Leisure, Luxury and Retail Heaven in Leeds
Those who don’t know the thriving city of Leeds – the UK’s biggest legal and financial hub outside London – may still have a very outmoded vision of it being all ancient textile mills, flat caps and whippets. How wrong can you be? Correct that false impression with a weekend or a week of hectic leisure in the place whose recent accolades include Visitor City of the Year and The UK’s Best Shopping Destination, and which the Good Food Guide has called one of the UK’s top cities for restaurant provision.
Hectic leisure? When you’ve looked over all that the city has to offer in terms of arts, sports, food glorious food, and retail therapy you’ll see what we mean. But first you have to get there, which shouldn’t be difficult: Leeds-Bradford Airport has flights from Southampton, Bristol, Exeter, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow and a host of mainland European cities and some further afield. From London and much of the rest of the UK the easiest option is probably train, Leeds City Station on the East Coast Mainline the third busiest in the UK outside London. If you must bring your car, the M1, M62 and A1 all run close by.
If the reason for your visit – declared or otherwise – is shopping , you’re in for a treat. Not for nothing did Harvey Nicks in 1996 choose Leeds for its first store outside London. The elegant five-storey building is in the Victoria Quarter, where you’ll also find names like Mulberry, Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton, and a shopping bag full of equally glamorous places, the total of 76 stores largely focusing on fashion and accessories.
That is far from the only retail centre in the city: the Corn Exchange, Headrow Centre, Leeds Shopping Plaza, the Merrion Centre, and the innovative and clever The Light, arguably the most interesting in architectural terms – a fine 1930s shell and uber-stylish contemporary interior.
You can even claim to be doing a bit of historical research – at a pinch – by visiting Kirkgate Market where M&S originated and where you can still find a bargain, though probably not for a penny.
One of the welcome aspects of Leeds for shoppers, and for diners, is that there is more to be found than the big established names. In retail terms that means you can tempt the geek in the family by promising to visit OK Comics; or the music fan by dangling the carrot of a trip to Jumbo Records before them.
Dad, or whoever, it’s not just dads interested in sport, can be bribed depending on the time of year with the prospect of time spent at Headingley watching Yorkshire play cricket (remember to ask for the creekeet), or with a bit of careful planning England; or catching a league or union match at the adjoining rugby ground ; or watching Leeds United in their seemingly endless struggle to make it back to the upper tier of football they dominated for a time in the 1970s.
Another piece of careful timing could give you the chance to get in the open and bet on jump-racing at very nearby Wetherby , though fresh air may prove cheaper via a side trip to the Dales , a short car, bus or train trip away.
Or you could get the sports nut to actually take part in something needing more effort than shouting. Bring the clubs for a round on one of the four municipal courses ; or avoid the crowds by booking at a hotel with its own course – and a spa for anyone for whom hitting a little ball with instruments singularly ill-fitted to the task offers no attraction.
When night falls and golf is difficult (not impossible here, there’s an indoor centre with simulator equipment for the real addict) Leeds rewards you with great nightlife. This is a huge student city, a factor that generally heralds a lively club, comedy and music scene, and Leeds is no exception to that rule. The same applies to theatre provision. Newer places like The Carriageworks Theatre rival older ones such as The City Varieties, famous for music hall, and The Grand, where Opera North offers regular performances. There’s a classical ballet company too, Northern Ballet, that shares its home with a contemporary dance group, Phoenix Dance Theatre. And you can watch the UK’s biggest repertory theatre company outside London (and ok, Stratford). In the rare moments during the day when you are not shopping, or eating – we’ll get there – why not pop into one of the great museums in the city? Leeds Art Gallery has a fine collection of modern art in particular, and The National Armouries will gladden the hearts of little lads when they see the re-enactments and of course the massive collection of weapons.
So to table . As with Harvey Nicks in the retail sector, so it is with Jamie Oliver , who chose the place for the site of his first Northern eaterie; and Antonio Carluccio’s represented too. The heart of the city is in weekdays thronging with corporate lawyers and financial experts, with a spend on food that has attracted plenty of other top chefs and restaurateurs: in terms of different cuisines you’ll find French (of course), modern British, good old fashioned grill British, Greek, French, Indian, proper chippies, crossover/fusion, veggie, Chinese, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, Argentinian, Japanese and probably a few more we’ve missed.
Those same financiers need relaxation and sustenance in the evening, so there’s no shortage of cocktail bars and gastro-pubs . And with students numbering in tens of thousands you’ll find loads of cheaper places too – intimate little bistros, good basic burn-your-lips curry houses, and themed burger joints.
There are lots of ways to spend money and time in Leeds. You can race around like mad things seeking bargains and backing horses; or stroll a museum with a cultured air. You can feed the intellect, or just feed. If you need to take a quick five minutes the city is famed for its pubs and its bitter; if you need to take a few hours you can hunt out a spa hotel. Whatever your accommodation , entertainment or restaurant needs, Information-Britain can help you out.
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