Leeds is a great city to visit for a short city break. Not only does it have plenty of activities to do in two days, but it is a budget-friendly city too.
This West Yorkshire city is well-known for its impressive shopping centres and an amazing variety of food and drinks options.
However, if you’re travelling to Leeds on a budget, you’ll be surprised about the free and cheap things to do in Leeds – from visiting outstanding parks to learning about the city’s history.
In this guide, you’ll find over 15 free things to do in Leeds and its surroundings.
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Best Free Things To do In Leeds
Top things to check before visiting Leeds
Contemplate the ruins at Kirkstall Abbey
An amazing free Leeds tourist attraction is the beautiful Kirkstall Abbey, located 15 minutes drive from the city centre.
Kirkstall Abbey is a ruined Cistercian monastery that dates back to 1152. Nowadays it’s considered a Grade I listed building which not only can you see from outside but inside too. The abbey is surrounded by a tranquil public park and part of the River Aire which make the place very special.
If you’re planning to visit Kirkstall Abbey, it’s worth checking their event calendar as they sometimes organise a free market set in the surroundings of the abbey. The market has many stalls where you can buy Yorkshire ingredients, hand-made crafts and much more.
Discover a collection of arms at Royal Armouries Museum
Do you love visiting unique museums? Then you must visit the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds Dock.
The entrance to the museum is free, and you’ll be impressed by the architecture of the building as well as all the impressive arm collections from all over the world.
The museum has five floors with over 4,500 objects from the 15th century to the modern day, so be prepared to spend a few hours exploring the museum.
One of the best things about visiting the Royal Armouries is how interactive it is. There are many objects you can touch and learn about, but one of my favourite things is the performances.
The performances are very interesting and fun to watch. It’s definitely the best way to learn about the stories behind these arms.
Enjoy a sunny day at Roundhay Park
Roundhay Park is the most beautiful park in the city and surprisingly is one of the largest city parks in Europe.
It’s the perfect place to go for a long walk with friends or family on a sunny day. During the summer, it’s a very lively place where locals have a picnic, and concerts and sports events are organised. However, it’s also worth visiting Roundhay Park at other times of the year.
The park has many features such as a lake where kids can enjoy feeding swans and ducks, a beautiful cafe with views of the lake, an estate house and ruins from what seemed to be a castle.
Escape to nature on the Meanwood Valley Trail
One of the best things to do outdoors in Leeds is going on trails, and Meanwood Valley Trail is practically located just outside the city centre which makes it very accessible. If you don’t drive, you can take the 51 bus from Vicar Lane.
It’s a 7-mile linear walk that takes you from Woodhouse Moor to Golden Acre Park. This trail makes you feel like you’re immersed in nature.
Explore the city’s historic arcades
Leeds is home to many historic arcades that you can easily explore while you visit the city centre.
Some of the city’s historic arcades you cannot miss are Queen’s Arcade, Thornton’s Arcade and Victoria Quarter.
Not only do these arcades have the beautiful architecture to admire, but many independent shops where you can find unique gifts. On top of this, some of these arcades also have delicious food places – one of my favourite cafes in the arcades is Olive & Rye.
Also, if you’re visiting Leeds during the Christmas season, you’ll love walking through the arcades because they’re beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.
Explore Temple Newsam
Another estate house located on the outskirts of Leeds is Temple Newsam. Although you must book and pay to enter the house, you can explore the extensive surroundings for free.
Temple Newsam has also a small farm with plenty of animals such as guinea pigs, piglets and sheep, beautiful gardens and a lakeside which is perfect for picnics in the summer months.
Get great views of the planes taking off at Yeadon Tarn
9 miles north-west Leeds City centre, you’ll find Yeadon tarn and park. As you walk around the tarn, you can see some locals fishing in the lake, kids feeding the ducks and swans or playing in the small playground.
Yeadon Tarn is also a good place to visit if you like watching the planes taking off and landing since it’s located next to Leeds Bradford Airport.
Go inside Leeds Minster
Leeds Minster isn’t a popular attraction in Leeds, but it’s definitely worth seeing it.
From the outside, you can appreciate the 7th-century Gothic architecture of the building and check the back garden which it’s lovely to see during the cherry blossom season.
From the inside, you can contemplate the colourful stained glass and beautiful detailed arches and ceiling.
The minster was awarded a Grade I listed building by English Heritage.
You can visit it from 11 am to 2 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Go to the Golden Acre Park
Another must-see park in Leeds is the Golden Acre Park, which you’ll find in the north of Leeds.
The park is home to many flower and tree species, a cosy cafe with indoor and outdoor seating and; a beautiful lake.
Interestingly, the Golden Acre Park used to be a theme park in 1932 which included a miniature railway, a swimming pool and a boating lake. Nowadays you can find traces of the miniature railway.
Learn about Leeds at Leeds City Museum
Another place to visit in Leeds for free is Leeds City Museum located next to the famous Millennium Square.
The museum has six extensive galleries where you can learn anything from the Ancient world and animals to the history of Leeds and its Asian influences.
Leeds City Museum also hosts two changing exhibitions per year, and it’s worth checking any events going on. I absolutely loved visiting the handicrafts exhibition a few years ago.
Read a book at Leeds Central Library
Leeds Central Library is a cosy place to spend a few hours reading a book on a rainy day. The library has two floors with plenty of books and a research library to explore. However, one of the best things to do is visit the Tiled Hall Cafe which connects the library with Leeds Art Gallery.
The Tiled Hall was originally the main library reading room, and nowadays it’s a beautiful cafe that serves delicious sandwiches and hot drinks.
See sculptures at Henry Moore Institute
Next to Leeds Art Gallery, you’ll find the Henry Moore Institute, a must-see attraction for any art lover.
This gallery, entirely dedicated to sculptures, has been considered one of the largest sculpture galleries in Europe.
Not only can you explore the amazing temporary exhibitions but the research library to learn more about the artwork.
Take a stroll along Eccup Reservoir Circular Walk
A relaxing walk is the Eccup Reservoir Circular Walk, located at the north of Leeds.
The walk is about 4.5 miles long and the route takes you from Eccup quaint village to the reservoir. Interestingly, this is one of the few free reservoir walks produced by Yorkshire Water.
Be ready for a lovely short walk with picturesque views!
Visit Leeds Docks
Leeds Dock is a tranquil residential area surrounded by the River Aire, coffee shops, restaurants and the Royal Armouries Museum.
You can walk around or sit on the stairs located in the canal area to enjoy a picturesque view of the river, boats and buildings.
During the summer, Leeds Dock becomes a lively area where locals lay in the grass to sunbathe or have a picnic with friends.
Leeds Dock also hosts a food festival followed by water sports competitions.
Walk through Kirkgate Market
If you love visiting markets when you travel, you can’t miss the opportunity to visit Kirkgate Market in Vicar Lane.
It’s the largest covered market in Europe and it has approximately 800 stalls with food from all over the world, small independent cafes, bars, clothes and much more.
Walking through the market is an experience – the smells, sights and sounds will make you feel like you’re in a unique place.
Wander around the Leeds Liverpool Canal
Without leaving the city and very close to the city centre, you’ll find Leeds Liverpool Canal, a beautiful trail that combines nature and buildings.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is 127 miles long and still connects the cities of Leeds and Liverpool. It’s a tranquil place to enjoy a walk, spot some birds and boats.
A fun way to discover a small part of the canal is by taking the water taxi that goes from Granary Wharf to Leeds Dock. Although the boat ride isn’t free, it’s just a pound!
Windowshop at Leeds Corn Exchange
If you love supporting small businesses, you must visit the Corn Exchange which is home to unique and quirky shops run by local independent businesses.
Here you can find anything from fashion and music to plants and jewellery. The differences between the shops at the Corn Exchange and high street shops are the uniqueness of products (some of these are even homemade) and the friendly welcome you receive from independently-minded vendors.
One of my favourite shops at the Corn Exchange is The Plant Point. This little shop has beautiful plants to decorate your house. Also, if you’re looking for a Leeds souvenir, go to The Great Yorkshire Shop.
Even if you aren’t interested in shopping, pop in to contemplate the beautiful dome design inspired by Bourse de commerce of Paris and bright colourful doors, and enjoy the atmosphere.
Overall, you can visit Leeds without spending much money as there are many free attractions in the city.
If you’re visiting Leeds in November and December, you can also enjoy seeing the Christmas decorations and displays across the city.
However, regardless of the season, make sure to check the Leeds event calendar as most of the events are for free!
If you’re staying longer than a weekend in Leeds, I’d recommend visiting other nearby cities such as York which also has plenty of free activities to do.
If you have any questions about visiting Leeds, drop me an email and I’ll be very happy to help you.
P.S. Do you know anyone who’s travelling to Leeds? Share the post with them.
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Frequently asked questions about visiting Leeds
Is Leeds worth visiting?
Leeds is the perfect city break for you, if you enjoy shopping, you are a foodie and love green spaces.
How do I spend a day in Leeds?
Leeds is a great city to visit in a day because its centre is compact which makes it very easy to visit the city’s main attractions.
Some of the things you can do in Leeds in a day are:
- Go to Leeds City Museum.
- Explore the city’s historic arcades and main shopping centres (Leeds Trinity and Victoria Leeds.)
- Have brunch at IF in Call Lane.
- Walk through Leeds City Market.
- Windowshop at Corn Exchange.
- Visit Leeds Docks and the Royal Armouries Museum.
What is Leeds famous for?
Leeds is famous for its numerous shopping centres, its historical monuments and sports such as football and rugby.