Cultural Leeds: The best galleries, museums and shops

Always wanted to see a Henry Moore sculpture? Or the world’s only surviving elephant armour? Leeds has plenty to keep culture vultures satisfied on a visit to the city.

Here we round up the best museums and galleries in Leeds, and highlight some of the events and exhibits to look out for. 

Royal Armouries Museum

The one for: those who appreciate military history from the Middle Ages to modern times.   

Relics of battle dating back to the Middle Ages will captivate you on a visit to the Royal Armouries. Run your fingers along suits of armour worn by knights; watch a bejewelled sword from the Chinese Ming dynasty glisten in the light. 

The UK’s national collection of arms and armour features more than 8,500 objects. These include major artefacts, such as Japanese shoguns and Henry VIII’s tournament armour.

Add to this a series of interactive displays, and there is plenty to keep you entertained. You can even wield a medieval sword or try your hand at shooting a crossbow – strictly supervised, of course.

Must-see: The world’s largest and only surviving elephant armour, which is made up of 5,840 plates and weighs in at a hefty 19 stone.

What’s on: Eastern Warriors: Japan (14-22 February) All the family can take part in Japanese-inspired activities over half-term, including origami crafts, sushi-making and taiko drumming.

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Leeds City Museum

The one for: those who appreciate archaeology and ancient Egypt

Get stuck into digging for fossils and catching ants, and imagine life in the rainforest. Then learn about past civilisations with collections from Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. 

With six permanent galleries to explore, including interactive displays drawn from fascinating collections of artefacts and artworks, you’re unlikely to be bored here.

Lose yourself to the history of Leeds. Imagine the city in the days of the Iron Age and Bronze Age – and marvel at the pipe fashioned from a sheep’s bone.

Must-see: The much-loved stuffed Leeds Tiger in the Life on Earth Gallery. People are so fond of the exhibit that when the curators wanted to get rid of it, the Yorkshire Post ran a campaign to save it.

What’s on:The Labours of Herakles (23 January-15 March) This exhibition explores the ancient Greek hero through the lithographs of New Zealand artist Marian Maguire.

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Leeds Industrial Museum

The one for: those with a thirst for knowledge about the mills of Industrial Britain

Experience life in the ‘dark satanic mills’ of Victorian England – hulking, belching institutionsknown for harsh working conditions and industrial greatness.

Leeds was at the centre of the Industrial Revolution thanks to the canals that created a direct link between the city and suppliers in Europe and the US.

At this riverside museum at Armley Mills – once the world’s largest woollen mill – you can step back in time to discover how Leeds became an industrial powerhouse.

Learn about the city’s role in the textile and clothing industry, and how it came to be a world leader in steam engine and diesel locomotive manufacturing. Movie buffs will also enjoy the museum as it’s home to one of the smallest working cinemas in the world.

Must-see: Don’t miss the demonstration of the spinning machine as it magically turns wool fibres into yarn.

What’s on: Steampunk Market (7 March) The cogs and wheels of Leeds’ industrial past inspire the objects, clothing and artwork on sale here.

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Leeds Art Gallery

The one for: anyone who enjoys world-class sculpture

The work of one of the art world’s best-known sculptors can be found here. Henry Moore studied at Leeds Art College before becoming a key figure in British modernism. His large abstract sculptures in bronze and stone inspired by the human body are instantly recognisable.

At the Leeds Art Gallery his work lines up alongside sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth, abstract painter Francis Bacon and 1960s op-art icon Bridget Riley.

No wonder the gallery has been described as ‘probably the best collection of 20th-century British art outside London’ by Times art critic John Russell Taylor.

Must-see: The collection of modern sculptures, which is one of the best you’ll find anywhere in the UK.

What’s on:Figure and Architecture: Henry Moore in the 1950s (until March 2016) This exhibition concentrates on three commissions undertaken by Moore throughout the decade to produce sculptures for buildings and public spaces.

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The Hepworth

The one for: seeing the drawings, paintings and sculpture of Wakefield-born Barbara Hepworth

The works of one of Britain’s best-known contemporary artists dominate this most contemporary of buildings.

Dame Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture and painting is the headline feature of this gallery - the building is even designed in the style of Hepworth’s sculpture. It’s a short bus ride from Leeds, in the town of Wakefield.

But scratch the surface and there’s much more than Hepworth at the Hepworth. Browse the sculpture of Henry Moore, and the painting of John Piper and Victor Pasmore. 

Must-see: You can’t visit the Hepworth without seeing the work of Dame Barbara

What’s on: Hepworth in Yorkshire (16 May-6 September) Work that tells the story of Hepworth’s early years growing up in Wakefield – early drawings, paintings and sculpture 

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Top 3 art and culture shops in Leeds

1. On the Wall: You’ll find lots of cool art prints, canvases and posters here. It’s got everything from Doctor Who posters to Japanese vintage prints. The shop also stocks unique T-shirts designed by local artists.

2. Artofficial: As well as having a really clever name, this shop is a haven for street artists. Run by a well-known graffiti artist, the shop offers pens and sprays from brands like Super Flow and Flow Pen and a real education in hip hop music.

3. Colours May Vary: A real hipster haven. Find sew-on patches and contemporary screen prints alongside bespoke gift cards and stationery sought from artists both local and global. Those behind Colours May Vary are passionate about the ‘method of production and the final product’ – expect some pretty special stuff.

Enjoy your cultural visit to Leeds.