LOOKING FOR THINGS TO DO IN LEEDS?
Well, if you’re anything like us and you love aesthetically pleasing cities with an abundance of good food options and great shopping, then you’ve found a good match in Leeds! Add to that some inspiring museums, friendly locals and cheap digs and you may well have found the perfect package for a little weekend away. And even if you can’t stretch to that, just a great day out!
Leeds tourist attractions are numerous and varied plus the city is fairly compact so it’s certainly a great place to visit for a day. But there are plenty of things to do in Leeds you could equally make a great weekend of it. We’ve broken down our suggestions of Leeds visitor attractions into five categories;
- a Leeds tour of the docks area
- places to eat
- nearby day-trips.
However, when you see Leeds you must approach it with a knowledge of its heritage and bygone days, it’s had a pretty interesting past…
(But if you’re not interested in the history, and just want to know what to see in Leeds, skip to the next bit!)
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LEEDS
Once upon a time, in Victorian England, Leeds was the country’s fourth biggest city. The Industrial Revolution of the UK saw Leeds put on the map as a major manufacturing town and it was growing from strength to strength. Industries expanded, and large successful businesses became interdependent on each other for production; the woollen factories relied on the engineering factories for machines and the chemical factories for dyes, and inturn the shoe factories relied on the leather factories for materials etc etc. It was one big conglomerate of manufacturing and the UK’s dependency on such trades made Leeds a wealthy city.
Old slums were torn down and ornate shopping arcades were constructed for the wealthy to spend their money in. Grand schools and impressive theatres were built for the middle and upper classes and impressively large Victorian factories were erected along the banks of the canals. All of these elements have thankfully been preserved and give Leeds the face it presents today.
Many of the Leeds ‘must-see’ places incorporate traces of this bygone era and you cannot visit without at least giving a nod to its heritage. Plus, the grandeur of the city centre’s architecture is one of the best things to see whilst you’re exploring Leeds and we’ve made sure we’ve listed the finest examples of these in this article – we don’t want you missing out on all the cool architecture!
So, without further ado, let us tell you all about the good places to go for a bit of Leeds sightseeing that will enhance your trip to this great city…
Things To Do In Leeds, England
Making a day trip to this great Yorkshire city is a mighty-fine idea since there are plenty of things to do in Leeds, England. Of course, if you only have one day in Leeds you might want to skip the museums altogether and save them for a longer visit.
1. Visit Some Of The Leeds Museums…
Amongst the many Leeds attractions for tourists are a handful of great museums so we thought we would start our list with a few of our favourites…
The Royal Armouries Museum
Overlooking Leeds Dock, The Royal Armouries Museum spans 5 floors and is impressively the countries oldest museum (once housed in The Tower of London), yes REALLY. And, even if you’re thinking ‘war’s not for me’, I’m sure you would still find a bit of time in this ancient collection more than a little fascinating. Plus, its one of the free museums in Leeds so you could just stop by for a quick perusal of its highlights. The 5 swords from Middle Earth in Lord Of The Rings and the impressive Hall Of Steel would surely wow you enough.
Opening Hours; Daily 10am – 5pm. Check their website for specific times of re-enactments and demonstrations.
This is one of the free museums in Leeds.
Leeds Art Gallery
The Leeds Art Gallery has a very respectful collection of art, it has to be said. And they do this thing, called the Picture Library, where residents of the city can pay a monthly subscription to look after a piece of artwork in their own home! I, therefore, love to wander the great rooms of art and pretend I could be taking a piece home today if only I had a Leeds postcode…
Popular pieces include some by famous artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Damien Hirst, Hogarth and of course several Henry Moores.
You may want to visit the very glamourous cafe too – a grand Victorian hall called the Tiled Hall Cafe, with huge columns, leafy palms and beautifully tiled walls and ceiling. A marvellous place to sip a flat white and one of those Leeds sights that regularly turns up on Instagram.
Opening Hours; Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 11am – 3pm.
The Henry Moore Institute
A well-honoured alumna of the Leeds School of Art and locally born, Sir Henry Moore is acceptably venerated in this neck of the woods. Several bronzes recline in nearby towns and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park but there is no better place to take in the work and life story of one of the most famous sculptors in the world than at the Henry Moore Institute.
A museum dedicated to celebrating sculpture and competently achieves its goal of making you think why sculpture matters – it’s an hour or so of fascinating shapes and sizes.
Opening hours; 10am – 5pm every day except Monday.
A big fan of contemporary art museums, if only to just wonder ‘what on earth is that!?’ at some of the exhibits, we think The Tetley Museum of Contemporary Art is worth a gleg (that’s a ‘brief look’ in Yorkshire). And if the exhibitions leave you a bit discombobulated in your outlook, the architecture alone will at least bring awe and respect.
The Tetley was once the headquarters of the former Tetley Brewery and is a beautiful example of Art Deco workmanship. And, aside from the art, a great excuse to sample a local pint and absorb a bit of local heritage all whilst supporting local artists.
Opening Hours; Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 4pm. The Tetley is another one of the free museums in Leeds.
But if your one day in Leeds doesn’t account for museum-time, have a look at our following suggestions for more things to see and do.
2. Go Shopping In Leeds…
There are so many good places to go in Leeds for great shopping – it’s a proper shopaholics dream! In fact, if you are having a weekend in Leeds with the girls, check out the Basinghall Mansio Suites – they’re gorgeous, right in the middle of the shopping area (so you can regularly drop your bags off!) and there’s a 2 bedroomed apartment if there were a few of you.
But whilst you shop, make sure you take in all of the fabulous architecture on offer : in England, Leeds perhaps has some of the finest examples of ornate Victorian shopping arcades – they’re an absolute sight to behold!
Not just your average indoor market, Kirkgate has been a Leeds establishment for over 150 years and has a couple of fascinating features. Not least the original market stall of Marks And Spencers! I know, can you believe it – Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer started with a ‘penny-bazaar’ over 130 years ago. A stall was re-established in the market a few years ago right on the spot where the original stood and sells M&S merchandise – you must go check it out!
Aside from this British household name we love the vintage-looking ‘street-food stall’ near the Information Centre, M’deena, which sells Lebanese and Moroccan goodies. And, the two plant stalls in opposite corners of the market for unusual houseplants and some unique cut flowers.
But you can’t visit Kirkgate and ignore the decor and architecture – fanciful ironwork, hand-painted woodwork, the part-glass ceiling and the centenary clock are just some of the details that emphasise a time when Leeds was home to wealthy business owners whose wives liked to shop!
Talking of shopping for the wealthy, one place you really must see whilst on your Leeds day trip is the elaborate and decadent shopping arcade known as the Victoria Quarter. Today it’s a collection of posh shops like Kiehls, Mulberry, Harvey Nichols and other high-end brands but as the most famous shopping arcade in Leeds you can well imagine it has attracted the wealthiest shoppers since its beginning.
Frank Matcham, the architect of the London Palladium, created this theatrical masterpiece in 1900. Marble columns, stained glass, gilded mosaic floors and mahogany store-fronts make you feel like a million dollars – even if you can only afford a pair of socks from Louis Vuitton! You won’t want to leave, it’s so gorgeous, and if the pianist is playing it’s the perfect excuse to sit yourself at the Espresso Bar and take it all in for a while. A real Leeds ‘must-see’ attraction.
Leeds has several other shopping arcades nearby too, worth a little wander. They may not be as elaborate as Victoria but we like them for the more alternative businesses that pop up there. Check out Thornton’s Arcade and Queen’s Arcade – they’re still pretty special.
The Corn Exchange
Another one of those places to visit in Leeds for the shopping category has to be the Corn Exchange. But whilst the Victoria Quarter was originally built for shopping and lays emphasis on exclusive and luxury fashion, the brightly coloured doors at the Corn Exchange lead to a world of bespoke, quirky and local.
As its name suggests, the Leeds Corn Exchange began life as a work-place to establish grain prices that protected English farmers from cheap foreign importations. The great elliptical glass dome shone light onto the tables of traders to determine the quality of the grain but in its day was a marvellous feat of engineering. From the roadside, you really can’t imagine the true size of this impressive structure and really has to be seen to be believed.
Nowadays, the innards have been transformed into a rainbow of businesses ranging from cafes and clothes shops to barbers and botanics. You have to try some of the sweet-treats from 42nd East Bakehouse and a locally-famous Hummus Bowl from Humpit. Additionally, we also love The Great Yorkshire Shop for all things local – a reet collection of Yarkshire tat to have a gander round and mehbe treat ya sen to, and tek om’.
Trinity Shopping Centre
When you’ve made a Leeds trip for shopping you will inevitably end up in the Trinity Centre. It’s where you’ll find Primark, Top Shop and all those other high-street brands. I mean, it’s not that much to write home about – it’s just a shopping centre – but it does have a couple of redeeming features…
Check out the giant metal horse sculpture by Kelpies-famous Andy Scott in the central atrium – making reference to the cloth and wool trade on which Leeds, England built its fortunes.
There’s also a really lovely rooftop bar, Angelica, overlooking the rooftops south to the river.
Colours May Vary
I could not write a section about shopping without mentioning the wonder store, ‘Colours May Vary‘. It’s one of those places to visit in Leeds that will make your day and I sooo wish we had a shop like this in my hometown. Stationary, books, trinkets and prints make a half-hour in this place one of my favourite things to do in Leeds, for sure.
3. Walk From Leeds Dock To Brewery Wharf
One of the coolest ways to discover Leeds’ history is to take a walk along the River Aire. Gorgeous red-bricked Victorian factories mingle with modern apartment buildings, showcasing a lot of glass. And interspersed between all this glorious architecture are a handful of art installations, one or two murals, pretty little canal boats and a thriving restaurant and bar scene.
If you start at Leeds Dock off Armouries Drive and walk the pedestrianized route along the river, you will end up at Brewery Wharf just past the ever-so handsome Crown Point Bridge. If you cross the foot-bridge over to the north bank, Calls Landing is arguably the best waterfront bar in Leeds. They call themselves a stew and oyster bar, though they don’t blend the two – that would just be wrong. Regardless though, they do a good ale and a pew in their riverside beer garden is hard to beat for a Leeds city view.
Some Leeds sights, down by the river…
4. Eat Your Way Around Leeds…
Wondering what to do in Leeds for food? Well, perhaps not famous for anything in particular, except for a good cup of Yorkshire tea, there are so many good places to eat when you visit Leeds! We may have mentioned a few highlights already but here’s a list of places we don’t think you should miss…
- For PIZZA go to Simpatico Pizza in Queens Arcade – amazing choice of toppings on the most delectable base you’ve ever had in your life. I have been known to suggest a day in Leeds just to get my hands on a slice!
- For STREET FOOD go to Trinity Kitchen on the 3rd floor of the Trinity Shopping Centre. A rotating collection of Leeds street-food vans alongside a few permanent eateries, culminating in a flavoursome assortment of lunch options. Tortilla’s, Kebabs, Shawarma’s and Rib’s – this ain’t your cheese sandwich kind of stop-off!
- For SWEET TREATS I cannot visit Leeds without buying a box of doughnuts from Doh’hut. The crème pât…mmphh! And, like we already mentioned – 42nd East Bakehouse (in the Corn Exchange) are enough to induce diabetes; Snickers, Oreo’s, Lotus, Crunchie – if it’s sickly sweet they’ve adapted it into a cake-bar or brownie or cookie-cup. Prepare for that coma!
- For amazing fresh pasta and traditional ITALIAN dishes, check out Sarto on Duke Street. This is Italian food at its best – if you know, you just know! And once you’re done with your tagliatelle, head next door to Café 164 for an Italian roast coffee.
- For the best INDIAN food in all of Yorkshire, Mumtaz is constantly popping up on Instagram feeds. But that’s not just because it has that glitzy Asian swag to it, with its columns and chandeliers – the food packs a punch too. Traditional Kashmiri curries that have been winning over their diners since 1979. Make sure you book!
5. Beyond Leeds City Centre – Things To Do Nearby
If you’re looking for things to do in Leeds with kids then Roundhay Park is the perfect solution. Lakes, gardens, playgrounds and a Tropical World will keep them busy, plus a skatepark for the older kids. The park is free but you have to buy tickets for Tropical World to see the meerkats, monkeys and crocodiles.
One of Englands finest stately homes, Harewood House is all about the art, and the penguins – yes, penguins! And, along with a few more exotic bird species, other highlights include Capability Brown’s gardens, paintings by some of Britains greatest artists and an opportunity to pick out scenes from TV and film. Harewood has been used as a location for popular TV series like Victoria and Downton Abbey, along with several village scenes in Emmerdale from the estate.
If you want to make a weekend of it, you could complement your Leeds visit with a couple of days in the nearby Yorkshire Dales. Leeds is on the edge of some of the UK’s prettiest countryside.
This is Brontë country and once you get out into the wilds you certainly feel like you’ve been transported to another era. Gorgeous old villages with little country pubs, smoking chimneys and stunning vista’s make this the perfect area for a quiet weekend away. We like Kettlewell for its 17th century houses, tearooms and hike up Coverhead Pass. Check out Polly’s Cottage right next to the river, for a cosy bolt-hole on a Leeds weekend.
Incidentally, if you are trying to plan a UK weekend break, take a look at our other post for 20 more ideas of places to visit.
And there we have it – all the fun things to do in Leeds, whether you’re there just for a day or you’ve decided to make a weekend of it! Have you got any favourite spots in this cool old city?? Do write and let us know – we’ll no doubt be visiting again soon and we can check them out!
If you enjoyed our Things To Do In Leeds post, maybe you would be interested in our Things To Do In Nottingham post too – it’s only an hour away from Leeds by car and, in our opinion, well worth a visit!
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