7 Free or Affordable Things to do in Leeds


There are a lot of things making Leeds unique that many visitors may not know: The popular student hub is the UK’s fourth largest city and second most important financial centre, after London. Less commonly known is that the world’s oldest surviving film ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’ was filmed in a suburb of the city.

Humboldt Penguins at Harewood House (Photo: Adam Simmons via Flickr)

Leeds is praised for offering inhabitants a high quality of life. Although such a status results from a multiplicity of factors, one important thing is undoubtedly the range of cultural activities and entertainment on offer. Among the many things to do, here are some days out in Leeds with a unique  and affordable twist.

Feed penguins at a stately home

Harewood House is a fantastic sight in its own right. The stately home was built in the 18th century and has extensive gardens and a small exotic bird aviary. Species include Chilean flamingos and a small colony of Humboldt penguins. The latter are considered something of a highlight and their conservation makes for an excellent opportunity to learn more about the vulnerable species through talks and hands-on feeding sessions, run daily from 3:30-4pm between 23 March and 04 November. The minimum age for children to feed the penguins is seven years old.

Harewood House

Visit Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey in the late afternoon (Photo: Minda via Wikimedia)

One of the best free attractions in Leeds can be found three miles outside the city centre. Kirkstall Abbey was once home to Cistercian monks until in 1538 when the dissolution of all abbeys associated with Catholicism under the reign of Henry VIII was enacted. From the 16th century onwards the abbey fell into disrepair and made its way into the hands of Leeds Council, who have opened the abbey and surrounding land up to visitors free of charge. Opening times run from 10am to 4pm year round (last admission in the winter is at 3pm). 

Abbey Road, Kirkstall

Forage for your food

Craig Worrall leading an Edible Leeds foraging tour (Photo: Edible Leeds)

Especially in the city, the natural world can be an underappreciated part of our daily lives. Craig Worrall’s guided walks with Edible Leeds put an end to that by exploring some of the marvellous, and delicious things that nature in and around Leeds has to offer. From edible fungi to a range of wild herbs and edibles, these unique tours are more than just courses in learning to appreciate nature. You will also discover ways to get much more from it in a gastronomic sense. For those interested in a tipple, there may also be tips on how to make your own alcohol from ingredients readily available in the wild. Tours are crafted to fit the seasons and dates vary.

Various locations around Leeds

Have a chocolate lock-in

Learn to make your own at Hotel Chocolat (Photo: Hotel Chocolat)

This is exactly what it sounds like, Hotel Chocolat lock you in to their store after hours and let you eat chocolate. After around 45 minutes they kindly allow you leave however, usually full of delicious chocolate and with some fellow chocolate lovers as potential new friends. The experience is limited to 10 people, and proceedings begin with a glass of Prosecco. Check their website for dates. Another fantastic event here is the Bean to Bar Experience, where you can learn to turn cocoa beans into a chocolate bar, using the tempering process to perfect the chocolate; a life skill that’s likely to make you many a friend.

55 Boar Lane

Head to the theatre and pay what you want

Slung Low theatre company operate out of a fantastic space known as the HUB (Holbeck Underground Ballroom), located beneath several railway arches, about 10 minutes south-west of Leeds Train Station. Keen to recognise that everybody has different financial means, they operate a pay what you want scheme to see their shows. This is about more than making art accessible to all though, as all proceeds go to the performers, allowing them the chance to dedicate more time to their craft. Catch a show live each Sunday at 5pm, with a different production each week. Note that reservations must be made in advance.

67-71 Bath Road, Holbeck

Rub shoulders with the past (literally)

Visit haunted buildings with Simply Ghost Tours (Photo: SGN Events)

Simply Ghost Nights run occasional ghost hunting events in various old buildings around Leeds. One site with a particularly high number of reported ghost sightings is Leeds City Museum. City Hall, Armley Mills and the Old Dispensary Hospital have also registered ghost sightings in the past and the site-specific ghost hunts will allow you to investigate haunted buildings with a guide. Although events are sporadic, so too is the paranormal and that makes the unique after hours look behind the closed doors of these famous landmarks even more alluring. Events regularly sell out in advance, so it is worth booking early.

Various locations

Explore your family history

From a brush with the past to a more rigorous examination of it, the Local and Family History Library hosts regular talks and learning sessions to help people piece together their family history. There are resources for studying local history too, along with free access to ancestry.com, and a good collection of old pictures and documents that staff on-site can assist you to unearth and sift through. For those without local familial ties to the area, it is a great way to learn skills that can then be applied at other local collections around the country or world.

Leeds Central Library, 2nd Floor

By Paul Stafford