Leeds City Guide {How to Spend a Weekend in Yorkshire’s Cultural Capital}

Author: Lisa Soeno

My brother Ken moved to Leeds after Uni and I’ve got to be honest, there were times that I was tempted to follow him there. The city has such a buzzy, quirky vibe, and the people of Leeds are amongst the loveliest you’ll meet. Which is clearly what Ken thought, as he ended up marrying a Leeds girl. And today’s city guide comes from said Leeds girl. Over to my sister-in-law, Mia.

When Lisa told me that Leeds had come fifth in a Lonely Planet list of best European cities to visit, I was initially surprised (sorry Leeds) in the way you are sometimes when someone compliments the thing you take for granted, but really, I shouldn’t be. Leeds is lively, friendly, diverse and blessed with loads of natural beauty spots. It should be high on everybody’s list. Sure, like lots of young people, growing up here I had assumed that anywhere else in the word would be more fun, but after living away twice, I’ve learned that I can’t do without the myriad bars, gorgeous shops, bleakly beautiful industrial heritage and the strangely luminous grey skies that seem a hallmark of Leeds. Also, I am lazy. Leeds is so wonderfully compact that if properly motivated (cocktail happy hour?) you can get across it in ten minutes*. For anyone considering a crisp and wintery weekend break, I have drafted an itinerary of my perfect Leeds weekend for a bit of inspiration.
I think it’s best to strike whilst the shops are quiet and your enthusiasm high, so head straight for Briggate, one of the many pedestrianised shopping areas. The beautiful Edwardian and Victorian shopping arcades in Leeds radiate from here, housing many quirky independent shops. Try Thornton’s Arcade and then County Arcade, also part of the Victoria Quarter, home to more well-known brands including Jo Malone, All Saints, Whistles et al, all sheltered by a beautiful glass roof, (apparently the largest stained glass window in Britain). This is also a great place to catch your breath and have a coffee. Then it’s just a few steps to explore Victoria Gate, a sort of contemporary sibling of the ornate Leeds shopping arcades which (drumroll) has yet more shops! Including my favourites; & Other Stories and Anthropologie. After this, a leisurely stroll around Kirkgate Market. Leeds has always loved the hustle of commerce and some of the most beautiful buildings are places where the buying and selling went on. Kirkgate Market is one such place, the largest covered market in Europe with approx 800 stalls to browse. With our cardio completed and wallets a bit lighter, it is time for lunch at the Tiled Hall café, a grand, former reading room which, now gracefully  renovated, connects the beautiful central Library to Leeds Art Gallery. If this is starting to feel a bit ‘school trip’ I recommend having some wine with lunch, I think a light buzz adds a grown-up edge. It’s your call.

After refreshments, explore the different floors of the library, taking time to savour the nostalgia of the carefully preserved tiled interior, before moving into the gallery proper. Only recently reopened after refurbishment, there are regular new exhibits although I personally always find the permanent collection fascinating and Henry Moore’s Reclining Woman outside has become for me, as much a symbol of Leeds as the lions on the Town Hall.

After some time feeding your soul, drop your shopping at the hotel to get ready for the night ahead. Leeds has a thriving street food scene and I would recommend spending some time and beer money in Bundobust, where they serve craft ales alongside equally delicious portions of Indian street food, all vegetarian so suitable for most groups. If you fancy something a little more formal, romantic, (or meaty) you cannot go wrong with Kendells Bistro. Not so formal that you can’t relax, it’s a fun and fairy light festooned place whose duck confit I still think about at odd moments. After dinner, for some late hours fun and to burn off some duck maybe, I would head to Roxy Ballroom for a frantic game of table tennis with drinks. If you want a cocktail to round the evening off, Neon Cactus on Call Lane makes an excellent salt rim margarita. The Maven Bar, a speakeasy themed bar close by, has a wide selection of cocktails, along with the sort of music that everyone secretly wants to dance to i.e. Rihanna and 90’s Rnb. Amirite.

I believe Sundays are made for three things (well, four, but let’s not) Brunch, walking, dinner. That’s it. Food and the fresh air that makes you want it. Start with the reliably good brunch at Ox Club, Headrow House. Next time I go, I’ll be trying the Red Eye Benedict as it includes something they call ‘bacon hollandaise’ which sounds like the song my hangover sings. I love the walk around Harewood House, a few miles north of the city centre. You can drive or take the 36 Bus (ask the driver to let you off) and the walk itself is an achievable circuit of Harewood grounds, just enough exertion to make you open your coat and work off the hangover. There is a good chance you will see deer on the estate, as well as the lovely views of the house itself. After a post-walk livener in the Harewood Arms, make your way back to Leeds city centre to your dinner plans. Art’s is consistently good food and very reasonably priced. If you have anything left to give and you’re not yet ready for your hotel room, Friends of Ham is a local favourite and exactly the kind of place to wind down the last couple of hours with chat and a glass of my favourite white rioja as the windows steam against the chill outside. It is cold up north, but inside, it’s lovely.

*I am quite tall and have been told I march like a soldier. It may be fifteen minutes for normal people.

Are you from Leeds, or is it your adopted city? Any other recommendations to add to the list? (I second Mia’s Friends of Ham recommendation, and for anyone with kids, Tropical World is always a winner with Lyra).


Friends of Ham image by Pure Design Consultancy

Author: Lisa Soeno
Lisa is obsessed with all things interior design. And Cadbury buttons.
Follow Lisa on instagram @lisa.soeno
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30 thoughts on “Leeds City Guide {How to Spend a Weekend in Yorkshire’s Cultural Capital}

  1. Yes Leeds Leeds Leeds! And for the local families Leeds dads is a monthly get together at the Tetley run by the lovely Errol. I drop off Andrew and Ophelia and I spend a lovely couple of hours wandering around the shops when they’re quiet on a Sunday afternoon

  2. What a great review – week written, funny! I haven’t been to Leeds – and it’s never really been on my radar for a short break – but this has definitely made me want to visit! Xx

    1. Ah thanks Sarah! I really can’t recommend it enough, just don’t forget your appetite / thirst! The recommendations on the other comments are all spot on also, I’ve noted a couple down myself 🙂


  3. Great local knowledge Claire! That sounds like such a cute get together, the Tetley is so big and beautiful with such a lot of interesting history to explore, I can see why it would be ideal for family groups.


  4. Ah Leeds is my closest city! I love it! We got married at Malmaison there, nice to go back and have a cocktail and reminisce! Harvey nicks is good for a bit of make up shopping! And the trinity kitchen has some nice little street food stalls and champagne bar! Oh and they opened up a big John Lewis which is inside a huge building with a big white company, COS, and some other shops. We keep meaning to have a meal at Chaophraya but haven’t yet! Not sure if anyone has here but it always looks nice!

    1. I haven’t been to Chaopraya either yet Alex! Like you I keep meaning to try it (I love Thai food) also heard very good things about their cocktails.


  5. I’m from Leeds and would echo all of Mia’s recommendations!

    I’d also thrown in there The Cat’s Pyjamas (http://www.thecatspjs.co.uk) for more Indian street food – can you ever have too much?! – which is sometimes a bit quieter than Bundobust so easier to get in without a reservation.

    I also really rate Zaap (http://www.zaapthai.co.uk) for amazing Thai street food – you can even eat inside a tuk-tuk!

    If you want something more luxe, we love Pintura (https://pinturakitchen.co.uk). It’s a tapas bar with a full gin bar downstairs – the gin menu runs to dozens of pages and the tapas is to die for!

    In Summer, Headrow House has an amazing rooftop terrace – on a sunny day people gather from about midday so get there early for a good spot – it takes us right back to 230 on Fifth on our honeymoon in New York (albeit with Leeds views, rather than the Empire State!)

    For walks, if you have a car I really rate the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield. It’s only about 20 minutes drive from Leeds and you can get brunch there, which makes it a winner for me! If you have children, Temple Newsam has a great little farm, and Lotherton Hall has penguins – both about 20 minutes from the town centre.

    1. Kate these are all top tier recommendations, I can’t believe I STILL haven’t been to Pintura however I didn’t know about the Gin specialisation… that definitely swings it for me!


      1. Do it! It’s fast become one of my favourite places for food in Leeds, although I’m 100% with you on the Kendall’s duck!

  6. Thoroughly recommend Dakota as the best place to lay your head. Also Zaap for Thai street food, North Bar and Tapped for Craft Beers and Home or Crafthouse for proper top notch fancy dining

  7. Mia, I love this! I lived in Leeds for 28 years, and admit to forgetting how beautiful a city it is.
    I have frequented most of the places you recommend (more often than not with you, actually) but there are some new spots now on my short list. The tiled hall cafe, for one. It sounds wonderful.
    So well written, my lovely friend. I especially like the ‘song my hangover sings’ part. Pure genius xx

    1. Carla! You are alway too kind to me. Let’s go to them all together and escort the beautiful little Renée around town on a weekend visit north (Not the bars, obviously, that can be just grown ups!) x x x

  8. Add Rolands bar to your visit. Nice chilled bar, never too busy even though the bars around it can get mental. It’s on cal lane just across from Arts, just down from Neon Cactus. And if you fancy a curry try Tharavadu which is more Keralan/South Indian style. Amazing food, next door to Bundobust.

    1. Oh nice Greg! I love Keralan / South Indian style. I also didn’t include Hansas which is amazing. So many restaurants and only one stomach, what’s a person to do?

  9. Great write-up! I went to uni at Leeds in the 90s, moved back to the area for work in the late noughties and can’t believe how much the city has transformed itself in the past 10 years. It was once at risk of becoming a bit chain-store-generic but the indie scene is thriving now. I definitely second the recommendations for Bundobust (so cheap as well!) and Friends of Ham. If you’re a coffee aficionado Leeds is also blessed with some excellent coffee shops – 200 Degrees, Laynes Espresso (just up from Friends of Ham) and Mrs Atha’s are my faves.

    A shout out too for Wakefield which is just 15 mins south of Leeds by car or train. The Hepworth Wakefield is the best art gallery in the region (sorry Leeds Art Gallery, but it’s true) and current holder of the UK Museum of the Year crown (it also has an excellent cafe). The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, just seven miles up the road, is just fabulous – glorious walks and great indoor and outdoor exhibitions. I feel very lucky to live in this fantastic region!

    1. Agreed Hepworth is magnificent but what else is there a n Wakefield? I’m embarrassed to admitted i’ve Not stepped beyond the gallery and cafe

      1. Hi Rachel, there are some really great bars and restaurants in Wakefield. The Wakefield Beer Exchange is an excellent, laid-back bar specialising in craft beers and gin (they do regular tasting evenings that include talks by local breweries which are extremely good value) and Fernandes and the Hop are also well worth a look. Iris is a modern British bistro run by a local chef who came back to Wakefield after training at a number of top London restaurants – their changing seasonal menu is reliably good and they also do monthly tasting plate events and guinea pig evenings where you can try out new dishes. Casa Loca is a recent addition offering very tasty Mexican street food and churros, and Street Food does really nice Turkish food. The King’s Arms at Heath – a lovely village less than 10 mins outside of Wakefield city centre – is a great place for Sunday lunch (pretty sure they won a national award for their Yorkshire puddings) and Blacker Hall Farm Shop, on the way out to the Sculpture Park, is an award-winning farm shop and cafe (amazing breakfasts).

        Out of town there are plenty of nice places for a walk – Nostell Priory is one of our faves, plus also Sandal Castle and a number of country parks/ nature reserves such as Pugneys, Anglers Country Park and Walton Colliery Park. Culturally, there’s an Art Walk once a month on a Wednesday evening, when local arts and cultural organisations/ studios open their doors after-hours for special events and exhibitions.

        Hope that’s given you a few ideas! It may not be as big and cosmopolitan as Leeds, but there are so many hidden gems to explore in Wakey – we really love living here!

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