Historic arcades, abbey ruins and intriguing museums – it’s time for a culture injection!
Craving culture? You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Leeds. In fact, we’ve put together a list of 24 must-dos to get you started. From country houses that will transport you back in time to West End shows on tour and immersive cinema experiences, there’s something for everyone here. Start ticking off the list – trust us, you’ll have a great time doing it and get to know the city as you go!
See a West End show at a historic theatre
Leeds Grand Theatre is the place to go for toe-tapping musicals and incredible shows, straight from the West End. The historic theatre, which was built in 1878, is worth a visit in its own right. Inside, sumptuous velvet curtains are surrounded by ornate plasterwork, gold leaf and a statement crystal chandelier to create a worthy setting the theatrical excellence that takes place on stage. Prepare to be dazzled by shows like South Pacific, Les Misérables and Mamma Mia!
Leeds Grand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6NU.
Roam around the remains of a Cistercian abbey
800 years of history await at Kirkstall Abbey. It’s one of the best preserved Cistercian monasteries in the country, a cultural treasure that will transport you back to the 1100s, when the monks dedicated their lives to mediation, prayer and scripture. As you wander through these hallowed halls, worn down by years of neglect, you can listen to an audio recording to learn about the abbey’s past. While you’re here, take a time out in the park with views over the river.
Kirkstall Abbey, Abbey Road, Kirkstall, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3EH.
Check out the national collection of arms and armour
The Royal Armouries is a world-class museum, nestled on the waterfront. Inside, you’ll find over 4,500 objects from the national collection of arms and armour – and trust us, it’s worth a visit. You can see Henry VIII’s armour, made in 1520 for the Field of the Cloth of Gold, as well as one of the largest hunting rifles ever made, a 4-bore double rifle by Holland & Holland. There’s a story behind every item and all will be revealed in their exhibitions and at their regular events.
Royal Armouries, Armouries Drive, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LT.
Explore the Victorian shopping arcades
One of the things that makes shopping in Leeds so special is the Victorian arcades. Not only are they beautiful and filled with history, but they continue to hold some of the city’s finest stops to this day, with a few surprises along the way. Check out Brian Clarke’s famous stained glass roof in the Victoria Quarter, watch Robin Hood strike the hour in Thornton’s Arcade or wander the bunting-strewn halls of Grand Arcade. It’s shopping and culture combined.
Step into a historic house filled with art
Culture seekers will be well pleased with Temple Newsam. This Tudor-Jacobean mansion has been lovingly restored and opened to the public to tell the story of its 500-year history through a series of digital, music, theatre and fine art installations. You can explore 40 rooms, taking in one of the finest publicly-owned collections of English decorative art outside London as you go. And it’s not just the house. The grounds outside were landscaped by Capability Brown.
Temple Newsam, Temple Newsam Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS15 0AE.
Watch an original show in an incredible setting
Leeds Playhouse is a cultural treasure, a repertory theatre that produces a constant stream of thought-provoking and entertaining plays to wow the crowds in their custom-built theatre. There’s always something new to see here, from dazzling children’s shows to Shakespeare reimagined and all-singing, all-dancing musicals that will put a pep in your step. Want to do more than watch? Their creative engagement work means you can play an active role in the art.
Leeds Playhouse, Playhouse Square, Quarry Hill, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7UP.
Immerse yourself in a world of art and sculpture
Leeds Art Gallery is a must for culture seekers. Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of modern and contemporary British art. From the moment you step into the building, you’ll be met with an incredible wall painting by Lothar Götz, and from there, it just gets better. Damien Hirst, Henry Moore, Edward Armitage – the work of critically acclaimed artists sits frame to frame, plinth to plinth. Upstairs, ever-changing exhibitions keep it fresh and demand return visits.
Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AA.
See 150 years of history in action
Designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, Leeds Corn Exchange is an architectural masterpiece that everyone should visit at least once. It was built in 1863 to give local grain merchants a place to trade, and in a way, it’s still used for its original purpose today – although now, it’s independent retailers who ply their trade under the distinctive domed roof. Grab a coffee or pick up a souvenir as you weave between stores, taking in every detail of the building as you go.
Leeds Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 7BR.
Immerse yourself in the world of your favourite movies
Sneaky Experience has become something of a right of passage for Leeds culture seekers. The immersive cinema specialists have made a name for themselves by bringing your favourite movies to life. These events, which often take place in the magnificent grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, combine live theatre, fun activities and themed bars with a film screening to create an unforgettable night out. They even do child-friendly events with kids movies like Hocus Pocus!
Delve into the city’s industrial past
There are two very compelling reasons to visit Leeds Industrial Museum. The first is the building itself – Armley Mills, as it was known, was once the largest woollen mill in the world and it’s impressive to behold – the second is the museum that now fills it. Here, you can learn about the city’s industrial past, as you look upon their spinning wheels, working looms and printing presses. There are locomotives too, as well as a manager’s cottage that will transport you back to 1969.
Leeds Industrial Museum, Canal Road, Armley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS12 2QF.
See opera classics reinvented for the modern day
Opera North’s reputation precedes them. It’s a national opera company and leading UK arts organisation that produces unforgettable shows. From Rossini’s Cinderella to Puccini’s Tosca, they bring the world’s greatest operas to the stage, but what’s really interesting is the way they reinvent them to engage and entertain modern audiences. This isn’t just singing, it’s drama at its very best and you can see it in the sumptuous surrounds of Leeds Grand Theatre.
Immerse yourself in contemporary art in an old brewery
A cultural institution born of an industrial legend – the former Tetley Brewery HQ. It’s been transformed into a contemporary art space where an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions and events will draw you back again and again. From Bubu Ogisi’s exploration of the spirituality of masquerading to Emily Hesse’s exercise in world building, their exhibitions are creative and often experimental, inviting you to think, contemplate and come to your own conclusions.
The Tetley, Hunslet Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1JQ.
Visit the oldest social club in Britain
The Holbeck is something really special. It’s a much-cherished social club that caters for the local community while doubling as a performance space for Leeds theatre company Slung Low and their carefully selected partners. You can enjoy cutting edge shows on a pay-as-you-feel basis, making culture affordable for everyone. Plus, they have their own cultural community college where you pick up practical and creative skills like cooking, stand-up comedy and navigation.
The Holbeck, Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, West Yorkshire, LS11 9QX.
Explore the city one artwork at a time
Leeds is a city of art. Our streets are adorned with colourful murals that need to be sought out. From Athena Rising, a 36-foot behemoth that bagged the title of the UK’s tallest piece of street art, to INSA X Moniker, a carbon-conscious painting that purifies the air, there are loads of bold and beautiful works to seek out. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore or go out of your way to discover every must-see mural by following the Welcome to Leeds Street Art Trail.
Discover an Edwardian hall and gardens in the countryside
Lotherton is a great day out. The Edwardian hall belonged to the Gascoignes until 1825, when it was gifted to Leeds. Now, it’s a country home and museum where visitors can take in a wonderful collection of 19th and 20th-century decorative art that ranges from ceramics and silverware to furniture and jewellery. Outside, more fun awaits. Eight acres of landscaped gardens and grounds are just waiting to be explored, alongside Lotherton’s zoo, Wildlife World.
Lotherton, Off Collier Lane, Aberford, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS25 3EB.
See the biggest stars on the stage
Elton John, Pet Shop Boys, Kendrick Lamar, Florence + the Machine – the events calendar at first direct arena reads like a who’s who of music royalty. This is a super-theatre, every seat faces the stage to give you a cracking view and top-notch acoustics take the performance to the next level. It’s the place to go to see your favourite international superstars in action, as well as catching shows like Magic Mike, Professor Brian Cox and Trixie & Katya Live.
first direct arena, Arena Way, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 8BY.
Discover a world of contemporary sculpture
One of the best cultural institutions in Leeds, the Henry Moore Institute is part gallery and part research facility. They put on exhibitions throughout the year, inviting you to view and rethink the work of groundbreaking international artists, like Lungiswa Gqunta, Claye Bowler, Rafael Pérez Evans, and of course, Henry Moore. The institute, also works in partnership with Leeds Art Gallery to manage the sculpture collection and archive of Leeds Museums and Galleries.
Henry Moore Institute, 74 The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AH.
See famous stories brought to life through dance
Northern Ballet is the UK’s leading narrative ballet company – and they’re based in Leeds. They produce mesmerising ballets of stories you know, from The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling to Dracula, 1984 and Casanova. Their shows are original and unique, designed to engage modern audiences, and show you that ballet is as relevant and entertaining now as it has ever been. Their child-friendly performances are a real treat for the kids.
Visit a real, working water mill surrounded by nature
This is a double whammy. Thwaite Mills is a historic watermill that’s been transformed into a museum. Not only can you watch as the mill turns solid rock into paint or putty, but you can also learn about the building and its past, including the people who once lived and worked here. And it gets better because the mill itself is nestled on an idyllic island. While you’re here, why not set up a picnic on the waterfront or follow the nature trail spotting wildlife as you go?
Thwaite Watermill, Thwaite Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1RP.
Catch a show in a historic music hall
Leeds City Varieties has been the life and soul of the party since 1865. In fact, it holds the Guinness World Record as the nation’s longest running music hall. Over the years, a raft of famous names have performed here, including the likes of Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and Madame Paula, ‘The Reptile Queen’, whose act involved hypnotising alligators. Nowadays, you’ll find a packed line-up of entertainment, ranging from comedy to music and film screenings.
Leeds City Varieties, Swan Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LW.
Uncover a raft of unexpected treasures
This one is something of a hidden gem. You’ll find the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery inside the University of Leeds. It showcases pieces from their special collections, which include medieval manuscripts, rare books and original material written by the Brontës. Their regular exhibitions reveal the secrets of the collection, whether it’s the the deception of the Cottingley Fairies or the legacies of the First World War, so there’s always something new to see.
Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.
Explore inside and out at a spectacular country house
Harewood House is a gem of a find. It’s one of the Treasure Houses of England, which means it gives visitors a living history. The house itself is relatively unchanged by the centuries – when Edwin Lascelles built it in 1759, he wanted nothing but the best, so you’ll be surrounded by master craftsmanship. Think Chippendale furniture, Sèvres porcelain and Turner paintings. Outside, 100 acres of gardens await, landscaped by Capability Brown.
Harewood House, Harewood, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS17 9LG.
Time it right to see a spectacular light show
Every year, the city becomes a canvas for a totally unique event. Light Night Leeds is a celebration of the city’s creativity. It brings together artists, designers, technicians and engineers to create two nights of incredible art that comes to life at night. From incredible animations projected on to the city’s finest landmarks to epic light shows that can be seen for miles around, this is one of the biggest events in the city’s event calendar for culture seekers.
Catch a show at a Leeds institution
The Brudenell is a mainstay of the Leeds music scene. It opened way back when in 1913 and has given us 109 years of fun, games and music. It has a lounge, games room and bar, with snooker, pool, darts and more, not to mention the big screen TVs showing the match, but the real reason people can’t stop talking about it is the music. They bring in a constant procession of music greatness, from the next up and comers to big names in a a surprisingly intimate space.
Brudenell Social Club, 33 Queens Road, Burley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 1NY.