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!
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personal sightseeing adventures, because of that, some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated.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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!