From action-packed skate parks to scrumptious afternoon teas, you’ll be surprised at how much you can do for free in the city.
Feeling the pinch? Short on cash? Bored of staying in? Well, you’re in luck because there are loads of free things to do in Leeds. In fact, we’ve got 50 ideas for you to work your way through with everything from geocaching to tennis, pétanque and cycling. You can even go to a free gig, pet the donkeys or treat yourself to afternoon tea, all without putting your hand in your pocket.
1. The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries is one of the best museums in the UK and it’s totally free. Inside, you can see over 8,500 pieces from the National Collection of Arms and Armour, including Henry VIII armour, a prototype of the first-ever machine gun and an assassin’s crossbow. Over the years, the collection has inspired many a movie weapon, so you’ll also find modern artefacts here, like the pulse rifle from Alien and the swords from Lord of the Rings.
The Royal Armouries, Armouries Drive, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LT.
2. The Henry Moore Institute
The Henry Moore Institute is an internationally renowned sculpture gallery that attracts some of the most prestigious artists in the world. Their mission is simple – to continue Moore’s legacy by making sculpture part of our everyday lives – and they do it by bringing us an endless procession of art. Their exhibition programme changes regularly, but in the past they’ve shown everything from Ian Kiaer’s illusory works to Senga Nengudi’s abstract masterpieces.
The Henry Moore Institute, 74 The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AH.
3. Kirkstall Abbey
One of the most complete examples of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery in Britain, Kirkstall Abbey is an impressive Leeds landmark. You can admire its architectural beauty, explore the hidden nooks and crannies of the ruins and stroll through the 24-hectare grounds, all for free. The abbey is a picturesque spot for a picnic but be warned, if you visit on the last weekend of the month, you might be tempted by the tasty morsels at its famous deli market.
Kirkstall Abbey, Abbey Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3EH.
4. Leeds City Museum
Have you ever seen a mummy? Or met a man-eating tiger? You can do both at Leeds City Museum. There are lots of intriguing curiosities for you to seek out across their four floors. The natural history collection is full of terrifying beasts, including a Tasmanian wolf, a Giant Elk and a huge 4-foot Moa bird skeleton. You can also brush up on your local Leeds history and uncover the city’s surprising connections to Asia.
Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 8BH.
5. The Tetley
You can see the latest contemporary art at The Tetley. They pride themselves on finding the best up and coming artists from around the world, so you can see everything from abstract sculpture to realist drawings. But it’s not just art – they run tours of the former Tetley HQ, host thought-provoking ‘Tetley Talks’ and put on creative workshops. With so many free and inclusive things to do here, The Tetley is a real Leeds treasure.
The Tetley, Hunslet Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1JQ.
6. Leeds Minster
Leeds Minster is a spectacular feat of architecture. The Grade I listed building, has an imposing exterior, complete with gothic-style towers and turrets, but its even better inside. Think stained glass windows, beautiful Venetian mosaics and huge decorative arches. It’s a fully-functioning church, so why pop by for one of their Choral Evensong to see the minister in all its glory.
Leeds Minster, 2-6 Kirkgate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7DJ.
7. Colour Hyde Park
Colour Hyde Park is a street art trail around one of the city’s vibrant suburbs. The University of Leeds commissioned six murals, all inspired by the natural beauty of the area and the diversity of the community. The result is a colourful trail of art that takes you from Joy Rooney’s abstract look at local landmarks to Fem Sorcell’s colourful interpretation of the natural environment.
The Hyde Park Murals can be found on Mayville Road, Brudenell Road, Brudenell Street, Royal Park Grove, Ebor Place, Chestnut Avenue and Hyde Park Road.
Have you heard of Geocaching? It’s essentially a massive treasure hunt. You’ll have to solve the clues to uncover the coordinates of a series of boxes hidden across the city. Each box has a mysterious prize inside that you’re welcome to take home with you – the only condition, is that you have to replace it with something of similar value. Who knows what you’ll find.
Geocaching boxes are located throughout the city and the suburbs and clues can be found on the website.
9. Woodhouse Moor Skatepark
When it comes to free things to do in Leeds, Woodhouse Moor Skate Park is up there with the best of them. It’s a right of passage for the city’s skaters and a great way to pass an hour or two without putting your hand in your pocket. The park is split into three well-spaced sections and it has everything from quarter pipes to flat banks, adjoining roll overs and back-to-back quarters.
Woodhouse Moor Skate Park, Hyde Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 2NW.
10. Yeadon Tarn
Yeadon Tarn is a 17-hectare natural paradise. The lake is vast with a network of paths around it, so you can take a stroll and enjoy the view. There’s a BMX park and an adventure playground to keep the kids entertained, but let’s face it, nothing beats a good picnic and there’s oodles of space for it here. In the summer, your visit will be soundtracked by local brass bands.
Yeadon Tarn, Yeadon, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS19 7UR.
11. The Craft Centre and Design Gallery
The Craft Centre and Design Gallery showcases contemporary crafts from over 300 British designers. Wander through their exhibition space and you’ll find everything from handmade jewellery to limited edition prints and one-of-a-kind textiles. It’s free to explore, but if you want to stay on budget, leave your credit card at home because everything you see is for sale.
The Craft Centre and Design Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AB.
12. Meanwood Valley Trail
Looking for free things to do in Leeds? The Meanwood Valley Trail is a great shout. Starting at Woodhouse Moor, it’s a beautiful 7-mile walk that takes you past Meanwood Park, The Hollies and the spectacular Seven Arches Aqueduct before it finishes at Golden Acre Park. Along the way, you can spot lizards, butterflies and even the rarely seen white-clawed crayfish.
The Meanwood Valley Trail starts opposite The Library Pub, 229 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AP.
13. Leeds Discovery Centre
4.8 billion years of history awaits at the Leeds Discovery Centre, where Leeds Museums and Galleries store their collections. From meteorites to medieval long boats, you can see amazing artefacts that aren’t normally on display to the public. It’s free to explore, but you need to either book ahead or join one of their regular Thursday tours.
Leeds Discovery Centre, Carlisle Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LB.
14. Pay-As-You-Feel Afternoon Tea
Free afternoon tea? Sign us up! Every second Wednesday of the month, Left Bank Leeds hosts a pay-as-you-feel afternoon tea, so you can eat a slice of cake and mingle with the community even when you’re feeling the pinch. After your cuppa, you can wander around the beautiful Grade II listed building or marvel at the incredible art in the Porch Gallery.
Left Bank Leeds, Cardigan Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 1LJ.
15. The Hop Pub Quiz
Unlike most pub quizzes in Leeds, you can put your intelligence to the test for free at The Hop. It’s held on Tuesday nights and covers all aspects of general knowledge. But it’s not just the quiz that’s free because they’ll throw in a proper pub supper too! Yes, you may need to buy a pint or two, but if you play your quiz sheet right you could win it all back with a gallon of Ossett Brewery beer.
The Hop, Granary Wharf, Dark Neville Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 4BR.
16. Nature Reserves
Believe it or not, Leeds has 22 nature reserves. Each one is as beautiful as the last with a wealth of flora and fauna for you to see. And the best bit? They’re totally free to visit. You can wander around the reedbeds at St Aiden’s, explore mossy pathways of Hetchell Wood or look out over the countryside from Chevin Forest Park.
17. Leeds Lunchtime Concerts
Leeds College of Music host classical music concerts every Wednesday and they won’t cost you a penny. You can enjoy an array of beautiful piano solos, lively brass bands and powerful wind ensembles as bright, new virtuosos from across the globe take to the stage. The concerts are 50 minutes long and start at 1pm, so you can squeeze a world-class classical music concert into your lunch break.
The Leeds Lunchtime Concerts are held regularly at Leeds College of Music and Leeds Town Hall.
18. Roundhay Park
Roundhay Park is one of the biggest urban parks in Europe and there’s absolutely loads to do here, all without spending a penny. You can wander through the landscaped gardens, take a turn around the lakes or explore the hidden pathways around the gorge, but that’s just the beginning. There are tennis courts, football pitches and an outdoor gym, not to mention a skate park and two adventure playgrounds. That should keep you busy.
Roundhay Park, Mansion Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8 2HH.
19. Treasures of the Brotherton
Nestled in the University of Leeds’ Parkinson Building, the Treasures of the Brotherton is something of a hidden gem. It’s more of a museum than a gallery and it showcases the university library’s Special Collections, rarities from literature that you never knew existed. They have original material from the Brontë sisters, rare books from around the world and even medieval manuscripts.
Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, Parkinson Building, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.
20. Eccup Reservoir Circular Walk
Why not spend the day taking a leisurely ramble along the 5.2-mile path around Eccup Reservoir? The route will take you through stunning woodland, rolling farmland and pretty tree-lined paths as you go full circle around the water. This is prime picnic territory, so lunchtime meanders are a must, but it really does look at best at sunrise and sunset.
The Eccup Reservoir walk starts at Alwoodley Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS17 7DJ.
21. Free Gigs
Gigging doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are loads of free gigs in Leeds, if you know where to look – and we do! Oporto, Headrow House and Brudenell Social Club – they all bring in the latest up and coming talent, without putting a price on the door. But they’re not the only ones, so keep your eyes peeled for a chance to see everything from jazz to rock.
22. Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery is home to the University of Leeds’ impressive art collection. You can see everything from 17th century prints to stunning modern photography – and there’s no admission charge. They also have a packed programme of talks and classes, so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for even more free things to do at the gallery.
The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, Parkinson Building, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.
23. Leeds Country Way
The Leeds Country Way is a 62-mile circular route around the outskirts of Leeds. You can’t do it all in one day, but it’s split into four manageable sections, so you actually have four equally good days out to look forward to. The full route will take you from Golden Acre Park, through Barwick-in-Elmet, Carlton and Cockersdale, along the way, you can see the ruins of Howley Hall or the historic Fulneck Moravian Settlement.
The Leeds Country Way starts at Golden Acre Park, off Arthington Road, Bramhope, Leeds, LS16 8BQ.
24. The Little Picture House
On there last Tuesday of every month, the basement of Crowd of Favours is transformed into a miniature cinema. You can pull up a pew and make yourself cosy as they play everything from 500 Days of Summer to Birdman. The film is different every month, but the show always starts at 7pm, so synchronise your diaries with your favourite movie buffs and watch the show for free.
Crowd of Favours, Harper Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7EA.
25. Leeds Art Gallery
Leeds Art Gallery has one of the most impressive collections of British twentieth century art in the UK. You can see the work of famous local artists like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, alongside international names like Lothar Götz. They run exhibitions throughout the year, bringing in a range of world-class artists. Got a little Picasso at home? Take them to the Artspace to get their creative juices flowing.
Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AA.
26. Golden Acre Park
The search for free things to do in Leeds will inevitably lead you Golden Acre Park, a 136-acre green space filled with lakes, orchards and landscaped gardens. The kids will love watching the birds on the wildfowl pond, but there’s something for all ages here – admire the displays in the ornamental gardens, wander through the parkland and look out over the wildflower meadows before you enjoy a picnic.
Golden Acre Park, Otley Road, Bramhope, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS16 8BQ.
27. Pay-what-you-feel Theatre at The Holbeck
The Holbeck is the oldest social club in Britain and now Slung Low has taken over to create an open development space for artists. They put on their own shows here and invite companies from around the country to do the same, so everyone can enjoy the theatre. All their shows are run on a pay-what-you-decide basis, so if you’re feeling the pinch one week, you can always give generously the next.
The HUB, Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS11 9QX.
28. Gallery at 164
From paintings to photography, sculpture to comic book illustrations, you can see it all at Gallery 164. They support the local art community and welcome internationally acclaimed artists from around the world, which means you can enjoy an eclectic calendar of exhibitions and events, all for free. Our favourite was The Great Edible Art Exhibition, a cake-tactic celebration of the food and culture in Leeds, but they’re constantly giving us new things to love.
Gallery at 164, Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS9 8AG.
29. Marks in Time
You can uncover the story of M&S at the Marks in Time exhibition. It first opened as a penny bazaar in our very own Kirkgate Market, but now M&S is a national mainstay and this interactive museum tells the story of their journey. You can see historic clothes from their archive, listen to talks from the experts and get involved with fun activities with the kids. It’s a fun, free and educational day out for all the family.
Marks in Time, Michael Marks Building, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9LP.
30. Civic Trust Blue Plaque Trail
Want to delve into the city’s history? What better way to do it than by following the Civic Trust Blue Plaque Trail. There are over 160 plaques spread across Leeds and they all pay homage to important people or events. Lord of the Rings fans can check out Tolkein’s old home in West Park and rock-n-roll fiends can visit the site of The Who’s legendary Live at Leeds concert in Leeds University Union.
Kick off the trail at the Louis Le Prince blue plaque at Leeds Bridge, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 2HJ.
31. Sahaja Yoga Meditation
Believe it or not, you can do free Sahaja Yoga Meditation classes every Wednesday at the Radisson Blu Hotel. If you aren’t familiar with Sahaja yoga, it’s a Hindu practise used to release anxiety, so in the class you’ll be led through a series of simple and calming exercises that’ll ease your blood pressure and relax your mind. Everyone’s welcome and each session starts with introductory talks, workshops and time for questions, so if you’re a beginner you’ll be able to pick it up with ease.
Radisson Blu Hotel, No. 1 The Light, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 8TL.
32. Leeds Welcome Art Trail
Leeds is full of public art and you can see it from the moment you step off the train on the Welcome Art Trail. It will take you from the Windows of Leeds all the way to the Mabgate Mural, stopping at stained glass windows, street art and sculptures along the way. This is the perfect excuse to explore the city and take in a little bit of culture for free, so what are you waiting for?
33. The City’s Historic Arcades
The city’s arcades are full of historical significance, so why not spend an afternoon exploring them? Start at the old-school Queen’s Arcade where you can take in renowned architect Edward Clarke’s ornate detailing, then make your way to the Ivanhoe and Robin Hood clock at Thornton’s Arcade. In the Victoria Quarter, you can marvel at the beautiful stained glass roof, huge gilded mosaics and marble detailing, before finishing at the classically designed Grand Arcade.
34. Free Pool at the Brudenell
Fancy a game of pool? You can play for free at Brudenell Social Club from Monday to Friday before 5pm. They have five, full-sized pool tables in their dedicated games room, so why not round up your mates and set up a big tournament? You might be tempted to pay for a pint or two, but there are plenty of other fun free things to do here to keep the costs down – you can play foosball, have a game of darts and catch the big match on the HD TVs.
Brudenell Social Club, 33 Queen’s Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 1NY.
35. The Waterfront Art Trail
How do you fancy a stroll along the river? With our Waterfront Art Trail, you can take in eight unique works of art along the way. From huge graffiti murals to a recycled bicycle tree and the famous Marshall’s Mill Sheep, you’ll uncover an eclectic array of art as you explore the city’s South Bank. It’s a great way to get out of the house and on your feet, so what are you waiting for?
36. Wellbeing Classes
Leeds University Union runs a series of Wellbeing Classes each week, so you can exercise and unwind without putting you hand in your pocket. They have easy-going classes like yoga, pilates and Kung Fu, but if you want to try something a little different, go for Qigong – it’s a traditional Chinese health technique that will boost your flexibility. Alternatively, their HIIT and Core workout will get your cardiovascular system pumping. Each class is free and open to all, so you can try them all.
Jade Studio, Leeds University Union, University Square, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JZ.
37. Bond Court Petanque
Did you know that there’s a pétanque court smack bang in the middle of Leeds city centre? Round up your mates, collect your balls from La Bottega Milanese and head to Bond Court for a game. Pétanque is basically the French version of boules and the rules are simple – you throw a small wooden ball down the court, then you have to get the bigger ones as close to it as possible. This is definitely one of the best free things to do in Leeds.
Bond Court, Wine Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 2JZ.
38. Leeds Owl Trail
Leeds is obsessed with owls. They feature in the city’s coat of arms, but that’s not the only place where you’ll find them. In fact, you can hunt out 25 different owls on two trails around the city centre. From ancient stone sculptures to modern art, Kirkgate Market to Leeds Civic Hall, this hooting mad treasure hunt will take you to some of the most impressive landmarks in the city, so it’s a great way to get to know Leeds.
The Owl Trail starts at Millennium Square, Calverley Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 UR.
39. Luis Buñuel Cinema Club
Calling all film buffs – the Luis Buñuel Cinema Club screens Spanish and Latin American films at 5pm every Thursday night and it’s totally free. It’s named after one of the most iconic hispanic filmmakers of all time, Luis Buñuel, but they don’t just show his movies. They have a different theme every term, the latest of which is the Contemporáneos series, which includes films like María (y los demás), Julia ist and No sé decir adiós – all screened in the original language with subtitles.
The films are screened at Instituto Cervantes, 169 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AR and University of Leeds, Parkinson Building, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.
40. Horsforth Village Museum
Want to learn more about Horsforth’s unlikely past? Head to Horsforth Village Museum. There are lots of interesting displays to see and they cover everything from the area’s connection to the Suffragette Movements to its important involvement with World War 1. You can get up close to lots of intriguing curiosities, like German prisoner-of-war letters, original architectural plans and vintage children’s toys.
Horsforth Village Museum, 5 The Green, Horsforth, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS18 5JB.
41. Academic and Civic Art Trail
From the University of Leeds through to Victoria Gardens, this public art trail will take you past some of the most impressive public art in the city. You can see vast mosaics, towering industrial chimneys and traditional stone circles, as you take in the work of seventeen different artists, including Kenneth Armitage, and Henry Moore. There’s no better way to spend a sunny day in Leeds.
42. Victoria Gardens Chess
In the summer, you can get stuck into a super-sized game of chess in Victoria Gardens. The pieces are stored outside Leeds Central Library and there are two massive boards painted on the ground, so why not round up your mates for a spontaneous chess tournament? It’s totally free to play, but get there early because it’s really popular. You never know, you might even find a new chess buddy.
Victoria Gardens, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AA.
43. Cycling Trails
Why not try one of the city’s cycle trails? From riverside paths to parkland tracks, there are lots of different routes for you to enjoy – and all for free. It’s the perfect excuse to explore the city and take in the sights, so whether you decide to take in the industrial heritage along the Air Valley Tow Path or the scenic countryside of the 2014 Tour de France route, you can have a fantastic free day out.
44. Free Tennis
Grab your racket because there are 16 free tennis courts in Leeds. You can have a casual hit around with your mates at Roundhay Park, Woodhouse Moor and Springfield Park – they’re run on a first come, first serve basis, so get in there early. If you want to master your backhand or perfect your serve, check out the free coach-led sessions at Manston Park and Cross Flats Park.
There are free tennis courts at various parks across Leeds.
45. Leeds Central Library
Leeds Central Library is chock-full of books, so whether you want to get lost in a fictional world or learn a new skill, this is the place to go. But it’s not just books. There are loads of free things to do here, so you can visit the computer hub, take a guided tour of the building or join in one of their workshops. They have over 200,000 newspapers, books, electoral registers and parish records to help trace your family tree back through the ages.
Leeds Central Library, Calverley Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 3AB.
46. Comedy Cellar
If you fancy a laugh, you can see free comedy acts at Verve every Tuesday. Grab a drink from the bar, then head down to their Comedy Cellar where they host a variety of rib-tickling entertainment. You can watch hilarious local stand-up acts and exclusive test-shows from professional comedians – or have a go yourself at the open mic night. There’s always something new to see, so you’ll want to come back week after week.
Verve, 16 Merrion Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6PQ.
47. Public Lecture Series
The public lecture series at the University of Leeds is a rare gem. As part of their mission to make knowledge more accessible, they open their doors to the general public, so you can hear from world-leading academics. From food waste to the rise of data science, they cover a range of eye-opening but totally relevant topics and many of their events are free to attend.
University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.
48. Sunny Bank Mills Gallery
Sunny Bank Mills is a contemporary art gallery with an ever-changing exhibition programme. You can see the work of local artists, many of whom work in their open studios, which you can visit while you’re here to get a glimpse of art in the making. In the past they’ve showcased everything from up-cycled sculptures to brightly coloured comic book strips.
Sunny Bank Mills, 83-85 Town Street, Farsley, Pudsey, West Yorkshire, LS28 5UJ.
49. The Donkey Sanctuary
The Donkey Sanctuary is a rescue centre and assisted learning facility on the outskirts of Leeds. They do great work here, but they also open their doors to the public, so you can meet their donkeys and learn from the team. It’s free to look around, so head out to the pastures or over to the stable where you can see their three donkeys being groomed, fed or playing ball. It’s a great, family-friendly day out and one of the best free things to do in Leeds.
The Donkey Sanctuary, Swan Lane, Off Blackhill Lane, Eccup, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS16 8AZ.
50. Middleton Railway Museum
Middleton Railway is the world’s oldest working railway and it has its very own museum. The engine house has been transformed into a display hall where they keep their collection of locomotives. Here, you can learn about the history of the steam engine and how it helped to transform Leeds into an industrial hub. This is your chance to get up close to real-life steam engines, diesel locomotives and old-school goods wagons.
The Middleton Railway Museum, Moor Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 2JQ.Cover image credit: Jules Lister