I lived in Leeds for 10 years, I went to university there then stuck around after graduation. I have very fond memories of the city where I spent my student days, for its huge variety of shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife. However, it is only recently I have come to appreciate the cultural side of Leeds, perhaps it is old(er) age which is driving me to explore the other attractions in the city, like Kirkstall Abbey.
Where is Leeds?
For those of you not familiar with this northern city, it is around 2 hours north of London by train, and around 30 minutes from beautiful city of York. An hour east of Manchester, Leeds is close to three of Britain’s national parks – the North York Moors to the north east, the Yorkshire Dales to the north west, and the Peak District to the south west.
Cistercian monks began to build Kirkstall Abbey in 1152. Their community grew and was successful and popular with the local people, for religious and business reasons. However, when Henry VIII became head of the Church of England in 1534, he abolished all abbeys and religious houses in England due to their connection with the Catholic Church, and Kirkstall Abbey was closed in 1539. The grounds were sold, and in 1890 the then owner donated the grounds to the Leeds Corporation (now Leeds City Council) so that the people of Leeds would always be able to visit the abbey ruins. Kirkstall Abbey tells the fascinating story of the monks’ lives, and use of the Abbey grounds since it closed.
How to get to Kirkstall Abbey
Kirkstall Abbey is on Kirkstall Road, the main road which leads out of Leeds towards the Leeds Bradford Airport and Ilkley. Parking is available across the road in the visitors’ centre, or you can take the bus. I took the 757 bus from Leeds Bus Station which took about 20 minutes. The 33 and 33a also pass by. You can find up to date bus timetables here, currently, the 757 runs every 20 minutes from Leeds Bus Station.
Please note that Kirkstall Abbey is usually closed on Mondays (unless it is a bank holiday) and opens at 10am. In the winter, it closes at 4pm, with last admission at 3pm, but in the summer, it is open longer.
The nearest train station is Headingley, about a mile away.
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I visited in December, and although it was dry, the weather was bitterly cold, so I was glad of my woolly hat and gloves! I was surprised by the size of the ruins up close, I had only ever seen them from a distance as I drove past.
I took a couple of photos from the outside, there are footpaths that run around the Abbey Park and alongside the River Aire, and even in this weather there were a few people jogging or walking their dogs. The entrance to the Abbey is through the gift shop, and there is a bathroom here if needed. On the day I visited there were several school groups coming and going from the study room attached to the shop, but luckily, I managed to them as I walked around the ruins.
What to do at Kirkstall Abbey
Kirkstall Abbey is free to enter, and the main ‘attraction’ is obviously the Abbey ruins. The Abbey Park surrounding the ruins is always open, and covers an area of around 24 hectares. There are football and rugby pitches here, as well as tennis courts, and plenty of space for picnics and other recreation.
There is also a gift shop, and across the road there is a visitor’s centre and café/restaurant to get some lunch. A short walk away in Kirkstall there is a cinema, and plenty of other restaurants to try.
Events at Kirkstall Abbey
One weekend a month during the summer, Kirkstall Abbey hosts a weekend market, with fresh produce and hand-made crafts from local businesses. The current dates for 2018 are 31 March to 2nd April, 28th & 29th April, and 26th to 28th May. They also have live theatre performances, a Christmas market and various other activities arranged throughout the year. Their website has more details of arranged events.
Is Kirkstall Abbey a Must-See?
In the summer, I would say yes. The ruins of the old Abbey are beautiful, and the park area is a lovely spot for a picnic, and a pleasant day in the sun. Time your trip with one of the events in Kirkstall Abbey and you have the perfect combination of relaxation and entertainment!
In the winter, it would be a great place to stretch your legs on a sunny day. It was very cold when I was there, but it is still nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the city just a short distance away.
Where to Stay in Leeds
I stayed at the awesome Art Hostel Leeds, a funky hostel in the centre decorated by local artists. All profits from the hostel go to the arts charity East Street Arts, and the hostel was in a great location just around the corner from the bus station where I caught the bus to Kirkstall Abbey. You can read a review of my stay at the Art Hostel Leeds here.
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