I visited Leeds for the first time one day that some friends came to visit me from Italy. I spent the day exploring the city, and I meet them only in the late afternoon once they arrived at the airport. The capital of Yorkshire is just one hour by train from Hull, where I was based during my semester abroad. Leeds is a perfect day-trip, and, being one of the main English cities, it’s known mainly for shopping and its nightlife. There are here three different Universities, the atmosphere is vibrant, and everyone has a blast!
Living in Hull was like living in a bubble, and every time I went somewhere across the region, I used to compare the cities, the lifestyles and the atmosphere in general. I was some sort of short-term expat/long-term tourist, so my way of looking at things was surely different from a local.
What I first noticed of Leeds were its vibrancy and its multiculturalism, that was evidently less visible in Hull. Oh, I forgot: Leeds was so so much colder!
People walked fast in downtown streets, someone wore a yellow flower on her/his coat, other people proudly showed off the bags coming from the mall, some others ate a snack seated on the benches. I spotted very few tourists; maybe they were well hidden amongst the locals; on the contrary, I was the perfect tourist wearing my camera hung around my neck and holding a city map in my hands.
What I particularly liked was the high contrast between the milky white sky and the city colours, such as the golden clock next to the bell tower and the flowers on the flower beds that stand out with great intensity.
The official website Visit Leeds gives the possibility to filter the results to get a complete list of what the city has to offer according to your search criteria. There are many free tourist attractions that you can visit in one day. I had the chance to look at some of them, starting my itinerary from the Central Rail Station and going towards the Corn Exchange, a beautiful three-floor Victorian building that nowadays hosts jewelry, stylish bars and small vintage clothing boutiques that have a quite eccentric style.
The churches have free admission. I have visited the Leeds Minster decorated with magnificent stained-glass windows. Inside you also find war memorials, benches, and a dark-wooden carved pulpit. What caught my attention was the red light that was illuminating the altar. Yes, red. I guess it would be more appropriate to a club rather than a church!
You can have a look at the small Leeds Cathedral and St. John’s Evangelist Church, the two very different in style. The latter is the most ancient church in Leeds, which boasts impressive interiors in Jacobin style and an imposing central glass enclosure enriched by brass and emblems.
If churches and their architecture are not your things, you can follow to the next free destination that I chose to visit, i.e., the Leeds City Museum, where I spent a good part of the afternoon. It has variously themed halls: ancient Egyptian and the Classical history, Leeds up to modern age, wildlife, people and cultures of the world, and hosts contemporary photographic exhibitions. In every hall, there are many interactive games and activities for children to hold their attention (and keep them busy).
As I’m a great lover of markets with their flavours and colours, I went to the Kirkgate Market, the biggest covered market in Europe with a wide range of stands selling food, fabrics, clothing and various items. Many signs inside the building explain how that complex had developed and has been expanded over time. The impressive glass roof and windows framed by iron structures painted in green with yellow touch-ups and red dragons.
In the centre of the market, there’s the centuries-old clock branded Marks&Spencer. When I went there, I loved the welcoming atmosphere that makes you want to wander more and more to browse every item on the stands and to taste something new: in this market, local products and ethnic cuisine are harmoniously joined.
I ended my visit in Leeds in the most famous shopping streets – Briggate and Commercial Street– and I gave a glance at the arcades, six enchanting and luxurious galleries built between 19th and 20th century. Clothing boutiques, pastry shops, bookshops, cosmetic stores… Every shop is incredibly stylish, and the glass roof of the arcade filtering daylight makes them very bright.
Amongst all the arcades, I think County Arcade is the most beautiful and elegant, as it’s enhanced by marble columns, decorated arches outlining the ceiling, ornate chandeliers, mosaics, and frescoes. The other galleries are parallel to this latter, and all have different designs that are worth a visit, especially the white and light-blue Thornton’s Arcade.
Leeds has further attractions for art and design lovers hosting exhibitions and galleries (Leeds Art Gallery). The kind of things that made me go crazy was the particular sculptures around the city, like these lovely little dogs or those solemn owls. Talking about owls… Do you know that you visit Leeds with the Owl Trail? It’s a fun and different way to explore the city by locating 25 small owls spread everywhere. You can play with your travel buddies but if you lose you pay a pint!