The ultimate guide to Leeds

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Brexit may have ruined Leeds’ chances of being officially dubbed European Capital of Culture in 2023, but there are plenty of reasons why Yorkshire’s largest city deserves that title and, of course, a visit. The city attracts bands and DJs from around the world, and has enough music venues for every night of the month, whatever your calling. It hosts food festivals, a thriving craft beer scene, and has vintage shops to rival Shoreditch. Amidst grand Victorian architecture and gritty post-industrial streets, this often-overlooked Northern town has found its feet, emerging as a hub of creativity.

THE MUSIC SCENE

Leeds has a rich musical history fostering goth, punk and indie scenes in the now defunct venues of The Cockpit, Brunswick Terrace, Queens Hall and low-budget The Duchess of York, where Nirvana played early on in their career. As evidence of the massive regeneration of the city, that last one is now a Hugo Boss store, but there are still plenty of places that nurture talent, old and new.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    TUNE IN

    Opened in 1913 as a working men’s club for the community, the Brudenell Social Club was saved from bankruptcy in the 1990s and transformed into one of Leeds’ most-loved venues. It retains its working men’s club interiors – carpeted floors and leather stools – but now hosts big-name acts (Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Kate Nash have all played here) alongside the more obscure. The clientele is a delightful mix of locals who have been visiting for more than 50 years perched beside the students who dominate the Hyde Park area of the city, plus anyone else who fancies a cheap pint. Nearby, the three-year-old Hyde Park Book Club is more Gen Z with craft beer and weekend brunches served up in a space that was once a popular fancy-dress shop, on busy Headingley Lane. It puts on live music and DJ sets most nights, and hosts spoken-word poetry and discussion groups centred around philosophy and politics.

    In the Northern Quarter, Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen (pictured above) is the epitome of hipster cool. But its eclectic furnishings, rooftop with beach huts and deckchairs, pop-up food stalls and craft ale-focused bar are all sideshows to the 300-capacity events space that hosts everyone from New York hip hop legends to local jazz, pop, synth and rock acts. For something a little lower key, Outlaws Yacht Club has all kinds of DJs playing on a vintage 1970s sound system.

    GO HARD

    A trip to Leeds isn’t complete without hitting the town. Warehouse parties at Canal Mills and Mint Warehouse bring in party-scene big names, while more intimate gigs are played at Wire. Or check out beats by collectives such as the Cosmic Slop soundsystem, who raise funds with their monthly events in the Grade II-listed gallery space of Hope House in aid of MAP (Music & Arts Production) Charity.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN LEEDS

    FOR ARTY TYPES

    One of the latest additions to the Leeds art scene is The Tetley (pictured above), a contemporary art gallery housed in an Art Deco former brewery. More established spaces include the Henry Moore Institute, founded by the artist and his family in 1977 to showcase one of Europe’s largest collections of sculpture, and The Leeds Art Gallery (pictured below) next door. Stop by for 20th-century British art and cake in the gallery’s Tiled Hall, an amazing former reading room that has impressive vaulted ceilings covered in mosaics and turquoise-tiled walls.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Artists have also painted impressive murals on buildings around the city. Athena Rising stands at more than 150 feet and is the UK’s tallest, while Graeme Willson’s Cornucopia depicts a classical Roman goddess and Leeds history on the side of a fish and chip shop near the Corn Exchange. Hidden in basements and former industrial buildings are plenty of lesser-known galleries too. If you’re after something a little more DIY, check out Left Bank Leeds, Basement Arts Project and Sunny Bank Mills, or experience a live art event at CLAY.

    FOR FILM BUFFS

    Buy a tiny paper ticket from the red and white booth at the Hyde Park Picturehouse, the only gaslit cinema still operating in the UK. It’s terrazzo foyer floor and faux-classical columns will take you back to another era. It shows everything from arthouse and independent movies to big new releases and reruns of classic films around the holidays and since 1987 the cinema has hosted the Leeds International Film Festival.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    FOR CULTURED CREATURES

    For 50 years, the aptly named Northern Ballet (it’s the only company in the North of England) has been committed to bringing dance to communities that would otherwise not have access to it, offering cheap tickets to inventive ballets that have gained international acclaim. See outstanding choreography and technical prowess in performances at the Leeds Grand Theatre.

    Address: Leeds Grand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds LS1 6NZ


    Telephone: +44 113 220 8000


    Website: northernballet.com

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    FOR SPIRITUAL KINDS

    Some have transformed into nightclubs, others have fallen into disrepair but all over Leeds spires pop up above the former industrial town’s back-to-back houses. Walk past the impressive 200-year-old St George’s Church and the Leeds Cathedral, or take a wander through Kirkstall Abbey, a ruined Cistercian monastery north-west of the city centre set in beautiful parkland on the banks of the River Aire.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Victorian architect Cuthbert Brodrick’s influences are all around the city. He’s best known for the Leeds Town Hall, and the landmark domed Corn Exchange (pictured above). The latter is now home to independent shops and food stalls that include the Plant Point, for a millenial-thrilling selection of botanicals, or if you’re inspired by earlier eras, visit West Yorkshire Cameras, Released Records, and All Blues Co.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    There’s plenty more for vintage lovers around the city centre too, with Blue Rinse, Pop Boutique (pictured above) and Retro Boutique selling reasonably priced, carefully curated clothing and antiques.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    For upmarket chains, wander through the Gothic arches of Thornton’s Arcade (pictured above), the first of Leeds’ eight commercial arcades. Make sure to look up at the church-like windows and dragons at the base of the blue and red iron trusses, which support a glass roof that looks like a row of ornate horseshoes.

    EATING AND DRINKING IN LEEDS

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    THE BEST FOOD MARKET

    Gone are the days when Michael Marks, a Polish refugee who opened a market stall in the city, would recount his slogan ‘Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny.’ His store, Marks & Spencer, is now a staple name in homes across England, while Kirkgate Market (pictured above) lives on as one of the largest covered markets in Europe. Today though, Leeds is fostering a new kind of food scene with festivals, new restaurant openings and bars, proving the Northern town has more to offer when it comes to food and drink.

    Address: Leeds Kirkgate Market, Vicar Lane, Leeds City Centre LS2 7HY


    Telephone: +44 113 378 1950


    Website: leeds.gov.uk

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    THE BEST COFFEE SHOPS IN LEEDS

    The ever-growing community of independent coffee shops and artisan roasters here include Laynes Espresso (pictured above) near the train station, North Star Coffee by the docks, House of Koko in Chapel Allerton, plus La Bottega Milanese and Mrs Atha’s, both on quiet backstreets off the main shopping drag. With exposed brick, wooden floors, and an eclectic mix of furniture and crockery, as well as a mouth-watering selection of cakes and snacks, Mrs Atha’s is the perfect spot for breakfast and a sugar fix too.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN LEEDS

    The Ox Club (pictured above) is the new kid on the block and has elevated Leeds’ food scene by producing award-winning contemporary British fare that uses seasonal Yorkshire produce. Neighbourhood classics include Salvo’s (pictured below), a buzzing trattoria run by the Dammone family, who have served Italian and Sicilian favourites to queues of Leeds locals since 1976. There’s also The Reliance, which cooks up masterful yet hearty creations in a rustic setting. The Arts Café makes great tasting food from seasonal ingredients and local produce in a room where the walls are adorned with work by up-and-coming artists (the space also puts on six weekly exhibitions).

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    On the corner of a cobbled street behind the Corn Exchange, Caravanserai looks like a traditional Persian caravan down to its wooden wheels and serves up homemade breads, mezze and smoky barbecue meats. Find perfect wood-fired pizza at Pizza Fella and the best sandwich you’ll ever try at Café 164.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    There’s the low-key Friends of Ham for hearty Spanish tapas too, while more glossy Angelica’s (pictured above) dishes out modern food on the sixth floor of Leeds’ Trinity shopping centre in a space that has incredible views over the city.

    Ox Club Headrow House, 19a The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 6PU


    Salvo’s 115 Otley Road, Leeds LS6 3PX


    The Reliance 76-78 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN


    Arts Cafe 42 Call Lane, Leeds LS1 6DT


    Caravanserai 1 Crown Street, LS2 7DA


    Pizza Fella 114-116 Vicar Lane, Leeds LS2 7NL


    Cafe 164 Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds LS9 8AG


    Friends of Ham 4-8 New Station Street, Leeds LS1 5DL


    Angelica’s Level 6, Trinity, 70 Boar Lane, Leeds LS1 6HW

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    THE BEST FOOD STALLS AND FESTIVALS

    Leeds Indie Food (pictured above) organises supper clubs, workshops, eat-along film screenings and plenty more one-off events around the city. Plus, a three-day mini festival called School Diner at Chapel Allerton Primary School, including the likes of British Street Food Award winners Doh’hut, among others.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    The Falafel Guys make their bestselling hummus, falafel and tahini wraps fresh every day from a food truck in the town centre. Dough Boys (pictured above) continue to satisfy cravings (drunken and not) at the Belgrave Music Hall, while Trinity Kitchen has a rotating roster of vendors trading alongside permanent stalls.

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    THE BEST BARS IN LEEDS

    Leeds’ craft beer scene is thriving and best experienced at local favourite North Bar or Bundobust (pictured above), where you can pair your beer with a selection of modern Indian street food. For something more traditional, there’s Whitelock’s Ale House, a former marketman’s pub that’s perfect for an ale on a cold day — it’s the oldest in the city, founded in 1715, and still retains an impressive old wooden bar and stained glass windows. Trendier hangouts include The Brunswick and Headrow House, or wander down Call Lane at the weekend for a real taste of Leeds fun.

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Scroll down to see more photographs of things to do in Leeds…

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Pop Boutique

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Salvo

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    The Tetly

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    The Tetley

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Corn Exchange

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Angelica

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Bundobust

  • Bundobust

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Leeds Indie Food festival

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Leeds Indie Food festival

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Northern Ballet

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Ox Club

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Ox Club

  • The ultimate guide to Leeds

    Ox Club