Yorkshire's commercial capital, and one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, LEEDS has undergone a radical transformation in recent years. There's still a true northern grit to its character, and in many of its dilapidated suburbs, but the grime has been removed from the impressive Victorian buildings and the city is revelling in its persona as a booming financial, commercial and cultural centre. The renowned shops, restaurants, bars and clubs make it Yorkshire's top destination for a day or two of conspicuous consumption and indulgence.
The city's museums include the impressive Royal Armouries, which hold the national arms and armour collection, and the City Art Gallery has one of the best collections of British twentieth-century art outside London. Outlying attractions range from the fascinating Thackray Museum of medicine to the art collection and grounds at Temple Newsam, while with more time you can do justice to the region's major draws – the great Georgian country house, Harewood, the National Coal Mining Museum and the bucolic Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Adel, Bramhope and Otley The northern outskirts of Leeds have escaped the ravages of Victorian over-development with villages such as Adel and Bramhope being amongst the city's most sought-after residential areas. Golden Acre Park and Otley Chevin Forest Park are popular public spaces, offering excellent views of the surrounding lower Wharfedale countryside. Otley is an historic market town that has retained its own distinctive character—the prevailing air of self-sufficiency was reflected by the public consternation that greeted the recent appearance of "Welcome to Leeds" signs.
Armley and Pudsey Although part of the Metropolitan City of Leeds since the mid-1970's, Pudsey has a proud history as a separate entity—the recipient of a Royal Charter of Incorporation in 1900, which distinguished it from the metropolitan sprawls of Leeds and Bradford. Pudsey's Owlcoates Centre is an impressive retail park serving the entire area west of the city. Neighbouring Armley is probably best known for Armley Mills , a relic of Leeds' industrial past and once the world's largest woolen mill.
Beeston, Middleton and Morley Once the industrial heartland of the city, harnessing the River Aire and the Aire and Calder Navigation, this area to the south of the city mirrored the slow decline of commercial waterways from the 1920s. However, the presence of the Elland Road Stadium , home to Leeds United FC, has ensured that the area remains fixed in the city's consciousness. Enlightened regeneration has seen Thwaite Mills and the historic Middleton Railway become two of the city's leading tourist attractions. Morley has plenty in the way of shops and facilities. It is the location of the Leeds Exhibition Complex, but the White Rose Centre, Leeds' gargantuan and prodigiously popular out-of-town retail park, is the greatest pull for visitors to the area.
Burmantofts, Harehills and Osmondthorpe Once famous for its unique pottery, Burmantofts is now best known for Jimmy's, otherwise known as St. James' University Hospital. It is one of the country's premier teaching hospitals. Next door is the award-winning Thackray Medical Museum , offering an unblinking view of Britain's social history. Osmondthorpe and Harehills are home to Asian and Irish communities. Harehills is the location of the city's impressive Grand Mosque whilst Osmondthorpe harbours the Irish Centre, a national concert venue for the performing arts.
Chapeltown, Moortown and Roundhay These northern districts of the city are known for their multicultural communities and character. Chapeltown has found it hard to shake off negative connotations derived from its ramshackle appearance, but is famous for its annual West Indian carnival, a spectacle to rival the Notting Hill Carnival in London. Moortown is synonymous with its Jewish community and boasts a fine selection of specialist shops and cafes. The Synagogue of the United Hebrew Congregation is in nearby Shadwell. Roundhay is another of the city's most desirable residential areas, due in no short measure to the proximity of Roundhay Park.
City Centre The fact that it is a pleasure to wander around the largely pedestrianised city centre is due to the Victorian town planners whose network of elegant arcades and formidable municipal buildings still affirm its position as a leading centre of commerce, culture and the arts. Leeds is probably the premier shopping centre of the north—the Corn Exchange and Victoria Quarter offer a rich variety of luxury and specialist shops that complement the city's traditional markets and modern high street shops and malls. The centre has welcomed a profusion of new cafes, bars, restaurants and nightclubs to meet the demand for increased amenities brought by the recent growth in the city's business communities. This is particularly apparent at Leeds Waterfront , where derelict canal-side buildings have been revamped or replaced by high-profile commercial development and heritage attractions - such as the innovative subterranean retail complex at Granary Wharf and the Royal Armouries Museum . Leeds is also a major centre of the arts, home not only to the Northern Ballet Theatre, Opera North, and The West Yorkshire Playhouse , but also the City Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute .
Cross Gates, Halton and Seacroft These areas east of the city centre are yet to benefit from the inspired regeneration programmes that have revived other areas of the city. The turn-of-the-century hospital at Seacroft stands out, but the Halton Moor housing estate cannot seem to shake off its negative associations and remains an infamous no-go area. However, nearby Temple Newsam is one of the region's foremost attractions, offering an historic stately home, museum and extensive public grounds set aside for popular concerts in the summer months.
Guiseley, Rawdon and Yeadon This area is sufficiently remote from the city centre, (about 10 miles), to offer some charming countryside walks. However, it has to be said the main draws are probably Leeds Bradford Airport and the famous Harry Ramsden's restaurant.
Headingley Familiar to followers of cricket and Rugby League alike, this bustling area is home to the famous Yorkshire CCC and Leeds Rhinos RLFC , neighbouring clubs which host international matches in their respective sports. Headingley is also the student centre of Leeds, many of its trademark red-brick terraces having been converted into flats and bedsits. As you might expect, it makes for a lively alternative to the city centre for a night out—the Skyrack and Original Oak pubs are among Leeds' best-loved drinking establishments.
Hyde Park and Woodhouse Hyde Park and Woodhouse are the venues of too many conspicuously rundown student residences to be highly praised. However, Woodhouse Moor's proximity to the city's university campuses ensures it is a constantly well-populated public space—even when it's not hosting funfairs, circuses, beer festivals or other visiting attractions. The Hyde Park Picture House is justly famous throughout the region and is extremely popular with art house audiences all year round. Every October, it is placed under a wider spotlight, when it co-hosts the annual Leeds International Film Festival .
Kirkstall, Horsforth and Calverley Although its 12th century Cistercian abbey is an historical site of national significance, Kirkstall has become the focus of more contemporary interests since the recent opening (at a discreet distance) of the Warner Village cinema and leisure complex. Further north lies Horsforth, a distinctive small town boasting its own university college, Trinity and All Saints , a museum , and a selection of popular pubs and restaurants. Calverley is on a much smaller scale—its proximity to the busy Leeds ring road is belied by the stunning views of the Airedale countryside visible from its traditional local sandstone houses.
Leeds city centre boasts an excellent range of drinking and dining establishments to suit all palates and pockets.
Dining Gastronomes could head straight for either of the city's two Michelin-starred restaurants; Pool Court at 42 or Rascasse . Other fine dining establishments include Leodis , Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor , Sous Le Nez en Ville and Brasserie 44 (neighbour to Pool Court at 42).
A wealth of outstanding, slightly less formal restaurants are scattered across the city. Delicious Mediterranean/British food can be had in and around the Exchange Quarter at Brigg Shots, Calls Grill , Shear's Yard , Art's Cafe , Oporto and Velvet . According to The Sunday Times, The Cactus Lounge , next to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is one of the country's top four Mexican restaurants. For fine French food and wine, visit the subterranean La Grillade . Quality Italian food is served at The Italian Job and the long running Bibi's . Shabab and Darbar both serve good Indian cuisine. Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants are mainly clustered around the Grand Theatre and at the top of Vicar Lane. Try Canton Flavour , off The Headrow, for lunch with a difference.
Excellent cafe-bars are to be found all over Leeds. Try Moderno, Metz, Cuban Heels , The Elbow Room , Revolution , Milo or Norman—all in and around the Exchange Quarter. Chain outlets, such as All Bar One , Bar 38 , Henry's and Parisa are clustered around The Headrow and in the financial quarter. Soul Kitchen , also in the financial quarter, deserves a special mention. Cafe Rouge , Est, Est, Est have branches in the city. There are two branches of Pizza Express . Unlicensed eateries, such as Roots and Fruits and Kada's are of excellent quality.
In the outlying areas of Leeds, visit Citrus Cafe in Headingley or Grove Cafe in Hyde Park, both unlicensed. The Ferret Hall Bistro in Headingley serves quality English food. On the city's outskirts, close to the BBC and the University, Strawberry Fields serves delicious wholesome food and has a good choice for vegetarians. For Italian, The Flying Pizza in Roundhay and Salvo's in Headingley are both popular, long-running establishments well worth a visit. Leaving the city via Kirkstall Road, you will find TGI Friday's , Frankie & Benny's and Quincey's. Tariq's and Nafee's serve up the customary curries in student land.
Drinking Bar life in Leeds is booming. There are distinct areas to the city and if you follow this guide, you can't go far wrong:
The area around the Corn Exchange, known as the Exchange Quarter, is filled with great bars. Choose from Metz, Milo , The Townhouse , Po Na Na , Pitcher and Piano, Fudge, Cuban Heels , Oporto , Velvet , Norman, Moderno, Art's Cafe , Revolution , Cafe Junction, The Elbow Room , Hakuna Matata , Break for the Border and Dimitri's . Call Lane should form the backbone of your bar crawl. Several bars now have late licenses - Revolution , Norman and The Townhouse . Clubbers should head for Think Tank, Po Na Na or The Elbow Room . Many of these places are chameleon-like changing from sedate cafe-bars, to thriving evening quality drinking establishments.
Travel away from the Exchange Quarter up Boar Lane. Bars like Yates' Wine Lodge , Square on the Lane, Observatory and Bar Censsa line the route. After this, you can head up to Majestyk or Jumpin' Jacks for a dance, a kebab and an early morning fight for a cab. Head up Park Row away from City Square and you're deep in the financial district. There are bars and restaurants here that will keep you amused enough. Parisa , The Firehouse, The Old Monk, All Bar One and O'Neill's are all on or around Park Row or East Parade. In The Headrow area, try Empire , LS One, Bar 38 , or The Slug and Lettuce . There are more pubs and bars clustered around the Civic Hall and library.
Go down The Headrow, towards Eastgate, turning off at the Odeon cinema. Lovers of quality independent bars, you're back on safe ground now. Try North , the fantastic Mojo , Le Beatrute , The Atrium—another bar with late license and club. The Mint Club (home of Basics on Saturday night) is on Harrison Street and Club Heaven and Hell is opposite The Atrium. So, there's plenty of quality dining, drinking and dancing to be done in the city. Head for the area that most suits your taste. There are other hidden gems around the city like The Wardrobe , Whitelocks and Joseph's Well .
Tour 1: Hitting the City
Leeds is a thriving city, with something for everyone. It's regarded as a Mecca for shoppers, drinkers and diners. New, innovative places spring up constantly. Here's one way you could spend the day seeing what all the fuss is about.
Break yourself in slowly with a browse round the quality, high profile stores and delightful independent shops clustered in and around Victoria Quarter. Premier retailers, like Karen Millen , Jigsaw Womenswear , Jigsaw Menswear , French Connection and Space NK Apothecary are represented here. Stop off at Harvey Nichols coffee bar, Caffe Uno or the Bagel Bar for a quick refreshing drink or snack and then hit the jewel in Leeds' crown, Harvey Nichols . From here, wander further into the shopping heart of the city. Take in Thornton's and Queen's Arcades—both havens, housing delightful independent shops, selling everything from designer street wear and top quality leather goods, to photographic equipment and wonderful designer jewellery.
Lands Lane runs across the top of the arcades. You're in pedestrianised high street shopping heaven here. You can strike in any direction and you won't go wrong. The Headrow Centre is opposite and Leeds Shopping Plaza sits on Commercial Street. The gamut of high street stores are situated in this area; Warehouse, Boots, HMV , Oasis , Virgin , W H Smith and Next , to name but a few. Be warned, it's pretty frantic here most days and if it's a sedate shopping experience you're after, Saturday is a definite no-no. Now you must be in need of substantial refreshment. Head slightly away from the shops towards the Corn Exchange and enjoy a nice long lunch in any of the wealth of the Exchange Quarter's cafe-bars; Moderno, Norman, Metz, Arts Cafe , Oporto , Velvet and Revolution can all be found here.
Right, that's enough watching the world go by! Get back out there and take in some of Leeds smaller independent and alternative shops and boutiques. A must for all visitors is the Corn Exchange. Everything, from designer dresses to handmade pottery, is sold here from small converted shop units. It's worth going for the building alone—an impressive structure on three levels with a huge dome roof—the heart of Leeds' trading life in bygone days. For those interested in retro, browse around Blue Rinse , situated just outside the Corn Exchange.
At this point, you could take a detour to Granary Wharf , particularly if it's a sunny weekend day. Enjoy the great street entertainment and treat yourself to an ice cream. Then, head over to the Market to stare—another impressive building. Wonder at the great sprawl of stalls where you can get anything you might want as long as you look hard enough!
You must be tired now. Go and grab a coffee somewhere or head back to your accommodation. You've already pre-booked a table at any one of Leeds quality dining establishments; Rascasse , Pool Court at 42 , Brasserie 44 , Shears Yard , and Leodis , number among them. Dine in style wearing the fine garments you've bought yourself today and plan your next visit!
Tour 2: Museums and Galleries
If you believe the hype, the arrival of The Royal Armouries in Leeds four years ago, boosted the city's cultural scene and heightened interest in the its museums and attractions for tourists and residents. The truth is, a trip to the Royal Armouries is not to everyone's taste and there's plenty to do besides, but we'll start our tour off there anyhow:
The Royal Armouries sits on Leeds' waterfront at the bottom of The Calls. Stare at it from Crown Point Bridge to appreciate the building's massive battleship-like splendour. Once inside, it's worth visiting for the interior alone. Children (and some adults) may bore easily here, so think twice before planning your day around a visit here. The temporary exhibitions, which are usually well publicised are of greater general interest (past exhibitions have included The World of James Bond and Dinosaurs Alive).
If you're on foot, walk along the waterfront, following signs for The Calls. When you're on The Calls, head for the Corn Exchange. Now strike up to The Headrow. Here you'll find the Henry Moore Institute and the City Art Gallery next to one another. If you're without transport, or it's a rainy day, you could visit both and then dine in the gallery's cosy cafe before heading home.
Lovers of sculpture who still want more after the Henry Moore Institute, get on the bus or in the car and head down the A61 for Wakefield Art Gallery . Here there is a room dedicated to former Wakefield residents Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and a restful, if small, sculpture garden to contemplate all that great art you've just beheld. And now for the jewel in your non-stop sculpture tour, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park . It is accessible by public transport but it's far easier to get there by car. Bear the weather in mind before you go—the sculptures are exhibited outside. Permanent and temporary displays can be enjoyed in splendid countryside surroundings, and the kids can run around and enjoy themselves, too!