Leeds has been on my ‘to visit’ list for quite a while. Before going there all I knew was it that used to be one of the main industrial cities and that’s basically it… However, after spending the weekend exploring Leeds I was pleasantly surprised to find out what Leeds had to offer.
Before going into details of what to do and see there, here are some random facts I’ve read about Leeds:
- Leeds was once inhabited by a hippopotamus… In 1851, the remains of a great northern hippo were discovered in Armley, Leeds. Dating back over 100,000 years the bones are in Leeds City Museum for all to see now.
- As a holiday destination, Leeds attracts a higher number of visitors on an annual basis than more traditional holiday destinations like Brighton or Torquay. What a surprise!
- The first moving picture was filmed in Leeds in 1888 by Louis Le Prince. He based the film on a back garden in Leeds.
Sounds interesting already!
The architecture is the first thing that drew my attention after arriving in the city. Much of Leeds’ prominent architecture is of the Victorian era. I had thought of Leeds as purely an industrial city and that it would look like one big red brick factory but I was so wrong!
2. University of Leeds
It was founded in 1904, but its origins go back to the nineteenth century with the founding of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831 and then the Yorkshire College of Science in 1874. Leeds University is the fifth largest university in the UK. The main campus looks amazing and if you are visiting in late September the main building will be covered in bright red ivy.
3. Leeds Town Hall
The magnificent building of Leeds Town Hall was designed as a symbol of the town’s growing wealth and importance. Nowadays it is an iconic venue for key civic events, concerts, and conferences. This photo was taken from the Park Square nearby. It is one of the largest town halls in the UK.
4. Leeds Art Gallery
Right next to Leeds Town Hall there is an Art Gallery. Apart from contemporary art, my attention was drawn to the cafe on the ground floor – Tiled Hall cafe. Originally it was the main library reading room. This space is simply gorgeous and on a sunny day you get a very soft light coming from tall windows.
It is the pedestrianised shopping area right in the middle of Leeds. It feels like everyone goes there for a weekend stroll, and to see the street performers. Briggate is known for its yards or alleyways that branch off and have changed little over the years which brings me to the next reason to visit Leeds.
6. Victorian Arcades
The centre of Leeds is a massive pedestrianised shopping area. Four historical arcades create a unique atmosphere and make the shopping experience something more than just buying stuff. These arcades are truly a masterpiece and worth checking even if spending money is not on your agenda.
There are lots of tiny alleys and backyards in Briggate that are fun to explore. Some of them hide a bar, cafe or a club. Others just connect two main streets.
8. Leeds Kirkgate Market
This is Europe’s largest indoor market and the birthplace of the retailer Marks & Spencer. It was formed in 1884 when Michael Marks, a Polish refugee opened a market stall in Leeds, with the slogan ‘don’t ask the price, it’s a penny’. In 1894 Marks went into partnership with Thomas Spencer, a former cashier from the wholesale company, Dewhirst.
It offers a wide range of foods to try as well as various entertainment. We had a tasting experience there where we were taken to 4 different stalls to try a range of food and cuisine.
We started at Cafe Moor – a North African street food which I absolutely loved. Then we went to Hayes Seafood Store for fresh seafood. I must say I have never had such fresh oysters and crab meat anywhere else in England. It tastes so different from what is available here in London! Then we went to Vietnamese Banh & Mee stall to try infamous rolls with a peanut butter sauce.
When I thought I was already full there was the last stop by Manjits Kitchen – an Indian store run by Michael and his wife Manjit. They offered us a potato curry dish and it was delicious!
9. Leeds Corn Exchange
Leeds Corn Exchange has a rich history since it was designed in 1861. It was built in 3 years and continued to trade until the 1990’s. Corn wheat, beans, barley, peas, seeds, and flour are all bartered. In 1985 specialty shops converted the building into a retail destination. In 1990 it re-opened as a popular independent retail centre. In 2006 Zurich Financial Services oversaw a further refurbishment and in 2008 the Corn Exchange once again began housing independent retailers. My favourite shop was, of course, The Plant Shop!
10. Water taxi
You can take a free 12 minute trip along a scenic canal route. Twee & Drie (the boats) have sailed over from Amsterdam to ferry passengers between Granary Wharf & Leeds Dock. Sounds like a great deal for me!
11. The Hyde Park Picture House
The Hyde Park Picture House is a cinema in Leeds which opened in 1914. It has many original features, such as an ornate balcony and external box office, and is the only remaining gas lit cinema in the UK. It’s a little tucked away so be prepared to walk about 30 minutes from the city centre.
12. Rooftop bars
Leeds is truly a great place for a party weekend. There are many rooftop bars with the view over the city, and the nightlife is vibrant. I really enjoyed seeing the sunset from Redondo Beach rooftop bar at Headrow House. Another rooftop place I visited was at Angelica restaurant. Everything is well located in the city centre and within 10 minutes walk.
13. Coffee scene
An essential part of any trip is a visit to a local coffee shop. Even though there are only a few in Leeds, they do not disappoint. Here are three coffee shops I recommend based on my visit:
IF – a small and cute coffee shop if-coffeebar.co.uk
Mrs Atha’s – features eclectic vintage furniture – www.mrsathasleeds.com
Layness Espresso – close to the train station and it gets very busy around 11 am – www.laynesespresso.co.uk
Here are 3 more places that were on my list but I didn’t have time to visit. I can only recommend them because of the positive reviews I’ve heard from people who actually went there during this press trip to Leeds.
14. Northern Monk Brewery Tour
As it says on their website, “Homed in a Grade II listed mill in the spiritual heart of the industrial revolution, Northern Monk takes thousands of years of brewing heritage and tradition and combines them with the best of both local and internationally sourced ingredients, crafting beers to excite, to savour, to taste and to remember… True North” I heard they can even prepare a champagne-flavoured beer for you!
To enquire about a tour, please contact the brewery directly. Contact details are here.
15. Royal Armouries
Based in Leeds Docks, it is home to the UK’s largest collection of arms, armour, and artillery, including Henry VIII’s original armour. I know it can sound very man-ish activity, but all the girls who went there were really impressed by the exhibition and especially by real size elephant armour!
Armouries Drive, Leeds, LS10 1LT
16. Kirkstall Abbey
If you love historical buildings and structures as much as I do then you should make time to visit Kirkstall Abbey. It is one of the most complete medieval 12th century Cistercian Abbeys in Britain built by monks from Fountains Abbey. These ruins are quite picturesque and located in a public park on the north bank of the River Aire. The gatehouse of Abbey is now a museum.
Free admission, closed on Monday
Abbey Rd, Leeds LS5 3EH
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