Only In Leeds – 10 Unique Experiences You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

18th June 2021

Leeds is a city filled with unique experiences. Across art and culture, food and drink and sport and retail, we’re well known for doing things a little differently. It’s an attitude that defines our city, and the people who make it tick.

So we’ve put together our Top 10 experiences you won’t find anywhere else – the sights and sounds, history and stories, tastes and discoveries that you can use to fill your visit to the brim with action packed originality.

Once you’ve found a few that take your fancy, why not upgrade your trip… on us! You can now stay in Leeds for longer, all thanks to the Be Our Guest offer – with 12 amazing hotels offering your third night free when you book two. That means an extra 24 hours to pack in a few more unique experiences, so there’s no excuse not to take them up on it. So get booking.

Valentine's Menu at home - The Owl

1 – Eat Michelin-Recommended food in a Victorian-covered market 

You might expect Europe’s largest covered market – Kirkgate Market – to be the place to go for your weekly shop. And you’d be right, because the traditional greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers are out of this world. But you can also sit down for a Michelin-recommended gourmet meal at The Owl, the sister restaurant of celebrated fine dining destination Home. Truly exceptional cooking which, unsurprisingly given its location, goes big on great British produce. Check out the menu.


2 – Find yourself minutes away from the world’s most stunning countryside

We might be a little biased, but the Yorkshire Dales might just rival anywhere on the planet for their majestic beauty. And it’s right on our doorstep. In a little over half an hour, you could be climbing the heights of Otley Chevin, roaming on Ilkley moor, or taking to two wheels to recreate the drama of the Tour de France. It’s one of the nation’s true outdoor treasures, and a National Park that’s not to be missed. Get out there.

Leeds Town Hall - credit Carl Milner Photography for Visit Leeds

3 – Listen out for the clock that never chimes midnight 

Our Cuthbert Broderick-designed Town Hall is well worth a visit for all sorts of reasons – it’s a great example of the inspiring Victorian architecture Leeds is famous for. But it’s the clock atop the tower that provides the strangest attraction. It never chimes at midnight, and local legend says that the bongs would wake the sleeping stone lions on the plinths beneath. But it’s not the only strange timepiece you might come across. There’s the Robin Hood band telling the time in Thornton’s Arcade, for one. Then over in the Grand Arcade, a clock built in 1898 rotates five crafty figures when it strikes. It’s also a handy place to explore some of Leeds’ best loved independent retailers. Take a look.

4 – Catch a film in century-old cinema

Leeds is a true cinema city – Louis Le Prince shot the world’s first film here and Leeds International Film Festival brings thousands of dedicated cinephiles out in force every year. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the artform is by heading to Cottage Road Cinema, a century-old independent cinema beloved by locals and visitors alike. It’s the oldest continuously operating picture house in Leeds, so you can enjoy an authentic cinema experience from the glory days of Hollywood. See what’s showing.

MS Kirkgate market stall - The Marks & Spencer Company Archive

5 – See where it all started for Marks & Spencer 

Retail giant Marks & Spencer has been a mainstay of the British high street for decades, with plenty of us relying on the historic department store for everything from a lunchtime sandwich to a three piece suit. But it all started in Kirkgate Market, with Michael Marks’ original Penny Bazaar. Over 100 years later, the stall is back! The heritage outpost offers a range of gifts and coffees, situated just metres away from the brand’s original location. There’s also an M&S Heritage Trail to explore, and the M&S Company Archive at the University of Leeds if you fancy diving into a little retail history. Find out more.

From Couch to Chorus returns with Sing into Spring. Photo credit Bill Cooper

6 – Hear an aria from an award-winning opera company

Leeds is proud to host its very own resident national opera company, Opera North, the only one outside of London. Their work is renowned for being bold, innovative and rooted in the north, covering everything from the traditional operatic canon to works by contemporary composers and writers. Their diverse programme is always worth investigating, and though most productions find their home at the historic Leeds Grand Theatre, you could find the chorus popping up in a floodlit Kirkstall Abbey, or busy Millennium Square. Explore the programme.

Cocktails - Jo Ritchie for Visit Leeds

7 – Sip on an award-winning cocktail in the UK’s best bars 

Leeds might be famous for its brewing heritage, and for pioneering craft beer, but we’re also a world-beater in the cocktail scene. Whether you like a classic pour, or a totally contemporary concoction, four of the UK’s Top 50 Cocktail Bars will be happy to help. There’s The Hedonist, Jake’s Bar, Below Stairs and Watermark – plus Lawrence Woodrow-Smith, the UK’s Best Bartender, at Roland’s. So you know your drink will be in safe hands. Get sipping. 

Thackray Museum of Medicine - credit David Lindsay

8 – Uncover the incredible history of medicine 

In a city well served by intriguing museums and galleries, Thackray Museum of Medicine stands out as a place like no other. Housed in a Grade-II Listed former workhouse, the recently refurbished museum tells the tale of health and medicine from the grimy streets of Victorian Leeds, through to the medical innovations of the 20th century and beyond. There are grisly details and astounding stories to uncover throughout, with something for all ages to enjoy. Plan your visit.

You & Me, Me & You by Anthony Burrill – Carl Milner Photography for Visit Leeds

9 – Take to the pavements for record-breaking street art 

If the idea of a traditional art gallery doesn’t quite do it for you, or you just fancy a change from experiencing creativity within four walls, then the Leeds street art scene has exactly what you need. A good place to start is Athena Rising, the UK’s tallest street art piece, which towers over New Station Street reaching a height that tops the Statue of Liberty. Then there’s artist Anthony Burrill’s new piece, You & Me, Me & You, on the banks of the River Aire. Find them all, and more, on the Leeds Street Art Trail.

10 – Hark back to a time when Hippos roamed the Headrow 

It sounds unbelievable, but there was indeed a time when one of the world’s largest waterborne mammals splashed about the streets of Leeds. Luckily for visitors and locals alike, that time was around 130,000 years ago. But the prehistoric hippo bones dug up on the streets of Leeds by Victorian workmen have found their way to Leeds City Museum, where you can see them alongside a huge variety of other artefacts and exhibitions that tell the story of our home. Pay them a visit.