The 19 best things to do in Leeds

Make pals with penguins, let your hair down on Call Lane and other lovely ways to pass the time in Leeds

With its enviable music scene, lush city parks, thriving theatres, busy shopping districts and atmospheric pubs, there’s plenty going on to satisfy all tastes and budgets. Whether you’re the gallery hopping, dining out sort or you’re already lacing up those boots to make for the moors, here are 19 unmissable things to do in this Yorkshire city.

Leeds Corn Exchange
Photograph: Leeds Corn Exchange
The Corn Exchange
What is it? Part retail space, part food hub, this stunning Victorian building is home to an array of indie shops and boutiques that beckon away from the chain stores outside. Throughout 2018, the lower ground level is being transformed into a hub for independent food traders. 
Why go? Closely resembling the cross-hatched and cavernous inner chamber of some great airship, the Grade I-listed building is breath-taking to step inside. And you’ll quickly be distracted by quirky shops selling handmade jewellery, vintage cameras and more. 
Victoria Quarter, Attractions, Leeds
Harry Archer
The Arcades
What is it? This trio of arcades comprising the Grand, Queens and Thorntons arcades has gained a reputation for snootiness due to its pricey boutiques, but you’ll soon forgive its pretentions when you’re walking along its stunning walkways and admiring those art nouveau shop fronts.
Why go? The wonder of these neat and pretty rows of covered shopping malls is that there are practically no chains to be found. 
Brew York Brewery with Brewtown
Photograph: Brewtown
Brewtown Tours
What is it? Brewtown tours offer novices and connoisseurs alike the chance to try an unrivaled array of straight-from-the-brewery beers from three top notch brewers. 
Why go? Yorkshire is riding high on the trend for craft beer and real ales, and Leeds is a great starting point to sample the best of what the county has to offer. Chock-full of independent breweries and pubs dedicated to unique malted beverages, the city caters to all tastes and budgets, meaning lovers of a quality pint are in good company. 
Feature and Photo Essay, the Grand Theatre, Leeds..25th April 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme
Photograph: Simon Hulme
Leeds Grand Theatre
What is it? As traditional as the Playhouse is modern, the Grand is the stage on which opera voices reverberate, ballet dancers pirouette, and panto villains shout ‘oh no he didn’t!’ with theatrical gusto. The Grand is a key venue for local performance companies Opera North and Northern Ballet, which regularly hold recitals of classic, avant-garde or lesser-known productions, showcasing world-class talent. 
Why go? To spend the interval admiring the ornate ceilings, stunning chandelier and sweeping staircases before the show starts.
Salsa dancing, Leeds
Photograph: Jonathan Kos-Read
Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen
What is it? What was once a large nursery school in the city’s Northern Quarter is now a vibrant, youthful, multi-storey hangout that could be considered the city’s best live music venue. 
Why go? Capitalising on the contemporary trend for burlesque, cheekily named club The Wet Spot takes place every month at the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen and delivers pulse-quickening performances from the country’s best adult cabaret performers, hosted by the brilliantly naughty compere Ryvita Von Cheese.
Hyde Picture House
Photograph: Phil Luxford
Hyde Park Picture House
What is it? It’s always good to have the option of taking the kids to the cinema on a rainy day, but the modern age has brought over-inflated prices, sticky floors and an alarming rate of popcorn-based hooliganism. Thankfully, Leeds is fortunate to have two independent, vintage cinemas within a mile of each other – Hyde Park Picture House and Cottage Road Cinema in the leafy suburb of Headingley.
Why go? Both promise a vastly superior experience to your usual mammoth screen complexes with pocket-friendly entry, half-time ice cream vendors and a programme of arthouse, indie and foreign films.
Photograph: Kirkstall Abbey
Kirkstall Abbey
What is it? Kirkstall Abbey and its adjoining Abbey House Museum a short journey out of town allows guests to wander through the ruins of a Cistercian monastery and learn about the simple yet strict running of a monk’s day, while the little monkeys run off some steam in the extensive grounds. 
Why go? This 900-year-old abbey is an architectural marvel as well as a haven for wildlife and in the summer months, you can enjoy al fresco cinema among the ruins. 
Photograph: Roundhay Park
Roundhay Park
What is it? Stretching over 700 acres, Roundhay Park is one of Leeds most popular attractions. This patch of greenery is the go to for picnickers, dog walkers, joggers and sun worshippers. 
Why go? It’s the only park in Leeds that can boast having a family of meerkats as residents, this north plus lakes, woodland, gardens and of course the pièce de résistance, 'Tropical World', which is home to all things wild and wonderful. 
Hall of Steel
Photograph: Peter Langdown
Royal Armouries
What is it? A vast free museum containing more than 8,500 war-related treasures such as Henry VIII’s tournament armour, a world record-breaking elephant armour, and objects from popular culture such as the Alien Pulse rifle.
Why go? Unfortunately, the Royal Armouries at Leeds Dock doesn’t hand out real weapons for visitors to wallop each other with, but the huge museum is fascinating for young and old alike with a daily programme of dramatic performances, tours, talks and live combat displays bringing history to life.
The Henry Moore Institute
What is it? A world-renowned contemporary sculpture gallery, where you can take in towering three-dimensional art forms, attend lectures on architecture and eyeball art at one-off exhibitions. 
Why go? To survey work inspired by (rather than created by) the great sculptor. Those familiar with the Moore name should know that his work can instead be found at the YSP, the main art gallery, or his estate at Perry Green.
Leeds Festival
Photograph: katiecooperx
Leeds Festival
What is it? There are many festivals and carnivals in Leeds that take place all year round, and not all of them revolve around music. Plenty of them do though, and it would be slightly insane to list the best things to do without mentioning Leeds Festival, sister to its Reading counterpart, which takes place in Bramham Park every August.
Why go? See the big fish of the music industry play to thousands of fans in a muddy field. 

Ilkley Moor, Leeds
Photograph: James Whitesmith
Rodley Nature Reserve
What is it? The River Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool canal run through the heart of the city and lead towards scenic spots like Rodley Nature Reserve, a thriving wetland wildlife haven. 
Why go? It is entirely possible to spend hours here with your eyes glued to the skies and a pair of binoculars, pond dipping with little ones or just walking off the stresses of the city. 

The Thackray Medical Museum
Photograph: Catherine Candlin
The Thackray Medical Museum
What is it? The Thackray Medical Museum just out of the city centre is a wonderfully dark, yet incredibly informative place to go whether you have children or not, offering an immersive journey through the hit-and-miss history of healing. 
Why go? Get hands-on with history, and learn about the past without even realising it’s an educational experience.
Castle Howard, Leeds
Photograph: Michael D Beckwith
Temple Newsam House
What is it? An imposing Tudor-Jacobean mansion with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. There’s nothing is quite so quintessentially English as a stately home, and thanks to period dramas like ‘Downton Abbey’ making everyone wish they lived in a sprawling country pile, vast estates such as this are more popular than ever.
Why go? Lose yourself in history and take advantage of the frequent special events and exhibitions on the calendar. And with tours and audio guides available, all you have to do is decide what your stately title would be.
Live at Leeds, Vaccines
Photograph: Andrew Benge
Live at Leeds
What is it? The annual Live at Leeds festival is a must for those wishing to simultaneously take a tour of the coolest music venues and catch up-and-coming bands often months before they break the mainstream.
Why go? Previous acts to have played include Frank Turner, Alt J, Melody’s Echo Chamber and George Ezra, and it’s amazing to discover new music in the secret backroom of a small pub. 
Harewood House
Photograph: Visit England Thomas Heaton
Harewood House
What is it? A good looking 18th century house on the outskirts of Leeds, set in 100 acres of lush Yorkshire countryside. 
Why go? Perhaps unexpectedly, the mansion is home to a flock of hopelessly cute Humboldt penguins. Take the whole family along in summer to enjoy the Bird Garden and Farm and witness the daily feeding sessions, where you’ll fall in love with the stately species. 
Photograph: Tharavadu Restaurant
Tharavadu Restaurant
What is it? Roughly translated, “tharavadu” means keeping traditions alive and that’s just what they do at this highly rated Keralan restaurant. The menu looks beyond the predictable kormas and tikka masalas and features a mouthwatering selection of south Indian dishes.
Why go? Tuck into delicately spiced novelties such as whole crab cooked in coconut sauce, fluffy fried lentil doughnuts and toffee-filled steamed rice cake. In other words, Tharavadu is not your standard curry house.
Call Lane
What is it? Often likened to Manchester’s famous Canal Street, Call Lane has earned a nationwide reputation for wild nights out and LGBT hangouts. Stuffed with bars and clubs in every building, the entire road is pedestrianised at weekends to play host to thousands of revellers hopping from one bar to the next before finding their groove in one of the many clubs.
Why go? Roland’s, Call Lane Social and the quirky neon bar Cuckoo are among the most popular venues, while Smokestack, Neon Cactus and Oporto provide alternative experiences without straying from the beating heart of the action. 
Kings House, Tick Tock Unlock
Photograph: Kings House, Tick Tock Unlock
Tick Tock Unlock
What is it? Alongside the usual outdoor treasure hunting, one of the most popular attractions is the mysteriously titled Tick Tock Unlock; a veritable noodle-scratcher of an afternoon, during which participants are locked in a room with a series of riddles and puzzles and the challenge of escaping within 60 minutes.
Why go? For visitors looking for a mental workout against the clock.