Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds Review For Families:

Leeds, a vibrant city in West Yorkshire, England, is home to several historical landmarks that offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region. Among these notable attractions is Kirkstall Abbey, an ancient Cistercian monastery nestled along the banks of the River Aire.

Kirkstall Abbey holds immense historical and architectural significance, making it an ideal destination for families seeking a unique and educational experience. The ruins are fascinating to explore, and there are plenty of places for kids to run around and play. It was a sunny Saturday morning when we set off on our family escapade to this historical gem. Kirkstall Abbey was once one of the largest and most important abbeys in England. Today, the ruins are a popular tourist destination, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. 

If you’re looking for a place to visit with your family, Kirkstall Abbey is a great option. The abbey is open year-round, and admission is free for those with a Leeds postcode. Those from out of the region (like ourselves) had to pay a small entrance fee to enter the inner grounds of the Abbey. There’s also a visitor centre on-site, which has more information about the abbey’s history and highlights.

Where is it located?

Kirkstall Abbey is situated in the beautiful city of Leeds, right alongside the River Aire. Its location makes it easily accessible by both car and public transportation, and there is ample parking available. The surrounding green spaces also provide a peaceful and picturesque environment.

History of Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds

Before we dive into the family fun activities, let’s touch upon its rich history. Kirkstall Abbey was founded by Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey, and it quickly became one of the largest and most important abbeys in England. It was home to over 200 monks, and it had a thriving economy. It produced its own food, clothing, and other necessities, and it also traded with other abbeys and towns. 

The abbey was a centre of learning and spirituality, and it attracted pilgrims from all over England. Sadly, the abbey was dissolved in 1539 during the reign of Henry VIII. The monks were expelled, and the abbey was left to ruin. But even in its ruined state, Kirkstall Abbey is still a beautiful and fascinating place to visit. The Abbey is a Grade I listed building, and it is one of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in England. Today, it’s a popular tourist destination, and it’s easy to see why. The ruins of the abbey are stunning, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

What is There to Do for Families?

Now onto the main event – what does Kirkstall Abbey offer families like ours? We were pleasantly surprised by the variety of activities available for children and adults alike that ensure an enjoyable visit for everyone.

Exploring the Abbey Ruins

The main attraction of Kirkstall Abbey is, of course, the abbey ruins themselves. The ruins are extensive and well-preserved, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Children will love exploring the ruins and imagining what life was like for the monks who lived there. There are also several information boards scattered around the ruins that provide more information about the abbey’s history. 

We loved exploring the ruins and imagining what life was like for the monks who lived there. The information boards scattered around the ruins were very helpful in providing more information about the abbey’s history. Each “room” is well explained, and you get a sense of what it must have been like to live among the monks at the time.

As mentioned above for Leeds residents this is free but for those outside the area, you have to pay for admission.

Children’s Playground and Outdoor Activities

Right next to the museum’s car park, we discovered a delightful children’s playground and a nearby tennis court, which turned out to be a fantastic spot to have some fun with our little ones. But that’s not all! Kirkstall Abbey offers plenty of outdoor activities for families to indulge in.

The vast open spaces provide the perfect setting for a picnic, frisbee games, or a relaxing stroll. We took advantage of the tranquil surroundings and even had a mini family picnic while soaking in the abbey’s ancient atmosphere.

Bike Friendly Paths

Kirkstall Abbey is located on the Leeds Country Way, which is a popular cycling route. There are also a number of bike-friendly paths around the abbey, so you can bring your bikes and explore the area on two wheels.

We brought our bikes, and Matilda had a blast cycling while being surrounded by the abbey’s stunning architecture. The lush greenery and the calming river add to the natural beauty of the site and create a perfect setting for a family picnic.

Riverside Walks and Wildlife Spotting

With the River Aire flowing alongside the abbey, a walk along its banks proved to be a delightful experience. We spotted ducks, swans, and even caught a glimpse of a kingfisher darting across the water. This serene riverside setting provided the perfect opportunity for Matilda to practise her cycling skills and Barney trying to follow suit on his Balance Bike.

Family Events and Workshops

Throughout the year, Kirkstall Abbey hosts various family-friendly events and workshops. From arts and crafts sessions to storytelling and outdoor theatre performances, there is always something exciting happening for families to enjoy.

Facilities for Families

Kirkstall Abbey has a number of facilities that make it a great place to visit with families. Here are some of the amenities available:

Accessible Toilets: The park features accessible toilets equipped with emergency alarms, fire alarms with flashing lights, and baby change units. These facilities cater to the needs of families with young children, offering a safe and hygienic environment.

Visitor Centre: The visitor centre serves as a hub of information and interactive exhibits. It educates visitors about the park’s history and showcases the abbey’s significance. The kids particularly enjoyed the interactive displays, which made learning about the abbey engaging and fun.

Café: When hunger strikes, the park’s café comes to the rescue. It offers a range of delicious snacks and beverages, catering to diverse tastes and dietary preferences. We treated ourselves to some mouthwatering treats, recharging our energy before continuing our adventures.

Areas For Improvement

As with any historical site, there are areas where improvements can be made. During our visit, we noticed some minor maintenance concerns, such as scattered bird feathers in the main chapel area. We brought this to the attention of the staff members, who promptly responded and resolved the issue. 

Although there is room for improvement, it’s important to remember that Kirkstall Abbey is a free attraction for local residents and a small payment for others. The income generated from nearby attractions and generous donations could be further utilised to enhance the preservation efforts of this remarkable site.

Would you recommend it?

Absolutely! Kirkstall Abbey is a must-visit for families! It’s a great place to learn about history, enjoy the outdoors, and have fun. Despite the minor maintenance issues we encountered, the overall experience was one of wonder and awe. There’s something for everyone at the abbey, from the ruins of the ancient monastery to the beautiful gardens. The kids will love exploring the grounds and playing in the park, and the adults will appreciate the chance to learn about the abbey’s fascinating history. We highly recommend Kirkstall Abbey to families looking for a fun and educational day out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there accessible toilets at Park?

Yes, Park provides accessible toilets in the visitor centre. These toilets have emergency alarms, fire alarms with flashing lights, and baby change units. They are designed to cater to the needs of families and individuals with special requirements.

Is there an admission fee for Park?

The Park offers free admission for all visitors and Leeds residents can enjoy inside the Abbey without any cost. However, for non-Leeds residents, there may be an admission fee for entering the Abbey. It’s recommended to visit the official Kirkstall website for the most up-to-date information on admission prices.

What attractions are a must-see at Park?

While every aspect of Park has its own charm, the Abbey ruins and the play park are must-see attractions. The Abbey ruins offer a glimpse into the park’s rich history, while the play park guarantees endless fun and excitement for children.

Are dogs allowed at Kirkstall Abbey?

Yes, dogs are welcome throughout the park area of Kirkstall Abbey.

Can we bring our own food for picnics?

Absolutely! Kirkstall Abbey park encourages families to bring their own food and enjoy a picnic amidst the park’s serene surroundings. There are designated picnic areas where you can relish your homemade delights.

Are there cycling routes within the park?

Yes, Park provides cycling-friendly paths that traverse through its scenic landscapes. These paths are perfect for families who want to enjoy a leisurely bike ride while immersing themselves in nature’s beauty.

Pros & Cons


  • Beautiful Abbey ruins.
  • Riverside location.
  • Nice playpark.


  • Quite small so not a full day out.
  • Split into two sections by a busy road.

Park enjoyment rating

Last Updated on August 24, 2023 by Ryan

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