The largest city in Yorkshire and one of the UK’s major cultural centres, Leeds combines a scenic setting on the south bank of the River Aire with all the hustle and bustle you’d expect of an urban metropolis. Regenerated in recent years, the city’s rich industrial history has been augmented by a thriving entertainment scene, while numerous public parks and a diverse dining scene add to the appeal.
Travelling with kids can often be a challenge, with many tourist attractions not quite cutting the mustard when it comes to their idea of “fun”. Happily, Leeds has a multitude of kid-friendly things to see and do, helping make the city an excellent option for a UK family holiday. We’ve picked out 12 of the best places to head with your little (and not so little) ones in Leeds.
Check out a museum with a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy
Ideal for a family outing on a rainy day, Leeds City Museum is jam-packed full of fascinating exhibits, artefacts and collections covering every facet of life on earth and spanning from the ancient world to modern times. Highlights include the iconic Leeds Tiger, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, and the complete skeleton of a Heavy-footed Moa. The museum also hosts regular kid-friendly events.
LOCATION Millennium Square HOURS Tues-Fri 10am-5pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm
Enter a magical world of children’s stories
The idea of taking their kids to a play centre can often bring out parents in hives, but The Rainbow Factory is a play centre with a difference. Designed to spark the imagination of your little ones and encourage them to read, the venue recreates famous children’s tales like Jack and the Beanstalk and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland through interactive shows featuring crafts, singing, dancing and messy play. Hard-earned refreshments are available in an on-site café.
LOCATION Springfield Commercial Centre Bagley Lane, Farsley, Pudsey HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Feed penguins at a grand country house
Classic English country homes are better known for their pristine landscaped gardens and falconry displays than penguins, but Harwood House bucks the trend. The 18th century property is a great place to visit with kids in and of itself, complete as it is with 100 acres of gardens and adventure playground, but there’s no denying that it’s the Humboldt penguins who are the star of the show. Guests can help the keepers to feed them their usual diet of whitebait, sprats and small herrings – but it’ll require an early start, as they are usually fed just after sunrise.
LOCATION Sandy Gate, Harewood HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Delve into the gory past of medical practices
Perhaps not suitable for those children with a sensitive belly, Thackray Medical Museum offers an intriguing – and sometimes stomach churning – look at how people were treated for ailments and injuries back in Victorian times. Featuring tons of interactive exhibitions, the museum is a great way to teach kids just how lucky they are that modern medicine has moved on so dramatically, meaning we no longer have to face the agony of tools like the scalpel, sans anaesthetic.
LOCATION 141 Beckett Street, Harehills
Leeds City Walking Tours
Search for all kinds of decorative animals on several city buildings: ‘Fur, feathers, wool and scales – Leeds creatures real and imagined’. Young explorers will also enjoy ‘Hidden gems and curious corners of Leeds’ – features of the city centre that are easily missed unless you know where to look. You might like to add a guided waterfront walk to your outing to the Royal Armouries? (‘I-spy’ sheets available on request.) Get in touch with geographer and experienced tour guide Rachael Unsworth to find out when the next child-friendly tour is scheduled or to request a private outing for a family group.
Jump aboard the UK’s oldest railway
There are few more genteel activities than travelling on an old fashioned train. Happily, a handful of these antiquated modes of transport have been preserved around the UK, and among them is Middleton Railway in Leeds, said to be the oldest working railway in the world. Visitors can traverse the mile-long track from Moor Road to Park Halt aboard steam and diesel trains, and there’s also a dedicated museum housing an assortment of old steam, diesel and electric locomotives.
LOCATION Moor Road
Step back into Victorian times
Children often need to be taught by stealth and if you’d like to introduce your kids to a spot of social history then Abbey House Museum offers a fun and engaging way to do so. Transporting you back to Victorian era Leeds, the museum offers a fascinating glimpse into what life was like more than 100 years ago. There’s a recreation of a Victorian high street complete with shops and an inn, while the Childhood Galleries are packed full of 19th century doll’s houses, toys and games. Throughout the year the museum also hosts a busy programme of child-friendly exhibitions and other events.
LOCATION Abbey Walk, Abbey Road, Kirkstall
Explore a vast public park full of attractions
Spread across 700 acres of rolling parkland, Roundhay Park is a great family attraction that’s certain to keep your little ones entertained for hours. An adventure playground, a skate park and an indoor wildlife park housing an array of exotic creatures including snakes, tarantulas, crocodiles, meerkats and butterflies are some of the major draws for kids, while landscaped gardens, lakes and tennis courts cater for more adult interests.
LOCATION Mansion Lane, Roundhay HOURS 24/7
Catch some immersive theatre
Children love a spot of immersive theatre and Sneaky Experience provide some of the best around. The Leeds-based company produces unique and highly original theatre shows that bring everyone’s favourite kids films to life by recreating the characters and storylines that have captured our hearts and imaginations down the years. Shows are hosted at various venues in and around the city.
Dress up like a medieval knight
A great chance for your kids to learn about the ancient arts of battle, The Royal Armouries is home to the National Collection of Arms and Armour, charged with protecting them alongside its distinguished counterparts The Tower of London and Fort Nelson. Children love the chance to explore the exhibits which range from suits of armour to swords, spears and arrows, and there’s even a crossbow range and a play area where kids can get dressed up and play in the castle. During school holidays the museum also hosts live combat demonstrations.
LOCATION Armouries Drive HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Discover a bookshop dedicated entirely to kids
It’s never too early to introduce your kids to books. Indeed, being read to, and then reading to yourself, is commonly agreed to be one of the most beneficial activities a child can engage in. In Leeds, The Little Bookshop is unique in that it is entirely dedicated to children, stocking titles ranging from picture books for babies all the way through to teen fiction. The store also hosts a variety of special events, including author talks, storytime sessions, and craft workshops, all designed to encourage kids to develop a passion for all things books.
LOCATION 47 Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton HOURS Mon-Sat 10am-5pm Closed Sun
Visit a city farm
Visitors to Leeds don’t need to venture out of the city to meet fascinating animals. The alpacas, cows, sheep, donkeys, guinea pigs and rabbits of Meanwood Valley Urban Farm, situated a couple of miles north of the city centre, are all waiting patiently for your patronage. Once you’ve had your fill of animals, there’s also a bike track, a farm shop selling fresh local produce, and a café.
LOCATION Sugar Well Rod, Meanwood HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-4pm