TOP 11 FREE THINGS TO DO IN LEEDS IN JANUARY
16th January 2023
Looking for something fun to do this January? With many people looking for cheaper plans, the city of Leeds is here to tell you that fun doesn’t have to cost the earth. From museums and galleries (the majority of which are always free entry) to free gigs and concerts, there’s so much to enjoy in Leeds this January, and we’ve rounded up our pick of the top 12 that won’t cost you a penny. The only question is, what will you do first?
1. Discover the history of battle at Royal Armouries
Sitting on popular waterfront development Leeds Dock, Royal Armouries is the national museum of arms and armour, with the UK’s largest collection of armour displayed proudly here. The museum is free to visit and has a whole host of exciting events throughout January, including ‘Spectacular Swords’, an action-packed weekend of sword-fighting demonstrations showcasing the art of sword play and cutting-edge history. This includes information and demonstrations of Japanese Samurai Swords, Ancient Chinese swords, and Roman swords too. Suitable for all the family, ‘Spectacular Swords’ takes place the weekend of 28 January. Be sure to book in advance to secure your place and avoid disappointment.
2. Stroll through the beauty of Roundhay Park
One of the biggest parks in Europe, Roundhay Park sits less than four miles outside of Leeds’ city centre and boasts over 700 acres of parkland, lakes, woodland and gardens. A walk around the park is completely free, and with so much to explore, you can easily spend an afternoon here. Fancy a bit of wildlife spotting? Although spring is your best bet to catch a glimpse of the woodpeckers and common warblers that live here, you may still be able to spot some squirrels or deer if you’re lucky. If your budget allows you can pick up hot drinks and snacks at the on-site Lakeside Cafe, or venture to the adjoining Tropical World, an island adventure which is fun for all the family. Exotic butterflies and birds roam free around the recreated rainforest environment, while meerkats stand proudly in the desert section. Tickets to Tropical World cost £7.20 for adults, £3.80 for children and under 5’s go free.
3. Laugh your head off at Verve’s Comedy Cellar
Comedy nights are aplenty in Leeds, but did you know one of the top events in the comedy night calendar is totally free? Held at the popular Merrion Street venue Verve in its hidden basement tequila bar, up and coming comedians take to the stage every Tuesday to perform their best material. Why not enjoy the show, or even try your hand and take to the stage; it’s totally free except for the few drinks you may want to buy to settle your nerves! Doors open at 8pm, with the first show starting at 8.15pm.
4. Delve into ancient history at Leeds City Museum
Located in the heart of the city, Leeds City Museum is home to some incredible collections and pieces, including the Leeds Tiger, a taxidermy-mounted 19th-century Bengal tiger, and Neshaminy, an Ancient Egyptian Mummy. Also housed in the six spectacular galleries are: centuries-old fossils and extinct animal bones in the ‘Life on Earth’ gallery, an exploration of Leeds’ diverse Asian communities in the ‘World View: Voices of Asia’ exhibition and the history of the city of Leeds told through voices of the past in the ‘Leeds Story’ galleries. All exhibitions and permanent displays are free to explore as with most Leeds museums and galleries. If you fancy learning more about the culture of Leeds in a way that brings the past to life, then take a trip to the Leeds City Museum.
5. Wander around the banks of Leeds Dock
The city centre isn’t the only place to be in Leeds – far from it! Leeds Dock is a rejuvenated waterfront development – just a 15-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the city centre – on the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Stroll along the dock and you’ll find the Royal Armouries Museum, colourful canal boats, a growing collection of independent bars and restaurants including coffee shop favourite North Star and social hub, bar, and kitchen The Canary situated aptly in old docking containers with fantastic waterside views. And where else but Leeds Dock would you find a second-hand bookshop and plant shop on a canal boat? Hold Fast Bookshop is a converted barge that sits proudly in the Dock and is officially the coolest bookstore in the whole city. Have a spare £1? Then you can take the best ride in town, a lift on the bright yellow Water Taxi that takes you from the train station, along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal all the way to Leeds Dock (and back again). It’s definitely an experience you won’t forget!
6. Enjoy live music without spending a penny
There’s plenty of live entertainment in the city and a lot of venues do not charge. Brudenell Social Club is one of Leeds’ most iconic music venues, dating back to 1913. While the venue plays host to paid gigs, they regularly put on free gigs for music-lovers, usually from up-and-coming artists looking to make their break in the music industry. The Duck & Drake host free gigs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, either tribute acts or musicians performing their own material. For those of a more punk or metal persuasion, then whiskey bar Santiago is your hotspot. They host live music every Friday and Saturday – just double check beforehand as some gigs do charge.
7. Explore the city along Leeds Street Art Trail
Leeds is a city renowned for its vibrant art scene, and the spectacular Street Art on the city’s streets tell the story of Leeds and its communities, from the city’s love of Leeds United, to the creativity of its people. For a different day out, you can explore it all with the help of Leeds Street Art Trail. Starting in the city’s business district, you’ll find street artist Quebek’s masterpiece, ‘Winifred’, an elephant Yorkshire hybrid artwork inspired by his beloved Grandma. Along the route you’ll see work memorialising boxing champion Josh Warrington, ‘Athena Rising’, the towering owl artwork sitting on the Platform building near the train station and the ever-popular and extremely instagrammable ‘You & Me, Me & You’ artwork sitting on The Calls – plus so many more colourful artworks dotted along the trail. Grab a hot drink and spend the day admiring these inspiring artworks that embody the city and its people.
8. Be inspired by contemporary art at The Tetley
The Tetley was once home to the John Tetley brewery and is now a pioneering centre for contemporary art. Another of Leeds cultural institutions which is completely free to enter including all exhibitions. The main exhibition in January is the important ROOT-ed Zine’s Retrospect, Reality, Reform, project, which explores racial justice, feminism, sisterhood, and the meaning of home. The exhibition includes work by Yasmin Ali, filmmaker and photographer; Hanna Gwynn, comic artist and illustrator; Linnet Panashe Rubaya, Leeds-based figurative artist; and Simone Yasmin, Leeds-based writer and spoken word artist. With an on-site bar and kitchen too featuring some of the best veggie and vegan grub in the city, you can happily spend an afternoon to spare at The Tetley.
9. Window shop ‘till you drop in Leeds’ unique shopping arcades
Window shopping can’t hurt, right? Even if you don’t want to spend money actually shopping, a stroll around the many shopping streets, boutiques and arcades in Leeds is certainly worth a visit. Luxury brands and small independents are joined by the main shopping street of Briggate, offering something for all casual shoppers and strollers. Browse the antique jewellery shops, designer boutiques and fancy stores at Victoria Quarter, all the while taking in the breath-taking architecture and grand arcades that were designed by architect Frank Matcham in the 19th century. With rich marbles, hand-crafted mosaics, and intricate stonework, you’ll be transported to the streets of Milan with every step.
Victoria Gate is a modern reimagining of the historic Victoria Quarter. With a glittering design consisting of tall glass ceilings, marble floors and a grid pattern, which is inspired by Leeds’s traditions of manufacturing textiles, it’s truly an awe-inspiring building filled with glitz and glam.
Queens Arcade is the last remaining Victorian Arcade in the city. Designed by the architect James McKinnon and built in 1880, the Arcade allows you to step back in time while browsing some of the quirkiest independents in the city. Thornton’s Arcade is also steeped with history. Opened in 1878 by Charles Thornton, it was once a pub named The Old Talbot Inn which was then refurbished to create a pioneering shopping location unlike anything seen at the time. Still standing proud today, the arcade is three storeys high, and filled with striking sculptures, including a clock made by William Potts and Sons of Leeds, with four life-size figures of characters from Robin Hood. At the other end of the arcade is a sculpture modelled on the painting of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough.
10. Immerse yourself in culture at Leeds Art Gallery
Leeds Art Gallery showcases one of the country’s best collections of 19th and 20th-century British art. The gallery is a must-visit for anyone looking to broaden their cultural horizon and marvel at some spectacular originals by some of the biggest names in the art world from the past few centuries to contemporary Britain. Including work by Damien Hirst, Anthony Gormley, Henry Moore and other standout pieces from Lothar Götz and Thomas Frangenberg. Alongside the permanent displays the gallery hosts an exciting year-round exhibition programme so there’s always something new to see.
11. Soak up the atmosphere at Kirkgate Market and Leeds Corn Exchange
The historic Kirkgate Market is one of the largest and liveliest indoor markets in Europe. It’s the birthplace of Marks & Spencer, which opened its first stall at Kirkgate Market in 1884 – who’d have thought? The Grade I listed market dates all the way back to 1875 and still retains the old-school charm and features that makes the market so iconic today. A stroll through the stalls, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells, is a fantastic and unique experience. Plus, if you’re also on a January health kick, you can find great deals on fresh fruits and vegetables here or fill your home with fresh flowers to brighten even the dreariest of January days.
And you can’t miss the magnificent Leeds Corn Exchange, which stands beside Kirkgate Market. One of the jewels in Leeds’ architectural crown it’s a striking example of the city’s Victorian architectural heritage. Corn isn’t required these days, but the venue still serves the same purpose it always has – as a hub of local trade. The Corn Exchange is home to a vast collection of independent vendors who do things their own way. Not just shopkeepers, but creatives, collectors, cooks, and craftspeople. Make sure you don’t miss it on your trip to the city.
Where should I stay?
It would be impossible to see and do all these things in one day, so why not make a trip of it? Art Hostel is the first of its kind in the UK and the perfect place to rest your head and reminisce about your time in the city. The creative, affordable, and unique accommodation was crafted by local creatives from East Street Arts, a dynamic artist-led organisation that leads on innovative art projects and exhibitions. Each themed room in the Art Hostel has been devised, designed, and created by Leeds-based artists in collaboration with local craftspeople. Highlights include a double room created by Leeds-based photographer Mandy Barker and a honeymoon suite by Emma Bentley-Fox. Even better – it’s super affordable and you’re sure to leave feeling inspired.
For other affordable accommodation in Leeds, look here to discover options for all budgets.
Having fun doesn’t need to cost the earth, and this list of exciting things should help fill the calendar in January while saving those pennies at the same time. Leeds has unique attractions and experiences for people far and wide to enjoy, and we hope to welcome you to the city in January, and beyond, to experience it all.