The unofficial capital of Yorkshire, Leeds is a city at the heart of the action. It’s bursting with life and cultural energy, with a thriving independent food scene you won’t find anywhere else and inspiring culture, museums, and galleries. There’s an abundance of attractions and adventures to keep the whole family entertained and an independent spirit, with sights and sounds all within a walkable reach of the city’s best hotels.
Foodie Capital of the North
Indie food and drink is always worth seeking out - from local neighbourhood eateries doing their thing under the radar, to the most innovative chefs and restaurants pushing the envelope in ways you’ll soon see on all the chain menus. Leeds’s own indie scene is thriving, and much loved by locals. The UK’s first independent food fest - Leeds Indie Food - is a diverse and delicious celebration each May, but whatever time of year you choose to visit there’s so much to try.
There’s not just the one must-do - it’s all good - so why not let cuisine and ingredients guide you? If you’re partial to Asian-influenced menus, then the super-authentic Thai Aroy Dee is a well-kept chef’s secret. You just might have to ask for an explanation for some of the more exotic dishes, because they’re only listed in Thai. Then there’s Wen’s, cooking up home-style family friendly Chinese dishes from the foodie enclave of North Street. Jay Rayner reckons it doesn’t get much better.
Another North Street neighbour of note is The Reliance, a kitchen much-praised in the national press. They’ve been doing their thing for two decades, serving up the very freshest seasonal British grub paired with a selection of natural and low-intervention wines well worth exploring. It’s a sure fire hit for a Sunday lunch with the kids. A few doors down is a brand new offering from a well-established team - the much loved Swine That Dines has morphed into Here Comes The Bun, offering maybe the most exciting burger in town, plus a host of jaw-dropping sweet pies for those with a sweet tooth of all ages.
The same dedication to local produce and flawless cooking can be found at The Owl, an outpost of the acclaimed Home restaurant founded by Liz Cottam and Mark Owens. It’s nestled in Kirkgate Market, so if you don’t fancy that Yorkshire Pudding Wrap from the food hall then grab a table for a tart of brown Whitby crab with Yorkshire asparagus.
One final much-loved independent option - with a Michelin Guide recommendation of their own - is Ox Club at Headrow House, where you’ll find delectable Yorkshire meats and fresh seafood cooked over charcoal from a nearby coppice. The same kitchen also turns out famous kebabs and dirty fries to be enjoyed on Headrow House’s suntrap roof terrace - a great option for a casual family meal, with a craft-brewed soda for the little ones and an Aperol Spritz for the big ones.
Try street food from around the world… and closer to home
Leeds is a real hot spot for street food - from bustling indoor and outdoor markets, to city centre streets, bars and breweries and even shopping centres. You could easily plan a whole visit dining out entirely on amazing meals picked up from carts, caravans, shacks and stalls with flavours from cuisines the world over.
If you’re out for an evening meal, Chow Down at Temple Arches is a great shout. It’s perfect for outdoor dining, with table service and an eclectic music line-up - with some of the finest street food around too. It’s also just a few minutes from Leeds Train Station’s newly installed southern entrance.
For a family friendly lunch in Leeds, there’s Trinity Kitchen, where a rotating cast of stalls are backed up by some amazing globally influenced permanent residents. It’s part of Trinity Leeds, so you can combine it with a shopping trip, or a film at the Everyman cinema.
The city’s bars and breweries are well served too. It doesn’t get much better than pillowy soft bao buns from Little Bao Boy at the North Brewing Co. Tap, or Assembly Underground, where Slap & Pickle will make you a killer burger.
But it’s not all cuisine from halfway across the world. Leeds’ Kirkgate Market is well worth a visit in its own right, but it’s also home to some pretty awesome street food in the newly refurbished food hall. The multi-award winning Manjit’s Kitchen is a big draw, rivalling any vegetarian restaurant in Leeds, but for a bite from God’s Own County you can’t beat our real gift to the culinary world, the Yorkshire Pudding Wrap.
A spot of culture
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’s 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.
Take 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.
Make a weekend of it
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 captivating 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 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.