Exploring Leeds on a budget couldn’t be easier – or more fun! With five universities across the city centre, it’s the perfect city for students and travellers, with plenty of free events and fun experiences to be had. The vibe is edgy and laid-back, the music scene is buzzing and the nightlife is nothing short of legendary.
It’s Coco and Katie here, Hostelworld Student Explorers from the University of Leeds. Having spent the past three years living here while studying, we’ve got to know the ins and outs of this vibrant Northern city and are now very well versed in finding the best budget spots and money saving hacks. We both study creative degrees and find ourselves constantly inspired by the electric atmosphere here – an atmosphere you can’t afford to miss out on. Let us introduce you to our city!
Our favourite free things to do in Leeds
From pints to pizzas, it has to be said that everything in Leeds is pretty affordable. So why not stretch those pennies even further by trying some of the best things to do in Leeds that don’t cost a thing? You know it makes sense!
The Boat Taxi
This does exactly what it says on the tin. Two small yellow boats traverse up and down the canal, ferrying people from the Docks to the Royal Armouries, which is the UK’s oldest museum housing an array of arms and armour. The boat drivers are the complete embodiment of the friendly Yorkshire stereotype, so prepare for none of the desperate attempts to avoid eye contact you can expect on the London tube! The drivers also act as tour guides, pointing out all the main sights along the way and answering any and all questions.
Depending on the water levels, the boat taxis run every day and are completely free – but any tip that your backpacking budget can afford will be gladly welcomed!
Located in the heart of the city centre, the Leeds Art Gallery showcases a wide selection of work from classical to modern in all mediums. The second floor rooms are constantly changing, so you don’t have to worry about seeing the same thing twice. The café downstairs has a piano where anyone is welcome to play, so let your creativity flow with art and music inspo. All of this is on offer every day and is completely free – what are you waiting for?
Kirkgate is the largest covered market in Europe, with 800 stalls selling a huge variety of products from fresh fish to flowers. The market was home to the Marks and Spencer Penny Bazaar (the OG M&S), which is still marked today with the iconic market clock.
The ornate hall, with its exposed wrought iron framework and glass ribbon windows, is hugely Instagrammable – bonus points for a £5 bouquet of lilies in your hands! Located only a short walk from the train station and next door to the Corn Exchange, the free Kirkgate Market is a must for anyone visiting Leeds.
Next to Kirkgate Market is the Corn Exchange – an assortment of quirky, independent shops within a stunning Grade 1 listed building in the heart of Leeds. It’s a creative hub for young businesses to thrive. If you want a pot plant, original pieces of jewellery, edgy Leeds-style clothing, a cheap tattoo or just a new vinyl for the collection, the Corn Exchange is the place to visit!
A 20-minute bus ride out of Leeds city centre takes you to Kirkstall Abbey – the picturesque cathedral ruin of a 10th century monastery just down the River Aire. The Abbey makes for a quieter time out from the bustling city centre, perfect for an afternoon stroll that allows you to get lost in the building’s history. It’s also one of the best dog walking spots in the area, so expect to meet all shaped and sized fuzzy new friends on your walk!
Best cheap places to eat in Leeds
Eating well in Leeds on a budget is easy – just avoid the big chains and head to any of the city’s independent eateries. They’re almost everywhere you look, so take your pick! Here are three of our favourite go-to spots for a cheap munch:
By far our favourite grub hub in the city! It has incredible deals and meals that are perfect for anyone visiting Leeds on a budget. It’s set in an old boat shed which has been perfectly transformed into a warm, homely and classically British pub and restaurant. We’d recommend planning your visit to coincide with the days they offer discounted pizzas – 50% off on Sundays and Mondays. They’re the best in Leeds and are not to be missed at these prices!
Mai’s Thai Café
£5 meals before 5pm, need we say more?! Such a bargain in this delicious, authentic Thai kitchen that lets you bring your own booze. In a contactless society, we’re always more than happy to venture to an ATM to be able to feast at this cash only establishment.
In the heart of Leeds’ Hyde Park is where you’ll find this super funky independent café. It also happens to be the top student hangout on Saturday mornings to quench the hangover cravings that only LS6 can with their famous Yorkshire breakfast, a fry-up with all the trimmings (AKA the king of all hangover meals)! As well as an epic brunch menu, they also host an array of events in the evenings, from jazz and open mic nights to pub quizzes. LS6 offers all this within their newly refurbished, vibrant social setting which is the perfect place for meeting students and other travellers!
With such a huge number of students across the city, a dull night out doesn’t exist in Leeds, as there are always amazing club events, gigs and festivals to get stuck into!
- Greek street is always a good place to start the night, with fun cocktail bars to explore – particularly The Alchemist, where they mix science and alcohol to create the most spellbinding concoctions of cocktails for around £8.
- Royal Park Pub is a huge University of Leeds hotspot. On Tuesday nights they offer discounted pints, which draws every student to the watering hole to socialise. The pub has a buzzing beer garden with a mural of Leeds surrounding it and a pergola with fairy lights in the corner. The latest edition to this buzzing establishment is the club that’s just opened downstairs. It hosts a variety of guest DJs on Monday nights, showcasing the newest Leeds talent. Anyone visiting Leeds on a budget should make visiting Royal Park Pub a must!
- Headrow House is another uniquely Leeds place to spend many afternoons and evenings watching the Leeds skyline and admiring the huge neon lighting and funky seating that adorns this city centre rooftop bar. They also host club events in the summer months, which demonstrate summer in Leeds at its finest!
Where to stay in Leeds on a budget
We’d recommend staying in Leeds city centre or Hyde Park to allow you to be as close to the action as possible.
Hyde Park is the city’s student hub and is close to all the most popular student pubs – including Royal Park Pub. With plenty of veggie and vegan spots and an ever-growing list of craft beer bars opening, this area definitely takes the title of Leeds coolest neighbourhood. It’s also close to all the best chippies for that all-important walk home after the pub!
The city centre is a great choice too. Everything is compact and easily walkable, with plenty of independents and local gems to explore even on the busiest streets. No matter what you decide to do, you’ll be close to the action if you’re staying here.
Take a look at our hostels in leeds for accomodation on a budget.
Thanks for reading our guide to Leeds on a budget! If you’re visiting this fabulous northern city, try out some of our recommendations for an authentic experience that you won’t get from a Google search. Got any more insider tips on Leeds you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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