Whilst living in Manchester, I was constantly told by others to visit Leeds. Etched in my memory as “the northern festival that imitates Reading Festival“, I was bemused. I had heard very little about Leeds whilst living in England, maybe it was due to the fact that when I moved here in 2005 and growing up on the outskirts of London, I didn’t necessarily find the need to travel to another city. After years of drab suburban life, I ached to explore more of England, more cities that would chew me up and spit me out again. London and Brighton weren’t enough. After falling in love with Manchester, I decided to explore more of the UK that seemed so distant before.
Leeds University is a popular choice for many living in Surrey (so is Exeter, Bournemouth, Bristol and obviously Oxbridge for that matter), which could be the main reason I didn’t visit as frequently as I could have whilst I was at Manchester. Only an hour away from Manchester on the Mega bus, it really is an incredibly short journey, which I am sad to say, I only did 3 times.
Leeds is not what you expect, I can assure you. With the history and reputation of being an industrial powerhouse for mills, one would expect Leeds to be a little more dreary, more gritty and more urban. But Leeds isn’t. Leeds, dare I say it, is a glitzy spruced up version of Manchester- just without the musical and cultural heritage Manchester has. Rather than years and years of musical influence transforming this city like Manchester, Leeds is a “new” city in this aspect. With more than a decade of regeneration and redevelopment, the city is filled with glossy office buildings, upmarket restaurants, chic bars and hipster clubs. This “dressing up” of Leeds has taken place for a while, and still continues to do so, becoming an incredible city to visit. With students over ten percent of the population and a vast array of nationalities living in Leeds, the community is young, vibrant, and living in harmony. Streets are flooded with all kinds of lavish shops that acquire Leeds to have the title of “Knightsbridge of the North”, restaurants serving up a variety of cuisine and a buzzing night life that satisfies all types of people.
However, maybe its because I found Manchester first, but I believe Leeds took a few ideas out of their hipster book (most likely made out of cork and filled with gold engravings). A number of bars in Manchester are also in Leeds. Places like, (which are still good and if you are not heading to Manchester check out in Leeds) Fab Cafe– for a quirky science fiction themed bar, Mojo’s and The Alchemist– an incredible cocktail bar. Other cocktail bars that are only found in Leeds and are hidden gems (or should I say perfect watering holes) are Angelica– equally as classy as The Alchemist, The Botanist which imitates a picturesque forest retreat right in the centre of the city and offers unusual cocktail concoctions, or Baby Jupiter– a psychedelic funky bar that is so hidden you might just miss it.
Hifi is a popular club to go to but live music venues are really what Leeds is all about. If a certain artist or musician aren’t playing in Manchester, they are most definitely playing in Leeds. Leeds took over Manchester’s golden crown at hosting incredible nights of electronic music, by consistently having dub and drum and bass nights that allowed a number of independent artists to play. Unfortunately, Manchester focuses on the bigger names rather than up and coming artists which Leeds does (only what I found with electronic music). Check out Smokestack, The Wardrobe and Brudenell Social Club for some gigs.
Another great venue is Belgrave Music Hall which doubles up as a music venue, as well as a great bar to hang out in. The rooftop in summer has lovely views over Leeds and you can relax in deck chairs on the astro turf. Food within the Belgrave Music Hall varies, however when I visited, Patty Smith Burgers were based there. Delicious messy packages of meat, bun and cheese blew my mind and it most definitely makes my top burgers list- one to try for sure. Leeds is wonderfully supportive of vegetarianism and has many restaurants that adhere and excel to this practice. Try Roots and Fruits– a vegetarian Mexican themed restaurant or Hansa’s authentic vegetarian Indian cuisine. Other places to dine in are Arts Cafe, Outlaws Yacht Club, and Friends of Ham– all very unique and interesting restaurants.
Unfortunately, whenever I visited I never had the time to explore any cultural attractions, due to the short weekend trips I had. However, if you do have the time, and the inclination, head over to the Henry Moore Institute to see pieces of work by the famed Leeds sculptor, the Gallery at Munro House– which hosts diverse exhibitions highlighting all aspects of the creative arts, and The Tetley, Leeds oldest brewery which hosts exhibitions, screenings and fairs, in a wonderful setting. If wanting to visit the largest abbey in the North of England head to Kirkstall Abbey, a short journey away from the city centre. And to experience and understand Leeds industrial past, as well as comprehend the dramatic changes Leeds has had on its city, head over to the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, to gain a snapshot into the life of 19th century textiles.