Leeds Short Break – Top Ten Places to Visit

Leeds, Yorkshire’s largest city, has much to offer Short Break visitors. It has a vibrant city centre, with fine buildings many dating back to Victorian times, and in its suburbs there are outstanding heritage sites.

Leeds: Corn Exchange
Corn Exchange

As a Yorkshireman myself, I’ve often visited Leeds over the years and been impressed by its development into a modern, bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis, with a unique atmosphere derived in part from its position on the River Aire in the eastern foothills of the Pennines.

My Top Ten Places to Visit are ones which I’ve returned to many times without being disappointed.

I would suggest that at least two days be allowed if all ten places are being visited.

Leeds Waterfront: River Aire and Leeds-Liverpool Canal

Leeds: Granary Wharf
Granary Wharf

Within the centre of Leeds there are several miles of walks along the banks of the River Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which starts its 127 mile route to Liverpool from close by Leeds City station.

I remember visiting this area of Leeds fifty years ago when it was still a very shabby, industrial area. All has changed. Now there are blocks of up-market accommodation and many smart restaurants and coffee bars lining the waterways.

A pdf walks map with interesting information about places along the way is available on the Visit Leeds website.

The Arcades

Leeds: Victoria Quarter Arcades
Victoria Quarter Arcades

There are several arcades of shops in Leeds centre, some dating back to Victorian times. They are well worth visiting if you are interested in fine architecture, but also of course simply to enjoy shopping in stylish surroundings, unaffected by the weather.

My favourite arcade, or rather dual inter-connected arcades, can be found in the the so-called Victoria Quarter. A massive stained glass canopy over one of the arcades is the largest of that type in Europe.

The arcades contain many up-market shops such as Harvey Nichols, Vivienne Westwood and Louis Vuitton.

But don’t spend too much time (and money!) shopping there and miss out on exploring the other arcades, including Thornton’s Arcade, the Grand Arcade, Queens Arcade and the Central Arcade. All have their unique architectural features and all have their own unique range of shops.

Street Art Trail

Leeds: Cornucopia

Around the centre of Leeds there are over thirty works of street art by a wide range of artists.

Some, like Cornucopia, which is between the Kirkgate Market and the Corn Exchange, date back over thirty years to when street art was in its infancy.

By chance I came across several pieces of street art as I wandered around the city. However, if you wish to be more methodical, the Street Art Trail website includes a map of the locations. It also provides details on each piece of work and biographical information about the artists.

Kirkgate Market

Kirkgate Market
Kirkgate Market

Kirkgate Market is a rather different shopping experience to the arcades, but equally fascinating. Dating back to 1875, but remodelled on several occasions, it is thought to be the largest covered market in Europe and has over 800 stalls.

Marks & Spencer originated here in 1894 and it still has a commemorative stall.

In addition to the inside area with connecting events area, there is an outside area with clothing and greengrocery stalls. The wide range of unusual fruit and vegetables on sale reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Leeds.

Royal Armouries Museum

Full Elephant Body Armour
Elephant Body Armour

The Royal Armouries Museum is situated on the south bank of the River Aire just 15 minutes walk from Leeds city centre. The museum opened in 1996 and brought together armouries collections from the Tower of London and from the National Collection of Artillery in Hampshire.

The museum is brilliantly organised into four galleries representing: Tournament, War, Oriental and Self-Defence. In addition the Hall of Steel features 2,500 objects arranged around a giant spiral staircase. There are various daily live shows and combat demonstrations. All of this is completely is free of charge.

Two of my favourite exhibits are the Indian 16th Century elephant body armour and a fairly large suit of armour reputedly worn by King Henry VIII.

Corn Exchange

Leeds: Corn Exchange
Corn Exchange

The oval-shaped Corn Exchange was completed in 1863 to an Italianate design. It has two semi-circular entrances flanked by columns.

It operated as a busy corn exchange for several years until agriculture slumped towards the end of the 19th Century. Most such corn exchanges around the country fell into disrepair during the last century and were demolished, but fortunately this building was restored in the 1980s and converted for its current retail use.

It is very impressive as you approach from the outside. but even more striking from inside with its domed roof, based on the Bourse in Paris, overlooking more than thirty independent shops and food outlets.

I find it a great place to stop for coffee and cakes in the central area, before browsing the boutique shops around the periphery on three levels.

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey
Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey is about three miles north-west of the city centre. This ruined Cistercian monastery, dating back to 1152, is beautifully situated in parkland on the north bank of the River Aire.

The history of the abbey, including its dissolution in 1539, is described in the Visitor Centre which has a museum with interactive displays. This is well worth visiting before crossing the road to the ruins, although a small charge is made for museum entry.

The abbey ruins are surrounded by parkland which leads down to the River Aire.

Temple Newsam

Temple Newsam House is a 500 year old Tudor-Jacobean stately home about four miles to the east of Leeds city centre. I remember the tram service to Temple Newsam, but that ceased sixty years ago, replaced by a frequent bus service.

There are extensive gardens, including a large walled garden, and parkland. The property is owned by Leeds City Council who make a small charge to tour the house, although members of Historic Houses get free entry.

Roundhay Park

Alhambra Garden in Roundhay Park
Alhambra Garden

Roundhay Park on the city’s north-east outskirts is one of the largest city parks in Europe, having 700 acres of parkland and lakes.

There are several featured walks around the park, varying in length from half a mile to about two miles. The names of the walks give an idea of the variety of terrain: Secret Gorge Walk, Upper Lake Walk, Parkland Walk, Lake View Walk and Formal Garden Walk.

Although most of the walks are along well surfaced footpaths, the secret gorge walk has steep uneven sections, which I found quite difficult to navigate during a rainy autumnal day.

There are a range of specialist gardens on the western side of the park, including the Canal Gardens, Alhambra Garden and Monet Garden. There are also four gardens that won prizes at the Chelsea Flower Show on behalf of Leeds City Council.

The Mansion in the middle of the park has a Visitors Centre and the Garden Room Cafe Restaurant.

Be careful if planning a visit to check whether any special events are occurring as pop music concerts can attract hundreds of thousands of visitors!

Harewood House

Harewood House is an 18th Century stately home situated about eight miles north of Leeds. In addition to superbly decorated state rooms within the house, there are extensive gardens and parkland with landscaping by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

My visit to Harewood House is described in an article on this website. Members of Historic Houses get free entry once each calendar year.

Where to Stay

There are many hotels in or near the centre of Leeds but my favourite is the Crowne Plaza on Wellington Street, just a short walk from Leeds City station. An alterative that is very convenient for the Royal Armouries Museum is the Holiday Inn Express on Armouries Drive.  Both hotels offer Senior Discounts.

POSTED 8th NOVEMBER 2023 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.