Set amidst beautiful parkland in a stunning riverside location on the banks of the River Aire in Leeds are the preserved ruins of Kirkstall Abbey – still at their original full height. Built between 1152-1160 by Cistercian monks, Kirkstall Abbey is a wonderful example of a medieval Abbey, with many of its walls still intact. At Kirkstall Abbey, you will discover woodland trails, recreation spaces, tennis courts, and children’s playground. There is also a visitor’s centre with audio and visual presentations along with a guide to all ongoing activates.
Find your way to Kirkstall Abbey
It is easy to find along Kirkstall Rd, located just a couple of miles from the City centre and well served by both bus routes and nearby Headingly train station which is less than half a mile away. Admission to Kirkstall Abbey is free.
History of the Abbey
The Abbey was closed in 1534 on the command of Henry VIII, who had ordered the dissolution of all religious buildings and the gatehouse was blocked at either end as a result, forcing the monks. In 1926 Abbey House was bought by Leeds City Council and opened as a bygones and folklore museum; it is a Grade I listed building and underwent a £5.5 million restoration aided by a significant grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Kirkstall Abbey visitor centre
The visitors’ centre provides an informative visit, catering for all the family with interactive displays and presentations exploring the history of the Abbey, along with information of the special events that are hosted there, ranging from ghost walks to various festivals and not to mention an annual open-air concert. You are also able to experience the life of a medieval monk and take a step back in time and imagine how different life was for the monks compared to today, whilst also admiring the wonderful ancient stone work.
Walk around the Victorian streets
Across the road from the Abbey itself is the Abbey House Museum. The ground floor of the museum is set out as an area of Victorian streets, including a range of houses, shops and services, where you can even take some time out in the Hark to Rover Inn, a recreated model of a Victorian drinking house.
Special event days see people in traditional Victorian costume wander the recreated Victorian Streets, including the residential district of Abbey Fold that examines life and death in Victorian time as well as the displays showing rare 19th Century toys, games and dolls in the shop on Harewood Square.
Visit the Abbey House museum
There are also three galleries in the museum, along with information being displayed about the construction and history of the Abbey, and profile the history of Kirkstall Abbey, Childhood, and Leeds Social History, as well as staging temporary exhibitions from time to time. Leeds has lots of museums, many of which are free, you can find out more information in our things to do in Leeds guide.
There are various activities dotted around the museum, such as arts and craft tables where children can make masks, play with modelling clay and much more. There is also situated a cafe, a gift shop and a small play park, in addition to a local pub and Morrison’s supermarket situated nearby for those looking for something to eat.
Take a walk around the ruins and canal
On a sunny day, it is ideal to take a stroll through the parkland around the ruins. There are some lovely areas to walk, with plenty of space for a picnic or a walk down by the canal whilst the summer months in particular always attracts plenty of people setting up barbecues for the day, all adding to the atmosphere of one of the most interesting places to visit.
If you would like additional ideas for things to do in Leeds, why not take a look at more of the attractions and events in our other Leeds guides.