Everything you need to add to your bucket list in Leeds in 2024
12th January 2024
How many can you tick off your Leeds bucket list in 2024?
Leeds has a reputation as a UK hotspot for culture and creativity: a vibrant city with music, art, culture, history and endless places to explore.
Whether you’re familiar with the city or you’ve never visited before, there’s always something out of the ordinary to explore. To kick start 2024 we’ve worked with The Hoot to create a useful Leeds bucket list so you can tick off a selection of the city’s best hidden gems and iconic landmarks.
Keep reading to discover new experiences and places to add to your Leeds bucket list in 2024…
Food and Drink
Leeds has character, there’s no doubt about it, and an abundance of historic venues, and this year there’s more to enjoy than ever. How many cities can say that the owners of the oldest pub are taking on a new challenge and opening up a food hall this year? And where else in the UK can you find to get a savoury blue cheese churro dish that looks like chocolate?
Good food in old buildings
The Empire Cafe opened in March 2022 and saw the transformation of a 120-year-old site down one of the city centre’s ginnels, and it quickly became a go-to for the who’s who of the hospitality scene. With wood-fired meats, an ever-changing menu of unique small plates (think Beef Carpaccio on a Gorgonzola Cracker, Baby Octopus and Tomato Ponzu) and a glowing review from esteemed food critic Jay Rayner, The Empire Cafe is a must-visit for those looking to try new flavours in 2024.
Whitelock’s Ale House is the oldest pub in the city, and has remained a popular watering hole for 400 odd years for good reason. There’s cosy corners by the fireplace and Sunday papers, with plenty of overspill space into the yard on long wooden benches with outdoor heaters.
Bruschetta is the perfect place to grab brunch in a building packed with history. Located slap bang in the middle of the Corn Exchange, grab yourself a cake and freshly-ground coffee or choose from the French-Algerian-inspired menu for brunch options like Margherita toasties, La Rue Des Rosiers (Pastrami Bagel) and breakfast croissants.
Street food and food halls
Northern Market has been welcomed with open arms to the city. Having been open just two months, the underground food hall serves up a host of pizza slices, falafel and shawarmas, banh mí and smash burgers, as well as local beer from Northern Monk brewery just half a mile away – it’s the perfect spot to shelter from the elements with a pint in hand.
Trinity Kitchen has a host of permanent lunchtime options (think Indian street food from Rola Wala, warming pho from Pho and burgers from popular northern joint Archie’s), but over the last few years, the space has welcomed five cars converted into food trucks to allow small businesses to operate inside the dining space for nine weeks at a time. Previous favourites have included cheesy chips from The Cheesy Chip Shop, tacos from Jimmy Macks and poutine from Spuds & Bros, so we can’t wait to see what Trinity Kitchen has in store for 2024.
Coming in 2024, White Cloth Hall is set to open as one of the biggest food halls in the city, taking over a Grade I listed site. Little has been revealed about the new site so far, but given its owners have developed Whitelocks Ale House, and more recently, the Meanwood Tavern just on the edge of town, this new opening is already a highly anticipated one.
The iconic Leeds Kirkgate Market also houses many of the most well-loved street food vendors in Leeds including Mr. Mackerel, Banh & Me and Fat Annies.
Fine dining options, made accessible
The Owl has rebranded for 2024 and introduced a wealth of new options that make the traditional menus more accessible. With Masterchef semi-finalist Liz Cottam at the helm, visitors can now expect to see Sunday roasts, brunches, taster menus for under £50 inside the now family-friendly waterside restaurant.
Leeds’ Michelin starred restaurant, The Man Behind The Curtain re-launching, to make way for the new site, Psycho Sandbar, opening early in 2024. The new venture will serve a “fish heavy” menu and move away from the current tasting menu format that Michael O’Hare has been traditionally known for.
Shear’s Yard uses seasonal produce to bring the city an ever-evolving menu that finds that beautiful sweet spot between sophisticated fine-dining options and accessible flavours (and prices) that the whole family can dig into. And if you need any more excuses to visit this year: in January, diners can taste a full three course menu for just £25 every Saturday 12-3pm throughout January.
Music, theatre and live events
The small venues hosting big names
Did you know that the Brudenell Social Club has more visitors each year than Leeds Festival? The 400-capacity venue has live music on almost every single day of the year and has become home to some of the biggest secret gigs in the country: Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs and Sir Tom Jones are just a few names to have graced the stages over the past few years.
The Wardrobe – one of Leeds’ best loved underground venues is celebrating 25 years of gigs this year, and has already curated a line-up of internationally acclaimed names and up-and-coming musicians to fill the year with. We’ve got Tom Odell in January, The Libertines in February and over 100 different comedians, artists and talks taking place inside the teeny 400-person-capacity venue.
As Leeds’ newest live music and event space, 2024 is the year to visit Project House. Located on the cusp of the city centre on Armley Road, the 1000-capacity venue has already welcomed the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club and Royal Blood within weeks of opening its doors – and the line-up for this year is just as exciting.
Leeds has always been a go-to city for festivals: with everything from food and drink to literature and, of course, music to choose from, there’s no doubt that these events would make it on to the 2024 bucket list. Here’s our top picks for the new year so far, with plenty more set to be announced later this year…
Offering a platform to the likes of Sam Fender, Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and Easy Life in their early days, this has always been the festival for spotting up-and-coming talent and this year is set to be no different. Live At Leeds is now in its third year of bi-annual festivities, with The Kooks, Declan McKenna and The Cribs already confirmed for 2024.
Also hosted at Temple Newsam just a day after Live At Leeds is Slam Dunk Festival. Renowned as one of the biggest alternative festivals for finding new breakthrough artists, the festival is returning to Temple Newsam for 2024, and is bringing names like You Me At Six, The All American Rejects and I Prevail to the fields for a day festival unlike anything else the city has to offer.
Obviously, as the UK’s fourth biggest festival, we couldn’t leave Leeds Festival off the list – it’s a local spectacle that brings over 100,000 people to the region over the August Bank Holiday weekend and is a true rite of passage, attracting thousands from across the North.. 2024 is shaping up to be an ideal time for newbies and long-time music lovers to head down: with more camping options than ever before (including eco camping and new glamping options), as well as a star-studded line-up with names like Fred Again, Lana Del Ray, Blink 182 and a special reunion from Catfish and The Bottlemen to look forward to.
Leeds is also home to Leeds West Indian Carnival: Europe’s oldest authentic Caribbean carnival, and it’s a must-visit for those wanting to experience the feel-good atmosphere that two-day event brings to the city. Filled with feel-good music that gets you on your feet, Carnival usually sees two days of celebration, with a parade following the beat of the drums from Potternewton Park around Chapeltown and Harehills.
A must-visit festival for 2024 will be Leeds International Festival of Ideas. The UK’s biggest festival of its kind promises to return in September, with big shoes to fill, following the eleven thought-provoking panels and fireside chats with the likes of Steven Bartlett, Bimini, Ruby Wax OBE and Christopher Eccleston that took place last autumn.
Big screens and even bigger stages
Leeds Playhouse is set to host the UK premiere for the latest Dolly Parton musical Here You Come Again this summer, as well as promising a jam-packed schedule with the likes of The Enormous Crocodile, Macbeth and following the success of its West End and UK tour, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe will be welcomed at the end of the year.
The City Varieties Music Hall is officially the nation’s longest running music hall (it even has a Guinness World Record), and the venue has really seen it all in its time. Performances from Charlie Chaplin, Russel Crowe and Houdini; annual pantos and there’s even rumour that back in the day a baby was born during a performance and given free entry for life: all of which you can uncover for yourself on your next visit.
If 2024 is the year you want to get into opera, Opera North’s Try it ON scheme is perfect for first timers: bag yourself two great seats for in the stalls for £20 and check out the likes of Mozart’s Così fan tutte; Rachmaninov’s Aleko or even a new production of My Fair Lady.
Following a successful renovation period, Hyde Park Picture House is open once again, and as the last surviving gas lit cinema in the world, it’s got to be a go-to for anyone looking to tick off iconic landmarks in the new year. Expect a range of indie and family-friendly movies across the year, with exciting film festivals expected to be announced for the second half of 2024.
The Leeds Town Hall is also currently undergoing mass construction, with a huge £1.8 million organ renewal project on the go. The work is something which has never been attempted on this scale before and requires painstaking details, but is hoped to reopen soon for all of Leeds and beyond to see.
Look up, look around
A city steeped in history
The Corn Exchange is a prime example of what beautiful architecture can look like even centuries on from being built. The building was originally used for trading corn (big surprise) but has since been transformed into an independent shopping haven across two storeys.
The Tiled Hall Cafe inside Leeds Art Gallery is one of the most photographed spaces in the city, and it’s got nothing to do with the paintings inside. What was once the main library reading room and sculpture court spent decades covered up before a renovation in 2007 revealed the incredible tiled ceiling that the space is known and loved for. Pop by for a coffee and cake before exploring the rest of the gallery in 2024 and experience the grandeur of the room for yourself.
The streets of Leeds were heavily influenced by Victorian architecture, and King Edward Street is one to stroll down and explore how buildings have been preserved over the years to keep the fascinating carvings and facades alive. From here, there’s easy access to the County Arcade, a 125-year-old shopping venue with a huge dome inside symbolising liberty, commerce, labour and art. The architecture of the arcades in Leeds rival those in any European city.
Looking for somewhere to rest your head? The Queens Hotel is the ideal spot to stay in if you’re looking to experience a space where history and contemporary amenities collide. Decorated in a beautiful Art Deco style, the hotel was originally built back in the 1800s as a flagship hotel for the Leeds train station, and holds the title of the first ever hotel to have en-suite facilities.
The 1904 Hall of Kirkgate Market is a great spot to grab a bite to eat in the new year and take in the wonders of the century-old building. Expect glass ceilings reaching to the sky and dark green features between fruit and veg stalls, traditional Thai eateries with tiny red tables and the first ever Marks and Spencers stand.
On a stroll around Leeds Dock, head around the corner of Coffee Synthesis, an award-winning coffee shop in a horse box to find famous faces all over the wall. The Clarence Dock mural shows Olympic medalist Nicola Adams, humanitarian Sue Ryder and playwright Alan Bennett as a reminder of what incredible homegrown talent Leeds has nurtured over the years – and acts as a great reminder for anyone that’s set New Year goals to keep going: none of these individuals became household names with record achievements overnight, it took years of practice and dedication in their respective fields.
The walk back into the city centre shows off another must-visit mural: the Me & You by Antony Burrill. Not only is it a great photo op, but relays a message of hope and unity that was popularised during lockdown. The mural now continues to remind us in this post-pandemic world that we’re never alone, in huge 88ft letters.
Overlooking the back of the train station, make sure to look out for Athena Rising. Depicting the symbol of Leeds, there’s two owls sharing knowledge painted across 47 metres – the artwork took eight months of planning and 16 days to paint in total and can only be viewed from specific points around the train station – see how many angles you can spot it from as you come and go from the train station.
Over in the suburbs, Burley Banksy found fame in the most unlikely of places: painting electricity boxes. The artist shows off the city through anecdotal, local or social details, painting boxes to resemble quotes from music and TV shows, as well as important dates and times (usually football or cricket related) that immortalise homegrown talent through art. His idea was always to bring ‘a little sunshine’ to Burley, Headingley and surrounding areas and has since gone on to work in schools, collaborate with breweries and even has a pop-up store from time-to-time. We can’t wait to see if we can make a return for 2024.
In the new arty neighbourhood Soyo where Leeds Playhouse, Northern Ballet and East Street Arts are all based you’ll find an iconic piece of Street Art ‘Echoes’ by Add Fuel. Painted on the two-storey gable end of a former pub in Mabgate, Leeds, the mural celebrates the area’s important ceramics heritage and was commissioned as part of Leeds year of Culture 2023.
See our Street Art Trail for more.
Escape to the country
There’s easy access from the city centre to the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales, and travel to all of these sites can cost as little as £2 on First buses.
Brontë Country combines the best of a world gone by and some of the most exciting contemporary foodie spots. Haworth is home to 2022’s ‘best roast in the UK’ at The Hawthorn, the original home of the Brontë family, which is now The Brontë Parsonage Museum as well as easy access to the rugged landscapes that inspired some of the family’s classics.
The Piece Hall might be known nationally as a standout open-air live events venue, but there’s plenty more to it than just music. The Grade I listed former Cloth Hall has two storeys of indie makers, regular markets, as well as a whole row of bars and restaurants on the ground floor, perfect for watching the sun go down in after a day exploring Halifax.
Hebden Bridge has made titles to its name: home of Happy Valley, childhood home of Ed Sheeran, the setting for Ted Hughes poems (the poet was born in nearby Mytholmroyd) ‘fourth funkiest town in the world’ and the lesbian capital of the UK – and as such there’s plenty to explore here. Green fields perfect for long dog or alpaca walks (yes, there’s an alpaca farm); quaint cafes to meet friends; breweries and pubs to while away the colder nights and everything in between.
Those looking to get outdoors more in the new year, a trip to the north of the city is a must. The Otley Chevin has a ten-mile circular route that’ll take you wandering through over 700 acres of woodland to stunning viewpoints overlooking the Wharfe valley. Meanwhile, the Cow and Calf Moor in Ilkley has plenty of hill climbs for those wanting to challenge themselves, and a namesake pub at the end to have a well-deserved pint in.
For more inspiring day trips see our Explore Further pages.