City Guide to Leeds, UK | Must See Attractions

City Guide to Leeds, UK | Must See Attractions

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We'll be honest, Leeds took us by surprise! We arrived by train and stepped into a busy and bustling city center in a very lively city. Although, this is no surprise once you know that Leeds is recognized as the regional capital of Yorkshire and is situated in the middle of the UK, just two hours by train outside of London. It’s one of the fastest growing cities in the country and has undergone a makeover to take it from an old mill town to a modern city. Also, Leeds is home to two leading UK universities, Leeds Beckett University and Leeds University, adding a hip and sophisticated vibe to the city. Plus, if you’re familiar with the very popular Mark & Spencer (M&S) stores from the UK (and beyond), then you may be intrigued to know the brand was born here.  So, whether you’re taking a day trip to explore the city, or escaping for the weekend or longer, there’s plenty to see and experience in Leeds!

 

We were out the door before sunrise to start our sightseeing in Leeds. On our way to city center, we passed by many great sights that weren't even on our list! Clockwise (from the top left): Leeds Library, Queen Victoria's Statue in Woodhouse Moor, entrance to the Leeds Library, the sunrise over Leeds, the Mechanical Engineering building at Leeds University.

The streets in Leeds have such great architecture!

We didn't expect so much art around town, but we sure enjoyed it!

 

To possibly make your research on sightseeing in Leeds (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing). Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below. And finally, not every attraction is suitable for every visitor, but the copywriters and marketing departments for the destinations sure make it sound like it. How many times have you read “Great for kids and adults alike” and shown up at the venue to wonder why anyone over 20 years-old without kids would go out of their way to be there? Below we’ve included our itinerary with tips, impressions, and our takeaways on each place that, when combined with the official attraction information and website, may help you decide if it’s a destination for your travel adventure or not.

 
 

NOTE: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that, some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. All prices are shown in US dollars but are actually Great British Pounds (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Leeds. 

Must See Attractions in Leeds

Royal Armouries Museum

One of the things we’ve come to appreciate in the UK, is the free entry to all UK National Museums. However, any special exhibitions may require a cover charge, and we know that funding must come from somewhere (likely taxes), so really they aren’t free. With all that being said, when visiting Leeds, be sure to check out the ‘Free’ Royal Armouries Museum. The museum is located on the bank of the River Aire, so the walk to and from the museum is an attraction in and of its self!

 

The walk to the Royal Armouries Museum was full of great views and colorful architecture. The only better way to get to the museum might be the Leeds Dock Water Taxi (it's free)! 

 

The museum displays over 3,000 years worth of combat and self-defense history, but don’t let that intimidate you! It’s interesting for the whole family, as the exhibits vary and cover many themes, from the Oriental Gallery and Tournament Gallery, to the Hunting Gallery and the hands-on Crossbow Range (additional charge). When visiting, you may find yourself fascinated by the first room, Hall of Steel, which is a tower filled with weapons and mirrors, but be sure to move along and see everything the museum has to offer. Also, when you arrive, you’ll get a handy brochure with a map and a schedule of events and talks for the day, or if you prefer, check the schedule ahead of time online.

 

The entrance to the Royal Armouries Museum is impressive and sets the tone for the rest of the museum!

The Royal Armouries Museum is spread over several levels that can be reached from the Hall of Steel, a magnificent and creative display of armory. Visitors can gaze up to see the weapons and armor, or look down onto the mirror to see an impressive reflection. Plus, choose to climb the stairs and you'll be treated to more displays on the exterior of the tower! 

The exhibits within the museum are very impressive and vary by era and weaponry.

 

Leeds Art Gallery

The gallery houses an impressive collection of British 19th and 20th century artwork, along with some contemporary pieces. Be sure to check visiting information on the Leeds website, since during our visit, the gallery was closed for renovation. However, from what we hear, it’s an exciting project and once re-opened, visitors will be able to see the original Victorian glass ceiling that was hidden for over 40 years! We sadly were unable to see the collections because of the renovation; however, we were able to get a peek at the impressive tiled ceilings in the café, which has remained open during the renovation of the gallery. If you’re in need of a refreshment, sitting under the café ceiling is an impressive place to do so!

 

The tiled cafe within the Leeds Art Gallery is worth a visit on its own merit! 

Next to Leeds Art Gallery is Leads Town Hall (top left image), and nearby is the Victoria Cross Memorial (bottom left image). Plus, on our way to the gallery, we passed by a building displaying a beautiful piece of art!

 

Reclining Woman: Elbow Sculpture

You might expect to see Henry Moore’s famous Reclining Woman: Elbow sculpture on display in front of the Henry Moore Institute, but you’ll actually find it next door in front of the entrance to the Leeds Art Gallery. After a stint of time in Amsterdam, this renowned piece of artwork has made its way back to Leeds, and if you’re visiting, you should definitely take time to view it!

 

Resting outside of the Leeds Art Gallery is the famous Reclining Woman by Henry Moore.

 

Corn Exchange

Don’t let the name fool you, as you’ll be hard pressed to find any corn being sold here. Instead, what you’ll find is a gorgeous Grade 1 listed building that’s home to a variety of independent retailers. It also hosts vintage, craft, record, and food fairs throughout the year, and while we weren’t lucky enough to enjoy one during our visit, hopefully your timing will be spot on! While there, we weren't able to help ourselves from admiring everything, from the wrought iron staircases to the domed ceiling. You can get up to date event and store information online ahead of time to plan your visit.

 

When we walked into the Corn Exchange, we felt like we were on a movie set!

 

Queens Arcade

Queens Arcade was built in 1889 and while it was remodeled in the 1990’s, fortunately it retained its original charm. Visit for the unique design of this shopping arcade, but if you find yourself in the mood to do a bit of shopping, you’ll be surrounded by independent shops, some that have been doing business here for decades!

 

Queen's Arcade was the first arcade we visited on our sightseeing adventure.

 

Thornton’s Arcade

As the first arcade built in Leeds, you’ll be able to see how it was something special in 1878! When there, be sure to check out Pott’s Clock, with its beautiful painted wooden figures! Starting on the left of the clock, Robin Hood is the figure in green, Friar Tuck is in black, Richard the Lionheart is in red, and Gurth the Swineherd is in tan.

 

Thorton's Arcade was the second arcade on our tour of Leeds.

 

Victoria Quarter

This is probably the most well-known arcade in Leeds, and for good reason. It’s stunning because of the gilded mosaics, classic marble, and beautiful ironwork. We were surprised to learn that it had actually fallen into disrepair and the grandeur seen today is in part because of a large renovation effort undertaken in the 1980s. It’s now home to over 70 luxury stores and a few delicious dining options!

 

Our third visit to a Leeds arcade was Victoria Quarter (top image); one of the more well known arcades in the city. Once we took in the Victorian glamour of Victoria Quarter, we walked down the passage way and found another passage way that led to County Arcade (bottom image). 

The dome at the center of County Arcade (next to Victoria Quarter) had us looking up and admiring the glass and iron ceiling that was decorated with beautiful tile work!

Victoria Quarter may be the most well known arcade in Leeds, but we favored the parallel arcade, County Arcade.

 

Victoria Gate

After visiting Victoria Quarter, we urge you to make your way to Victoria Gate, a modern re-interpretation of Victoria Quarter. It may not have the years of history and stories behind it, but Victoria Gate is a modern architectural beauty filled with high-end luxury stores.

 

Victoria Gate is a modern interpretation of arcades from previous times. 

Victoria Gate is a modern interpretation of shopping arcades that will take your breath away!

 

Kirk Gate Market

Kirk Gate Market dates back to 1857 and is the birthplace of Marks and Spencer (M&S). The building is a Grade 1 listed building that has been beautifully preserved. Be sure to come and admire the architecture, but look around as well, as you’ll also be treated to one of the largest indoor markets in Europe. If you’re looking to shop, you’re bound to find something that catches your eye in the 75,000 square feet, and 400 indoor and 200 outdoor stalls that make up this market. Moreover, if you visit on the first or third Sunday of the month, you’ll be treated to the Farmers and Craft Markets as well!

 

The Victorian design of Kirk Gate Market is stunning. We visited early, just as the shops were setting up for the day. In the calm of the early morning it wasn't hard to use our imaginations and step back in time!

 
 

When it comes to shopping for food, Kirk Gate might just be one of the freshest markets in Leeds!

 

Millennium Square

In the year 2000 the city underwent a flagship project to usher in the new millennium. Millennium Square was designed as a gathering space for the city and includes outdoor public space and an entertainment venue. Since the completion of the project, the square has become a place for a wide range of events that are held throughout the year, including a Christmas market, festivals, and community celebrations. If you’re visiting during the summer, be sure to check out the Summer Series and enjoy movies, music, and live performances. Taking the square a step further, Millennium Square has the ‘Leeds Big Screen’, where public broadcasting is taken to the next level. Learn more about what’s broadcasted on the Leeds Big Screen website. Beyond the square, don’t miss the prominent landmarks that border it, including Town Hall, Leeds Civic Hall, Leeds General Infirmary, Leeds City Museum, Leeds Academy, and Leeds College of Art. Also, be sure to head to the south corner of Millennium Square to see the Nelson Mandela Gardens.

 

At the center of city events, Millennium Square is surrounded by wonderful architecture and the Nelson Mandela Gardens.

 

City Square

City Square was originally created between 1896 and 1903 when the city council decided it was time to improve the space around the post office. Statues, that can still be seen today, were placed in the square, with the most prominent one being the Black Prince on Horseback, done in bronze by Thomas Brock. In the early 2000s, the square was refurbished, the statues were moved and a fountain was added. At first glance, this square is easy to overlook, however take a moment and you’ll see that the statues, fountain, and architecture all make for a great public space in the middle of a vibrant city.

 

It might be easy to over look City Square, as it's surrounded by busy roadways and pedestrian traffic. However, we took the time to look for the details, and found it to be quite beautiful!

 

Park Square

Park Square, in the Leeds Financial Quarter, is just as the name implies, a park, but not just any park. The public space is a traditional Georgian park that’s surrounded by lavish Georgian buildings. Unlike Millennium Square and City Square, this public square is set aside from the bustle of the city and is a great place to take a relaxing stroll or read a book.

 

Park Square is a wonderful garden that's an escape from the busy city that surrounds it!

 

Final Thoughts

We had a great time in Leeds and explored everything we could. We didn’t rent a car, so we kept our sightseeing to what we could do on foot, however there’s so much more to see and do than what we covered in and around Leeds. We highly recommend reviewing the map we included above to see the castles, parks, and ruins that are waiting for your visit!

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