Once famous for its wool and textiles, Leeds is now a cosmopolitan and vibrant city ideal for a short break. The city is home to excellent shopping, culture, food and nightlife
Leeds’ attractive city centre can easily be explored on foot. A good place to start is bustling Briggate, a shopper’s paradise with a good range of high street stores and the northern flagship store of Harvey Nichols. On either side of Briggate look out for the splendid Victorian Arcades that make up the Victoria Quarter. These hold some of the city’s most exclusive shops from designer shops like Agent Provocateur and Louis Vuitton to independent boutiques. This area is worth a wander even if you can’t afford to shop here and the Harvey Nichols café is a perfect place to admire the surroundings over tea and scones or a light meal.
For a contrast pop into the Victorian Leeds City Market, one of the biggest covered markets in Europe and where Marks and Spencer first started trading. Here you’ll find top quality produce and seafood on sale alongside cheaper goods and traditional greasy spoon cafés. It is also a good place to see the multicultural side of the city with West Indian, Chinese, Polish and Greek shops.
Architecture buffs should definitely check out the Victorian Corn Exchange building with its stunning domed roof. Once the city’s corn market, it has gone through many reincarnations from being full of independent shops and a hangout place for goth and emo teenagers to its current use as the Piazza by Anthony, the latest venture of acclaimed chef Anthony Flinn. The patisserie, bakery and cheese shops are a great place to put together a gourmet picnic or you can sample some of the products at the informal café. The Brasserie (0113 2470995) is situated in the central expanse of the Corn Exchange with a delicious menu of fresh seafood, pasta, salads and meat dishes and is a lot more affordable than Anthony’s flagship restaurant on Boar Lane.
Other buildings of note in the city centre include the monumental Leeds Town Hall, a symbol of the city’s former wealth and importance and the neoclassical Civic Hall in Millennium Square. Millennium Square also hosts Leeds' Christmas markets (from mid-November) where you can stop for a mulled wine and traditional German Bratwurst. Just a few minutes' walk from the Town Hall you’ll find Park Square, an elegant Georgian square with a pretty garden in the middle and a bizarre neo-Moorish Palace on one side.
The Royal Armouries are a must for anyone with an interest in arms and armour. It’s also a good place to take the kids for live displays of falconry and jousting. The nearby canals and the River Aire are a great place for a stroll on a nice day and are the centrepiece of Leeds' redevelopment. Former warehouses now house flash apartments and trendy cafés and bars. Further afield Kirkstall Abbey (Abbey Road, Kirkstall) is one of England’s largest and best preserved abbeys. Entrance is free and it is a nice place for a picnic. Take bus 33 or 33A from the city centre. Dos Amigos (www.dos-amigos.co.uk, 0113 2283737), opposite the Abbey is one of the best tapas bars in Leeds serving delicacies like migas (a delicious stew), gambas pil pil (tiger prawns with white wine and chilli) and paella.
Culture in Leeds
Art fans shouldn’t miss the Henry Moore Institute for sculpture and the Leeds Art Gallery which has a small but interesting range of fine art. Entry is free and it often has fascinating temporary exhibits. The Tiled Hall café next door is the perfect place for a coffee or light lunch in the grand Victorian hall that was only rediscovered and restored in recent years.
The beautifully restored Grand Theatre (www.leedsgrandtheatre.com) is a good place to watch the latest in drama and shows from the West End as well as classic and contemporary dance.
If you find yourself in Leeds in November don’t miss the Leeds International Film Festival (www.leedsfilm.com) which shows an eclectic range of British and foreign films that don't get released in cinemas as well as advance screenings of upcoming releases. It also specialises in, horror, anime and extreme Asian cinema with horror all-nighters and horror all-dayers.
Where to eat
Red Chilli (6 George Street, www.redchillirestaurant.co.uk, 01132429688) serves surprisingly authentic Chinese food in stylish surroundings. Try the baked intestine with green chilli or sundried sea cucumber if you are feeling adventurous, or the tangy lemon chicken for a safer option. They also do great Beijing duck.
Art’s Café (42 Call Lane, www.artscafebar.com, 0113 243 8243) serves up delicious modern British and European food in bohemian surroundings.
River Plate (36-38 The Calls, www.riverplate.co.uk) serves the best steak in town. Try the special Argentinean steak sauce chimichurri.
Mio Modo (2 - 4 Britannia Street, www.miomodo.co.uk, 01132426655) is probably the best Italian restaurant in the city centre with great pizza and pasta.
Shabab (2 Eastgate, www.shabab.uk.com, 0113 246 8988) is a great place for a curry with a diverse menu and elaborate surroundings.
Anthony’s Restaurant (19 Boar Lane, www.anthonysrestaurant.co.uk, 0113 2455922) is probably the best restaurant in Leeds for fine dining and modern gastronomy (the chef has worked under Ferran Adrià at the legendary El Bulli restaurant).
Where to drink
New Briggate has a cluster of excellent bars including North Bar which serves a huge range of beers in a cosy and relaxed environment and neighbouring basement bar Celar. Nearby Sandinista serves some of the best cocktails in the city with a Latin American theme and also has live music or DJs playing on Wednesday to Sunday.
The bar and club lined Call Lane is another popular place for nightlife with stylish Oporto being one of the better bars in the area with great cocktails and music.
For a traditional pub head to Mr. Foley's Cask Ale House on the Headrow which serves beers from all around the world in a Grade II-listed building. The Victoria Hotel on Great George Street is also good for guest ales and serves decent pub food.
Where to stay
Etap Hotel near the bus station is the cheapest hotel in Leeds city centre with doubles for £36.
Travelodge Leeds Central Vicar Lane is another budget option with a great location in the city centre and the typical standard you expect from Travelodge.
For something a bit more special try 42 The Calls a boutique hotel in a converted mill by the canal. The hotel offers stylishly decorated rooms, great service and friendly touches such as homemade cookies and fudge.
The Radisson SAS Hotel on The Headrow is another good central choice with comfortable modern rooms.