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).