New to Leeds? Here’s our top 10 things to do!
5th September 2022
It can be hard moving to a completely new city. It’s difficult to know whether it will match up to your expectation, or whether you’ll have a good time. But trust us when we say Leeds will blow you away! Here we’ve rounded up the top ten things to do in Leeds (although there are many many more).
The Corn Exchange
The Corn Exchange is an iconic part of Leeds history and features a range of cool and quirky independent shops and restaurants. Take On the Wall for example, an art print and poster shop where you can find prints of all sizes of your favourite artwork, films and musicians. They also offer a bespoke framing service to give your new poster an extra sleek look, the perfect addition for your new room! Or Chinese Laundry, a vintage shop featuring only the finest vintage clothing, handpicked from collections from the US and Europe. Make sure to visit if you want to be the most stylish in your accommodation. Or Giant Kitten, the one-stop-shop for all things kitsch and cute, from clothing to candy to gifts to toys. Or finally Owt (owt is Yorkshire slang for anything), a restaurant that bases its menus around local, seasonal ingredients, sourcing its produce from Kirkgate Market to make its delicious dishes. Go for lunch from Wednesday through Friday, or book for dinner on Thursday when the Corn Exchange is open until 9pm, an ideal place to take your new flatmates!
Kirkgate Market is a local’s favourite, hosting over 600 stalls that offer everything including plants, jewellery, crystals and incense, records and CDs, cosmetics and baked goods, making it an amazing place to get lost and explore when you first arrive. It is the largest indoor market in Europe, opening in 1857 with ornate art nouveau architecture designed by Joseph Paxton. The exterior features grand domes, lanterns and spires whilst the interior features glazed glass ceilings and detailed metalwork. Look out for the owls that form part of the architecture as they are an iconic part of Leeds history – a feature on the Leeds coat-of-arms since 1626. Iconic British store Marks and Spencer began in Kirkgate Market in 1884 and was known as Marks’ Penny Bazaar as they sold everything for a penny. Their original store is still there today!
The food court is justifiably popular, featuring cuisines from around the world, such as Fat Annie’s, a completely vegan burger and hotdog joint, Manjit’s Kitchen, an award winning vegetarian Indian street food stall, Bánh & Me, a fresh and authentic Vietnamese street food café or Jenny’s Jerk Chicken, serving healthy and delicious Jamaican classics.
Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute
The Leeds Art Gallery is a flagship gallery that holds a significant collection of contemporary art, featuring many compelling and diverse collections. The lower floor has collections of Victorian art, sculpture and temporary exhibitions whilst the upper floor has collections of contemporary art and changing displays. Once you’ve looked around, visit the stunning Tiled Hall Café for a bite to eat. The Tiled Hall was originally the main library reading room, and from 1888 to 1941 it functioned as a sculpture court. It was renovated in 2007 with the help of English Heritage to reveal the original stunning Victorian design, which you can see today.
Or visit the Henry Moore institute next door, a gallery set up by Henry Moore to encourage the appreciation of the visual arts, especially sculpture. Find a diverse range of immersive art that deals with a wide range of themes and issues.
This tranquil area of Leeds is only a 20-minute walk from the city centre, or you can take the water taxi from the train station at a cost of only £1! This takes you along the river Aire and past important landmarks like Leeds Bridge, where the first ever film was created by Louis Le Prince in 1888. Once you get to the dock, take in the majesty of the Royal Armouries, the sister museum to The Tower of London which houses the UK’s national collection of arms and armour. Catch a live combat demonstration where the live interpretation team show you how the arms and armour would have been used in years gone by – and all of this is free. Once you have finished at the Armouries, walk past Armouries Square where you will find independent bakery Nova and independent coffee shop North Star Coffee Co., where you can grab a coffee and a bite to eat. Or walk back towards the dock where you can find Canary, a bar and kitchen serving locally brewed beers & spirits and an all-day menu. Sit on the terrace and enjoy a drink with a waterside view. They host quiz nights every Wednesday and live acoustic music every Sunday and are open from 10pm – 11pm every day.
This Cistercian monastery is one of the best preserved in Britain, and features incredible architecture and ruins loved by historians, artists and visitors alike. With free entry if you are a Leeds resident (you need to bring a proof of address like a bill or your driving license), it is the perfect place to come and explore and learn about the extensive history of Leeds. The Abbey is also surrounded by gorgeous green parkland on the banks of the river Aire, making it the perfect place to go for a walk or run, or even a picnic in the sunshine.
Greek Street and Call Lane
Full of bars and restaurants, Greek Street and Call Lane are always buzzing.
Call Lane is a well-known favourite unique to Leeds, distinguished by the independent venues that line its streets. With each bar offering different genres of music and vibes, you are spoilt for choice. Try The Backroom, a 1920’s speakeasy style bar that often feels like a club with the range of lively DJ’s it hosts, or If, a café offering coffee and sandwiches, bottomless brunches and on Friday and Saturday nights, cocktails, or Doner Summer, a completely vegan kebab shop.
Greek street is another well-known Leeds spot, but features more chain bars and restaurants, like Manahatta, a New York inspired bar with delicious food and cocktails, or Bar Soba, a vibrant diner-bar serving Southeast Asian street food and cocktails with cutting-edge music from local and international DJs, or Neighbourhood, a lively bar with art-covered walls and elaborate cocktails.
If family ever come to visit, make sure to recommend Dakota, a boutique luxury hotel offering elegant style and impeccable service. They also have a brasserie style restaurant and a bar with live music. If your family also fancy treating you, take them to the Alchemist, who serve theatrical cocktails and an all-day menu inspired by worldwide cuisine, or Crafthouse, with décor inspired by Leeds’ history and regularly changing seasonal menus.
Street Art Trails
What better way to explore a new city than to go on a trail? Why not discover some breath-taking art while you do? Leeds has lots of incredible street art dotted around the city created by renowned street and graffiti artists, making it perfect to explore. For example, you will find Athena Rising just outside of the train station on New Station Street featuring an owl (the city’s mascot), a crown and a moon. This piece is taller than the statue of liberty and was created by graffiti artists Nomad Clan. Then, hop on one of the yellow water taxis that will take you down to the dock, where most of the street art can be found. Look out for the Grey Heron which can sometimes disappear with the changing water levels of the River Aire, or the Barge next to it, which is painted in lots of colourful geometric patterns. Venture back into the city centre over Centenary bridge and pass the Calls, where you’ll find You&Me, Me&You and Paving the Way. You&Me, Me&You was designed by an alumnus of Leeds Beckett University, Anthony Burrill, and is a symbol of unity when the world has never felt more divided. Paving the Way commemorates Leeds own football club, Leeds United, featuring club legends Albert Johanneson and Lucas Radebe, with midfielder Kalvin Phillips at the heart of the wall.
These are just a few examples of many, and handily we already have a blog where you can read all about the art in detail, with a map to help you hunt them down.
For the Partygoers
Leeds is well-known for its lively nightlife, with a multitude of clubs to choose from. Each host a range of events and different sounds, from 2010’s nights, to indie nights, to drum and bass, to techno. Check out the student unions of Leeds for everything from comedy performances, plays, concerts and of course, club nights. The O2 Academy hosts Indie Thursdays, an indie night with the sounds of Sam Fender, Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, Blur, The Smiths, Oasis and many more with cheap drinks and even cheaper tickets. Wire on Call Lane is a popular spot with its house and garage event ‘Just a Little’ being very popular. Although slightly out of the way from Leeds City Centre, Beaver Works in Hunslet boasts sold out events of drum and bass to reggae. With an impressive sound system built into an old Victorian warehouse, Beaver Works has multiple rooms and two outside spaces, all of which make it a must-visit night out. If you are a part of the LGBT+ community Leeds has many gay clubs, the most notable being Viaduct Showbar, known for performances by drag queens and club nights until 5am.
For the Culture Lovers
There are plenty of options for other nights out in Leeds that are just as fun. Take Northern Ballet for example, who are performing a variety of shows at the Leeds Playhouse and Leeds Grand Theatre this year with reduced rates for students. Leeds Grand Theatre also hosts touring West End shows like Jersey Boys, The Book of Mormon and School of Rock. Leeds Playhouse is one of the most prestigious repertory theatres in the UK, and is going to host The Importance of Being Earnest, Much Ado About Nothing and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the coming months.
If you’d prefer something that has a similar environment to a club but isn’t so alcohol-fuelled, you could try Junkyard Golf in The Light, a crazy golf club with three 9-hole golf courses, or Roxy Lanes and Roxy Ball Room, also in The Light or on Merrion Street and Boar Lane, where you can play a range of fun games like air hockey, shuffleboard, American pool, curling and 10-pin bowling.
If you fancy a change from the urban setting of Leeds City Centre then you’re in the right place! Yorkshire is the perfect location for nature lovers as it is surrounded by beautiful, expansive green spaces, forests and lakes. Our favourites include Ilkley Moor, where you can hike to see gorgeous, extensive views of the Yorkshire Dales and beyond. Make sure to look out for the Cow and Calf rock formation on your way up and stop off at Betty’s tearoom for refreshments afterwards. Bolton Abbey in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales is another option, featuring rolling hills of cows and sheep, large woodlands and the tranquil river Wharfe. Must-see attractions include the stepping stones, a challenge that takes you over 60 stepping stones from one side of the river to the other, the Valley of Desolation, a breath-taking waterfall and the Priory church and the Augustinian priory ruins from the 1100’s. Our final pick is Saltaire, a UNESCO world heritage site built by Titus Salt in the Victorian period. It features immaculate architecture throughout the village, quirky independents and the lush Roberts Park. A particular point of interest is Salts Mill, an old textile mill that now acts as a contemporary arts space and a diner as well as a homeware, poster, art and book shop.
One you’ve ticked off these must-do experiences, head to our ‘Things to Do’ page for more inspiration: https://www.visitleeds.co.uk/things-to-do/