Leeds is absolutely worth visiting, in fact, it’s becoming one of the most visited cities in England. This one-time industrial hub has worked hard to reinvent itself into a chic, modern city that now attracts people from all over the world.
Whatever you’re looking for from your city break: a chance to take in some culture, catch a live performance, dig into some history, have a shopping spree, or attend a festival, Leeds has got something for you. And even if you’re not a city lover there’s all manner of green spaces to explore, including the surrounding Yorkshire countryside.
We’ve laid out the top 9 reasons why Leeds is absolutely worth visiting, and why all foodies, fashionistas, culture hunters, and musos should head to this fantastic city in the north of England.
The Extensive Arts Scene
Art and culture lovers will be spoilt for choice in Leeds, where there are more galleries, theatres, and dance companies than you can possibly visit in one holiday. View 20th-century pieces at Leeds Art Gallery and contemporary work at brewery turned gallery The Tetley. Walk the street art trail, hunt for up-and-coming talent at independent showrooms, and visit the Henry Moore Institute, one stop on the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.
If performance is more your thing, then Leeds is well worth visiting. With a resident Opera and Ballet Company, four major theaters, an international concert season, and an abundance of smaller venues and independent companies, Leeds has one of the UK’s most acclaimed performing arts scenes outside London.
The city also prides itself on its inclusive art scene. Check out the leading contemporary dance company, Phoenix Dance Theatre, dedicated to celebrating multicultural Britain. Or look out for accessible shows such as the relaxed performances at the Northern Ballet designed for people usually uncomfortable with a theatre environment.
The Many Shopping Choices
Leeds is a retail therapy paradise containing the perfect blend of high street fashion, high-end boutiques, independent retailers, and quirky outlets.
Fashionistas should head to Trinity Leeds and then to the Merrion Center for all the big name brands. For something more eclectic, try the historic Corn Exchange, where you’ll find one-off indie vendors and creative outlets. Then hit up the famous Kirkgate Market, one of Europe’s largest indoor markets offering everything from vintage fashion to Asian bazaars to farmer’s markets.
Top off your shopping spree with a trip to the Victorian Quarter, where luxury brands such as Harvey Nicholls and Vivienne Westwood sit inside exquisite Victorian arcades filled with original mosaics and stunning stained glass ceilings.
The Historic Sights And Museums
Leeds is a thoroughly modern city, full of 21st-century activities and attractions. But for some experiences you can only have in Leeds, it’s worth visiting its many museums and historic sights.
For instance, have you ever seen a suit of armor made for an elephant? Well, head to the Royal Armouries and check one out! While you’re there, you can enjoy the interactive exhibits and child-friendly workshops. Train enthusiasts should take a steam train along the world’s oldest working railway. And anyone with a fascination for gore can head to the Thackray Museum of Medicine and see what operating theatres once looked like.
Take a trip out to the Abbey House Museum and walk down a recreated 19th-century street. Then visit nearby Kirkstall Abbey to explore the ruins of the roofless church and maybe take in an exhibit hosted in the lovely grounds.
The Greenspaces, Parks And Gardens
Leeds is a city that respects and protects its outdoor spaces. The most famous is Roundhay Park, one of the biggest city parks in Europe with over 700 acres of garden and woodland. Within the park, you’ll find lakes, adventure playgrounds, birdwatching trails, tropical animal houses, sports fields, and Roundhay Castle.
Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find Park Square, a popular spot for lunching office workers, and Woodhouse Moor, where the city’s many university students gather to lounge in the sun. You’ll also find several historic houses with grand gardens, such as Temple Newsam, where you’ll find a working farm surrounded by parkland. And the beautiful Harewood House standing in over 100 acres and home to bird gardens housing flamingos, penguins, and parrots!
The Variety Of Food And drink
Leeds is a city that likes to eat, and it is well worth a visit for any self-proclaimed foodie. You could dine out every night for a month and not make a dent in the eateries of this city.
Check out The Man Behind The Curtain for Michelin-starred cuisine or Crafthouse for delicious tasting menus. For something more budget-friendly, head to the multicultural food stalls of The Trinity or Kirkgate Markets. Check out the monthly street food feasts at the Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, and visit during the Indie Food Festival to really tempt your tastebuds.
Beer drinkers will love the many craft beers and Yorkshire real ales on offer. And even though the iconic Tetley Brewery is now an art gallery, it has a bar on-site, so you can still sip a pint of the good stuff in the historic place. And don’t even think about leaving this city without experiencing a good strong cup of Yorkshire Tea!
The Awesome Live Music And Nightlife
Leeds has a stellar reputation for music with the Kaiser Chiefs, Alt-J, and of course Mel-B, all originating there. This reputation continues with some incredible live music venues. From the massive O2 Academy to the cult venue of Brudenell Social Club, the Belgrave Music Hall, which promises all the fun of a festival, and the many independent venues hosting up-and-coming local bands.
Or head to Call Lane, where you can party till dawn on the city’s most famous nightlife strip. Here you can find everything from laid-back hangouts to late-night clubs. Rock n roll dive bars, lgbtq+ parties, secret cocktail venues, burlesque shows, student nights, rooftop lounges, whatever your night-out vibe you’ll find a venue to satisfy it in Leeds, a city that definitely knows how to party.
World Famous Festivals
You’ve heard of Leeds Festival, right? One of Europe’s most famous music festivals featuring all the biggest headliners of the rock, indie, and metal scenes? Well, it takes place every August bank holiday in Bramham Park, and is, quite frankly, epic!
But it’s not the only festival in town. Leeds has a fantastic calendar of year-round events just waiting to be enjoyed. Since 1967, Leeds has thrown Europe’s longest-running West Indian Carnival, featuring parades, masquerades, music, food, and dance. Leeds Pride attracts over 50,000 people each year, and the International Film Festival is the largest of its kind outside of London.
And no one should miss Light Night, the biggest arts and light festival in the UK. For two nights in October, the city is illuminated by giant light projections and art installations, and the streets are filled with performers. And the best part? Most of the events and attractions are free to enjoy!
All The Beauty Of Yorkshire
Leeds is known as the gateway to Yorkshire, and there are many beautiful towns and sights well worth visiting from the city. So why not head to the other stops on the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle? Celebrate 200 artists on a route that’ll take you to Wakefield, where you’ll also find a stunning cathedral and the ruins of a 12th-century castle.
Take a hike through the famous Yorkshire Dales. Wander along Ilkley Moor or visit Harrogate, a pretty little town filled with award-winning flower gardens. Or maybe hire a narrowboat and take a tour along the famous Liverpool and Leeds canal, the longest stretch of single waterway canal in the UK.
Whether you want to commune with nature or hop from town to town, you’ll find Leeds makes an excellent base from where to explore one of the most beautiful corners of England.
And It’s Easy On The Budget
Leeds is a brilliant city for budget-conscious travelers. Not only does your money go much further in the north of England than the south, but many of the activities and attractions we’ve mentioned here can be enjoyed for free! The city’s main art galleries and museums can all be entered for free, sometimes with just a charge for special exhibits. The green spaces can be explored without spending a penny, and some of the festivals host free shows and events. You can even enjoy the architecture of the city center and the Victorian arcades without opening your wallet, so long as you stick to window shopping!
This city’s thriving bar and nightlife scene caters to all budgets from high-end to student, and the many markets and street vendors will help keep food budgets low. Check out open mic or new talent nights at smaller venues to catch a free front-row seat to an up-and-coming star. And you can even get a ticket to Opera North for as little as £15!
So there you have it. Leeds is worth visiting for anyone who loves great food and craft beer, more art and culture than you can absorb in a month, beautiful green spaces, fascinating sights, buzzing nightlife, great shopping, and awesome music. And all in one budget-friendly city! Perfect.