Leeds (pop.430,000, with suburbs 717,000) is a booming city, with great nightlife, shopping, and has recently undergone a progressive facelift. The city has the largest financial centre outside London, and the Greater Leeds is now the 5th largest English city after London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
Leeds was an agricultural market town in the Middle Ages, receiving its first charter in 1207. Textile later developed as the main industry, but not until the 19th century did Leeds unrestrained growth start, following the construction of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in 1816 and the coming of the railway in 1848.
Although the textile industry has mostly disappeared, Leeds' economy has managed to diversify, making it the de facto capital of Yorkshire.
The University of Leeds ranks among the UK's top higher education establishments. It is also one of the country's largest universities, welcoming over 30,000 full-time students per year.
The pride of Leeds is the Royal Armouries Museum (open daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; £9), on the banks of the canal, which opened in 1996 to house the arms and armour collection from the Tower of London. Highlights include 2500 year-old Corinthian helmets, medieval knight armour, 17th and 18th century muskets, carbines, pistols and ornated hunting guns, Malaysian kris, samurai armour, Mongol cavalryman armour, and even a Mughal elephant armour.
The area comprised between Briggate and Vicar Lane, is one of the most interesting part of town. The southern section near the canal has a dense concentration of pubs, bars and clubs. Going up Vicar Lane, you will first reach the Corn Exchange (completed in 1864), which was revamped as a shopping centre selling youth and retro fashion, jewelry and music. Just north is the enormous Kirkgate Market (Leeds City Market), housed in a magnificent Edwardian building. It is the largest market in northern England and was known as the Penny Bazaar when it opened in 1884. Some 800 traders compete for the clientele, seeling textiles, fish, meat (including game, if you are wondering what Game Row means), cosmetics, household goods, music, videos, carpets, motor accessories, and more. But the most sumptuous building in town is without contest Victoria Quarter, a posh shopping centre known as the "Knightsbridge of the North".
300m north of the train station are the wide Millenium Square and the adjoining City Art Gallery (admission free). The gallery boasts one of the best collection of 20th century British art, with sculptures by Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), both former students of the Leeds School of Art. The adjacent Henry Moore Institute has temporary exhibitions of contemporary sculptures from all over the world.
Outside the centre
A few kilometres west of the centre are the Armley Mills (Leeds Industrial Museum), which provides a delightful insight of how old textile factories worked. The mills operated from 1707 to 1969 and re-opened as a museum in 1982.
2 km further west from Armley Mills along Abbey Road (A65) is the Cistercian Kirkstall Abbey. It was founded in 1152 and expanded until the 15th-century. Like all other abbeys and monasteries in England, it was disbanded by Henry VIII, although Kirkstall is one of the best preserved of all the country's monastic ruins.
Apart from Bradford, there are a couple of noteworthy attractions in the Greater Leeds, like the National Coal Mining Museum for England in Wakefield and the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham.
How to get there
Leeds is located about halfway between York and Manchester. The M62 motorway runs between Hull, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, while the M1 connects it to Sheffield, Leicester and London, and the nearby A1 goes all the way north to Newcastle and Edinburgh.
There are trains between Leeds and London St Pancras or Kings Cross (2h to 3h30min, super advance single £48.50), Manchester (1h, £12.10), Sheffield (40min to 1h20min, £6.90), York (25 to 40min, £8.50), Harrogate (35min, £5.20) and Newcastle (1h30min to 1h50min, £29.50).
National Express has direct buses between Leeds and London (4h30min, £17.50), Manchester (1h to 1h45min, £7), Sheffield (50min to 1h20min, £4.50), York (50min to 1h10min, £3.50), Newcastle (2h30min to 3h, £12.75) and Birmingham (3h15min to 4h, £20), among others.
Leeds Bradford International Airport has flights to and from London, Southampton, Scotland, Ireland and a few major European cities (Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Nice, Venice, Prague...)