Shortlist symbol Add to shortlist button.

Let Leeds surprise you!

Find out what Emilie thought of her recent visit to Leeds:
Last week, I went to spend 4 days in Yorkshire, in the North of England. Even if York attracts most of the tourists in the county, I’ve chosen to discover Leeds, a hidden gem well-worth the hype. I will explain why (I have so many things to tell you!). Leeds’ charm/charisma mostly comes from its architecture dating back to the 19th century. Leeds was founded in 1207 but the city really flourished during the Victorian era thanks to the textile industry. Leeds city centre is a lasting example of the industrial heritage.
Leeds Corn Exchange
I am not sure if it’s because Leeds inhabitants were scared to get wet or if it’s only the architecture that was chosen at that time, but Leeds city centre is full of commercial arcades, a bit similar to the Covered Passages in Paris. They are structured around Briggate, the main commercial street in the centre. Most of them date back to the late 19th century. The ladies were able to go shopping without ruining their dresses in the rain. The most impressive and luxurious arcades are the ones situated in the Victoria Quarter. Sumptuous and finely decorated, they are now the home of luxury boutiques and designer stores. 
Just across the road is Thornton’s Arcade, named after the local brewer who first thought about covering the commercial street. It was the first one to open its doors in 1878. Designed in a gothic style, the arcade houses several coffee shops as well as boutiques. The clock is worth a look as it represents the characters of Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott) featuring Robins Hood amongst others.
The Corn Exchange is my favourite building in Leeds. It was erected in 1864 by Cuthbert Brodrick as the city’s “corn exchange”. Built in a circular shape, its open work dome used to allow merchants to take a close look at the corn without damaging the latter. With the corn trade declining from the 1950s, the building was abandoned. It was refurbished in the 80s and it reopened its doors in 1990 showcasing independent boutiques. An additional renovation took place a few years ago, in 2008. Offering crafty shops, local products as well as vintage boutiques, the Corn Exchange is an outstanding place, ideal to wander around and watch the time go by.
The Arcades
Kirkgate market was founded in 1857 but has only been covered since 1894. Renovated in 1904 in the Edwardian Style, it is now the biggest covered market in Europe with 250 stalls. There is something for everyone, from vegetables and fruits to candies and toys. The architecture is remarkable with steel decorated pillars. On a side note, I’ve discovered that the market is the place where Michael Marks opened his first stand in 1884 as a penny bazaar. It was the first business move of a small local company that is now known as the famous Marks & Spencer. The M&S stand has remained in the market.
Leeds Kirkgate Market
Trinity Leeds
I didn’t think I would ever say this but I loved the Royal Armouries Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’ve actually regretted not spending more time there. The museum is huge, impressive, playful and incredibly well done. Being the national collection, you find everything on the subject, from battle reconstructions, Waterloo soldiers, medieval and Asian armours to armed elephants, hunting weapons and police uniforms. You will even find Lord of the Rings swords! Kids would be amazed by the knives costumes. The Hall of Steel, housed in a glass tower, is full of hundreds of weapons, displayed on 4 levels. It is very interesting and it’s free!
The Headrow is one of the main streets in Leeds. It is surrounded by restaurants and shops, but most importantly, that’s where the spectacular Leeds Town Hall (1858) is located. It has been designed by Cuthbert Brodrick (the same architect as the Corn Exchange).
It is mainly used today to host events. Next to it is the library, the Visitor Centre, the art gallery (currently closed due to renovations) and its beautiful café ‘The Tiled Hall Café’.
Leeds Civic Hall
Leeds is what we would call a “shopaholic’s” paradise. Indeed, the small independent shops that I’ve mentioned above only represents a small part of the shopping area. Leeds is home to, believe it or not, more than a thousand shops. On Briggate, is the entrance to a modern glass-roofed shopping centre called Trinity. The Scottish artist, Andy Scott (sculptor of Kelpiesin Falkirk and Thanksgiving Square Beacon in Belfast) designed a packhorse statue that he named from the Latin ‘Equus Altus’ and a statue of the Roman goddess ‘Minerva’. They are a reminder of the city’s industrial heritage. A new shopping centre, Victoria Gate is due to open at the end of the year and will be located near to the bus station and Kirkgate Market.
Royal Armouries Museum
The River Aire flows through Leeds as well as the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Inland navigation enabled Leeds to develop itself before the railways existed. Nowadays, banks have been converted and docks and former factories have been regenerated. You can even take a small yellow water-taxi to travel the city from the Granary Wharf by the train station to the Royal Armouries. I had the chance to admire a panoramic view from the top of the Double Tree Hilton Hotel at the Granary Wharf where their cocktail bar the “Skylounge” is located. A little bit further, you get to see Leeds Bridge (the blue bridge made of steel). It is supposed to be on this bridge that the first moving-picture was captured by the French inventor Louis Le Prince.
Leeds Town Hall

Not far from the Headrow is Millennium Square where stands the Civic Hall and the Leeds City Museum. The Civic Hall is where the local council offices are situated. It is one of the only white buildings in Leeds along with the Quebecs Hotel and a few buildings on the Headrow. It was built in Portland Stone (whereas the rest of the city was mainly built in bricks and sandstones). In front of the Civic Hall are two golden owls, the symbol of Leeds. At the museum (designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, him again!), you can learn everything about the city, from prehistoric times to modern day (free entrance).

I didn’t know what to expect from Leeds but I really enjoyed my time here. Not much is included in tourist itineraries, yet Leeds has a lot to offer, and I hope I made you want to set foot in this great city.

Thanks a lot to Estelle from VisitLeeds for her advice.


Emilie Potard