This guide to the best things to do in Leeds shows you how to spend a perfect 1, 2 or 3 days in West Yorkshire’s cultural, commercial and financial heart.
Sadly, Leeds never seems to make it onto lists of must-see cities for visitors to the UK. London, Bath, Oxford, York and Edinburgh always get a mention, but travellers and list-makers often overlook Leeds, the city known to the Victorians as “The City of A Thousand Trades”.
Having lived and worked in and around Leeds for more than five years, I have first-hand experience of this prejudice. Unlike when I lived in London, Jersey and the Netherlands (when friends clamoured to visit), it’s been tough to persuade folks to come “all the way oop North” to visit Yorkshire.
But I love this city, and I think that you will too. With the right information and an excellent itinerary to follow, you can have a Leeds experience that’s fun and memorable.
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Your Ultimate Guide to Leeds
Using this guide, you’ll soon discover:
- All the Best Things to Do in Leeds
- The Best Places to Eat
- What to do at Night in the City
- The Best Time to Visit
- Festivals and Events
- Other Quirky & Interesting Things to do in Leeds
- Itinerary for 1, 2 or 3 Days
- Where to Stay
- How to Get to the City
I’ve used a star system to “rank” the most interesting things to do in Leeds. I hope this makes it easy for you to choose what to do:
*** You really should see this!
** You’ll probably love this!
* Nice to see, if you have time!
- The Civic Quarter
- The Corn Exchange
- The Victoria Quarter
- The Royal Armouries Museum
- Armley Mills
- Temple Newsam
- Kirkstall Abbey
- Waterfront and Canals
- Parks, Gardens and Dales
Start from the pedestrianised City Square, directly opposite the central train station and the Queen’s hotel. The square features notable Victorian statues including Edward, the Black Prince astride a massive horse, plus local luminaries of the day – inventor James Watt, chemist and theologian Joseph Priestley, and leading cloth merchant John Harrison.
The most controversial statues are those of sculptor Alfred Drury. The eight near-naked bronze lamp-bearers or “Drury Dames” scandalised the city when they were first unveiled in 1899.
A short walk up Park Row takes you to Victoria Square and the spectacular Town Hall, which was consecrated in 1858 by Queen Victoria. The Town Hall features a beautiful Corinthian colonnade frontage and a soaring 200-foot-tall clock tower, typical of Victorian architecture.
Inside the Town Hall, the ornate Victoria Hall is a busy venue for concerts.
Just around the corner is Leeds Civic Hall, topped with towers decorated by golden owls, the heraldic emblem of the city. See if you can find all three of them!
Next, immerse yourself in the splendour of Leeds Art Gallery and enjoy paintings by British artists including Cotman, Constable and Gainsborough, then take in works from Italian and French masters Courbet, Renoir, and Signac. Don’t forget The Henry Moore Sculpture Galleries, which contain his works, plus sculptures by Jacob Epstein and Barbara Hepworth.
Pro Tip: Stop for refreshments in the awe-inspiring Tiled Hall Café. Not only are the cakes homemade and the coffee delicious, but the barrel-vaulted tiled ceiling is utterly gorgeous (a real Instagram favourite spot in Leeds).
Grade I listed, the Corn Exchange is one of England’s most elegant Victorian-era buildings. Constructed between 1861 and 1863, following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, Leeds Corn Exchange was an important civic building. Once a grain trading centre of national importance, with more than 160 corn merchants trading from the building, Leeds Corn Exchange thrived until the late 1950s, when trade declined dramatically.
Today, the building is a thriving retail hub filled with independent designer-makers, specialist retailers and foodie outlets under the breath-taking domed roof.
Stop awhile to browse for original, modern finds, local crafts, vintage inspiration and delicious food and drink. Special mention to HumPit for the best vegan food in Leeds!
Address: Call Lane, LS1 7BR
The Victoria Quarter is Leeds’ upmarket shopping haven. Victoria Gate was named the world’s best shopping centre at the MIPIM Awards in 2017. With its flagship John Lewis store, it’s a must-see place in Leeds, and not just for the high-quality shops and boutiques! Don’t forget to look up to check out the stunning geometric ceiling.
County Arcades and Cross Arcades
These two Victorian streets are the largest, most elaborate shopping arcades in Leeds. Begun in 1900, this sumptuous warren of shops replaced old medieval yards, Georgian shambles, and slaughterhouses.
In the 1990s, a glass roof supported by cast-iron arches was added. Today, County Arcade is one of the most beautiful parts of the city, with intricate marble tiled floors, intricate stonework, immaculate shops, and the most jaw-dropping ceilings.
Leeds City Markets, Briggate and The Headrow ***
The Headrow is the place to go to find many of Leeds’ top attractions. The pedestrianised Briggate area (Leeds original medieval market street) is also famous for its Victorian shopping arcades, many of them of architectural significance.
Explore the Grand Arcade (constructed in 1897) which houses many boutique shops, and take time to see Thorntons Arcade too, with its clock with four life-size figures. Queens Arcade opened in 1889 and is home to high-end designer and novelty shops.
If you’re a history buff, the Royal Armouries Museum is an absolute must-see, with arms and armour from across the world and through time. The extensive collection is spread over five floors of stunning displays.
Look out for the stunning six-storey “Hall of Steel”, the medieval armour, Far Eastern collection and the display of modern armour too.
Address: Armouries Drive, LS10 1LT
Leeds Industrial Museum, located just two miles west of Leeds city centre has transformed the former Armley Mills building (once the world’s largest woollen mills). Learn how wool was produced in Yorkshire from the 18th century onwards, and about the desperate conditions for the mill-workers. Discover more about Armley Mills here.
Address: Canal Road, LS12 2QF
Temple Newsam is a glorious 40-room Tudor-Jacobean mansion, set in a sprawling 900-acre park on the North-Eastern outskirts of Leeds. You’ll find Old Master paintings, furniture by Thomas Chippendale, and collections of Leeds creamware and silver at Temple Newsam.
The meticulously manicured grounds are a real treat, with masses of rose bushes and rhododendrons. Look out too for the working rare breeds farm – it’s one of the largest in Europe.
Address: Temple Newsam Road, LS15 0AE
Three miles north-west of central Leeds, you’ll find Abbey House Museum in the gatehouse of the ruined 12th-century Cistercian monastery, Kirkstall Abbey. Abbey House Museum includes reproduction houses, shops, and workshops showcasing life in Yorkshire through the centuries.
The picturesque remains of Kirkstall Abbey, which inspired the works of JMW Turner (Britain’s most celebrated artist) include a sizeable roofless church and a ruined tower. You’ll also see the part-preserved chapterhouse, refectory, kitchen, and other buildings. While it’s free to visit both the Abbey and its extensive grounds, there’s a modest admission charge for the museum.
Fun Fact: In the 18th and 19th centuries, before construction of the A65 road to Ilkley, the road connecting the two towns ran straight through the nave of Kirkstall Abbey! That’s why so much of the interior stonework is blackened.
Address: Abbey Walk, Kirkstall, LS5 3EH
Leeds was once the thriving nerve-centre for coal transport from the mines of West Yorkshire. Store yards and warehouses lined the Leeds Dock on the Aire and Calder Navigation. At the same time, canal barges travelled across the Pennines along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to Liverpool and the North Sea, until the demise of coal mining in the UK.
After falling into a state of dereliction, Leeds Waterfront has been generated into a thriving, vibrant place to live, work and visit. It’s a pleasant place to stroll, visit waterside cafés and bars, Leeds Art Gallery, The Tetley, Granary Wharf, and Brewery Wharf. The Waterfront is also home to the Royal Armouries Museum.
For a city spawned in the Industrial Revolution, Leeds is surprisingly green. The best parks north of the city are the 700-acre Roundhay Park (one of Europe’s largest city parks) and Golden Acre Park. Both parks offer beautiful lakeside and woodland walks.
In the south and west of the city, there’s 630-acres of Middleton Park, the most extensive ancient woodland left in West Yorkshire, or Gotts Park with its Grade II listed water fountains. Woodhouse Moor Park, the second most popular urban park in Leeds, is just one mile from the city centre.
If you’re feeling energetic, the Leeds Country Way is a 62-mile circular footpath around Leeds. It’s never farther than seven miles from the city centre, is mostly rural, and has fabulous views of the city. All of the start/finish points are accessible by public transport.
Further afield, the beautiful Yorkshire Dales beg you to lace up your hiking boots, try out some of the UK’s best biking trails, or treat yourself to a cosy pub lunch.
The city has a vast supply of top-notch restaurants to choose from – here are just a few favourites:
The Ivy ***
The ultimate “posh-nosh” destination in Leeds. If fine dining, coupled with stunning decor and oodles of class is what you’re after, The Ivy is the place to see and be seen. Book well in advance, as it’s a highly sought after eaterie. PS The loos are incredible!!
Address: Vicar Ln, LS1 6BB
If you’re hungry and you’re a meat-eater, make a beeline for Fazenda to get unlimited Brazilian barbecued meats carved straight onto your plate! Eat as much as you like from the six cuts of steaks, try the incredible pork collar and load up from the far-from-ordinary salad bar.
Fazenda is fabulous and very reasonably priced, but it’s not for vegetarians or vegans! The location at Granary Wharf is pretty unique too.
Address: Waterman’s Place, 3 Wharf Approach, Granary Wharf, LS1 4GL
One of the most popular eateries in Leeds, with excellent vegan options. Imagine a craft beer bar that serves fabulous Indian street food! Expect small snacks, entrees, appetisers, soups and a casual atmosphere. Bundobust is always buzzing, and the food is outstanding.
Address: 6 Mill Hill, LS1 5DQ
Pizza Fella ***
This is probably the most authentic Italian eating experiences in Leeds. The pizzaiolos craft simple Neapolitan-style pizzas from the most delicious dough, made from just four ingredients – Caputo flour, salt, yeast and water. Once you’ve ordered, watch the chef prove, hand-stretch and cook your pizza right in front of you. Pizza Fella treats you to pizza how it should be! It’s also delicious, and it’s ridiculously cheap!
Address: 114-116 Vicar Lane, LS2 7NL.
Leeds has some of the best pubs and bars in the UK! In the city, try the Head of Steam, the Lamb and Flag or The Palace, chillout at Browns or go for something more sophisticated at the Harvey Nichols 4th Floor Bar. For the best cocktails, try the Alchemist, the Botanist or the very stylish Maven. If you love live music, the Belgrave Music Hall and Bar is slightly bonkers but fabulous.
As Yorkshire’s capital of culture, Leeds has plenty of cultural attractions to tempt you. The most well-known are:
- The West Yorkshire Playhouse – the UK’s biggest production theatre outside London
- The Grade-II-listed Leeds City Varieties – the oldest music hall in the world
- Leeds Grand Theatre – an opera house that serves as home to Opera North.
- Hyde Park Picture House – a Grade II listed independent cinema with unique gaslights and Edwardian plasterwork.
Whatever the season, always expect rain, as Leeds “enjoys” typical Northern English weather. It’s usually warmest from May to September when temperatures typically range from 10-21 centigrade. It can get warmer, but don’t bank on it!
Springtime is beautiful in Leeds and the surrounding West Yorkshire country. It’s the best time to visit for beautiful bluebell woods, parks bursting with spring flowers and fields full of fluffy lambs.
Yorkshire summers (June to August) are warm and fresh, rather than hot and summertime is an enjoyable time to explore Leeds. Yorkshire winters, however, can be brutal, so you’ll need to wrap up well.
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Here’s a quick roundup of the main festivals that take place in and around Leeds, to help you decide when to visit.
- April: Harrogate Spring Flower Show
- May: Leeds Half Marathon
- June and July: The Otley Walking Festival, Opera in the Park, The Great Yorkshire Show and the Crime Writing Festival
- August: Leeds Festival at Bramham Park
- September: Leeds International Beer Festival (Craft beer and street food)
- October: The Leeds International Film Festival and Leeds Shakespeare Schools Festival
- November: the nights become turns multi-coloured as the city puts on Light Nights and tens of thousands gather at Roundhay Park for traditional “Bonfire Night” fireworks.
- December: German Christmas Market in Millennium Square and Christmas at Harewood House
As a cultural hub, Leeds also hosts the year-long International Concert Season
- Thackray Medical Museum
- The Dark Arches
- Central Library
- Cathedral, Minster and Ancient Churches
- Owl Trail
- The Time Ball Buildings
The Thackray Medical Museum has a fascinating collection of around 20,000 medical artefacts, showcasing the development of medicine through the ages. As soon as you enter the museum, be prepared for the sights, sounds and smells of Leeds in the 1800s!! “Blood, Pus and Pain” is the area where you’ll see lots of surgical instruments and the history of anaesthetics, antiseptics and penicillin, plus operating tables and iron lungs.
Don’t miss the displays of wartime medicine, dentistry, and childbirth through the ages.
Address: 141 Beckett St, LS9 7LN
Buses 16, 42, 49, 50, and 50A all stop right outside the museum.
Update: The museum is closed for a £4 million refurbishment, until October 2020.
No, this isn’t something from a Lord of the Rings movie or a Harry Potter tale! The Dark Arches is a series of subterranean tunnels running beneath the Central train station, where the River Aire flows. Illuminated in bright neon lights, the Dark Arches is also the route from the station to the hip, Granary Wharf area of the city.
Visit after sunset to capture the lights at their best, then stop to watch and listen to the roiling, churning river thundering through the dark tunnels before emerging into the light beyond the station.
Address: Dark Neville Street, LS1 4BR
A splendid Grade II listed building, dating to 1884 worthy of a visit to see the fabulous staircase, decorated with tiles, ironwork and carved animals. It’s an Instagram favourite and is truly lovely. While this is a good library, the real reason to visit is to see the impressive building itself (and do pop next door to the Tiled Hall, for cakes and a pot of tea!
Fun fact: The building has a portcullis!
Address: Calverley Street, LS1 3AB
St. John’s Church in New Briggate (built 1632-1634), is the finest of Leeds’ lovely churches. Visit to see the two naves, the original Renaissance rood screen, pulpit, and stalls.
There are some interesting hermaphrodite figures in the roof trusses! See if you can find them!
Address: 23 New Briggate, LS2 8JA
Take a moment to visit St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (built 1904); the riverside Church of Holy Trinity in Boar Lane (1727); and the large Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds, known as the Minster.
The Minster was originally a medieval church, rebuilt in 1841, making it Leeds’s oldest parish church. Visit to listen to the splendid choir and fine set of bells – the world’s first ring of 13 bells
Address: 2-6 Kirkgate, LS2 7DJ
As the Leeds coat of arms includes owls, the owl has become the talisman of the city. The Leeds Owl Trail features 25 decorative owls spread across the city, ready to b discovered. Remember to look up!
The Leeds Owl Trail is a unique concept that’s brilliant for Leeds. It enables both visitors and residents from all backgrounds to explore and experience our beautiful cityTom Riordan. Chief Executive Leeds City Council
Find the early 19th century Grade II listed “Time-Ball Buildings” at the bottom end of Briggate. Look out for the elaborate clock from 1865 featuring Old Father Time and the gilded time ball mechanism which was once linked to Greenwich and dropped at exactly 1 pm each day.
Address: 24, 25 and 26 Briggate
This itinerary draws from my experiences living and working in and around Leeds, of downtime enjoying the city and of time spent introducing family and friends to this great city.
24 Hours in Leeds: One Day Itinerary (The Essentials)
If you’ve just one day to spare to explore Leeds, the absolute must-see attractions are the Civic Quarter, the Corn Exchange, the Victoria Quarter and the Royal Armouries Museum. You should be able to manage all of these by early afternoon.
There are lots of places to stop for a bite of lunch along the way – I recommend the food court in the City Markets or trying one of the independent eateries in the Corn Exchange. After lunch, consider visiting Temple Newsam, Kirkstall Abbey or Armley Mills, or take a leisurely walk around the Waterfront area, before dinner.
48 Hours in Leeds: Two Day Itinerary (Quirky Bits and Tours)
If you have two days in Leeds, keep to the city centre for the second day, and focus on the less well-known and more quirky sights. There are also some excellent tours I highly recommend looking at – one of which is free!
Leeds has a rapidly growing reputation as a real food-lovers destination. The city is a melting pot of different global cuisines, packed to the ginnels with the freshest ingredients.
Leeds Foodies Tour ***
Meet outside the train station at 11:30 am for a 4 to 5-hour Leeds Foodies tour that takes you on a food adventure. You’ll eat and drink at six independent eateries, including a pub that’s more than 300 years old.
While learning about the venues visited, the dishes they create, and where they source their ingredients, you’ll discover the history of food and drink in Leeds and Yorkshire. I highly recommend this Leeds Foodies Tour: it’s a seriously tasty, entertaining way to spend an afternoon. Great if you’re travelling solo!
Leeds Brewery Tour and Beer Tasting ***
Leeds has a well-deserved reputation for producing quality craft beer. For fun touring and tasting with fellow beer lovers, the Yorkshire Brewery and Beer Tasting Tour is hard to beat. Meet other craft beer lovers and to get to know some of the big names and rising stars of the county’s craft brewing scene.
Lasts around half a day, and all-inclusive, you won’t have to worry about a thing on your tour (just make sure you have a hearty brunch before joining!!)
Leeds Kirkgate Market Heritage Tour ***
Kirkgate Market has a long history – this free tour shares the history of the market from its ancient beginning to the modern-day. You’ll visit a hundred-year-old barber’s shop, tucked away beneath the modern market, plus you get to visit the site of the first-ever Marks & Spencer store in the world!
Visiting the first-floor balcony to photograph the market from above is the highlight of the tour. (This area is no access to the general public, so the tour is the only way to get this view) I loved this tour and can’t recommend it highly enough! Book in advance on EventBrite.co.uk (search for Leeds Heritage Tours).
Emmerdale Tours **
Fans of British TV soap “Emmerdale” (set in West Yorkshire and made in Leeds), can choose from two tours:
The Emmerdale Studio Experience **
Step into the drama and discover behind-the-scenes secrets at The Emmerdale Studio Experience. See working and replica sets, discover industry secrets and get an insider look into how the cast and crew create the storylines in Yorkshire’s favourite soap. Then, head over to ITV Television Centre, to see more Emmerdale working sets!
Yorkshire Dales Emmerdale Locations Bus Tour *
Explore the famous filming locations of Emmerdale in the Yorkshire Dales, including the pretty market town of Esholt and the village of Otley.
72 Hours in Leeds: Three Day Itinerary (Beyond the City)
After two full days of exploring, you’ll probably want to escape the city for a while. On day 3, it’s time to get out of the city centre and explore the magnificent Yorkshire Dales.
Harewood House ***
Harewood House is a magnificent English country house that took 30 years to build (completed in 1771). Halfway between Leeds and Harrogate, Harewood House has Robert Adam interiors, beautiful Angelika Kauffmann wall and ceiling paintings, furniture by renowned English furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. More recently, you might recognise Harewood from the “Downton Abbey” movie!
Outside, the Capability Brown designed grounds include a 32-acre lake, a bird garden, and the remains of a 12th-century castle.
Address: Sandy Gate, Harewood, LS17 9LE
The National Coal Mining Museum ***
The location for the impressive National Coal Mining Museum is the former Caphouse Colliery. Learn how dangerous life was for miners at one of the country’s oldest coal mines (dating to the 1770s). The visitor centre has fascinating exhibits relating to the colliery’s long history. There’s also extensive information about how miners and their families lived.
The highlight of any visit is the 80 minutes guided underground tour. You’ll descend 140 metres down a pit shaft in a lift, to experience pit conditions first-hand. As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I found this trip both fascinating and sobering.
Address: Caphouse Colliery, New Road, near Overton, Wakefield WF4 4RH.
Harrogate: Britain’s Premier Northern Spa ***
Harrogate is an elegant spa town in North Yorkshire. The town became popular with British and European Royalty, thanks to the “medicinal” springs discovered in the 16th century. Many of the late Georgian and Victorian buildings remain today, making Harrogate an attractive town to visit.
Popular attractions include the RHS Gardens at Harlow Carr, Valley Gardens, the Royal Pump Room and the extensive Turkish Baths. There’s also a chance for great shopping in the elegant boutiques and antique shops. Last, but not least, no trip to Harrogate is complete without a trip to the spectacular “Betty’s Tea Rooms” for afternoon tea for a “fat rascal”.
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Where to stay in Leeds
Compared to average UK prices, hotels in the city offer outstanding value. Most visitors stay near the city centre. Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Leeds if you’re a first-time visitor.
Budget Places to Stay in Leeds
For budget travellers, there are plenty of 4-star hotels with rooms for less than £50 per night. I recommend Cosmopolitan if you enjoy a traditional feel and want to be central. Alternatively, Roomzzz ApartHotel offers excellent studio apartments and is only 15-minutes’ walk from the city centre.
Cosmopolitan Hotel: 2 Lower Briggate, LS1 4AE
Roomzzz ApartHotel: 2 Burley Rd, LS3 1JB
Mid-Budget Hotels in Leeds
The Art-Deco Queens Hotel offers mid-range value, and a superb location overlooking City Square. You can access the train station direct from the hotel, and the hotel is within easy walking distance of many top bars and restaurants.
Luxury Leeds Hotels
The Dakota is THE Premier hotel in Leeds and the best place for a luxury boutique hotel experience at a very reasonable price.
Address: 8 Russell St, LS1 5RN
If you prefer the convenience and privacy of luxury apartments, look at Quebec Luxury Apartments or The Chambers Serviced Apartments. Both are within easy walking distance of the top city centre attractions and entertainment hotspots.
Quebec Luxury Apartments: The Old Post Office, 3 Infirmary St, LS1 2HT
Chambers Serviced Apartments: 30 Park Place, LS1 2SP
Where to Stay Near Leeds
Both have an incredible food scene and plenty of trendy, friendly bars. Factor in about 40 minutes travel time, but it’s well worth it!
Getting to the city from Leeds Bradford Airport is straightforward. The easiest method is to pre-book a car to Leeds city centre. At approx. £49 per car, it’s reasonably priced and so much nicer than waiting in a long queue for a taxi or bus.
You can also get taxis from the queue at the arrivals hall or catch the regular “Flying Tiger” bus service (number 747) to Leeds central bus station. The journey takes between 41 minutes and an hour, depending on traffic.
How to travel around Leeds
Leeds is a safe, walkable city, with most of the top attractions located within a small, central area.
The city enjoys cheap, reliable buses, and excellent train connections to the rest of the UK. Alternatively, pick up a taxi from the train/bus station, and there are plenty of Uber drivers in the area. Forget the car and rely on public transport!
Where to Next in Yorkshire?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this extensive post introducing you to Leeds. If you’ve got four or more days to spend in the city, why not consider a day trip to explore more of Yorkshire? Here are some ideas to inspire you:
- If you’re looking for the most Instagrammable places in Leeds, this detailed guide will provide inspiration and locations that might surprise you.
- This guide to a weekend in York has everything you need to know for a trip to York, including what to do, where to go, and where to eat and stay.
- Knowing what to do in a new city after dark is an essential part of travel planning. See this guide to what to do in York after dark for lots of tips.
- For advice on day trips from York, we’ve also got you covered. See our guide to visiting Harewood House, one of the UK’s most elegant stately homes, and the location for the “Downton Abbey” movie.
- We love to mix travel with literature. See our guide to visiting Haworth, the home of the Bronte sisters, to understand why you should visit this beautiful, historic Yorkshire village as soon as you can.
And that’s it for our Leeds Itinerary.
As always, if you have any questions or comments about this post, or you’d like more tips about visiting Yorkshire in general, pop them in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you!
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Have you been to Leeds? What did you think was the best thing to do or see? Did you stay in the city or venture into the countryside too? Have I missed anything from this guide that you would like to see? As always, I love to get your feedback and comments x