I love Leeds! I went to University there and spent 10 years living in the city, and I fall in love with it every time I go back to visit. Leeds has changed a lot since I lived there, and Leeds City Centre is unrecognisable in some places! So, to get to know it again, I set myself the task of finding the best things to do in Leeds City Centre.
Shop Till You Drop
Leeds is famous for shopping, and the variety of independent shops and big brand names all around the city mean there truly is something for everyone. If you have the cash to spend then the Victoria Quarter is for you, with a striking new development complementing the beautiful Victorian ironwork in the County Arcade.
If independent shops are more your style, then check out the Corn Exchange, another wonderful building which is worth visiting even if you don’t spend a penny. Pick up some unique gifts from The Great Yorkshire Shop, a guitar or some custom jewellery from one of the shops here.
The Trinity Shopping Centre is a relatively new development which houses all of the usual suspects you’d expect to find on the High Street, and plenty more besides, including a cinema and various eateries.
Take a Food Tour
Speaking of food, Leeds is heaven for foodies! However, there is so much amazing food in Leeds that it can be overwhelming, so if you want to get a taste of everything Leeds has to offer, then a Local Leeds Food Tour is just the ticket.
Friendly guide Nell will take you around the tastiest spots in Leeds and share her vast knowledge about the Leeds foodie scene. Book directly on her website Leeds Food Tours or check out the reviews of her tour on GetYourGuide here.
Eat at Leeds Kirkgate Market
The biggest market in Leeds, and the largest undercover market in Europe, Leeds Kirkgate Market should be the first stop for any foodies in the city. The market stalls here sell everything, from needle and thread to clothes, electronics, suitcases, and food.
You’ll find fresh produce, fruit, veg, meat and fish alongside spices, freshly baked bread, olives, and traditional cafés selling bacon butties and pie and peas.
A welcome addition to the market is the street food area, where you can get a juicy hot dog, Indian street food, Yorkshire pudding wraps, curry goat, and anything else that takes your fancy. The market extends far beyond its ornate roof, and the stalls continue outside. Come here to grab a bite for lunch, stock up on West Indian spices or get ingredients to cook at home.
You can also join a free tour of the market which takes you up to the walkway above the stalls. The tour is full of fascinating facts about the history of the market, and we even popped into the underground barbershop I never knew existed!
Enjoy Afternoon Tea in Leeds City Centre
Afternoon tea continues to be extremely popular in the UK, and Leeds is no exception. After hunting down the best afternoon tea in York I’m intrigued to see how afternoon tea in Leeds compares! The hotels in Leeds have certainly gone to town, with the Queen’s, Radisson Blu, 42 The Calls, Malmaison and the Doubletree all offering tasty afternoon tea treats to tempt you.
If hotels aren’t your style, then try Crafthouse in Leeds Trinity, Le Chalet French tearoom, or Just Grand! Vintage tea rooms. Further afield, Oulton Hall and Harewood House also offer splendid spreads. I haven’t eaten at any of these yet, but they are on my list for my next visit!
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: My Yorkshire Foodie Adventure
Check out the Art Galleries
Leeds has some exceptional art galleries in the city centre, for example, the Leeds City Art Gallery has a wide range of works, primarily from British artists and is free to visit. The gallery was opened for the people, by the people, and paid for by public subscription which was collected in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.
People all around the country were asked to donate money to send to London for the celebrations, but it was decided that a local tribute to the Queen was more fitting, and beneficial for the people of Leeds.
The museum was filled with paintings and artworks from British contemporary artists, something which continues to this day, although one room is dedicated to some of the paintings which were originally on display at that time. I think my favourite piece was ‘Scotland Forever’ by Elizabeth Thompson, as the horses seem to be galloping off the canvas!
There are several pieces by local sculptor Henry Moore, and the gallery is connected by a bridge to the Henry Moore Institute next door where you can see more beautiful works of sculpture.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Free Museums in Leeds you Have to Visit
Admire Some Armour
The Royal Armouries Museum houses a huge collection of arms and armour, with more than 75,000 objects from across the world and throughout history from medieval times to the present day. It’s just a short walk from Leeds City Centre, or you can hop on a water taxi from Granary Wharf to take you there for just £1 donation.
The museum is filled with fascinating artefacts, brought to life with models, drawings and splendid displays. I loved the Japanese gallery, which had armour and weapons from Japanese shoguns and samurai, which was fascinating to see up close and to understand how the style of swords was designed to target weak points in the armour.
I was also impressed with the only remaining almost complete elephant armour in any public collection in the world – displayed on a full-sized model elephant, which is quite a sight! One of the other big attractions is the armour of King Henry VIII, which the king himself wore for a tournament in France.
Paint the Town Red
The nightlife in Leeds City Centre is legendary, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to explore and enjoy an evening in Leeds. Some of my favourite spots include The Maven, where hipster barmen serve up delectable cocktails in teacups, and The Shed Bar which plays rock music and has a great selection of beers, spirits and cocktails too.
If you prefer traditional pubs to cool bars, then Leeds has got you covered too – don’t miss Whitelocks. The Cross Keys and the Adelphi are also good choices and have food menus too.
As for live music, The Brudenell in Hyde Park is a favourite among students with up-and-coming bands playing here before they make it big, whereas Leeds Arena hosts some of the biggest names in the business from Elton John to The Who, JLS and Cirque du Soleil.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: The Best Cheap Places in the UK
Go Axe Throwing (Yes, Really)
I have never thrown an axe but it looks like great fun! Whistle Punks Urban Axe Throwing is in Millenium Square and is a great place to get together with a group of friends and chuck some axes at the target. You’ll have a professional instructor to show you how it’s done before you’re let loose. It’s over 18s only, for obvious reasons!
Visit the Library
Leeds Central Library is a beautiful building and a great spot to do some work if you need a quiet place to escape the busy city streets. The Tiled Hall Café also has some great food including tasty snacks and delicious cakes, in an absolutely gorgeous room which is (you guessed it!) a large hall covered in tiles!
OK, I admit that this isn’t quite in the city centre, but I loved exploring Kirkstall Abbey so I’m including it anyway! The Abbey was thriving Cistercian Abbey from 1152 until 1539 when it was closed after King Henry VIII abolished all abbeys and religious houses related to the Catholic Church.
Kirkstall Abbey is set inside a large park, where you can stroll around and sit next to the River Aire. The ruins are lovely to walk around and there are regular events held throughout the year from food markets to live theatre performances in the grounds. It is free to visit.
There are so many fabulous and fun things to do in Leeds City Centre, I will keep updating the list as I find more, but with this, you have a great idea of what to do in Leeds!
Where to Stay in Leeds
The Best Hotels in Leeds
Dakota is consistently rated highly by its guests, and the hotel is in a great location just off Park Row, 5 minutes’ walk from the train station. >>>CHECK PRICES
I used to work here and the Marriott is without a doubt one of the best hotels in Leeds. Recently refurbished with a newly opened Italian restaurant Gino D’Campo, the location is also excellent, in a leafy courtyard a couple of minutes’ from the station. There is a small swimming pool and gym on site, and the buffet breakfast is worth the extra cash! >>>CHECK PRICES
The iconic Queens Hotel is on City Square, and while there are roadworks going on outside, once they’re completed it will be on a pedestrian square. Another great location and a favourite with visitors. >>>CHECK PRICES
Cheap Hotels in Leeds
If you’re visiting Leeds on a budget, then these budget Leeds hotels and hostels are more wallet-friendly so you can splash the cash on some of the fun things to do in Leeds instead of on accommodation!
Hotel prices in Leeds do vary dramatically depending on the day of the week and if there are any events going on in town, so be as flexible as you can to save money.
This clean and comfortable hostel is run by an art charity and has private rooms and shared dorm rooms to choose from. It’s a short walk from the city centre and great value, especially as the rate includes a continental breakfast. >>>CHECK PRICES
This budget hotel is 15 minutes walk from the centre of Leeds, right next to the Royal Armouries Museum, so it’s ideal if you plan to visit the museum while you’re in town. It gets great reviews for the price and even includes breakfast. >>>CHECK PRICES
Apartments & Airbnb in Leeds
If you prefer more space and want an apartment in Leeds Booking.com also has a great selection, often with better cancellation terms than Airbnb.
Roomzzz is good value and rates also include a grab-and-go breakfast of fresh pastries, hot drinks, fruits and fruit juice. >>>CHECK PRICES
For a more luxurious stay, The Chambers’ boutique apartments offer comfortable and modern accommodation, with an on-site gym and honesty bar available for guests. >>>CHECK PRICES