Take a fresh look at Leeds

Its dingy industrial past has been left well behind: now, Leeds, with its busy cultural scene, lively nightlife, unique Victorian architecture and one-of-a-kind shops, is a city to be reckoned with.

Victoria Quarter, Leeds
The Victoria Quarter shopping centre is an eye-catching blend of old and new / © Visit Britain 

During the Industrial Revolution, Leeds was one of the main centres of the British economy, and the rich historical legacy of the city puts it almost on a par with London for architectural heritage. Many of the characteristic Victorian red-brick buildings have been converted into apartments, hotels and offices, and the old city centre is now a delightful place to stroll around discovering the monumental gems.

But the area was by no means entirely industrial, and its history goes much further back: just three and a half miles from the centre, set amid a green haven of wildlife on the River Aire, is Kirkstall Abbey. Dating from the twelfth century, it is one of the most impressive examples of a Cistercian abbey in Britain.

A bit farther off, around eight miles from the city, lies Harewood House, home of the Earl and Countess of Harewood. It's a popular filming location – since the Nineties, Emmerdale has been filmed on the estate – and featured as Pemberley in the 2008 TV series Lost in Austen. The house itself, a magnificent eighteenth century mansion surrounded by gardens, houses an interesting collection of Chippendale furniture and fine classical paintings.

No visitor to the city of Leeds should miss the award-winning Henry Moore Institute, with its wide-ranging programme and exhibitions of sculpture, both historical and modern. A walkway connects the Institute to the City Art Gallery, home to a fine collection of twentieth century British art as well as a number of evocative moonlit scenes by the local Victorian artist Atkinson Grimshaw. Alongside is the bustling Millennium Square, a frequent setting for plays, concerts and markets. The other most important museum in the city is the Royal Armouries, which offers a perfect day out for the family with exciting interactive exhibits and live horse shows, jousting and falconry.

Leeds is also one of the best shopping centres in England, with markets and shopping malls where you'll find all the usual names as well as an interesting selection of one-of-a-kind shops that don't belong to any chain or franchise. Even if you don't want to push your credit card limits too hard, it can still be fun to take a trip to the shops, many of which are located in impressively restored buildings of great architectural value. Kirkgate Market is the largest covered market in Europe and birthplace of Marks & Spencer. Two other unique buildings transformed into modern shopping and service centres are The Light and the Corn Exchange.

The shopping-sightseeing tour reaches its climax in the Victoria Quarter, an eye-catching blend of old and new, with ornate mahogany detail, gilded art-nouveau lettering and the largest stained glass window in Britain – a roof that stretches the full length of Queen Victoria Street.

But Leeds isn't all shops and monuments: it's also the hometown of classic rock bands such as Whitesnake and The Sisters of Mercy and, more recently of indie bands including the Kaiser Chiefs and The Pigeon Detectives, which define the pop scene in Britain today. The city's musical heritage is evident in the annual Leeds Festival, held in late August. 

Further information:
Leeds tourist information