The best things to do in Leeds, UK

Known as the beating heart of Yorkshire, Leeds offers something for everyone. This vibrant city is home to top-notch museums, leafy parks, historic landmarks, and a buzzing music scene. Whether you want to explore medieval ruins, shop till you drop, or dance the night away, Leeds won’t disappoint. 

Here are some of the best things to see and do in this northern English gem.

The 10 best things to do in Leeds, UK

Royal Armouries Museum: Home to the UK’s national collection of arms and armour

The Royal Armouries Museum is one of the top attractions in Leeds, drawing over half a million visitors every year. As the United Kingdom’s national collection of arms and armour, it showcases over 85,000 fascinating historical objects from across the globe and throughout history.

Wander through the five themed galleries to see anything from ornate ceremonial weapons to full suits of armour worn by knights in medieval battles. Don’t miss the Tournament Gallery, which brings the drama and excitement of a medieval joust to life with its daily live-action shows. Other highlights include the Orient Gallery with intricate eastern arms, and the Hunting Gallery displaying weapons used in royal hunting expeditions.

Royal Armouries Museum: Home to the UK's national collection of arms and armour
Royal Armouries Museum

With so many artefacts covering over 3,000 years of history, you’ll easily spend half a day marvelling at the craftsmanship and learning about how arms and armour evolved through the ages. The museum also hosts various events and exhibitions throughout the year, so there’s always something new to discover.

Roundhay Park: One of the largest city parks in Europe

For those looking to connect with nature without venturing far from the city, the sprawling Roundhay Park is a perfect choice. Spanning nearly 700 acres, it’s one of the biggest urban parks in Europe.

Within the lush parklands and gardens, there are lakes, woodlands, and floral displays to explore. The central Canal Gardens make an idyllic spot for a picnic with its serene boating lake lined by vibrant flowerbeds. Families will love Tropical World, an indoor rainforest home to exotic birds and plants – a nice escape on a rainy day!

Roundhay hosts fun events year-round, like open-air theatre performances in the summer and festive Winter Wonderland attractions in December. Other park highlights include street food fairs, 5k charity runs, and hot air balloon shows. With so much green space, tree-lined paths, and fresh air, Roundhay Park makes it easy to enjoy the great outdoors in the heart of Leeds.

Kirkstall Abbey: Medieval ruins on the banks of the River Aire

History buffs shouldn’t miss the atmospheric ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, founded in 1152. Located in a tranquil setting on the banks of the River Aire, this medieval Cistercian abbey gives visitors a glimpse into monastic life in the 12th century.

Today, the roofless abbey church, cloisters, and enclosures are free for the public to roam around and imagine what life was like for the monks who once resided here. Visitors can explore the underground crypt and chamber which would have once contained the community’s wine and provisions. Look out for the intricate carvings adorning columns and arches that have survived the centuries.

The grounds make an ideal picnic spot on a sunny day. Concerts and open-air theatre productions also take place on-site during summer. Kirkstall Abbey is one of the most complete examples of a medieval abbey in Britain and shouldn’t be missed during a trip to Leeds.

Victoria Quarter: A grand Victorian shopping arcade

The magnificent Victorian Quarter is a shopper’s paradise. Built between 1903 and 1906, the Victorian-style shopping arcades and ornate architecture transports visitors back in time while offering thoroughly modern retail therapy.

Boutique stores, designer labels, jewellery for teenagers, and quaint cafes line the elegant Gallerias topped with striking stained glass domes and turrets. The Quarter spans several streets and centres around Victoria Leeds, home to luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood. Nearby County and Cross Arcades feature independent shops selling fashion, crafts, and homewares.

After an afternoon of browsing the stores, recharge by dining al fresco in one of the Quarter’s cobbled courtyards before cocktails at The Lost & Found, one of Leeds’ most sophisticated bars. The Victorian Quarter’s timeless beauty and upscale attractions make it a must-see area for shopping and soaking up the genuine Victorian atmosphere.

Leeds City Centre: Historic landmarks and vibrant nightlife

Leeds’ city centre has something for everyone – heritage sites, high street shopping, independent boutiques, street food stalls, cosy pubs, and thumping nightclubs. Start your explorations at the iconic town hall and art gallery facing the bustling Victoria Gardens.

Strolling through the pedestrianized streets, you’ll come across everything from hidden Edwardian arcades lined with speciality shops to the vibrant Kirkgate Market – Europe’s largest indoor market dating back to 1857. Look out for historical gems like the statue-adorned Park Square and the Corn Exchange, a Victorian landmark now home to cool restaurants and bars.

When night falls, locals and visitors alike flock to Call Lane and the areas surrounding Leeds University for the city’s famous nightlife scene. With live music venues, theatres, cocktail bars and nightclubs spanning Alice in Wonderland-themed bars to neon-lit speakeasies, the entertainment options are endless!

Leeds Corn Exchange: A beautifully restored Victorian landmark

In the heart of Leeds, the 19th-century Corn Exchange has been transformed into a modern-day foodie hub. Following extensive renovations, this Grade I listed Victorian landmark now houses boutique shops, restaurants, street food stalls and bars under its iconic domed glass roof.

By day, shoppers can browse for fashion, jewellery and homewares or tuck into cuisines spanning wood-fired pizzas to Asian street eats. By night, the Exchange comes alive with the sound of live music emanating from bars like Distrikt which hosts an ever-changing line-up of DJs and bands.

No matter when you visit, keep looking up to admire the original Victorian architecture including detailed columns, arched windows and the 150-foot domed roof. Sample a pint from the onsite Kirkstall Brewery Beer Hall or take a workshop ranging from coffee tasting to cake decorating. Leeds Corn Exchange puts the city’s rich history on display while offering a thoroughly modern and appetising experience.

Call Lane: Trendy bars and street art

Nestled behind the town hall, Call Lane is widely considered Leeds city centre’s hippest area. Cobblestone streets give way to trendy bars, microbreweries, unique restaurants and street art covering nearly every surface.

By day, Call Lane charms visitors with its bohemian boutiques, cool cafés, and authentic Italian delis perfect for picking up picnic provisions. Once the sun sets, twinkling fairy lights illuminate countless lively watering holes keeping the spirits flowing into the wee hours for Call Lane’s devoted student and young professional patrons. Atmospheric spots here have included everything from bars named after Lewis Carroll novels to Prohibition-style speakeasies only accessible via unmarked doors.

Keep an eye out for vibrant murals and graffiti tags decorating the tight warren of lanes and outdoor seating patios. Local artists frequently refresh the visual landscape meaning there are always new creative designs to discover in this colourful corner of Leeds.

Leeds Kirkgate Market: Europe’s largest covered market

Leeds Kirkgate Market holds the impressive distinction of being the largest covered market in Europe. With over 800 vibrant stalls under one roof, it’s a haven for food lovers and shoppers seeking everything from fresh Yorkshire produce to global cuisine representing cultures from around the world.

Kirkgate Market has been an essential Leeds landmark since 1857. Step inside today, and it’s like taking a trip around the world without leaving the city. The appetising aromas guide you past stalls piled high with fresh seafood, cuts of beef, and colourful fruits and vegetables.

There are also plenty of options for grabbing food on the go – whether you fancy an empanada stuffed with South American flavours or a bowl of Thai curry. Beyond the endless samples, Market retailers also offer clothing, gifts, home goods and more all at wallet-friendly prices. Over 150 years later, exploring Leeds Kirkgate Market remains an unmissable local tradition.

Harewood House: A grand country estate

Nestled amidst rolling countryside vistas near Leeds, Harewood House offers a perfect day trip to experience English aristocratic living. As one of England’s Treasure Houses, Harewood House is a grand stately home complete with lavish interior furnishings, manicured gardens, children’s adventure playgrounds and contemporary art installations set across 100 acres of lush landscape.

The present house dates back to the mid-18th century when it was built to showcase the aristocratic wealth of the era. Inside, costumed guides bring the home’s heritage to life with anecdotes highlighting fine decorative art from royalty across Europe. The State Rooms contain one of the UK’s finest collections of Chippendale furniture alongside marble statues, Renaissance paintings and porcelain masterpieces.

Outside, little ones can let off steam in Harewood’s huge playgrounds and special zones tailor-made for adventurous activities. Cross the golden fields to find artwork scattered through the grounds, like the imposing Figure of Eight Bridge carved out of granite. From May through September, Harewood House also unveils impressive horticultural displays within their thoughtfully designed landscape gardens.

Before you leave, stop for afternoon tea on the sweeping veranda or sample free-range delicacies and locally brewed beers at one of Harewood’s charming eateries. Harewood House provides a quintessential English stately home experience coupled with family-friendly discoveries waiting around every corner.

Tropical World: Step into a rainforest oasis

In need of a change from grey skies? Then head to Tropical World located within Roundhay Park – one of the biggest city parks in Europe. Tropical World is England’s largest indoor tropical garden, providing year-round summer scenes under glass domed roofs.

As you follow the pathways through this indoor oasis, lush greenery surrounds you. Wander through areas modelled after tropical climes from around the globe, passing water features and cascading waterfalls as brightly coloured birds flutter overhead. Admire exotic plant life, blossoming orchids and perfumed flowers from the dense rainforest regions of South America, Southeast Asia, Africa and China.

The spotlight is stolen however by fluffy-tailed tamarin monkeys, families of tiny marmoset monkeys and pools filled with Chatuchak’s magnificent Siamese carp that hold the record for being the world’s largest freshwater fish! With cascading waterfalls, exotic wildlife and steaming jungle heat, Tropical World offers the perfect change of scenery without ever leaving Leeds.

Beyond major attractions like its world-class museums and sprawling urban parks, Leeds also spoils its visitors with historic sites, indie boutiques, a buzzing arts scene and nightlife spanning underground clubs to traditional pubs showcasing local bands. Get a real taste for local culture by mingling with some of Britain’s friendliest Northerners while exploring everything this dynamic city has to offer.