Get away to lively Leeds and find out what makes this city an incredible minibreak gem. Imagine your ideal city break checklist. Amazing food and drink. Inspiring culture, museums and galleries. An abundance of attractions and adventures to keep the whole family entertained. An independent spirit, with sights and sounds you won’t see on every budding travel blogger’s instagram feed. All within easy, walkable reach of your welcoming hotel.
We reckon Leeds might just about tick every box. And a few more besides!
Let’s start with the getting there, and the getting around. Leeds is pretty much the epicentre of the modern North. Quick intercity trains run through Leeds Station from everywhere, there’s a shuttle bus from Leeds Bradford Airport every 30 minutes and the city is basically the end destination of the M1. It doesn’t get much more connected than that.
Once you get there, the real fun starts. Because Leeds might just be the UK’s most walkable city. The compact city centre means you’re never too far from the action. 20 minutes should get you pretty much anywhere, from big gigs at the first direct Arena, right down to the bustling cocktail bars and nightlife along the River Aire. Or a £1 Leeds City Bus journey will take you the circumference of the city centre on four wheels.
So what to do with that saved taxi fare? Turn it into something to eat. There are bags of outdoor dining options, including the bustling Chow Down street food market - running Thursday to Sunday plus Bank Holidays until October at Temple Arches, minutes from the station.
Or you can enjoy a unique view of Leeds’ fine Victorian cityscape from one of the city’s famous rooftop bars. Sip an Aperol Spritz at buzzing Headrow House, or a craft beer atop arty hangout Belgrave Music Hall as the sun sets. The former also hosts one of the city’s must-visit restaurants, Ox Club, where the best bits of Yorkshire’s enviable larder are grilled and smoked to tantalizing effect over coals from a sustainable local coppice.
That outdoor, blue sky attitude is something Leeds does so well, and there’s no better example than the annual Millennium Square Summer Series. The city comes together on balmy (and not so balmy) weekend evenings to enjoy live music from a diverse programme covering everything from orchestral film scores to the bleeding edge of indie. It’s a festival-style affair, complete with bustling bars, street food trucks and even - for those not heading to an upmarket dinner reservation afterwards - fancy dress.
But why should we let the locals have all the fun? Leeds has one of the best hotel line-ups outside of London, so it would be a shame not to take advantage for a few nights at least. In the interests of convincing you to stay a little longer, the city’s hospitality community have come together to launch #BeOurGuest, a scheme offering a third night for free when you book two from Sunday to Thursday. The offer covers 12 top hotels, including stylish Malmaison and resort hotel Oulton Hall. It would be rude not to, right?
An extra day means more time to explore, and more time to discover the stories that make Leeds a city to rival any for personality and passion. Top tip - Let a local do the legwork. Given the city’s walkable geography, it’s no surprise that there are walking tours, trails and guides catering to all tastes. In some cases, quite literally.
You can choose food walks taking in the city’s historic Kirkgate Market and independent street food scene, beer tours stopping off at internationally renowned craft breweries, or routes that visit Leeds’ many galleries and exhibitions. Another intriguing option is the Leeds Black History walk, meeting at the University of Leeds Parkinson Building Saturdays at 11am between the months of April through to October. The tour tells the unseen stories of Yorkshire’s African community, from ancient history and empire through to contemporary identity.
If you’d prefer to head indoors, Leeds boasts a cornucopia of museums, galleries and attractions. You can take in one of the nation’s best collections of 20th century British art at Leeds Art Gallery, alongside an enviable collection of classics. Where else can you take in the stunning Victorian landscapes of J A Grimshaw, then turn around to find yourself face to face with a Damien Hirst sheep preserved in formaldehyde? And don’t leave without popping into the seriously beautiful Tiled Hall for a cup of Darjeeling and a homemade cake. It’s a little grander than your average high street chain coffee shop, that’s for sure.
Leeds’ storied history, both social and industrial, can be uncovered at Leeds City Museum, with a collection that spans everything from Ancient Egypt to the fascinating history of Leeds. Or you could take in the double bill of the Royal Armouries and Thwaite Watermill. Start by jumping on a river taxi at Leeds Station, which will deposit you at the recently regenerated Leeds Dock. From there, you can explore the stash of arms, armour and military paraphernalia at the Royal Armouries.
But don’t leave without a flat white from local roastery North Star, and a Banana Fluffin (trust us, it’s unmissable) from artisan bakers Nova. Then it’s a 15 minute stroll along the meandering River Aire to Thwaite Watermill, where you’ll be met by the museum cat, Milly. There’s lots to learn as you explore the nooks and crannies of the restored mill, and make sure not to miss live demonstrations from the engineers and craftspeople who bring the venue to life.
There’s a lot in there for children already - what with swords, Fluffins and cat stroking - but why stop there? One fun way to get your bearings is to follow the Leeds Owl Trail. There are 25 curious birds to spot in and around the city, from Victorian bling to contemporary sculpture, but you’ll need to keep your eyes open. There’s a free map available online, or you can pick one up for £1 from Leeds Visitor Centre underneath Leeds Art Gallery.
Last but not least, this wouldn’t be a 2021 travel recommendation without a reference to safety. The genuine community spirit that makes Leeds so special has also driven a positive, collaborative approach to Covid-19 safety. Businesses and attractions are working together to provide all the outdoor space you need, whilst instituting stringent measures to keep you safe whilst you explore the city. Look out for the ‘We’re Good to Go’ mark, recognised by VisitEngland, as proof that your must-visit locations are doing everything they can.
If all that has got you Leeds-curious, then it’s time to start planning your own itinerary. You’ll find everything you need at www.visitleeds.co.uk - the city’s tourism hub - including handy suggested line-ups for 24, 48 and 72 hour trips. The site covers off what’s on, where to stay and hosts a wealth of content to feed your thirst for travel-based inspiration.
Top image: Footbridge across the Aire River in West Yorkshire, England © Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock
Nell Miller is a travel blogger and foodie, who has been eating her way around Leeds for the past 11 years. She’s passionate about championing small, local businesses and runs