A Weekend Guide to Leeds: Highlights and Hidden Gems
Having lived in Leeds for 5 years, it is a UK city that will always have a place in my heart. In that time I have managed to discover the very best of the city, which I am now compiling into this definitive weekend Leeds guide. There is so much more to Leeds than meets the eye, but it’s a case of knowing where to look. From the incredible indie food scene to the vibrant markets and historical arcades, Leeds is oozing with colour and character.
So if you’re planning a trip to Leeds any time soon, you’re in the right place. In partnership with Visit Leeds, this guide and itinerary covers my favourite restaurants, free activities, unique offerings, best shopping spots and historical hidden gems.
Leeds Guide: Introducing Leeds
Leeds is a Northern UK city located in the county of West Yorkshire. It is the 4th largest city in the UK with a population of 812,000 (source; 2021 census). Now in 2022, the city has so much more to offer beyond it’s Northern industrial roots. There’s an incredible indie food scene, brilliant arts and culture, spectacular architecture, a vibrant nightlife and arguably the best shopping in the North of England.
The pedestrianised city centre is lively and compact and a short walk will take you to the likes of Leeds Docks and Granary Wharf, both of which have their own charm and character. From Michelin star restaurants to authentic food stalls, you can eat like a King in Leeds, whatever your budget. Read on to find out how to spend a weekend in Leeds.
This blog post has been created in partnership with Visit Leeds for their This is My City campaign. I have designed every aspect of the itinerary based on my favourite places in Leeds. I have visited all places featured many times as a local.
A Weekend Leeds Guide: Highlights and Hidden Gems by a local
Leeds Guide - Itinerary Day 1 - Culture, Fun and Indie Food
AM - Catch the Water Taxi from Granary Wharf to Leeds Dock
Your Leeds adventure begins at Granary Wharf, a convenient starting point for anyone arriving into the city by train. Granary Wharf is located directly behind Leeds train station (tip; if arriving by train consider a stay at Doubletree by Hilton in Granary Wharf for maximum convenience). The canals and locks of Granary Wharf make it a calming and characterful place to be and there are plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes to sample.
From Granary Wharf, hop on one of Leeds’ unique Dutch water taxis, named Twee and Drie. The water taxis operate between Granary Wharf and Leeds dock and allow visitors and locals to see Leeds from a different perspective. The water taxis run between 10am to 6pm every 15 minutes and the fare is just £1 - children under 5 go free. You can even pay by card or Apple Pay.
AM - Visit the Royal Armouries at Leeds Dock
Your 10 minute water taxi ride will take you through the heart of the city, straight to Leeds Dock and right outside the Royal Armouries, the UK’s national museum for Arms and Armour. It’s full of fascinating artefacts including Henry VIII's armour. The museum is completely free to enter and no pre-booking is required, so it’s up to you whether you spend 30 minutes or 3 hours here.
AM - Walk from Leeds Dock to The Tetley
A cultural morning in Leeds continues with a short 5 minute walk to The Tetley, a contemporary art gallery in the art deco headquarters of the former Tetley Brewery. The building in itself is something to admire with it’s beautiful tiling and it’s exposed 1920’s style lift in the centre. The exhibitions are ever-changing and if you’re visiting with kids, be sure to take them to the Mini Tetley exhibition; an interactive permanent exhibition room and play area on the third floor. Admission to The Tetley is also free, no pre-booking required.
PM - Lunch at Sarto Pasta
By now you should have worked up an appetite, so take another 10 minute walk from The Teltey into the city centre where you’ll find Sarto Pasta. Sarto is one of my absolute favourite indie restaurants in Leeds, mainly because it does the best pasta I've tasted outside of Italy!
It’s small and select menu offers fresh handmade pasta with unique flavours and the highest quality ingredients. It also caters for veggies, vegans and those needing gluten-free options. It’s also child-friendly. Whilst they don’t have a kids menu, when I visited with my son they happily catered for him with a bespoke tomato pasta dish. What’s not to love?
PM - Get competitive at Junkyard Golf
After a leisurely lunch, it’s time to get competitive with a game of crazy golf, but not as you know it! Leeds’ Junkyard Golf is the home of weird and wacky crazy golf, fun cocktails and all things junk. The zany cocktails are a must-try and be prepared for loud music and a fun underground scene. Over 18s only. Pre-booking is essential and courses range from £8.50 (off peak) to £10 (peak) per game.
Alternative child-friendly option; if you’re visiting with kids switch Junkyard Golf for a visit to the Thackray Medical Museum. There’s a brilliant children’s play zone, a walk through Victorian street and engaging activities throughout the exhibitions. Kids under 5 go free.
PM - Vibes and Pizza at Belgrave Music Hall
Another one of my absolute favourite hang-out spots in Leeds. Belgrave Music Hall spreads over an amazing 3-floor 1930’s venue. It’s open daily offering craft beers and brilliant indie food stalls. The rooftop terrace is a must on sunny days and it has a year-round programme of live gigs, comedy, film and art in the music hall itself. This place is full of good vibes, delicious eats and cool people.
Dinner recommendations: after a big lunch at Sarto, have a casual (and cheaper) dinner by sampling one of the two fast food outlets within Belgrave Music Hall. Currently in residency is Dough Boys pizza and Patty Smiths burgers. Everything is freshly made to order, great value and ridiculously delicious.
Leeds Guide - Itinerary Day 2 - Shopping, Art and Sushi
AM - Browse the independent retailers in the colourful Leeds Corn Exchange
The Leeds Corn Exchange is a thing of architectural beauty. This impressive dome-like grade 1 listed building was completed in 1863 and is now home to a unique mix of independent retailers selling everything from vintage clothing to artisan cheese. Take a fascinating stroll and a browse around. It’s unlikely you’ll leave here empty handed.
AM - Check out Kirkgate Market
Minutes from the Leeds Corn Exchange is the equally historical Kirkgate Market; one of the largest indoor markets in Europe. Not everyone knows that this market is home to the original Marks & Spencers market stall, which still exists in the market today. The market dates back to 1875 and is a real hub within Leeds city centre. Browse the stalls and if you’re feeling peckish try out some bargain world food in the lower food hall.
AM - Browse the Leeds’ shopping quarters - including the lesser known ones
A stone’s throw from Kirkgate Market are Leeds’ beautiful and historic shopping quarters. Victoria Quarter is the biggest, and most well known, which has been likened to the famous Galleria Vittorio in Milan. Here you’ll find Leeds’ most upmarket shops and jewellers.
Venture a little further and you’ll find some of the smaller and lesser-known arcades. Thornton’s Arcade is one of my favourites, with unique independent businesses including a quirky comic book shop, tattoo parlour and unassuming gin bar.
Victoria Gate is the newest and most modern shopping quarter which connects to a huge multi-story John Lewis. I love the contrast between old and new, sitting side by side.
PM: Visit The Tiled Hall Cafe and Leeds Art Gallery
The Tiled Hall Cafe is an amazing space in Leeds that could easily be missed (another of my favourite places in the city. Read my dedicated blog here). It’s located within Leeds Art Gallery, so after a morning of shopping, head here for lunch or a coffee to rest weary feet.
This grand Victorian hall is covered in turquoise and coloured tiles which date back to the 50's and 60's. These beautiful tiles were covered with boards and shelving for years but in 2007 the hall had a huge renovation with English Heritage to restore the hall back to it's former glory - and rightly so! After you’ve refuelled, spend your afternoon exploring the diverse exhibitions of Leeds Art Gallery. Admission is free and there is a small indoor play and learning area for children.
PM: Dinner at Issho
Many of the recommendations and activities included in this itinerary are completely free, but this final suggestion is a bit of a splurge. Issho is a contemporary Japanese restaurant located within Victoria Gate. I’ve been here many times and can absolutely vouch that you will get incredible food and top-class service. The whole thing is an experience.
Start with a drink in the bar or rooftop terrace before heading through to the restaurant where there is an open kitchen and a hot coal grill. The decor is perfect and the vibe is great. And you don't need to be a sushi lover to enjoy Issho. There are plenty of other options for veggies and meat eaters alike. Dinner for two (without alcohol) cost us £80.
Check out my dedicated Issho restaurant review.
Leeds Itinerary Optional Day 3 - A Day trip to Knaresborough or Harrogate
If you’re visiting Leeds for a long weekend or have an extra day to play with, I recommend hopping on a train and exploring the nearby towns of Knaresborough or Harrogate. Both towns are less than 1 hour away from Leeds by train (Knaresborough is 45 minutes and Harrogate is 30 minutes on the same line).
Head to Knaresborough to discover a beautiful riverside town with al fresco riverbank cafes, hire a classic rowing boats and visit the well-known Mother Shipton’s Cave. Head to Harrogate for a classic afternoon tea at Betty’s tea rooms or visit the famous Harrogate Turkish Baths. Both towns are much smaller than Leeds and you can explore everything on foot from the train stations, making for brilliant day trip options.
Where to stay - Hotels in Leeds
Here are some hotels in Leeds which would be perfect for a weekend break.
- Dakota Deluxe Hotel, Russell Street - Featuring 84 bedrooms, Dakota Leeds is arguably the most luxurious hotel in Leeds with a sensual, contemporary feel. The hotel is a 5-minute walk from Leeds train station. Read my Dakota Deluxe review.
- Malmaison Leeds, Swinegate - Once a bus and tram company office, this hotel retains its unique architecture, including a vaulted ceiling and quirky rooms, which come in different shapes and sizes.
- Briggate Hotel, Lower Briggate - Affordable boutique accommodation in Leeds, 100 metres from Trinity Leeds and only a 2-minute walk from Leeds train station.
- Doubletree by Hilton Leeds City Centre (Granary Wharf)- This hotel is situated in the waterside Granary Wharf area, only 2 minutes' walk from Leeds Railway Station and a 7-minutes' walk from the city centre shops. It's in the perfect location for following this itinerary from the Granary Wharf starting point.
I hope this Leeds guide can come in useful for some of you. Whether you pick out a few ideas and do your own thing or follow the itinerary to the letter, I promise you all of these recommendations have been tried, tested and loved by me many times before.
Read more of my Leeds blogs;
- 14 of the most Instagrammable places in Leeds
- A luxury afternoon tea at Crafthouse in Leeds
- Dinner at The Ivy Leeds after restaurant reopening
- Temple Newsam in full bloom
If you enjoyed this Leeds Guide, have any questions or have any further Leeds recommendations to add, please leave a comment in the box below. Jess x