I lived in Leeds for 10 years. I love this city in England, I came here to study at the University of Leeds, and stayed around for several years after that. However, I am ashamed to admit that in all that time I didn’t appreciate everything I had on my doorstep. True, Leeds has changed a lot in the last eight years since I left, but some of the best museums in Leeds have been here for much longer than that – I simply didn’t bother to go and visit them. I came back to Leeds with Visit Leeds as part of their #INLeedsWeekend to rediscover the city, and I was surprised by the quality of the free museums in Leeds that I finally got to visit!
Why are there Free Museums in Leeds?
I was amazed at how many free museums there are in Leeds. So often now we have to pay to see important art work or historical memorabilia, but luckily for us a lot of the museums in Leeds are supported by the Council, as well as receiving charitable donations and volunteer support. I also learned from our guide at the Royal Armouries that there are handy tax breaks given to museums which don’t charge an entry fee, so both the museums and the visitors benefit from not having to pay admission costs. Whatever the reasons, these fabulous museums are there for us all to enjoy, so what are you waiting for??
The Best Free Museums in Leeds City Centre
The Royal Armouries Museum
I am ashamed to say that I lived right next to the Royal Armouries Leeds for three years and never went inside. I suppose I thought that a museum about weapons wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I am pleased to say that now I have FINALLY been, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it! The Royal Armouries Museum houses a huge collection of arms and armour, with more than 75,000 objects from across the world and throughout history from medieval times to the present day. We had a guided tour of the museum highlights (which can be arranged in advance for groups) or you can explore the galleries at your leisure.
The museum is filled with fascinating artefacts, brought to life with models, drawings and splendid displays. I loved the Japanese gallery, which had armour and weapons from Japanese shoguns and samurai, which was fascinating to see up close, and to understand why the style of swords were designed to target weak points in the armour. I was also impressed with the only remaining almost complete elephant armour in any public collection in the world – displayed on a full-sized model elephant, which is quite a sight! I wouldn’t want to be in front of one on the battle field, put it that way. One of the other big draws in the Royal Armouries is the armour of King Henry VIII, which the king himself wore for a tournament in France.
When to Visit the Royal Armouries Museum
The museum is open every day from 10am – 5pm, with the last entry at 4.30pm. There are special events throughout the year in addition to the regular exhibits, check here for details of events.
How to Get to the Royal Armouries Museum
The Royal Armouries is just outside Leeds city centre, at Leeds Dock. Royal Armouries Leeds parking is provided by Citipark multi-storey carpark which has 1600 spaces, but parking fees do apply. The museum is about 15 minutes’ walk from Leeds train station and the bus station, or a short boat ride on the free water taxi which runs from Granary Wharf (next to the train station).
Royal Armouries Leeds Address & Postcode: Armouries Drive, Leeds, LS10 1LT
Eating & Drinking at the Royal Armouries Leeds
There is a bistro and coffee shop inside the museum, as well as a picnic area with vending machines. Around Leeds Dock there are several cafés and restaurants, North Star is a great place for a coffee and tasty cake.
Leeds City Museum
Leeds City Museum is located in a grand building, the former Mechanics’ Institute built by Yorkshire-born architect Cuthbert Brodrick, who also designed the Town Hall and the iconic Corn Exchange in Leeds, among others. The museum opened in its current state in 2008, and the exhibits include sections on Leeds city history and culture, as well as natural history and some global exhibitions.
The museum’s two most famous residents are the ‘Leeds Tiger’ and the ‘Leeds Mummy’, the remains of a 3000-year-old Egyptian mummy, Nesyamun. Nesyamun was a priest at the ancient Egyptian site Karnak, and is one of the most remarkable mummies in Britain. As well as the mummy itself, the exhibition includes the beautifully decorated casket and a facial reconstruction of what Nesyamun would have looked like. The ‘Leeds Tiger’ is a huge stuffed tiger skin, which originally came from a village in India where the tiger was killed for coming too close to the people – or as legend has it for being a serial man-eater. It came to the museum as a tiger-skin rug, and was combined with other tiger pelts and stuffed with straw to recreate the animal, although admittedly the straw has left him a little saggy in places!
Leeds City Museum isn’t huge, and you could probably see most of the exhibits in about half an hour, but if you’re looking for things to do in Leeds then why not pop in and learn a thing or two?
When to Visit Leeds City Museum
Leeds City Museum is closed on Mondays (except Bank Holiday Mondays, when it opens from 11am to 5pm). From Tuesday to Friday the museum is open from 10am to 5pm, and on weekends from 11am to 5pm. Check here for special events at the museum. Please note, although the permanent exhibitions are free there may be a charge for some special exhibits.
How to Get to Leeds City Museum
Leeds City Museum is in the city centre, on Millennium Square – 10 minutes’ walk from Leeds train station & about 15 minutes’ walk from the bus station.
Metered street parking is available nearby on Rossington Street and Cookridge Street. Secure car parking is available in Woodhouse Lane, The Light, Merrion Centre and Rose Bowl car parks, charges apply.
Leeds City Museum Address & Postcode: Millennium Square, Leeds, LS2 8BH
Eating & Drinking at Leeds City Museum
There is a café on the lower ground level of the museum, or on your doorstep, you’ll find lots of choices for tasty food and drink in the city centre.
Leeds Art Gallery
I had visited the art gallery once before, when there was a Damien Hirst exhibition. Leeds Art Gallery has a wide range of works, primarily from British artists, and what I loved most about the gallery is that it was opened for the people, by the people. The gallery was paid for by public subscription, collected in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, and opened on 3 October 1888. People all around the country were asked to donate money to send to London for the celebrations, but it was decided that a local tribute to the Queen was more fitting, and beneficial for the people of Leeds. The museum was filled with paintings and art works from British contemporary artists, something which continues to this day, although one room is dedicated to some of the paintings which were originally on display at that time. I think my favourite piece was ‘Scotland Forever’ by Elizabeth Thompson, as the horses seem to be galloping off the canvas!
There are several pieces by local sculptor Henry Moore, and the gallery is connected by a bridge to the Henry Moore Institute next door where you can see more beautiful works of sculpture.
When to Visit Leeds City Art Gallery
Leeds City Art Gallery is closed on Mondays. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and on Sunday from 11am to 3pm. Check here for special events at the museum. Please note, although the permanent exhibitions are free there may be a charge for some special exhibits.
How to Get to Leeds City Art Gallery
Leeds City Art Gallery is in the city centre, next to Leeds library and Town Hall. It is a 10 minute walk from Leeds train station, and about 15 minutes’ walk from the bus station. Metered street parking is located nearby on Cookridge Street. Secure car parking is available in Woodhouse Lane, The Light, Merrion Centre and Rose Bowl car parks, a 5-10 minute walk away.
Leeds City Art Gallery Address & Postcode: The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 3AA
Eating & Drinking at Leeds City Art Gallery
The beautiful Tiled Hall Café was originally the main library reading room, and was renovated and restored to its former glory in 2007. The marble columns, ornate tiles and mosaic ceiling are simply stunning. Stop in here for a cup of coffee and cake, or for light meals and snacks, including vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free options. Before visiting the gallery, we had a tasty Spanish tapas lunch at Iberica which is just across the road.
Free Museums Around Leeds
Not strictly speaking a museum, but rather a beautiful building Kirkstall Abbey was thriving Cistercian Abbey from 1152 until 1539 when the Abbey was closed after King Henry VIII abolished all abbeys and religious houses related to the Catholic Church. Kirkstall Abbey is set inside a large park, where you can stroll around and sit next to the River Aire which runs through the park. The ruins are lovely to walk around and there are regular events held throughout the year from food markets to live theatre performances in the grounds.
Where to Stay in Leeds
For this trip with Visit Leeds I stayed at the centrally located Radisson Blu, just across the street from Leeds Art Gallery. The room was spacious, bed lovely and comfy, and the breakfast was fabulous with a huge choice. The Radisson Blu also has a well stocked bar and restaurant offering meals and cocktails. Check the reviews.
If your budget won’t stretch that far, the Art Hostel Leeds is a great budget option with dorm rooms and private rooms available, close to Leeds Kirkgate Market and Leeds Bus Station. Read my full review of Art Hostel Leeds.
Have you visited any of these free museums in Leeds? What do you think, do they showcase the very best of Leeds culture? Share your comments in the box below.
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Thank you to Visit Leeds for arranging the #INLeedsWeekend. All activities during the weekend were complimentary, but rest assured that I maintain full editorial control and all opinions here are my own.
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