Leeds has several good museums, the largest ones being the Royal Armouries and the City Art Gallery. I must say that I personnally prefered the Thackray Museum and Thwaite Mills.
As with many museums in the UK, most of the museums in Leeds are free to visit. The ones that charge entry have moderate admission fees.
City Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute
The City Art Gallery is located next to the Town Hall, in a nice Victorian building. It also houses the local library. The outside is quite oddly proportioned, but the inside is worth a look for the café downstairs which is decorated with blue tiles. You can also have a look at the library, especially at the beautiful staircase and at the big room at the top floor (Local History department).
Just like most of the local art galleries in England, the one in Leeds is mostly dedicated to British art from the Victorian era to the contemporary period. If you are looking for earlier art, then you should visit Temple Newsam, where the council’s collection of ancient painting is displayed. The art gallery organises regular temporary exhibitions. Free admission, closed Mondays, see website.
The Henry Moore Institute is just next door in a newer building, and it can be accessed either from the art gallery or from the outside. It pays a tribute to the great contemporary sculptor who was born in the area. The temporary exhibitions there are usually very interesting. Free admission, open daily, see website.
Royal Armouries Museum
The Royal Armouries is Leeds’ largest museum. Set next to the Aire and the old dock, it is of national significance, and it opened in 1996. It holds parts of the national collections of weapons and armours, which were initially exhibited at the Tower of London. The topic is rather unusual but the museum can appeal to all kinds of people thanks to its focus on aesthetics, its nice displays and its interactive exhibitions. All kinds of periods, activities and geographical areas are represented, from the European Antiquity and Middle Ages to Japan and India, warfare, jousting and hunting. Free admission, open daily, see website.
Leeds City Museum
This museum is located on Millennium Square, behind the Art Gallery. It covers a wide range of topics – geology and biology in the basement, local history on the first floor, Antiquity on the second floor. On the ground floor are to be found an exhibition about the local Asian communities and exhibits of artifacts that were collected by local scholars – pottery, photographs and so on.
The highlights there include a moa skeleton, an Egyptian mummy, local Roman mosaics and a Saxon treasure. The museum is perfect for children as it has many interactive displays and play areas. Free admission, closed on Mondays, see website.
The Thackray Museum is a museum dedicated to medicine and living conditions in the Victorian era. It is not widely known, especially because it is not located in the city centre, but a bit outside, in the deprived suburb of Harehills. It stands next to St James’s Hospital. It is set in a Victorian building which was built as a workhouse. The museum can be reached either on foot (30min from the centre) or with buses 16, 42, 49, 50 and 50A. Half of the museum is dedicated to the lives of the poor in Leeds in the 1840s. Reproduction of slum streets, with their houses, shops and public areas, totally immerse the visitor. The atmosphere is recreated through noise, light and even smell. The upper floor is dedicated to medical techniques and the human body. There are displays of many objects that show the evolution of medicine and the various treatments that are now offered. Closed for refurbishment as of 2019, see website for more information.
Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills
Together with the Thackray Museum, the Industrial Museum is a great place to imagine how Leeds looked in Victorian times. It is set in Armley Mills, a former textile factory overlooking the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. It dates from 1805. The museum can actually be reached on foot from the city centre following the towpath (30min).
The museum has a focus on the textile industry which used to be the major activity in the area until the 1960s. Visitors can see the complete woollen manufacturing process, with carding machines, spinning mules and looms. A part of the museum is also dedicated to trains and steam engines. Full-price admission £4.00, closed Mondays, see website.
Thwaite Mills is an authentic mill just like the one at Armley, but it is much more authentic as it was kept as it was instead of being turned into a museum. Here, each gear and drive shaft has been left at its place and the whole machinery is still powered by a water-wheel. Contrary to most of the local mills, Thwaite did not process fabric but flint and chalk, which were ground to produce putty. Visitors can wonder freely in the rooms and they can even have a look inside the owner’s house, which still has its 1940s furnishing. The attics of the mills house a large exhibition about the Industrial Revolution and the new techniques of the time.
Thwaite Mills is located on the Aire, a few miles southeast of the city centre. It can be accessed from the Royal Armouries thanks to a footpath that follows the river (40min). Open on weekends and Tuesday-Sunday on local school holidays, full-price admission £4.00, see website.
Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery is located in the Parkinson Building, which is the main building at the University of Leeds. It is easy to spot with its tall white tower, and it is a 20min walk from the very centre of Leeds (it can also be reached with buses 1 and 6 among others). The Parkinson Building itself is quite a local landmark. It was started in 1938 and it is built with white Portland stone. The gallery is dedicated to painting and sculpture and it comprises some masterpieces, with works by Corot, Vasarely and Fernand Léger. In the other wing of the Parkinson Building, there is another gallery – the Brotherton Gallery, which focuses on old books, manuscripts and letters. Both galleries have free admission, closed on Sundays, see website.
Leeds has several other private art galleries, such as the Tetley which is housed in the former brewery’s head offices.
There is also a small historical museum at Kirkstall, and a small zoo at Roundhay – Tropical World. See also Temple Newsam and Harewood House.
See also Visit Leeds.