Leeds with kids: Top 10 history and nature sights in the updated metropolis
Leeds and its surrounding area is brimming with fun and educational family activities to give both history buffs and nature fans their fix.
The city of Leeds has undergone huge redevelopment over the past few decades following the decline of the cotton industry. Today it is a chic, thriving city packed with family-friendly activities. But just outside the urban sprawl, there are scores of stately homes, countryside and wildlife. Leeds really is a place where you can get your fix of history and nature - sometimes in the same place! Here’s 10 ways you can do it.
Housing the national collection of arms and armoury, this spacious (and free) museum is a must-see. The Royal Armouries is particularly good for older children studying history and the world wars, and is perfect for a rainy day. Look out for live shows demonstrating how some of the weapons were used. There’s jousting on some days too (weather permitting). For younger children, there is the ‘Jester’s Yard’ play area for under-10s to dress up and do crafts (this activity costs an extra £2.50). The museum has a bistro and coffee shop but you can also bring your own food and eat it in the picnic area on the fourth floor.
Kirkstall Abbey & Abbey House Museum
Enjoy a wander around a Medieval Abbey founded by Cistercian monks in 1152 at Kirkstall. Do one of the walking trails, enjoy a picnic by the River Aire or simply let your children’s imagination run free as they explore the historic ruins. Across the road there is a wonderful interactive museum, the Abbey House Museum, where you can imagine life in Victorian Leeds with its amazing 19th century street. There’s also a playground outside.
This incredible museum in Wakefield, on the outskirts of Leeds, takes you 140 metres underground to experience life as a miner. Donning helmet and head lamp, you’ll have a truly unique experience. Former miners give guided tours and educate on their experiences and the history of the mines. It is aimed at older children (under 5s are not allowed underground).
The largest urban park in Europe will be familiar to music fans as once being a regular venue for music concerts, with the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson performing there in the 1980s. It has no shortage of activities which families can enjoy for free, including a playground and skateboard park. With 700 acres of parkland and lakes, there are various walking routes and ample chance to spot wildlife. Seeped in history, you may come across Roundhay ‘castle’ and a 19th-century mansion. If you don’t fancy a picnic, you can dine in its Garden Room restaurant or there’s the Lakeside cafe too.
If you like animals, you’ll love it here. There are loads of meerkats, snakes and a butterfly house. Tropical World also has the biggest collection of tropical plants outside Kew Gardens. Once they’ve had their fill of wildlife, set them loose in the playground outside.
This spectacular stately home, built in 1518, is set in beautiful grounds with a long sweeping drive that puts Downton Abbey to shame. The house itself provides a wow factor for older children and the opportunity to learn about its long history. For the younger ones, there are 1,500 acres of park to run around in and a rare breed farm with some humongous pigs! Make sure you bring your wellies - last time we went it was pretty muddy.
The big selling point about this Edwardian house is its bird garden, home to 130 species, including Kookaburra and owls. My little girl shrieked with joy when she saw the emus. Look out for the deer too: You are likely to spot them as soon as you get out of the car.
The family home of the Queen’s cousin, David Lascelles (Earl of Harewood) - parts of the impressive house are open to the public including those used in the filming of ITV drama ‘Victoria’. Don’t miss the penguin feedings and also look out for special events. The Cbeebies live show was held on the grounds in 2016.
It’s fair to say most children love trains but how often do they get to ride on the oldest working railway in the UK? Open since 1754, this simple facility run by friendly volunteers offers rides in diesel and steam trains and is most suitable for over-fives. There is also a small museum. Expect to spend about one hour there. If your children are keen for more locomotive action, take the short trip to York and visit the National Railway Museum.
Leeds is known for its fantastic shopping and its new Trinity centre offers shopping and restaurants for all the family and a cinema to boot. But here you can also combine shopping with a bit of history (yes, really!). First there is Leeds’ Kirkgate Market. The large, covered space is a multicultural hub selling everything from food to fashion to jewellery. It’s where Michael Marks - of M&S fame - opened his first Penny Bazaar in 1884. Then there is the Victorian Corn Exchange building. Independent stores fill the magnificent sphere that was once the centre of trade deals. And finally there’s Leeds’ Victoria Quarter. The 1900 building has a stunning array of arcades with ornate arched ceilings and colourful mosaics - think Milan’s Vittorio Emmanuelle, but closer.