The third largest city in the UK, Leeds, in West Yorkshire, England, blends British tradition and history in a bustling metropolitan setting. A hub for art, culture and history, it is also home to four universities, a flourishing financial district, and the second busiest train station outside London. Here are the best things to do and see in Leeds.
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On the bank of the River Aire, northwest of Leeds city centre, are the impressive ruins of an 800-year-old monastery, Kirkstall Abbey. One of the victims of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the abbey’s remains are an enticing and dramatic monument to its chequered past. You can enjoy the surrounding park, browse the market, or for more stories of its juicy history, join a tour of the Grade I-listed abbey.
Temple Newsam is a glorious country estate in Leeds. Taking up more than 1500 acres (600ha), and spanning 500 years of history within its walls, the estate is an exciting mixture of Tudor and Jacobean architecture. Popular with tourists for its enchanting woodland and extensive art collections, Temple Newsam is also a working farm, with activities to captivate all ages and interests.
Royal Armouries Museum
The clue is in the title of the Royal Armouries Museum, which displays 8,500 armaments from the museum’s huge collection. The impressive array of weaponry is arranged across several galleries, along themes of tournament, self-defence, hunting, and, interestingly, peace. The museum also houses impressive objects previously on display at the Tower of London. This is a great venue to make you look at history from a different angle, and to learn about the way weapons have advanced over time.
This award-winning park is one of the largest and most charming city parks in Europe, sprawling more than 700 acres (280ha). Stroll around and take advantage of the amazing (and rather unexpected, for such a large city) greenery on the outskirts. With lakes, gardens and an impressive mansion to explore, as well as a 19th-century castle gate, there’s a wealth of exciting outdoor activities to choose from.
If you’re in the mood to be entertained, consider splashing out on a ticket to the Grand Theatre and Opera House in Leeds. Ballet, opera and plays are all part of the programme, and this venue is a highlight of the city. Dating back to the late 19th century, the theatre seats 1,500, with every space in the elaborately designed interior warm and welcoming. It’s a great way to spend a cultural evening in a beautiful setting.
Formerly known as St Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds Cathedral was restored in 2006. Designed in the gothic revival style and rebuilt in 1901, it continues to hold mass and has a thriving congregation. It’s one of the most striking points in the city’s landscape, and is a monument to the religious history of the city, which has often oscillated between Catholic and Protestant faith. Whether you’re religious or not, this is a beautiful place to enjoy English design and soak up the atmosphere.
Leeds Art Gallery
A jewel in the city’s crown, Leeds Art Gallery features a collection of national importance. Founded in 1888, it was established in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and the exhibitions feature the best of 19th and 20th century British art. The Leeds Art Library is an interesting component of the gallery, providing extensive, unbeatable materials for art history and culture enthusiasts.
Leeds City Museum
Leeds City Museum reopened in 2008 to great fanfare after a major refurb. It showcases titillating aspects of the city’s history; one of its most popular curios is the Leeds Tiger, which ostensibly began as a tiger-skin rug, and was later combined with other animal skins and stuffed to create the current, rather imposing Victorian artefact. While away your time in the museum’s many exhibitions, exploring everything from natural history to ancient worlds.
Thackray Museum of Medicine
The Thackray Medical Museum is a marvel of medical history. The official museum opened in 1997, but the grounds in which it’s built once housed a workhouse and infirmary, and later a hospital. Learn about the exciting developments that have transformed the practice of medicine, through interactive games and tours. There are also exhibits that will transport you back in time to Victorian Leeds, giving you a glimpse into city living before, mercifully, national health regulations were introduced.
Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Leeds canal links Leeds to the city of Liverpool, via Britain’s longest, single waterway. Stretching 127mi (200km), the canal was completed during the early 19th century and is an ideal place to head out on a canoe, or amble along the bank during leisurely afternoons. Seek out a quiet spot for a stroll and a drink with friends.
Leeds has an enviable position in the craft beer scene, and the best way to get a real sense of the local offering is to take a Brewtown tour. If you choose the classic brewery tour, you’ll be collected by special minibus, and taken to three of the most significant local breweries – Quirky Ales, Northern Monk and the North Brewing Co. You’ll get the chance to try a range of their beers, buy some to bring home with you, and get the best tips on pubs and bars to visit once the bus drops you off back in town.
Rodley Nature Reserve
Within easy reach of the city centre, Rodley Nature Reserve is an idyllic little pocket of wilderness begging to be explored. Ponds, meadows and sections of woodland are made accessible by a medley of footpaths, and you can pick up a species guide at the visitor’s centre to help you spot the numerous types of birds, fish, and insect life which populate the reserve.
Additional reporting by Callum Davies
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