcrops and moorlands scattered with beautiful purple heather. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

16. Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills

Museum

Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills is the perfect place to explore the industrial heritage of the city. The exhibits tell the story of the history of manufacturing in Leeds concentrating predominantly on the clothing and textile industries and the many mills in the area. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

17. Tropical World Leeds

Amusement Park

Nestled inside Roundhay Park, Tropical World offers the UK’s largest collection of tropical plants outside of London. Expect a large collection of tropical plants, lush indoor exotic gardens and an impressive array of wildlife including giant catfish, colourful butterflies and even baby meerkats. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

18. Emmerdale Studio Experience

Amusement Park

Soap fans will relish this opportunity to step behind the scenes of one of the nation’s best loved TV programmes. The interactive experience allows visitors to have a go at lighting or editing before taking them through a guided tour of the sets of the former ITV studios that includes the homes of your favourite characters and even the Woolpack bar. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

19. RHS Garden Harlow Carr

Botanical Garden

Located just outside Harrogate, flower lovers and keen gardeners will enjoy a visit to these beautifully presented gardens. Based around gardens that reflect the natural landscapes, the gardens include a kitchen garden rife for foraging, wildflower meadows and a stunning streamside garden walk. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

20. Lotherton Hall

Park

Lotherton Hall, Lotherton Lane, Aberford, Leeds, UK
@kingy / Unsplash

Visit Lotherton Hall, just outside Aberford to take a walk around the nearby deer park, visit the Edwardian country house or to admire the scenic bird garden. Keep your eyes peeled for seasonal events, jazz festivals, ceramic workshops and birds of prey demonstrations. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

21. Golden Acre Park

Park

Another large park within the boundaries of Leeds, Golden Acre Park is perfect for a day out with the kids. Take a circular walk around the lake, explore the two nature reserves nearby and allow your children time to enjoy the playground before stopping for refreshments at the tearooms. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

22. Spofforth Castle

Ruins, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Spofforth Castle is considered by many to be the site where the Magna Carta was drawn up, making it one of the most important ruins in the country. Visitors can explore the ruins of the castle and its grounds, learning more about the history of the site and the Percy family who occupied it. Recommended by Emma Lavelle

23. Bramham Park

Park

Located between Leeds and Wetherby, Bramham Park is the site of the iconic Leeds Festival which occurs every August bank holiday weekend. If you don’t hold tickets to the festival, visit during the rest of the year to explore the 18th Century manor house and its sprawling grounds.

24. Stockeld Park

Building

Close to Bramham Park, Stockeld Park is another country house estate open to the public. Offering a variety of exciting seasonal attractions, there’s plenty here to keep children entertained all year round with adventure playgrounds and boating activities in abundance. Keep your eyes peeled for special activities around Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

Additional reporting by Callum Davies

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