Best Places to Visit in Leeds
Wondering where the best places to visit in Leeds are? Here’s your guide!
I love England, so when I received an invitation to visit Leeds, I, of course, said yes! Leeds is a city that is not so well known to many Dutch people. It’s located in northern England, between Manchester and York. This makes it a great destination to include if you’re visiting either city.
I did not know much about Leeds in advance, but when I arrived I was immediately welcomed by an urban city full of hidden sights, great restaurants, and endless streets of shopping. I spent a wonderful three days while I scanned the whole city and enjoyed the best that Leeds has to offer.
UK Travel Guides
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How to Get to Leeds
Leeds is super easy to reach by plane. You fly there in about an hour and 15 minutes from Amsterdam. I think KLM flies 3 times a day and Jet2 once a day. The airport you are flying to is Leeds Bradford, and from there it is another 20 minutes to the city center by taxi.
If you don’t want to take a taxi, you can book a private transfer.
You can also take the ferry to Leeds, then take the P&O ferry from Rotterdam to Hull. This goes at night, so you stay overnight on board. You can then take a taxi or train — both will be about an hour.
Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Leeds
Leeds Town Hall
The most striking building in Leeds may be its city hall. Leeds is bursting with Victorian architecture, including the Town Hall, built between 1853 and 1858. It is one of England’s largest town houses, and it’s as large as it is to portray a certain grandeur. For the longest time, it was Leeds’ tallest building.
Inside you will find a beautiful concert hall, the Victoria Hall, which is still used for concerts. If there are no concerts going on, and you ask, you can usually take a look. It is so beautiful!
Leeds Art Gallery
I don’t know who I am these days, but … I really like to visit art museums now! And when I saw that I had time to visit Leeds Art Gallery, I naturally took advantage of that opportunity. It’s also nice that any museums owned by the government are free to visit!
There are a ton of nice details, such a colorful stair case, and a richly decorated museum café. As for the art, it’s a mix of different things. For example, there is a large collection of English art, and it has both old paintings and modern abstract art (which I’m not as interested in). It is not super big, so within an hour, you can see everything.
Henry Moore Institute
Additionally, the Henry Moore Institute is located nearby. I honestly never heard of him, but he is apparently a famous English sculptor. In the Art Gallery you can see a statue of Moore. The institute revolves around promoting sculpture from all over the world, not just Moore’s works. The works of Moore are indeed very abstract and mostly human bodies. This museum is also free!
Leeds may not be the most beautiful city you’ve ever seen, but it also hides its gems on the inside and in the details. For example, enter one of the shopping arcades, which is a covered street. It is like stepping back in time to the 19th century.
The beautiful County Arcade is the most beautiful of all, decorated with curly ironwork and colorful mosaics. The shopping street opened in 1900 and nowadays you will find the most luxurious brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Mulberry and, of course, Vivienne Westwood.
Another nice arcade to visit is Thornton’s because of the clock inside, above the entrance. When the clock hits twelve o’clock in the afternoon, the figures move. The arcade dates back to 1878, which makes it older than County Arcade. This street has many original businesses, such as a barber and a comic store, where you get a real glimpse into Leeds.
Marks & Spencer Stall
If you have ever been to England, you will have heard from Marks & Spencer. The chain is all over every England, and there’s even one in the Netherlands. But the very first branch of Marks & Spencer? It is in Leeds, in Kirkgate Market. This market stall sold everything for 1 penny. The first official store of M & S opened in Manchester.
In addition to the beautiful arcades you will also find … Victorian architecture in the Victorian Neighborhood. Surprise, right? It’s nice to walk through. The center is so compact, you can hardly avoid it.
This is where you find the original Marks & Spencer. The covered market hall dates back to 1857, and is still a popular and economical place for locals to get their fresh produce. With more than 170 sellers, products from every corner of the world are sold.
Leeds Corn Exchange
My own favorite indoor retail market is that of the Leeds Corn Exchange. The dome is already towering above the surrounding buildings, but inside it is really much nicer than you think. In the past, maize was sold here, but now you will find a number of shops and cafes.
Just outside the center of the city center, Leeds Minster, also known as the Minster and Paris Church or Saint Peter-at-Leeds (quite a mouthful). At the same place as this church there was already a church in the 7th century, although the present church is a Gothic church from the mid-19th century.
You can not go to Leeds and miss the most famous museum in the city, do you? That is the Royal Armories, located at the Leeds Dock. The best thing about this is that you can go here for free with a ferry. And it’s not just a water taxi … no, it’s a Dutch water taxi!
Back to the museum: this museum has five floors full of weapons and armor and is therefore a must visit if you are interested in that history. It was, to be honest, not quite my thing, but I can see that it is a great collection.
I find nothing more fun than combining a city with attractions in the area. And so I took the opportunity to visit Kirkstall Abbey. By bus it is less than twenty minutes outside the city. If you come by taxi from the airport, this building will stand out. It is one big ruin of a gigantic monastery. It has been closed and abandoned since the 16th century, and has since fallen into disrepair.
Visiting the monastery is free, and you will find inside signs with information about life there and the layout of the building. I thought it was magical to wander through the ruins and imagine how life used to be.
In the surrounding park nowadays often events are organized, and I was lucky that I went in the morning, otherwise I would be flooded with people who went to a festival for children. It’s a bit of a pity because the neon inflatables do distract a bit from the atmosphere of this historical building.
My Favorite Restaurants & Bars in Leeds
Friends of Ham
It’s a nice cafe with good food. Perfect if you fancy charcuterie, cheese, or just a nice lunch. I had a delicious mashed avocado with poached eggs sandwich.
Wow, the food here is so good. Pintura focuses on Basque cuisine and especially tapas and pintxos. The building is super tightly decorated, and I ate the delicious (and affordable!) Lunch menu: I chose mussels, cheese croquettes and a tomato salad together with an Elderflower drink. Excellent! (left photo above)
I like original business, and Bundobust is really such a concept. You can order all kinds of small dishes that are inspired by the Indian street food scene. Since I like Indian food, I had to try this of course. I chose bhajis with all kinds of vegetables and a massala dosa. If you’re not a bit spicy food person, I’d would ask to make it less spicy. It was spicy even for me but still delicious.
Lost & Found
This is undoubtedly my favorite building throughout Leeds, when I walked in, my jaw dropped in awe. This listed building is one of the oldest in Leeds, and in the interior all original details such as the ceilings have been preserved. Fantastic art hangs on the walls, and there is even a “secret” bar. The toilets are also worth a visit, because they are also decorated in original style. The food was delicious; I had the salmon with caesar salad.
The coolest place to drink cocktails is Angelica. Even on a Monday night it was difficult to get a spot. Not surprising since you have great views of Leeds from here. You can find Angelica at the top of the Trinity Shopping Center. I had a delicious cocktail with vanilla and vodka, I believe.
Matt Healy x The Foundry
On the other side of the water, south of the center, is Matt Healy x The Foundry. This is a restaurant of former Master Chef candidate Healy. The menu serves a modern twist on British classics, and I enjoyed dishes like beef tartare with an onions cheese sandwich (OMG), a delicious steak, and a dessert with a beautiful macaron that was actually too good to eat. Excellent!
If you’re looking for the ultimate place for a high tea, then you’re at the right place at Crafthouse. This is also on top of the Trinity Shopping Center. I was served a beautiful platter with scones, cheese croissants, lemon blini’s with salmon, finger sandwiches, and desserts in the form of macarons and tarts. My favorite was the fruit tart, though really everything was delicious (including the glass of champagne). Hey … I had to try everything in the name of research, yes! ;-).
Where to Go Shopping in Leeds
Leeds has a number of large shopping centers that are worth a visit if you want to shop. In addition, you will find nice shops in the surrounding streets, and the aforementioned arcades.
Trinity Leeds is the largest and most popular shopping center. You also have a number of restaurants (as above from the list), and a cinema. You’ll also find plenty of large chains here.
Where to Stay in Leeds
I stayed during my city break in the Malmaison Leeds. Lucky bird that I hear, because I love the Malmaison chain myself. The chain has good hotels (the one in Leeds is four-star) and that for a nice price. I really love affordable luxury. This hotel has been decorated with great attention to detail, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. My bed … was really the best hotel bed ever. I did not want to get out of it. That also applied to the bathtub, which I soaked in after a day of sightseeing.
One of the mornings I ate from the continental breakfast, and for an upgrade of £2 I enjoyed a cooked breakfast (Eggs Benedict with salmon, my favorite).
The location is super convenient and within walking distance of everything: the train station, the center, and crawling distance from the gay bars of Leeds.
How to Combine a Trip to Leeds with Manchester & York
Leeds itself is not that big, and in a day or a half, you’ve seen everything there is to see. But what’s really nice about Leeds is its location. It is just about between York and Manchester. York is super charming with a historic city center, and can be reached by train in half an hour. Manchester is just big and industrial and can be reached by train in an hour. By car, you can easily get to Yorkshire Dales National Park or even the Peak District.
Of course you can visit Leeds for a quick weekend (great!), But how much more fun would it be to go a few days, and to visit all of the above places? Then you can easiest stay in Leeds, because that is in the middle (and you can immediately try all the nice restaurants on my list!). Great idea or not?
Do you have any tips for visiting Leeds?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe