The Ultimate Guide to Leeds this Festive Season

18th October 2021

As Christmas draws nearer, now’s the perfect time to start planning a fun filled festive city-break. Leeds gets into the Christmas spirit in fine form, so if you’re plotting a trip to the city this holiday season there are loads of opportunities to throw on a Santa hat, grab a mince pie and get merry.

Here’s our guide to the city’s most beloved Christmas hangouts. Whether you’re visiting as a family, a foodie, a culture seeker or a shopper there are a sack full of Christmas classics and brand new experiences that are bound to become Leeds Winter Favourites too…

For families…

Make your little one’s dreams come true this Christmas in Leeds with a trip to The Christmas Experience at Lotherton. It’s a rare chance to meet the big man himself, and families can book a magic-filled trip to Santa’s Grotto to make memories that will last a lifetime. Plus, this year sees Mrs Claus and the elves arrive at the stately home, getting busy decorating gingerbread in the Grand Hall. Why not join them?

For those who fancy a winter walk, the new woodland path at Lotherton is a route well worth exploring. Or else head to another cultural highlight, Harewood House, to take in the dreamy Christmas scenes surrounding the stunning Georgian estate, especially when the air’s crisp and clear – or there’s snow carpeting the ground. Harewood House is turning up the wonderment this year with a brand new Christmas tale, created by connoisseurs of make-believe Lord Whitney, which brings to life a little girl’s festive wish. So seize your chance to set out on a journey of the imagination fit for all the family. 

And don’t forget that all important Christmas List – whether your kids have been naughty or nice, we reckon Santa will want to know what they’re after. Luckily, Mr Claus has popped festive postboxes all over town. You can mail Christmas wishes direct to the North Pole at Victoria Gate, the Merrion Centre and Trinity Leeds. It’s also a great chance to browse the festive markets and stalls which pop up all over the city, picking up a few gifts and baubles in the process. You never know, you might find something Santa needs to know about! 

This year will see not one but two festive tipis nestled in the city centre promising cosy vibes, twinkling lights, festive food and drinks and Christmas cheer in abundance. 

Looking for somewhere that the whole family can enjoy? Head down to the Tipi for a family friendly pop-up on Briggate. It’s a brand new, Instagrammable space where everyone can relax with cosy festive vibes after a busy day of Christmas shopping. 

To keep the whole family entertained, a free festive themed family trail will be taking place around key locations across Leeds city centre. A digital and printable map will be available to help to take you around the sites and will be guaranteed festive fun to keep everyone into the Christmas spirit. Keep an eye out for more details coming in early November. Discover more festive events here.

For foodies…

It’s all about cosying up with friends at THOR’s Tipi in Victoria Gardens, an unbeatable location for festive fun – right outside Leeds Art Gallery, with all the excitement of the city on its doorstep. From the 19th of November the Viking-inspired hangout will bring serious festive vibes to the Headrow, including Hygge-style mulled beverages, tasty food and crackling fires, surrounded by a winter garden bedecked with Christmas trees, twinkling lights and those all-important heaters. 

If you’re looking for somewhere new to try out the latest festive cocktail, pop down to the Tipi on Briggate to quench your thirst all while soaking in the cosy Christmassy atmosphere. Or you can even bring your favourite Christmas snacks and bevs to enjoy too. 

The ever-popular Chow Down street food market will also be returning with a brand new Winter Village, serving up festive foodie treats from 11th November. The street food pioneers will transform the railway arches it calls home into a cosy, tasty winter wonderland with brand new food and drink residencies and some cracking themed bottomless clubs, which are sure to be a sell-out experience. Grab your tickets because we predict a sellout!

If you like to work for your Christmas calories on the other hand, then you can get those legs moving at the open-air ice rink and igloo bar on Millennium Square. Strap on your skates from the 26th of November and make nice with the ice before getting merry at the city’s brand new sub-zero drinking establishment for some festive refreshments and December delights from the wide selection of street food stalls.

As Leeds is known as being the ‘Foodie Capital of the North’ it’s no surprise that all the fabulous restaurants and bars will be bringing out all the festive treats and speciality Christmas menus this season. Whether you’re looking for the perfect place to host your Christmas party or the best Christmas roast with all trimmings or a cosy rooftop to enjoy a festive cocktail, Leeds has got you covered. Find out more here about the delicious festive food on offer.

For culture seekers…

There’s another brand new Christmas attraction on offer at Temple Newsam – an after-dark illuminated trail in the grounds of the beautiful Jacobean stately home, which is a pretty festive place even without the lightshow! Think sparkling tunnels of light, giant baubles and trees lit up with wintery splendour. Grab a spiced mulled wine or a luxury hot chocolate to keep you warm on your walk, and make sure to book ahead because it’s bound to be popular.

For many, Christmas is all about the shows – something Leeds does like nowhere else. 

This festive season, Carriageworks Theatre will be presenting Aladdin from 26 November until 9 January. Theatregoers will be able to enjoy a GENIE-us production full of singalong tunes, spectacular dance routines, dazzling costumes and laugh-out-loud jokes guaranteed to have you rolling in the aisles. 

Also on show this November, Northern Ballet will be putting on a unique performance of Merlin, inspired by the mythical wizard and guaranteed to delight locals and visitors alike. 

Special to Leeds’ Winter Favourite, Alive and Kicking presents Open For Christmas! A free child friendly pop-up Christmas performance at Leeds Kirkgate Market. The first performance will take place on 2 December with following shows on 11, 18, 19, and 23 December. 

If you’re a music lover, Opera North together with South Asian Arts-UK are celebrating the Winter Solstice with a musical and visual show at the newly Howard Assembly Rooms – a hidden gem of a concert hall –  on the 21st of December. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the festive season, and a great opportunity to take in a show before hitting the town for a festive tipple or bite to eat.

Over at City Varieties Music Hall, where the restored Victorian decor makes for festive surroundings, you can catch a panto with a difference. ‘Beauty and the Beast – The Rock ‘n Roll Panto’ packs in the cheesy gags, with a jukebox full of classic rock anthems for good measure. There’s magic sprinkled over Leeds Playhouse too, where families are set to enjoy a captivating production of ‘Wendy & Peter Pan’. Second star on the right, and straight on to Leeds.

Find out more here about all the festive shows taking place this winter season. 

For shoppers…

Leeds’ independent spirit is alive all year round, but the city’s indie offering really comes into its own for the festive season. Who wants a cookie-cutter Christmas, after all? This winter there are markets and stalls popping up all over the place, so you can grab some Christmas goodies in between trips to the panto or the ice rink.

Stop by Leeds Train Station, Artsmix on Albion Place, the Farmers Market on Briggate and Dortmund Square, or head to Kirkgate Market, the largest indoor market in Europe, which brings speciality markets featuring art, crafts and collectibles, advintageous vintage fairs, Leeds Records and Book Fair and Art House Art Fair.

And of course the home of independent retail, Leeds Corn Exchange, will be supporting small and independent businesses this festive season with six food and drink stalls making their way to its concourse, as well as the return of the ever-popular Mahogany Market, whose merry shopping experience will see a 18 black-owned businesses take over the buildings beautiful basement level with unique gifts made with love and passion. Find out more here 

Stay a little longer 

With plenty of festive events and activities taking place in Leeds this Christmas season, there’s plenty of reasons to stay a bit longer, make a weekend of it or plan a festive city break. We have 48 hour and 72 hour itineraries if you’re looking for even more things to do, places to explore and tasty food to eat. 

However you decide to celebrate the festive season this Christmas, the city of Leeds has plenty to keep you entertained. Browse Leeds’ Winter Favourites and start planning your visit here.