Leeds-List: The Best & Most Insightful Guide to Leeds

The Absolute Best Museums in Leeds

· Andrew Emery · Culture

After the very best culture in Leeds? These museums are a must.

Thackray Museum of Medicine

These museums will entertain, educate and thrill in equal measure. Discover why Leeds is famous for its magical museums.

You’re really spoiled for choice with museums in Leeds. The city has a sensational mix of cultural attractions that bring the past to life in vivid ways. You can expect famous tigers, storied mills, weapons of yore and (mostly) marvellous medicine. Whether you want to get hands-on, keep the little ones entertained or just want to soak up some culture, this is where to go.

Royal Armouries

Royal Armouries

Credit: Royal Armouries

Royal Armouries is one of the finest free museums in Leeds, if not the country. Step inside to discover perfectly presented exhibits laying bare the history of arms, armour, warfare and more. There are themed galleries for you to wander between, providing food for thought and exhibits you won’t see anywhere else. Keep your eyes peeled for the Danzig, one of world’s earliest handguns, look out for mighty armour made for an elephant and check out the blasters from the Star Wars movies. You can also try and catch the frequent events, with the Arena hosting jousting tournaments and arms displays. You might see riders showing off their hunting techniques as birds of prey swoop down.

Royal Armouries Museum, Armouries Drive, Leeds Dock, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LT. Admission is free, pre-book online.

Leeds City Museum

Leeds City Museum

Credit: Leeds Museums & Galleries

One of the city’s best kept secrets, Leeds City Museum has a history spanning back 200 years to when it first opened in 1821. Inside, you’ll find curios galore, from the legendary Leeds Tiger through to dinosaur poo (always a hit with kids) and a mummy that has survived everything 3,000 years of history has thrown at it. You can drop in to savour the story of Leeds, from medieval flutes to a scale model of Quarry Hill Flats. Delve into the huge ‘Life on Earth’ natural history collection that boasts some 800,000 specimens, including a magnificent elk and the vast skeleton of the extinct Moa bird. A lovely café and fab events and exhibitions make this the cultural place to be in Leeds.

Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 8BH. Free admission.

Thackray Museum of Medicine

Thackray Museum of Medicine

A Leeds legend, the Thackray is a justly celebrated medical museum. Prepare to be delighted – and maybe a little disgusted – by the gory sights of Victorian medicine. Perhaps you’ll be cheered by the huge advances we’ve made since. You’ll amble through streets rich in atmosphere – and blood – as you follow the stories of the people of the time and the medical challenges they faced. Tens of thousands of objects and artefacts give depth and shape to these tales, whether it’s scary-looking medical equipment or Hitler’s own blood transfusion kit. Your ticket is good for a year, and the innovative range of events and programmes make repeat visits highly rewarding.

Thackray Museum of Medicine, 141 Beckett Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS9 7LN. Tickets are valid for unlimited visits over 12 months. Adults £11.95, Children 5-16 £8.95, under 5s and carers free.

Leeds Industrial Museum

Armley Mills

The Industrial Revolution transformed the city forever, and you can chart that history at Leeds Industrial Museum. It’s housed within the impressive Armley Mills, built in 1805 and once the largest working woollen mill in the world. Today, you’ll be able to delve deep into the industrial legacy of the 18th and 19th century by checking out working looms, steam engines and printing presses. Take in a film at their 1920s Palace Picture House Cinema or discover why Leeds has always been a cut above when it comes to tailoring. If you’re going during the school holidays, you can book the kids into one of their fun projects, which change throughout the year.

Armley Mills Industrial Museum, Armley Mills, Canal Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS12 2QF. Adult tickets are £4.75, children £2.65 and under 5s free. Family tickets are also available.

Thwaite Mills

Thwaite Mills

Thwaite Mills is another superb Leeds museum that will transport you back to a bygone era. Here, history runs deeper than the River Aire that powers this mill, because there’s been a mill on this site since 1641. The one you’ll see today was built in the early 19th century, but it’s fully restored and still drawings its power from the water. You’ll get an insight into how the mill worked and what it made – everything from chalk and putty to China – as well as what it was like to work here. The island was self-sufficient, and staff lived as well as worked here, something you’ll discover in Thwaite House, a Grade II-listed Georgian building and former home of the mill’s manager.

Thwaite Mills, Thwaite Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1RP. Adult tickets are £4.75, children £2.65 and under 5s free. Family and group tickets are available.

Abbey House Museum

Abbey House Museum

© Copyright Leeds-List 2021 by Sarae Akhamal

You can have the perfect Leeds day out at Abbey House Museum. It sits opposite Kirkstall Abbey, so you can explore the famous ruins and make the most of the handsome park it sits in, then dive into the museum. When the Abbey still stood proud, from 1152 until Henry VIII had it dissolved in the 16th century, this building was the gate house. Today, you’ll make your way inside and into their faithfully recreated Victorian Leeds streets. Stephen Harding Gate is their high street, complete with its pub and shops, while Abbey Fold is a realistic 19th century slum. Head upstairs to the Childhood Galleries, where you’ll find vintage toys, dolls and working penny slot machines.

Abbey House Museum, Abbey Walk, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3EH. Admission is £5.75 for adults, £2.95 for children.

M&S Company Archive

M&S Marks in Time Exhibition

One of the quirkiest museums in Leeds celebrates the proud heritage of Marks and Spencer. Originally a penny bazaar in our city’s brilliant Kirkgate Market, M&S grew to be a major force in retail, and this museum charts that stratospheric rise. You can visit for free, with over 71,000 objects to see from as far bad as 1884. The collection spans photos, films, documents and adverts, while the original merchandise and packaging acts as a potted social history of styles and fashions. Beyond the permanent exhibition, you can enjoy their regular events, from pop-ups on sheet music to talks about the company’s food history, all littered with forgotten, fascinating products from the past.

M&S Company Archive, Michael Marks Building, University of Leeds, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT. Free admission.

Middleton Railway Museum

Middleton Railway Museum

Credit: Middleton Railway

Did you know that Leeds is home to the world’s oldest continuously working railway? You can do your bit to keep it going when you visit Middleton Railway Museum, with trains running here since 1758. Take a deep dive into the history to the railways at the museum, which is packed with glimpses into our industrial heritage, with gorgeous locomotives of all types. You can visit for free, but it’s definitely worth paying to hop aboard the train, which transports you to the past as you travel to Middleton Park and back. It’s massively kid-friendly, while adults will appreciate how the museum teases out the story of the city’s growth.

Middleton Railway Museum, Moor Road Station, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS18 5PA. Return train tickets are £7 for adults, £3 for children. Children ride for £1 on Wednesdays.