Leeds, West Yorkshire
From glass-roofed arcades and Victorian mills to innovative ballets and independent boutiques, spirited Leeds is old England seen through modern eyes.
Sat astride the River Aire, Leeds is one of Britain's great industrial cities and the beating heart of West Yorkshire. A fast-moving emblem of Northern England, it’s a world of mouthwatering riverside restaurants, classical art and grand architecture. Sip local beers in its Elizabethan alehouses and shop among the mosaic floors and mahogany frames of the Victoria Quarter.
Leeds may be modern, but the Middle Ages are only ever a sword swipe away thanks to the Royal Armouries, which holds over 8,500 pieces of military hardware. Begun by Elizabeth I, the collection houses several royal armours alongside Corinthian helmets, Samurai swords and early flintlock pistols. It even has a suit of armour built for an elephant.
Harewood House offers the exotic too, with penguins and flamingos roaming the landscaped grounds of this grand country home. Its stately rooms exude Georgian elegance with Renaissance masterpieces, four-poster beds and a fine collection of Sèvres china. Discover the waterfall and stepping stones of its Himalayan Garden.
You’ll lose hours among the esteemed collection of 20th-century British art at Leeds Art Gallery. It showcases everything from sculptures by Rodin and Henry Moore to watercolours by Turner, alongside challenging, contemporary pieces and temporary exhibitions. The English scones from its illustrious Tiled Hall Café are pieces of art too.
With its decorative facade, clustered columns and Gothic fan-vaulting, there is no finer setting for the opera than the resplendent Leeds Grand Theatre. Home to England’s most exciting opera company, Opera North, its performances set out to challenge preconceptions. Northern Ballet, a contemporary dance troupe based at the Phoenix Dance Theatre, gives Leeds a world-class ballet offering as well.
A taste of Britain
For a taste of Britain, head to the The Oldest Fish and Chip Shop in the World, in Yeadon. Serving fried fish and thick chips since 1865, try them the English way: served in newspaper with fistfuls of salt and a soaking of vinegar. Locals also eat at Kirkgate Market, a splendid Edwardian bazaar. Here, lively traders sell everything from fresh fish and fine cut flowers to hand-woven fabrics and Italian breads. Stop for some food and take it all it.
It was at Kirkgate Market that England’s most cherished high street shop, Marks & Spencer, began as a penny bazaar in 1884. Step back in time by visiting its Victorian-style store here, before heading to see the company's archives at Leeds University where films, food packaging, photographs and vintage clothes chart its incredible tale.
Breweries and pubs
Having worked up a thirst, it’s time for a good pint, and there’s little doubt that Northern England offers the country’s finest. Independent brewers, Leeds Brewery, have five distinctive British pubs in which to try theirs. Enjoy a pint of Leeds Best beneath the 14th-century beams of The Duke of York, or sip a glass of Midnight Bell ale in the boozer of the same name.
Escape the city
For fresh Yorkshire air, escape to Kirkstall Abbey, a crumbling Cistercian monastery from the 12th century. Set among bucolic riverside grounds, its dazzling daffodils and softly swaying trees feel a world away from city life.