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3 Festive Days Out in Leeds for Culture Seekers

· Ali Turner · Christmas

The festive season has arrived, but it's not all shopping, you can get a little culture too.

Textures of Winter

From immersive theatre experiences to festive art installations and shopping in some of the city’s finest landmarks, why not go on a cultural adventure this Christmas?

Leeds is filled with interesting architecture, cool attractions and highly respected cultural institutions, but this is the season to be jolly, so how can you get a culture injection that’s a little bit more… festive? Whether you want to tick off your Christmas list, one landmark at a time, step into a festive story or discover the new art installations bringing the city to life this Christmas – we’ve got it covered.

See the city’s landmarks as you shop

The Northern Lights

Credit: Tom Joy

One of the things that makes Leeds unique is the fact that you can pick your pressies in some of finest landmarks, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t combine culture and retail therapy.

Start with the city’s historic shopping arcades. Queen’s Arcade offers up well known brands and Thornton’s Arcade houses a medley of well-loved independents. When you’ve finished browsing, wander over to the Victoria Quarter, which is now part of Victoria Leeds, since its modern twin opened earlier this year. Here, traditional architecture sits alongside the biggest stained glass roof in Britain to create a unique space that’s filled with designer stores.

Just around the corner, Leeds Kirkgate Market is another stunning sight worth stopping at. The outer facade is beautiful to behold, but if you venture inside, you’ll be treated to a traditional shopping experience, with butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers rubbing shoulders with haberdasheries, teashops and street food vendors. You’ll also find a packed calendar of entertainment here – think live music and a personal visit from Santa.

Kirkstall Abbey

Leeds Corn Exchange is your last port of call. Completed in 1864, Cuthbert Broderick’s masterpiece is as beautiful today as it was all those years ago, and it’s still used for its original purpose, so you can browse a vast array of independent shops, stocking up on everything from jewellery to craft beer to Yorkshire tea. But that’s not the only reason to go – this Christmas, the Leeds landmark will be lit up from 4pm to closing by two beautiful art installations.

There’s also an event you need to know about. Leeds Hidden Christmas Market takes over Kirkstall Abbey from 16th to 22nd December 2016 with mystical creatures and live music alongside market stalls from local independents.

Follow the #christmasinleeds trail

SPIRIT Leeds Station

Credit: Tom Joy

Filled with art, light and magic, the #christmasinleeds trail is guaranteed to put you in the festive spirit. This is a truly Instagram-worthy adventure (seriously, check ours), so grab your phone and get snapping.

There are 15 stops, but you don’t have to do them all, you can pick and choose, creating your own route around the city. By day, you’ve got some great fun attractions to keep you busy. Start in Leeds Station, where you’ll find the awe-inspiring figure of SPIRIT, a vast sculpture that’s suspended from the ceiling, and the ever-so Christmassy Northern Ballet Tree. From here, you can make a quick detour to Central Square, where you’ll find David Shearing’s Christmas With Us, a 40-minute interactive art experience that will see you stepping into a cosy Leeds living room.

Then it’s off to the Trinity Leeds Kissmas Tree where you’ll have a chance to stand under the mistletoe and kiss your other half, lighting it up as you do it. Make sure you look in on Harvey Nichols’ Window Display, which is as impressive as ever, with elaborate chandeliers, garlands, candelabras and cumulus clouds made with 4,000 transparent and ice white balls. Next up is the St Johns Centre, where you’ll find The Wishing Tree – write your own personal message on the seeded paper and it lives on through the flowers that bloom from it, when it’s planted in the new year. Over at Merrion Centre, it’s a very different experience, as Santa’s Christmas Post Office offers a chance for the kids to meet Santa, send off their letters and meet real life reindeers.

The Murmuration Cloud

Credit: Tom Joy

It’s when the sun sets that things really get interesting though. From 4pm, a host of light installations will shine new light onto the city’s landmarks. O2 Academy will be lit up by Radial, a new light installation that explores winter themes and tones from Leeds-based studio Lumen. From here, you can take a stroll down to Park Square, which will be lit by five statement trees, wrapped in 20,000 LED lights, as well as Alison M Smith’s Textures of Winter, a series of beautiful ice-inspired lanterns hung from the central trees.

Wellington Place is next, here you’ll find another stunning projection, as Leeds City College have teamed up with Lumen to light up the historic Lifting Tower with a series of festive projections. You’ll pass the City Square Christmas Tree and Holy Trinity Church, which has been lit up by thousands of tiny lights, on your way to the Corn Exchange, where the last two light installations await. The Murmuration Cloud will light up a custom-made cloud in the heart of the Leeds landmark, taking its cue from the shoppers below, while The Northern Lights will see the Aurora Borealis projected onto the domed roof.

Take part in an immersive theatre experience

The Woods Beneath The World, Leeds Town Hall

Credit: David Lindsay

How would you like to step into a magical world, hidden beneath Leeds Town Hall? That’s exactly what’s on offer this Christmas, as Sneaky Experience have returned with a trio of shows that will take over the mythical woodlands tucked away in the basement. There’s something for everyone, with shows for all ages, and you’ll find a medley of attractions nearby to make a real day of it.

Let’s start with the little ones. Under 5s have their very own show – The Story Trees. Bring the kids along to one of the 30 minute sessions between 10am and 12:30 for chance to meet the animals that live in the forest, with Ratty, Mole, Toad, Badger and Weasel all joining the fun, before heading off on a Yuletide mission to find Father Christmas. Expect a mix of puppetry, songs and story-telling as you step into the story and become part of the action.

If you’ve got older kids, you’ll want to come in the afternoon, as The Story Trees gives way to The Whispering Woods. This time, the performance is 45 minutes long, with shows running from 2pm to 5pm – and it’s designed for all ages, which means it’s perfect for family days out. The kids will help Ratty, Mole & Weasel track down Badger, before heading off to find Father Christmas for a festive story.

The German Market Returns to Leeds

It’s not just for kids though, Sneaky Experience have one more show up their sleeves, and it’s just for adults. A Twisted Christmas promises 45 minutes of frivolous fun in the evening as you meet the decorations that have fallen from the tree. Your job? Detangle the Fairy from the Christmas lights, help the Nutcracker Guard find his nuts and get the Bauble to make nice with the Unicorn (who, by the way, doesn’t know she’s a unicorn). It’s a crazy night of entertainment, like nothing you’ve done before.

There’s plenty to do before and after the show too. The German Market is just around the corner, with over over 40 traditional stalls and a medley of eateries – they even have live entertainment and children’s shows. Alternatively, you could try Thor’s Tipi Bar on Victoria Gardens, a Viking theme drinking den that’s new this year.

Cover image is Alison M Smith's Texture of Winter, photo copyright Tom Joy.