LEEDS is the UK’s fastest-growing city, driven by financial services and the business sector.
And with economic renewal has come cultural vitality – the Lonely Planet Guide named Leeds as one of the 10 best visitor destinations in Europe for 2017.
Boasting a world-class museum in the Royal Armouries, internationally renowned opera and ballet companies, restaurants at the cutting edge of foodie culture and a clutch of sophisticated shopping arcades, the northern city’s transformation is breathtaking.
Dour decades of industrial grime have been scraped away, and what’s left is a confident, entrepreneurial metropolis which, just as in its Victorian heyday, embraces the glitz and glamour of prosperity.
But down-to-earth Leeds folk haven’t changed at all.
So whatever your budget, the city adds up to an exceptional travel experience.
For more information about this destination, check out the website visitleeds.co.uk
Where to shop
The Grand Arcade is, ironically, the least grand of Leeds’ many covered shopping streets.
These range from Thornton’s Arcade (opened in 1878 and home today to quirky independent retailers, such as OK Comics) to the much newer Victoria Gate, anchored by one of the largest John Lewis stores in the UK.
The jewel in the crown is The Victoria Quarter, designed in 1900 by Frank Matcham, better known for his theatres.
A branch of Harvey Nichols now stands on the site of the original Empire Theatre. The remainder of the covered complex is filled with high-end stores from Space NK to Vivienne Westwood, and the Tesla car company has just opened a showroom.
To describe it as one of the most beautiful shopping malls in Britain is no exaggeration.
Where to stay
Stepping into the DoubleTree by Hilton (doubletree3.hilton.com) is a dramatic, almost Harry Potterish experience.
Descend from the bridge above Platform 17 at Leeds Railway Station into the Dark Arches (brick tunnels built in Victorian times to carry the tumbling waters of the River Aire), then emerge into a blaze of daylight by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
The canal-side location on Granary Wharf offers soothing views of narrowboats chugging gently along.
The fashionable Sky Lounge roof terrace gets busy at weekends, so a good way to enjoy the panoramic views in tranquility is by taking advantage of the weekend brunch option (£17.50) or a full-blown afternoon tea (£19.95). From £73 per night, room only.
A budget option is Art Hostel (arthostel.org.uk).
Managed as a social enterprise, each room has been individually designed using recycled materials. A private twin room (bed only) costs £55, and a bunk in a 10-bed mixed dorm is £22.50.
Where to eat
Friends of Ham (friendsofham.co.uk) near the railway station, is a classy option that won’t bust the budget.
Canny daytime shoppers should opt for a substantial Chorizo Monsieur (a Spanish version of the classic French toasted sandwich) from the brunch menu, which costs £7 and will set you up for the rest of the day.
Kirkgate Market is Europe’s largest indoor market and the place where in 1894 the Polish Jewish refugee Mr Marks joined forces with English bookkeeper Mr Spencer to open a permanent stall.
The market is the place to stock up on picnic items such as award-winning pork pies.
The Fisherman’s Wife (thefishermanswife.co.uk) chippy, between the market and John Lewis, offers classic British street food.
What to do
The Royal Armouries (royalarmouries.org) is the national collection of arms and armour, much of it previously stored in the Tower Of London, and essentially a shrine to the ways people can kill each other.
Horrible? Yes. But the collection – entrance is free – is also about innovation, technology and superb craftmenship.
Recently reopened following refurbishment, Leeds Art Gallery (leeds.gov.uk/artgallery) on The Headrow is overshadowed, architecturally, by Cuthbert Brodrick’s splendid 1850s Leeds Town Hall next door.
Built in 1886-8 by public subscription, the stunning Victorian glazed roof was rediscovered by builders after it was boxed in during the 1970s.
Explore the work of British watercolourist John Sell Cotman, or catch a major retrospective of the sculptures and drawings of Joseph Beuys (both exhibitions are on until January 21). The Tiled Hall Cafe, with magnificent marble columns and a mosaic ceiling, is a work of art in itself.
Entrance is free.
Where to drink
Leeds is famous for its array of craft beers, and one of the best places to sample what’s on offer is Whitelocks, a small complex of ale houses down an alleyway off Briggate. Dating from 1715, it was described by poet John Betjeman as “the very heart of Leeds”.
Open-air rooftop bars have been a hit in Leeds. Uplifting views across the city to the Pennines might have something to do with that.
As well as the Sky Lounge and Issho, there’s Belgrave Music Hall (belgravemusichall.com) in the Northern Quarter, a hipster area on the rise.
Spread over three floors, clientele can eat cheap pizza slices (from £2.40) and enjoy a live band. It holds a Cask Marque Award for serving good-quality real ale with bottled beers from £5.