Exploring Yorkshire: Leeds

Many people who visit the UK visit London – and that alone. Almost 200 miles north of London – or a speedy 2.5 hour train journey away – lies Leeds, the UK’s third biggest city. The city centre is jam-packed with eateries, cultural havens and ornate shopping arcades, whilst its proximity to several national parks makes it an ideal base for anyone seeking to explore the UK’s beautiful countryside.

The city centre of Leeds is remarkably compact, meaning it’s easy to explore on foot – and thanks to the reliable signposts, you’re unlikely to get lost! Often described as the capital of the north, the thriving student city of Leeds has a lot to offer to the discerning tourist, by day and by night. Here’s the low-down on my university city . . .

Where to go if . . .

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. . . you’re feeling hungry

In Leeds, there’s no shortage of places to grab a bite to eat: with everything from quirky independent cafés to mainstream restaurants, there’s something to suit every taste – and budget. If Spanish-style tapas is your thing, head to Friends of Ham (4-8 New Station Street): their menu is filled with sharing platters of assorted meats and cheeses (which are fully customisable), there’s a huge range of ales (my dad’s primary reason for visiting) and their salted caramel brownies are heavenly. Follow it up with a coffee (or hot chocolate, if you’re anything like me) at Laynes Espresso, just a few doors down the street.

If you want to venture further afield, Ecco Pizza in Headingley (a forty-minute walk or a speedy bus journey away) serves up the best authentic Neapolitan pizza. Each pizza is cooked to perfection in a wood-fired oven and covered in toppings – and if your eyes turn out to be bigger than your stomach, you can always ask to take it home. Choose from a vast selection of mouth-watering pizzas; I’d recommend trying something off the ‘Round the World’ section of the menu, such as the London, Bombay or Mexican pizza.

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. . . you’re in the mood for something cultural

Like any other multicultural metropolis, Leeds is full of cultural venues: there are museums aplenty, theatrical venues, cosy independent cinemas and much more. Art enthusiasts should visit the Leeds Art Gallery, which is currently housing the British Art Show 8, and the adjacent Henry Moore Institute. Nearby, you’ll also find the Leeds City Museum – which is the place to learn all about the history of the city. To the south of the River Aire, you’ll find The Tetley, a former brewery turned art venue, and the Royal Armouries, home to a vast collection of arms, armour and artillery – and my personal favourite museum in Leeds. Further afield, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is perfect for those who want to experience art outdoors.

If you’re looking for some evening entertainment, then look no further than the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which will shortly be launching a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the CarriageWorks Theatre, who will be showing Aladdin as their pantomime this year, or catch a more grown-up show at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre. Besides the huge multiplex cinemas, Leeds is also home to two independent cinemas, the Cottage Road Cinema and the Hyde Park Picture House, which both offer the quintessentially old-fashioned cinema experience – at a significantly lower price than the multiplex.

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. . . you want to shop

Leeds is renowned as a shopaholic’s paradise: thrifty shoppers can pick up a bargain in one of the city’s many charity shops, or those with deeper pockets can splurge in one of the many arcades. In the Corn Exchange, you’ll find small boutiques selling everything from vintage clothes to cameras. The Victoria Quarter is perhaps the most ornate of all Leeds’ shopping arcades, with its ornate marble décor and beautiful stained glass ceiling offering the epitome in luxurious shopping experiences. Elsewhere, at Trinity Leeds, you’ll find all the well-known high street brands clustered together in this modern, semi-open-air shopping complex.

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. . . you’re feeling adventurous

If city life gets a bit too much for you, why not take advantage of Leeds’ proximity to other historic towns? For a taste of quintessential England you could visit Knaresborough, a picture-perfect town set against the backdrop of a large aqueduct. Nearby, lies the spa town of Harrogate. York is also worth a visit, with York Minster and the medieval streets known as The Shambles being two of the main attractions.

Leeds’ proximity to the Yorkshire Dales means that hikers can take advantage of numerous walks in the surrounding countryside. Ilkley is a popular choice, the quaint town is nestled in the foothills of beautiful moorland – on a clear day you can see as far as the Yorkshire Dales. Further afield, Skipton, Gargrave and Settle are all ideal places to begin exploring the national park.

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