The City of Leeds in West Yorkshire is a must-see location for any visitor to the north of England. With a population exceeding 811,000 in the 2021 census, the city grew faster than the rest of England on the whole and now lays claim to being the largest financial centre in the Great Britain outside of London.
Aside from its status as an industrial powerhouse and its rapidly developing economy, Leeds is home to widespread nature, culture and an ever-growing list of fine dining restaurants. Let’s explore.
A History of Leeds
Surviving records of early historic Leeds are few and far between. The earliest written example from Bede in 731 referred to the region as “Loidis“, a term that has been reappropriated to by Leeds City Council to “Leodis” for their archive of historical photos in Leeds. Prior to this, the history of Leeds is, for the most part, a mystery, with the oldest discovered artefact being a stone axe dating to around 3,500BC, uncovered in Seacroft in the 1950s. During the Roman occupation of Britain, it is likely that the region that Leeds now occupies was overshadowed by York as a place of trade and for military settlement owing to its proximity to the Humber via the River Ouse; the River Aire by comparison was a smaller, less navigable tributary that offered little strategic advantage.
Recent discoveries have suggested that the Romans did settle in the immediate area surrounding Leeds, with a Roman fort uncovered in Adel in the 18th century made a scheduled monument in 2021, and the excavation of a Roman cemetery near Garforth in 2022. The area continued to be occupied after the Romans abandoned Britain in c.410, with evidence in the form of stone crosses, including the Aliotus Stone from Gwynedd. The Celcic kingdom of Elmet would emerge in the Roman’s absence until it was taken by the newly formed kingdom of Northumbria in 616, and eventually annexed in 627.
Following the Norman conquest in 1066 and subsequent Harrying of The North, the region was divided into smaller holdings and saw little tangible, material growth. Leeds was mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086 as “Ledes”. The establishment of Kirkstall Abbey in 1152 brought about a significant agricultural wool trade which continued for centuries to come; it also prompted the construction of a corn mill nearby where Kirkstall Forge now sits. Kirkstall Forge is the oldest forge in England which began production in the 16th century.
Leeds saw substantial development in during the industrial revolution with a rapid population increase and the introduction of the railways. Leeds was granted city status in 1893 and, despite the decline felt by many regions following the two World Wars, has flourished into the city that we see today.
Leeds' Architectural Marvels
Whilst not the oldest single settlement in and around Leeds, Kirkstall Abbey is perhaps recognised as the beginning of Leeds’ architectural history.
The abbe was constructed from Millstone Grit taken from Bramley Fall, some two miles away on the other side of the River Aire. The substantial remaining ruins of the monastery show a traditional layout that was common to other cistercian monasteries of the time.
Upon the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1538, stone from Kirkstall Abbey was eventually removed for use in other parts of the city centre — some supposedly forms part of Leeds Bridge. The abbey, even in its ruined state, continues to impress, not only on account of its scale but in the feat of engineering that it represents.
Leeds is graced by multiple country houses, including Harewood House, Gawthorpe Hall and Temple Newsam House. Capability Brown made his mark on two of these, overseeing gardens that are now open for the public to enjoy.
Leeds saw its largest period of growth in the 19th century. An influx of people to the city started the building of new homes, industrial buildings and commercial centres.
Leeds’ Tallest Building
Altus House, off Merrion Way is Leeds’ tallest building. The residential skyscraper is home to over 700 students and spans 37 floors.
Leeds Corn Exchange
Corn Exchange in Leeds City Centre is one of the landmark sights that shows off the city’s architectural history.
Opened in 1863, the current building is used as a shopping centre with many indie shops that operate out of the grade I listed building.
After having fallen into a state of neglect through disuse, Leeds Dock was rejuvenated in the early 00s. The area is now home to the Royal Armouries Museum, multiple residential properties and a thriving independent food scene.
Education in Leeds
Leeds has not one, not two, but three universities.
Leeds Beckett University (formerly Leeds Metropolitan university/ Leeds Polytechnic)
Leeds Trinity University
The Cultural Tapestry of Leeds
Leeds is a melting pot of different cultures. Whether it’s through the medium of live music or street art, Leeds has nurtured a healthy artistic backdrop.
Leeds City Museum, the Royal Armouries Museum and Abbey House Museum are ideal for those with an interest in the history of the city.
The Leeds music scene is spoiled for choice: from the Northern Ballet at Leeds Grand Theatre to bands playing at first direct arena, and daily performances at Leeds Playhouse (formerly West Yorkshire Playhouse).
Places to eat in Leeds - Culinary Delights
The range of foods on offer in Leeds is nothing short of huge. From tapas on call lane, takeaway on Briggate to Michelin starred experiences, the city centre has something for everyone.
Some of our favourite places to eat in Leeds City centre include:
Chef Jono at V&V
Continue on to read our Guide To Fine Dining in Leeds
Nature and Recreation in and Around Leeds
Outside of the city centre, much of the Leeds area is covered by Green Belt legislation. The South and West Yorkshire Green Belt covers 248,241 hectares and surrounds the city centre. As such, great swathes of land are protected from urban sprawl.
For those with the love of the great outdoors, there are many open spaces to explore, such as Golden Acre Park, Roundhay Park and Chevin Forest Park.
Shopping in Leeds - A Veritable Extravaganza
Leeds is perfect for a shopaholic. The City Centre has multiple places to visit, such as:
Visitors will be able to peruse shops from household names like H.Samuel, Whittards and John Lewis, as well as stores from Vivienne Westwood, Rolex and TAG Heuer.