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Visit The Royal Armouries Museum In Leeds – What To Do In Leeds Today

Interested in history, and looking for an unusual place to visit in Leeds? A visit to the Royal Armouries Museum might be just the ticket! Check out what you'll find at this jam-packed museum in the heart of beautiful Leeds!

Interested in history, and looking for an unusual place to visit in Leeds? A visit to the Royal Armouries Museum might be just the ticket! Check out what you’ll find at this jam-packed museum in Yorkshire’s biggest city! 

As a finale to our trip around the UK where I got the chance to show my Kiwi partner a few favourite highlights from my home country, we made a stop by Leeds to visit my brother and break up the journey between Edinburgh and London. On an especially sunny day, we took the opportunity to visit somewhere none of us had been – the Royal Armouries Museum!

Let’s get into everything you need to know when you visit the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds!

How To Get To The Royal Armouries Museum In Leeds

The Royal Armouries Museum is based centrally in the city of Leeds, Yorkshire. Situated along the River Aire around the New Dock, you can easily walk to the Royal Armouries Museum from Leeds Train Station within around 15 minutes.

A flat and pleasant walk will take you away from the shoppings hubs such as Trinity Leeds, the multiple Arcades, and Kirkgate Market. Getting away from the busy shopping district means you’ll find the space around the Royal Armouries Museum much quieter, and especially beautiful on a sunny day.

Bridge and still river on a sunny day in Leeds

Leeds Dock on the way to the Royal Armouries Museum

If you choose to walk from Leeds Station or the central parts of the city, you’ll enjoy a scenic route including views of the Waterfront Heritage, crossing Leeds Bridge, and Leeds Dock. It’s a  rather efficient way to see a small selection of the Leeds sights!

Cost Of Entry At The Royal Armouries Museum

Entry to the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is free for all visitors. This makes it by far one of the best free things to do in Leeds.

All exhibitions both permanent and visiting, plus timed events are free to attend, however, donations are accepted to to allow continual support and care for the collection, and ensures future visitors can enjoy the same level of quality on their visit.

Historic buildings sit on the edge of a river

Waterfront Heritage on the way to the museum

What is the Royal Armouries Museum?

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds is a 5 floor open exhibition space featuring arms and armour from around the world, spanning centuries. Displays cover all sorts of eras and facts explaining history beyond the armouries.

In addition to permanent and visiting exhibitions, the Royal Armouries Museum also features activities events, lectures, demos, shows, tours, and more.

Metal arrows create art display at the ceiling

The War Gallery had this strangely beautiful display overhead

How Long Should I Spend At The Royal Armouries Museum?

That’s really up to you! With 5 floors of exhibition space, daily events and activities to enjoy, you could easily spend the whole day exploring all there is to see at the Royal Armouries Museum. On the other hand, it can be tiring learning and exploring in such detail, and so a couple of hours would also be sufficient to see the highlights of the museum.

Depending on your plans for a visiting Leeds, structure your time around the Royal Armouries Museum opening hours of 10am – 5pm every day: a flexible timeframe to allow you to visit regardless of your visiting days and additional plans.

Horse armour and museum displays at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

The War Gallery

What Is There To Do At The Royal Armouries Museum?

Galleries

There are 8 galleries to enjoy at the Royal Armouries Museum, each with a distinct focus. We started off exploring the Hall of Steel – which is exactly how it sounds. This outstanding feat of architecture and museum curation includes 2,700 pieces of military equipment, some as old as the 17th Century. Displayed in a truly magnificent style, it’s easily the most impressive part of the Royal Armouries Museum!

Looking up at the Hall of Steel display of swords and armour in a tower

Looking up at the Hall of Steel

The next stop was to the Tournament Gallery where we saw the armours and lances used in jousting and other similar games. It was here we had the chance to learn about King Henry VIII’s love for sport, and the extraordinary Horned Helmet owned by this infamous king!

Henry VIII's horned helmet with grotesque bulging eyes and rams horns

The Horned Helmet

We moved on to the War Gallery, where we expectedly found objects and artefacts from various points in history. This particular gallery is the most extensive, taking visitors from Ancient Greece right up to the 20th Century, and all the various arms used in that mass of time. It was here that we enjoyed a few interactive elements, such as trying to string and pull a bow and arrow, and lift a sword (safely!).

We next headed for the Hunting Gallery, and Oriental Gallery. These areas focussed on armours from all sorts of places around the world, and looked at the various methods used for hunting and fishing throughout history. Although these galleries were interesting, I know I was feeling a little saturated with armour by this point, and needed some alternative stimulation. Luckily, that was just around the corner!

Man tries on armour in museum display

Fits like a glove!

Nearing the end of our visit, after working our way through the Self-Defence Gallery, we were thrilled to spot a Lord of the Rings display! This section shows example swords of Middle Earth and how they were made for the movie franchise. As huge LOTR nerds, we all relished this chance to enjoy something familiar and relatable.

Finally, we spent a bit of time in the Peace Gallery, where the displays highlight individuals, events, and movements to focus on peace over conflict. This was a rather poignant part of the Royal Armouries Museum, and was a stark reminder of how much damage was and is done by arms across the world.

Demos

You can plan your visit around the demonstrations on offer throughout the day. We decided not to stay for these, as we thought we’d run out of time to fully explore each of the galleries. However, on another visit we’d definitely prioritise a show performed by the staff at the Royal Armouries Museum!

Crossbow Range

To top off our trip through history and indeed the world, we stopped by the crossbow range where for just £3 you get 8 bolts to try your hand at hitting the target using a replica of this historical weapon.

Kazimir was our brave guinea pig to try and hit the bullseye.  After getting a couple of practice shots in he did pretty well! This hands-on activity was a fun way to end the day, and as we were visiting in the weekdays we had the range to ourselves.

Man shoots crossbow at target

Crossbow Range

Should You Visit The Royal Armouries Museum?

If history and a relaxed day out for all the family is up your street, then yes! There is a wealth of things to learn at the Royal Armouries Museum, and it’s accessible for visitors of all ages and abilities. The displays are family friendly and easy to digest, with plenty of interactive elements to keep you entertained when you’re tired of reading all the boards!

I must admit, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed visiting the Royal Armouries Museum. Kazimir has a keen interest in this aspect of history, but it’s not something I’ve engaged with myself before. However, they ease of which you can learn, and the diversity of information provided makes to realise just how much there is to discover about armouries throughout history. I’d definitely recommend giving it a visit!

Mirror show reflection of swords and armour

Hall of Steel mirror reflection – so you don’t have to crane your neck!

Additionally, the relatively peaceful atmosphere in the Royal Armouries Museum (despite a large group of excitable school children!), makes it a perfect respite away from crowds of tourists, queues, and expensive attractions like those we had encountered during our visit to Edinburgh Castle just two days earlier. If you’re looking for somewhere entertaining and relaxed, educational and engaging, then look no further than the Royal Armouries Museum!

Furthermore, for a museum with such an emphasis on battle and war, there is a whole area dedicated to pacifist activity, peace between countries, and the modern ideal of civil conflict resolution. This part is not only educational for younger children, but a welcome reminder that weaponry and arms are not the only solution to problems, despite what history might show!

What To Do Near The Royal Armouries Museum

Once we had exhausted our brains with facts and info from history, we continued on to make the most of our day in Leeds.

Also in the Leeds Dock area are a few restaurants to enjoy a bite to eat after all that museum-ing! We stopped at Pizza Express for a quick and efficient lunch, before heading onwards to explore more of Leeds.

As mentioned, the Royal Armouries Museum is not far from the centre of Leeds, so it’s perfectly possible to head back to the city centre to enjoy a bit of shopping or sightseeing for the rest of the day.

As we wanted Kazimir to enjoy as much of Leeds as possible, our helpful local tourguide (my lovely big brother!) took us on a hunt for a small dessert to accompany our pizza-filled tummies.

Glass tower with armour and military objects displayed inside

Exterior of the Hall of Steel

The Leeds Corn Exchange

Our first stop was the Corn Exchange to continue our history-filled visit to Leeds. This exquisite building in the heart of the city houses adorable multi-coloured shops spread over 2 floors, with a gorgeous glass domed roof bathing the entire atrium in light.

Inside Leeds Corn Exchange with coloured shops and glass dome roof

Leeds Corn Exchange

This Victorian listed building is interestingly only one of three corn exchange buildings that continues to be used as a place for trading and purchasing (although no corn is found here now!). After the exchange of corn was commercialised, like many similarly-used buildings in England the Leeds Corn Exchange saw deterioration. However, it was restored to former glory and continues to see refurbishments since the 1980s.

Glass dome roof of Leeds corn exchange

The glass dome roof of Leeds Corn Exchange

You’ll find lovely cafes to enjoy a slice of cake and coffee, retro vintage clothes shops, a place to purchase musical instruments, and even an old camera shop to stock up on some seriously awesome gear both old and new, at a very affordable price!

Round building bathed in daylight with a lamppost to its side

Leeds Corn Exchange

Corn Exchange Leeds interior

Inside Leeds Corn Exchange

Leeds Shopping Arcades

Moving on from the Corn Exchange, it was time to simply meander the streets of Leeds and wander around the shopping district in our search for a sweet treat. We aimed for the Leeds Shopping Arcades in the hopes we’d find what we were after among the beautiful laneways.

Victorian buildings in Leeds city centre

Leeds Shopping District has so many beautiful buildings

Like the Corn Exchange, the many shopping arcades scattered through Leeds city centre offer a number of boutique and independent shops, cafes, and restaurants to peruse at your leisure in the confines of such exceptionally decorated and beautiful buildings. Also like the corn exchange, these historical shopping arcades in Leeds underwent refurbishment around the 1990s to restore their glorious details.

What’s most intriguing about the Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades in Leeds is how beautiful they are! Their architectural design is fitting to their eras and if you look closely, many noteworthy details are found throughout them all for any keen-eyed design fans.

Victorian style entrance to Cross Arcade Leeds Shopping Arcades

Entrance to Cross Arcade

There are several Leeds shopping arcades to explore, each with a different style:

Grand Arcade

Built in 1897, the Grand Arcade faced closure in the 1990s, but was fortunately saved and now thrives with some truly wonderful independent businesses. This is by far the best spot to go if you’re after a bite to eat or refreshing beverage, thanks to a number of great cafes and eateries.

Thornton’s Arcade

The oldest of the arcades built in 1878, and my personal favourite. Explore the quirky independent stores that are cosy and unique to keep you busy while browsing. Keep an eye for the Ivanhoe Clock above one of the entrances, featuring Robin Hood and other characters from Sir Walter Scott’s novel!

Shopping arcade in Leeds with blue arches and glass ceiling

Thornton’s Arcade

Clock at the entrance inside shopping arcade in Leeds

Thornton’s Arcade and its clock

Victoria Quarter

Possibly the most famous building comprising of several connected arcades including Cross Arcade, County Arcade, and Queen Victoria Street. This complex is home to some of the more expensive shops in Leeds as well as high street stores, all offering a luxurious atmosphere complete with marble, mosaic flooring, and an expansive stained glass.

Arches and marble pillars inside a Leeds shopping arcade

Inside the Cross Arcade – part of the Victoria Quarter

Queen’s Arcade

Despite a modernisation during the 1990s, there is still plenty of charming historic detail in Queen’s Arcade. You’ll find bigger brand names here, but that’s not without a healthy number of unique boutiques such as vintage stores and independent jewellers.

It’s a great way to get a little lost and find some hidden gems that you might not have the chance to find in the larger High Street shopping malls. It always pays off to follow your instincts and see what’s interesting!

 

Sunset flares from behind abandoned building sitting on a river bank in Leeds

A gorgeous sunset to end the day

And there we have a day in Leeds, and enjoying a visit to the Royal Armouries Museum!

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Nikki Hall
    02/18/2019 at 8:02 am

    I have never considered a trip to Leeds before but will now add it to the list. I love the look of all of those little arcades, they are so quaint. I think my boyfriend would really enjoy the Royal Armouries Museum too as he is interested in history.

    • Reply
      suzystories
      02/19/2019 at 8:23 pm

      It’s a really lovely city! I’d not been before my brother moved there, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Oooh lovely 🙂 hope you can make it there sometime!

  • Reply
    Patrick Whittle
    02/18/2019 at 11:06 am

    Looks interesting! Have we ever taken you to the Royal Armouries site on Portsdown Hill (they even fire the noonday gun) ? If not, remind us next time you are down here – and yes, that is where the recent Facebook photo was taken!

    • Reply
      suzystories
      02/19/2019 at 8:25 pm

      I think we have a long time ago! I’d definitely like to visit again 🙂

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