Leeds Travel Blog
It may be that the city of Leeds in the North of England has not been at the forefront of your mind for a UK short break, but with a direct Aurigny Airlines flight from Guernsey straight into the heart of Leeds Bradford Airport, maybe now is the time to visit the largest and most vibrant city in “Gods Own County”, Yorkshire.
But what is the Leeds of today known for? Football, rugby, textiles, railways, canals, the first Marks & Spencers in the UK, gravy on everything, or simply that good old cup of Yorkshire tea. Well, all of those of course, but today there seems to be a whole lot more brewing than just that legendary cuppa!
Considered to be one of the jewels of the north, Leeds delivers a blend of both old and new. Its Victorian Quarter with its delightful markets and shopping arcades is now accompanied by modern contemporary buildings and a trendy cool vibe. A variety of historical and family-friendly museums welcome visitors, while world-class stadium and event venues attract the cream of sport, music, and entertainment. This industrial powerhouse is now a champion of the arts and is a city revitalized through retail, digital, commerce, and its university.
The friendly, welcoming Leeds folk are known as ‘Loiners’ or ‘Leodensians’ which comes from the term ‘Old Leodensians’ for those who attended the Boys Grammar School. Straight talking and no messing is how I have always found them and do you know what, in this day and age, that’s exactly how I like it!
Let’s now discover just some of the places, attractions, and events that make Leeds and the surrounding area, a UK city break worth visiting.
I was staying at the centrally located Doubletree Hilton in Granary Wharf. Located next to Leeds City center railway station, this stylish hotel with a choice of high-quality rooms and a superb service caters perfectly to both business and leisure travelers. The Lock Kitchen and Bar on the ground level delivers a lovely relaxed outside seating area overlooking the canal. The hotel Skybar on the 13th floor provides not only great cocktails, wines, and spirits, but also fine food, all with spectacular views across the city.
Many other well-known hotel brands are in this central area, including Jurys, Hilton, Marriott, and Malmaison.
Leeds City Centre is surprisingly small, with all the key sites easily accessible in a day. This surprised me, and on reflection, I feel it is one of the major attractions of the city that everywhere is so easy to reach on foot. Leeds Bradford Airport is just a 30-minute bus or taxi ride away.
Bus services are frequent and great value for money, while for those driving, there are plenty of car parks in the city center.
The Old Post Office
Located in City Square, just a stone’s throw from the main Leeds Railway Station is The Old Post Office, which is one of the most impressive Victorian-era buildings in the city.
Today it comprises two busy stylish restaurants – the Restaurant Bar & Grill and The Banyan. Both attract business and leisure customers who can enjoy not only the atmosphere and location but also a quality alfresco meal in classy and sophisticated surroundings.
Leeds Town Hall
On “The Headrow” street you will find several attractions close together. The Leeds Town Hall where many of the city’s most important concerts and events take place is currently undergoing major refurbishment and is set to re-open in 2024.
Alongside the Hall are the Central Library, The Art Gallery, and the Henry Moore Institute. Also located here is the Leeds Visitor Centre where you can pick up all the latest news as to what is taking place in the city during your stay.
Leeds Civic Hall
Just 5 minutes from the Town Hall, past the Mandela Gardens, and, overlooking Millennium Square, is the Civic Hall. With its two towers and Roman Portico styling, this imposing building hosts many ceremonies and events including weddings if you want to tie the knot in style.
Leeds City Museum
This free museum offers a range of different exhibitions to attract visitors. Discover The Leeds Story where you can immerse yourself in the city’s inventions, sporting accolades, and textile heritage. The Life on Earth Gallery showcases our natural world.
The Collectors Cabinet tells the story of collecting in Leeds from 1700 onwards. The World View – Voices of Asia, highlights Leeds connections with its Asian culture.
Finally in the Ancient Worlds Exhibition, learn the history of the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks.
The beautiful grade 1 listed Leeds Minster, is an early Victorian church, and the oldest in the city dating back to the 7th century.
Situated on the north bank of the River Aire and surrounded by a delightful park, it is a centre for music and worship.
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the longest canal built as a single waterway (127 miles) in Britain. The canal runs from Liverpool, passing through East Lancashire, the Pennine countryside, and the Yorkshire Dales before arriving in Leeds.
The days when it was used for transporting coal, stone, and textiles are long gone. However today you can take a brief 15-minute trip on the canal costing just £1 when taking the journey from the Leeds Dock up to the Granary Wharf, on one of two funky yellow boats – the Twee and the Drie.
City Centre Shopping
Leeds is the perfect city if you are looking to enjoy some serious retail therapy. Within the heart of the city are various areas all offering something a little different from each other.
The showpiece centre is the Victoria Leeds area which comprises both Victoria Gate and the Victoria Quarter. High-quality well known retail brands include Harvey Nichols, Louis Vuitton, John Lewis, The White Company, and Molton Brown.
Alongside Victoria Leeds are the cast iron and marbled Arcades which are worth visiting, if only to admire their beauty, although you are bound to be distracted by the choice of classy shops that lie within. The main Briggate pedestrian walkway that passes each arcade is full of market stalls, musicians, and people all going about their daily business.
The Leeds Corn Exchange is situated in one of the city’s finest Victorian structures. This architecturally stunning building is full of unusual retail stores from independent music shops to some beautiful hand-crafted jewellers.
Leeds Kirkgate Market needs to be seen to be believed given its sheer scale! There are simply hundreds of stalls selling everything and anything. The Merrion Centre is home to several value for money brands while The Trinity Centre provides over 120 well-known shops like Marks and Spencers, Next, and Primark.
The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries Museum displays the National Collection of Arms and Armour. Spread over six themed galleries, visitors, who enter for free, can explore arms and armour from across the world with over 8,500 objects, including pieces dedicated to hunting, peace, war, tournaments, as well as oriental pieces.
Abbey House Museum & Kirkstall Abbey
One of the most complete medieval Cistercian abbeys in Britain today is the Kirkstall Abbey. This Grade 1 listed building attracts historians, artists, and visitors to the city. There is an interactive visitor centre that invites you to learn about life as a monk and discover the history of the abbey.
The Abbey House museum explores social history and childhood growing up in Victorian-era Leeds. The sets and displays showcase the streets, houses, and shops from days of old. Throughout the year the museum hosts exhibitions so do check out their website for what’s on while you are visiting the city.
Thackray Medical Museum
Following a recent multi-million pound redevelopment, the Thackray Medical Museum invites you to discover the story of medicine through the grimy streets of Leeds back in the 1800s.
You can step into a 19th-century operating theatre, visit a 70s-style sexual health clinic, and discover the medical innovations that have changed the world. For younger visitors there is a Life Zone, providing a fun and interactive learning environment where children can “step inside” the human body.
Leeds Industrial Museum
Formerly one of the world’s largest woollen mills, this industrial museum allows you to learn more about the rich industrial history of Leeds. Displays and collections include textile machinery, railway equipment, printing, cinematography, and heavy engineering.
The Tetley is a contemporary art gallery in the art deco headquarters of the former Tetley Brewery. Since 1822 and for over 200 years the Tetley name represented the brewing industry in Leeds.
From the 1960s the business changed through takeovers and mergers before finally in 2011, having been under the ownership of Carlsberg since 1998, it was closed.
In 2013 the building was transformed with the addition of unique gallery spaces, learning and art studios, offices, a busy bar & kitchen, and a space for meetings and events.
Roundhay Park & Tropical World
Any Leeds Travel Blog will include the wonderful Roundhay Park which is situated just 3 miles north of Leeds City Centre and is one of the biggest city parks in Europe. With over 700 acres of parkland, lakes, woodland, and gardens, the area provides a haven for those seeking peace and relaxation from daily life. Along with the flora and fauna, there are several formal gardens, as well as playgrounds and spaces to keep the kids entertained.
Tropical World, is located within Roundhay Park. This is a family attraction where the kids will love each of the different themed areas. Amongst many, there is a hot and humid tropical butterfly house, a rainforest with colourful parrots, the Australian outback, a desert with Meerkats, and a nocturnal zone. At the end of the tour is a gift and coffee shop to relax and cool down. The admission fee is £5 for adults and £2.50 for children.
Often referred to as the world’s oldest railway, the Middleton Railway dates back to 1758. For the train enthusiast, you can discover steam and diesel locomotives while for children during the cold winter months they can enjoy the excitement of the Santa service.
Temple Newsam House & Park
Known as one of the UK’s finest country houses, this restored Tudor-Jacobean estate allows visitors to view, not only the enormous house with its priceless antiques and art, but also enjoy the walled gardens, park, and lake.
The stables area provides visitors with the chance to grab a refreshment. For the young and energetic there is a “Go Ape” on the grounds where you can learn a variety of outdoor and aerial skills.
Every year Temple Newsam also plays host to Let’s Rock Leeds – a fun and retro music festival.
Harewood House is a historic Georgian estate house and gardens, showcasing Royal memorabilia, grand master paintings, and award-winning gardens.
For the children, there is an adventure playground, plus its famous Bird Garden is home to penguins, flamingos, and parrots. Buses run directly to and from Leeds City Centre every 15 minutes.
Emmerdale Village Tour
For those of you who love one of the UK’s longest-running soaps, how about a tour of Emmerdale Village. Set within the Harewood Estate, you can enjoy a fully guided, walking tour where you will discover the village, the sets of The Woolpack, Café Mainstreet, and David’s Shop.
There is also a chance to visit the studio, view costumes, and props, and learn some of the secrets behind the special effects.
RSPB St Aidan's Nature Park
A little further afield is the RSPB St Aidan’s, Nature Park. This peaceful nature reserve covers 400 hectares and is home to 12kms of walking trails, woodlands, and open pastures. There is an excellent visitor centre on-site.
Leeds Grand Theatre & Opera House opened in November 1878 and has a capacity of 1,500. Today it prides itself on the variety of shows, comedy, drama, and west-end musicals it puts on. What’s more, the Theatre also plays host to Opera and Ballet so it’s well worth you checking out what’s going on during your visit to the city.
City Varieties Music Hall
This is Leeds’ oldest working theatre. The City Varieties Music Hall has existed for three centuries and is today famed for pantomimes, and stand-up comedy, and is the nation’s longest-running music hall.
The Leeds Festival is a huge UK rock music festival that takes place every summer. Known for attracting some of the finest musical artists from across the globe, the event has grown significantly in recent years.
Bars & Restaurants
One thing you will not be short of in Leeds is bars and restaurants. Throughout the city, there is a choice of modern dining establishments, to the more traditional pubs and boozers.
For quality restaurants, you have in the Victorian Quarter “The Ivy” which incidentally is a great place to go and enjoy an afternoon tea. There is Issho, a popular Japanese Rooftop bar). For Argentinian cuisine, Gaucho’s is perfect for lovers of meat. With recognizable brands dotted around the city such as Browns, Miller & Carter, Turtle Bay, and Tiger Tiger you will never be short of choice when it comes to dining out.
Three particularly enjoyable and very old pubs worth visiting are located in the Trinity area of town. Check out The Pack Horse, The Scarborough Hotel, and Whitelocks which dates from 1715.
The Calls Area
Alongside the River Aire was my favourite place for an afternoon chill – the Calls area. The Aire Bar, has an outside seating terrace where you can sit on a sunny afternoon overlooking the canal and just relax.
Home to several quirky, cool independent bars was Call Lane where some of the establishments provide sports viewing, whilst others regularly host live music which all adds to the areas easy-going and fun vibe.
Situated on the south bank of the River Aire opposite The Calls, the lovely Brewery Wharf offers a vibrant mix of offices, bars, restaurants, residential apartments, and hotels.
I loved wandering around this cool mix of old and new including a stroll along the cobbled stones of Dock Street before ending up with a pint at the traditional Adelphi Pub on Hunslet Road.
The Otley Run
Ask any young university student where to go on a pub crawl and more often than not they will send you down to the Woodies Craft Ale House on Otley Road, Headingley. This is the starting point of the famous Otley Run. From there you are tasked with visiting a further 14 pubs as you work your way downhill (thankfully) to the finishing line of The Dry Dock – a ship-turned pub close to the city centre.
Otley is also well known for the Otley Folk Festival which takes place in September at a variety of different pub locations.
Love them or hate them, Leeds Utd is an iconic name in the history of British football. Back in the Premiership after several years away, the city is once again proud of its football team. Whilst Elland Road is their spiritual home, you will see murals of current and past players throughout the city. The stadium also plays host to major Rugby League fixtures with this area a hotbed for this version of the game.
The world-class stadium of Headingley hosts both rugby and cricket matches. Leeds Rhinos play here in the Rugby Super League, while this is perhaps best known as the home of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. With regular major sporting events, the area around Headingley is full of bars and pubs.
The First Direct Arena is a state-of-the-art 13,000-capacity theatre that opened in the summer of 2013. Today it plays host to musicians, events, and artists from all over the world.
The Leeds Sailing and Activity Centre at Yeadon Tarn provides fully qualified instructors should you wish to get a little more energetic on your visit. Likewise, the West Leeds Activity Centre offers all sorts of activities such as climbing, sumo wrestling, and the Leap of Faith which is another climbing activity but with a twist or should that be a drop!
In The Vicinity
Located in West Yorkshire’s Upper Calder Valley, Hebden Bridge is a small yet beautiful market town with its York stone houses, independent shops, traditional cotton mills, cafes, pubs, and tea rooms. The town is also known for its diversity attracting a thriving LGBTQ+ community.
Skipton is the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and has in the past, been voted the best place to live in the UK. Dissected by the Leeds and Liverpool canal passing through its centre, Skipton is a beautiful historic market town set amongst the most magnificent countryside. There is the 900-year-old medieval Skipton Castle, an open-air market, the incredible limestone cliffs at Malham and then there is the Bolton Abbey.
The Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale takes its name from the River Calder, and dale, a word for valley. Halifax is Calderdale’s largest town, with Victorian architecture and a strong industrial heritage. Halifax Minster, the National Childrens Museum, and the many markets, shops, and restaurants make Halifax a great place to visit. Visit in August and you may be lucky to catch the Summer Makers Market at the Piece Hall, which is an event hosting dozens of local food and craft stalls. There is also the Halifax Show which is primarily an agricultural show held in Savile Park every summer.
The spa town of Harrogate in the heart of the Harrogate district is an extremely popular place for tourists to visit. Be sure to visit the Montpellier Quarter with the Royal Pump Room Museum as well as the Moorish-style Turkish Baths & Health Spa. The area around Harrogate features so many attractive towns and villages, historic houses, castles, abbeys, and some of the most spectacular countryside in the UK. In September the Harrogate Food and Drink Festival draws visitors from across the country.
The medieval cobbled streets and history of York are world-renowned. This compact cathedral city is home to a multitude of museums, galleries, shopping, fine dining, street food cafes, and tea rooms! Visit in September and you could discover the wonderful York Balloon festival.
Leeds Travel Blog Summary
I thoroughly enjoyed my three days writing this Leeds travel blog and exploring the city and its surroundings. That mix of old and new, the cobbled streets and atmosphere around the Calls area. The tranquillity of the River Aire and the world-class shopping plus all of the historical and cultural sights, will not disappoint.
Leeds is well worth a long weekend as there is heaps to do both in and around the city centre. Then if you want, you can hire a car and visit some of the UK’s most popular tourist locations in the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside.
It turned out, much to my surprise, that Leeds was very much, my cup of tea…. I hope it will be yours too!
Check out the Visit Leeds website or social media channels linked below for lots of useful city information.
To book a flight from Guernsey to Leeds Bradford Airport visit Aurigny Airlines.