One of the only cities outside London to have its own ballet and opera companies, the Yorkshire city of Leeds is a hotbed of cultural gems. With a rich industrial and sporting heritage, it has become an energetic, contemporary city with a flourishing food and drink scene. Home to its own international airport (Leeds/Bradford Airport) and just two hours by train from London and one hour from Manchester, spending a weekend in one of the north of England’s most exciting cities has never been easier.
09:00 Embark on a walk of discovery
It’s common knowledge that to really get to know a city you should walk it – and this is just as true of Leeds, where you can download self-guided walks around the city with a treasure hunt theme! Just over a mile each, Curious About Leeds has devised routes that take you from Leeds Art Gallery to the River Aire, and a second route from the river to Park Square. The beauty of these walks is that you’ll take in not just the city’s famous sights, but also the more unusual ones. Expect to see the chic Victorian Arcades, Europe’s largest covered market – Kirkgate Market – and the former mills on which the city's fortune was built. Also look out for iconic street art; Leeds is home to the UK’s tallest mural, Athena Rising, as well as works such as Cornucopia next to the Corn Exchange and the George Street Mural at Kirkgate Market.
11:00 Delve into the city’s past
The story of Leeds unfolds at the Leeds City Museum, where – through six impressive galleries – you’ll find displays that range from archaeological finds to those reflecting city life today. Alongside an array of animal, fossil and mineral specimens in the Life on Earth Collection, The Collector’s Cabinet houses an impressive Moa skeleton, once one of the largest birds to roam the earth.
13:00 Take early afternoon tea
Stop off for a bite to eat among the pretty period furniture and mismatched crockery of vintage tearoom Just Grand! Located in the city’s Grand Arcade – a Grade II listed Victorian shopping arcade that now boasts a good mix of independent retailers – you’ll reboot energy levels enjoying drinks from its huge assortment of loose-leaf teas (Yorkshire tea is, of course, on the menu!) and the delectable range of sweet treats. Why choose a plain scone when you could pick from its wide range of flavoured scones such as black treacle and date, Earl Grey and lemon, and ginger and apricot?
15:00 Explore contemporary art in a historic building
One of Leeds’ leading centres for contemporary art is The Tetley, housed in an Art Deco-style former brewery. It’s not just the collections inside that are worth exploring – the building itself is an Insta-favourite. Founded in 1822, Tetley is one of Leeds’ oldest (beer) brewing families and is of huge social and industrial significance to the city. As well as changing exhibitions, there’s a rich programme of events to take part in, including art workshops and a host of creative activities for kids.
17:00 Enjoy cocktails and a pre-theatre dinner
Stop off for cocktails and dinner at The Fourth Floor brasserie and bar of the high-end department store, Harvey Nichols. You’ll be greeted by superb views of the city as you enjoy cocktails in the glamorous bar – think gold dome lights and circular banquettes. And with a menu filled with creative dishes using only the best Yorkshire produce (and dinner service starting from 4.30pm), you’ll find the brasserie is perfect for a pre-theatre meal too.
19:30 Catch a show
Take advantage of Leeds’ rich cultural offering and book tickets for a performance by Opera North, one of Europe’s leading arts organisations which produces the classics as well as lesser-known works and musical theatre. Alternatively, head to the Northern Ballet, where you’ll find original productions as well as new interpretations of classic ballets.
09:00 Discover historic treasures
Ever fancied seeing a world record-breaking suit of elephant armour? Here’s your chance – at Leeds’ Royal Armouries Museum, which sits on the waterfront at the city’s docks. Five galleries hold more than 8,000 fascinating objects, including Henry VIII’s tournament armour, the five heroic swords based on the prop weapons used in movies The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and the incredible centrepiece of the whole museum, the Hall of Steel – the largest mass display of arms and armour created since the 19th century. Don’t miss the chance to test your skills at the Crossbow Range too.
11:00 Set off on a sporting journey
Yorkshire boasts a legendary cricket heritage and, for cricket fans around the world, the Yorkshire Cricket Museum is a must. It’s here that you’ll discover artefacts from Yorkshire’s cricket legends, the bats and balls used by iconic players and multi-media interviews with cricket heroes.
Embark on a shopping journey
A raft of unique independent retailers can be found under one stunning roof at the Grand Arcade, a shopping venue built in 1897 where the fine Victorian architecture – including an exquisite glass roof and beautiful arched windows – is just as much of a draw as the shops. Stores include the Casa Colombia coffee house and Our Handmade Collective, where you’ll find unique gifts created by local Yorkshire designers. You’ll also find a vibrant shopping district at Victoria Leeds, an eclectic shopping destination combining Victoria Quarter and Victoria Gate with traditional British high-end department stores including Harvey Nichols, and John Lewis, in addition to more than 90 boutiques.
13:00 Veg out for lunch
Also finding its home in the Grand Arcade is Roots and Fruits, a vegetarian restaurant with a mainly plant-based menu. But there’s no compromise on flavour… this Leeds favourite is packed with local, seasonal produce and presents dishes such as Jerk Jackfruit, complete with a delectable secret recipe jerk marinade.
15:00 Lose yourself in a chocolate metropolis
Leeds is home to the UK’s first two-storey chocolate emporium at Hotel Chocolat and it’s here you can learn the delicate art of chocolate-making at its Chocolate School, just one of the cocoa-filled experiences on offer. Chocoholics may want to embark on its Tasting Adventure and there’s always further opportunity to savour the glorious sweetness on offer in its Mega Café; look outfor its signature hot chocolate!
17:00 Go cuckoo for creative cocktails
Head to quirky bar Cuckoo for its imaginative cocktails, such as Peanut Butter Martinis and Dirty Grasshoppers, or to sample local craft beers served through ‘Giraffe Towers’. Enjoy its amazingly fun décor too – murals, paint-splattered animal heads, cool neon lights and a secret rooftop garden all make a visit to this bar a colourful occasion.
20:00 Taste the creativity
Restaurant The Man Behind the Curtain – with a name inspired by The Wizard of Oz – offers a magical culinary experience where you’ll be wowed by Chef Michael O’Hare’s creativity. As Leeds’ only Michelin-starred restaurant, it offers a tasting menu of six to ten courses for lunch and 10 to 14 courses for dinner.
Alternatively, visit Bundobust, one of Leeds’ go-to places for delicious Indian street food and craft beer. Still hungry? Try Matt Healy x The Foundry. With Yorkshire-born chef Matt Healy (runner-up in BBC’s 2016 MasterChef: The Professionals series) at the helm, the restaurant offers a menu of sharing dishes, delivered to your table when they’re at their freshest.
22:00 Party the night away
Leeds’ nightlife rivals that of any major British city and it’s particularly good for quirky bars. For a slice of hipster heaven and craft beers head to the cool, vintage-style Outlaws Yacht Club . Alternatively, enjoy craft beers and cask ales across three floors of the 1930s venue Belgrave Music Hall, which comes complete with a fabulous roof terrace, live music events, film and comedy and art exhibitions. Beer is also big news in Leeds; why visit one brewery when you can visit four on the Leeds Brewery Tour? And if you’re coming over in October, look out for details of the city’s Oktoberfest.