Insider Leeds - what to see and do, where to eat and shop

Shop yourself silly in cosmopolitan Leeds – where northern grit meets urban chic. You’ll find an historic mill town transformed into a buzzing shopping mecca – it even has its own Harvey Nicks.

Breathe in its heady mix of modern architecture and grand, old buildings. Of ornate Victorian shopping arcades and uber-modern designer stores. Learn how the city powered the Industrial Revolution and see ultra-rare elephant armour at its museums.   

Check out our guide to all the best things to do in Leeds.

Need inspiration? What to see

Wince at the gruesome medical treatments of yesteryear at Thackray Medical Museum. The sounds and smells of Victorian Leeds are conjured up on a reconstruction of a street from the time. It’s a must-see – but perhaps not a must-smell. Find out what life was like before anaesthetics and antibiotics – you’ll never moan about waiting in the doctor’s again.

Huge belching, sputtering cotton mills dominated Leeds in Victorian times. The city’s canal links to Europe made it a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. Learn how hard life was for the folk grafting in those Dickensian mills at Leeds Industrial Museum. And how the cloth was made – if you’re that way inclined.

Ever heard of an elephant wearing armour? Head to the Royal Armouries to see steel-plate armour worn by elephants in 17th century India. It weighs a colossal 118kg. Elephants aside, you can browse 5 galleries packed with over 8,500 artefacts – dating from the Middle Ages to modern history.

Go up the country at Temple Newsam’s Home Farm. Wander among the free ranging chickens and piglets – but be careful not to stand on their tails. Feel like lord of the manor with a stroll around the grounds of Temple Newsam house. Great for pretending you’re a Downton cast member for an hour. 

Feeling hungry? Where to eat

An intimate dinner: One minute you’re on a pavement in Leeds in the rain, the next you’re transported to a bistro on Paris’ Left Bank. Welcome to Kendells. With French food, fancy table cloths, and a seriously romantic atmosphere your mon cheri should be smitten. Try smoked salmon with horseradish cream followed by chicken breast with cream, white wine and tarragon.

A light lunch: There are sandwiches and then there are sandwiches. And Hepworth’s Deli serves the latter. Truly beautiful butties are the order of the day here. Think deep-fried halloumi, harissa, red pepper and tzatziki or roasted chicken with avocado and herb and lemon mayo. All served on artisan breads, of course.

International: Flame-grilled cuts of prime meat carved at your table – and all you have to do is flip a card to let the waiter know you’re ready for the show to begin. What’s not to like? Brazilian-influenced Fazenda is redefining dinner. Choose your cut – filet mignon, cordeiro (leg of lamb), frango (chicken thighs) or linguica (sausage) – and watch as the meat is carved at your table. The meat is marinated and cooked as it would be at Brazil’s famed churrasco barbecues.  

Street food: Battling with your mates about where to eat? You’ll all find something you’re happy to chow down on at Trinity Kitchen, thanks to the alternating array of street food trucks which swap over every 3 months. Recent treats include the out-of-this-world tandoori chicken burger at Bhangra Burger and mouth-watering hot salt-beef baguettes topped with melted cheese and pickle at the Bell and Brisket.

Retail therapy – where to shop

High street heaven

Briggate: If it’s high-street staples you’re after, take a wander down Leeds’ main shopping street. Department stores such as Debenhams and House of Fraser and favourites like H&M and Zara are all present and correct. 

Trinity Leeds: Totally swanky shops, pop-up restaurants and buskers that belt out Hey Jude as you wander the aisles. This is shopping but not as you know it. Shop for fashionistas at Topshop, for gadget geeks at Apple, and for sports stars at Asics.

Label lovers - designer shopping

Victoria Quarter: It’s all about high fashion and heritage brands here. Wander the suitably ornate floor and browse leather bags at Louis Vuitton and Mulberry, suits at Paul Smith and preppy ladies-wear at Hobbs. Don’t forget to check the price tags.

Harvey Nichols: You can’t say you’ve done Leeds’ shopping without doing Harvey Nicks. A mecca for the beautiful and rich folk of Leeds for years, it’s a must-do whether you’re shopping or merely having a peek. From Stella McCartney to Burberry and Calvin Klein to Cartier it’s a one-stop shop for the finer things in life.

Vintage, independents and homewares

Take a left at the top of Briggate and dive into the Grade-I listed Corn Exchange – a haven of quirky boutiques and independent stores selling everything from clothes and jewellery to homewares. 2 shops not to miss:

  • Yellow Sunrise: Find unique homewares sought from the 4 corners of the globe. Moroccan lamps, Japanese sake sets and lucky cat ornaments from China.
  • Culture Vulture: Looking for a gift for a hard-to-buy-for friend? Find unique cards, kitsch, retro gifts for the home and much more.      

Leeds Pride

Join the 30,000 people heading to Leeds this August to celebrate Pride Weekend. Thousands of people will take to the city’s streets on 2 August for the annual parade, followed by no fewer than 8 hours of entertainment across multiple stages. In the past, Leeds Pride has attracted the crème de la crème of pop, with Gareth Gates, Sophie Ellis Bexter and Stooshe all performing. And this year is no exception, with X Factor favourites Union J taking to the stage. Other acts will be announced closer to the day, so be sure to check the Leeds Pride website for updates.

Hidden Leeds

Fuji Hiro: This bustling, pared-back noodle bar is loved by in-the-know locals. Tuck into a steaming bowl of noodles, or a traditional ramen – a Japanese soup served with noodles and meat. Portions are big and prices low.

The Ivanhoe Clock: Nestled in the ornate, Victorian Thornton’s Arcade. This unique, beguiling clock is watched over by sculptures of Robin Hood, Richard the Lion Heart, Friar Tuck and Gurth the Swineherd – all from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Enjoy your trip to Leeds