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

The Best Museums in Leeds

· Ali Turner · Culture

Need a hit of culture? Check out one of of Leeds' fantastic museums.

Royal Armouries, Leeds

Whether you’re looking to take in a little culture or need a way to entertain the kids on rainy days, why not head to one of the city’s museums?

Leeds has loads of museums for you to explore, each ready and waiting with a host of intriguing exhibitions that will give you a unique insight into the past. From the oldest working railway in the world to one of the last remaining water-powered mills in Britain, you’ll be amazed at sights, sounds and experiences that await you here.

The Royal Armouries

Eastern Warriors Royal Armouries

One of the most popular museums in the city, The Royal Armouries showcases 8,500 artefacts from the national collection of arms and armour. Explore their six themed galleries, covering Hunting, Self-Defense, War, Tournament, Oriental and Peace – or visit the Hall of Steel, a stunning tower made of glass and steel, where they display over 2,500 pieces, ranging from canons to spears. It’s the perfect choice for families, as the somewhat grisly displays often appeal to kids, giving you a day out that teaches and entertains. Look out for their regular events, which range from tournaments to hands-on activities.

Royal Armouries Museum, Armouries Drive, Leeds Dock, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LT.

Leeds City Museum

Leeds City Museum

As Leeds attractions go, this is one of the best. Packed full of oddities, from the famed Leeds Tiger to the Egyptian mummy that survived the bombings of 1941 and the complete skeleton of a Heavy-footed Moa, it’s sure to surprise and amaze. There’s an entire gallery dedicated to the city’s history, taking you all the way back to the Iron Age, as well as an extensive exhibition from Leeds’ many collectors, with all manner of weird and wonderful finds. Alternatively, you can explore Asian culture, delve into the 540 million year history of life on earth or learn about the ancient world.

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

Thackray Medical Museum

Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds

Credit: Vicky Mathers

Undoubtedly the goriest attraction in Leeds, Thackray Medical Museum makes for a great day out. You’ll find all manner of interesting exhibitions within, taking you from the sights, sounds and even the smells of a Victorian street to the realities of surgery, childbirth and medicine, both in the past and our modern day. Families are well catered for, after all, kids love gore, but they also have a cafe, baby changing facilities and a special interactive exhibition for the little ones, helping them to learn about their bodies in a fun and playful setting.

Thackray Medical Museum, 141 Beckett Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS9 7LN.

Leeds Industrial Museum

Armley Mills, Leeds Industrial Museum

Credit: Leeds Museums and Galleries

Armley Mills was once one of the biggest woollen mills in the world, but it has since been transformed into a museum. The building itself is a little slice of history – it was rebuilt by famed Leeds entrepreneur Benjamin Gott after fire ravaged the original mill in 1805. Inside, you’ll find a surprisingly diverse collection from Leeds’ past, taking you from antique looms and printing presses to locomotives, clothing and even an old 1920 cinema that’s in full working order. This one of the best places in Leeds to learn about the city’s industrial history.

Armley Mills Industrial Museum, Armley Mills, Canal Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS12 2QF.

Thwaite Mills

Thwaite Mills

Credit: Leeds Museums & Galleries

If you’re looking for a day out that combines nature and history, Thwaite Mills is just the ticket. It’s one of the last remaining water-powered mills in Britain and you’ll find it nestled on an island, surround by scenic river views, so you really do get the best of both worlds. The mill you was built in the 1820s and was still in use as recently as 1976. You can step inside and see how it works, exploring the engineers’ workshop, as well as visiting Thwaite House, the Grade II listed Georgian building that was once home to the Mill Manager. The former will show you the sheer power of the mill, while the latter explores what life was like on the mill.

Thwaite Mills, Thwaite Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1RP.

Ilkley Toy Museum

Museums, Galleries and Theatres in Leeds That You Might Not Know About - Ilkley Toy Museum-WEB

It may not be the most famous museum in Leeds, but Ilkley Toy Museum has a surprisingly diverse collection that will transport you back to your childhood. They have one of the finest private toy collections in the North, taking you from 350BC right up to the present day. Expect teddies, dolls and more – there’s even a model fairground that’s in full working order. This is the perfect chance to introduce the kids to the toys you used to play with back in the day on a fun family day out.

Ilkley Toy Museum, Whitton Croft Road, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, LS29 9HR.

Abbey House Museum

Abbey House Museum

Credit: Daria Wszolek

Step back in time with a visit to Abbey House Museum. You can wander down the twisting streets of Victorian Leeds – stop by shops, pubs and even the classroom of the Methodist Sunday school. Afterwards, make your way to Abbey Fold to see the harsh realities of poverty. Abbey House Museum is perfect for family days out, especially on sunny days, because Kirkstall Abbey is just across the road – take a look at the old Cistercian abbey while the kids run around in the park.

Abbey House Museum, Abbey Walk, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3EH.

M&S Company Archive

M&S Marks in Time Exhibition

Leeds is home to the M&S Company Archive, a collection of 70,000 items from the UK’s favourite department store. Taking you from its early days as a penny bazaar in our very own Kirkgate Market, through the ages and up to the present day, Marks in Time is an intriguing look at how a small independent business became a household name. The permanent collection is free to visit and promises everything from clothes and merchandise to old films, company documents and photos, so you can get a unique glimpse into the inner workings of M&S.

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

Horsforth Village Museum

Horsforth Museum

Did you know that Horsforth was once the biggest village in all of England? It’s since been swallowed up by Leeds and is now one of the most sought-after suburbs in the city – but you can still delve into its rather intriguing history at the Horsforth Village Museum. Run by the Horsforth Village Historical Society, a group that’s dedicated to documenting the area’s history, you can see everything from photos and documents to embroidery and even items from the two World Wars. Be sure to visit the The Horsforde Room, where you can learn about the corvette HMS Aubretia and its vital role in apprehending the German Enigma machine.

Horsforth Village Museum, 5 The Green, Horsforth, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS18 5JB.

Middleton Railway Museum

Middleton Railway, Leeds

Middleton Railway is the oldest working railway in the world, and it doubles as a museum, showcasing an impressive collection of steam, diesel and electric locomotives from through the ages. You can learn about the history of the railway and its links with the city, as well as seeing the trains themselves and finding out how they work. It’s a great day out, especially if you’ve got kids, and the museum itself is absolutely free – you only have to buy tickets if you want to ride the train, although it is one of the highlights and we’d highly recommend it.

Middleton Railway Museum, Moor Road Station, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS18 5PA.

Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery

Treasures of Brotherton Gallery, Leeds

The newest of Leeds’ many museums, Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery can be found on the University of Leeds campus, alongside Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. Here you’ll find a whole host of artefacts from the university’s Special Collections that were previously hidden away in the Brotherton Library. You can see the passport of infamous Russian spy Kim Philby, as well as a Babylonian clay tablet that dates back to 2000 BC and a first edition copy of The Hobbit with a letter from Tolkien about the book. It lives up to its name, offering visitors the chance to see a treasure trove of rare finds.

Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, Parkinson Building, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT.

Otley Museum

Although their collection of artefacts, including hundreds of prehistoric stone tools and an archaeological collection from the excavations of Palace of the Archbishop of York, is now in storage, there’s still loads to see at Otley Museum. You can follow the area’s history back to the 18th century with a range of documents, photographs, personal records and locally printed materials to pore over, making this the perfect place for folk looking to trace their family history or explore Otley’s intriguing past.

Otley Museum, Wellcroft House, Otley Cycle Club, Crow Lane, Otley, West Yorkshire, LS21 1TZ.

Leeds Discovery Centre

Leeds Discovery Centre is home to over one million objects and yet hardly anyone knows about it. This is where you’ll find all the pieces that aren’t on display in their public museums, with everything from toucans to asteroids – but you can still get a glimpse inside because they run tours every Thursday and they’re absolutely free. This is your chance to go behind the scenes in a unique cultural space. Look out for their workshops too, which will help you get the kids interested in history through craft sessions.

Leeds Discovery Centre, Carlisle Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1LB.

Cover image copyright Royal Armouries Museum.