Think you know Leeds? You don’t know the half of it.
Leeds is known for its culture, its shopping, its great restaurants and bars, but how often have you strayed off the beaten track? There’s loads to discover in this fabulous city if you scrape beneath the surface and dig a little deeper. From incredible underground cocktail bars to historic clocks you never knew were there, it’s time to discover all the hidden gems Leeds has to offer.
Roland’s Beer Garden
Roland’s has a little secret. You’ve probably patronised the Call Lane bar, but have you really explored it? If you head into the courtyard and up the stairs, you’ll discover a gorgeous little roof terrace, with space for around 50 people standing. Long oak tables, exposed brick, a lawn beneath your feet and festoon lighting above your head make it feel like a sanctuary in the middle of one of the busiest nightlife spots in Leeds. Paired with an incredible drink selection and great music, you’re set for the night!
Roland’s, 9 Call Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 7BT.
The Bookish Type
Head upstairs in the Merrion Centre and you’ll find one of the best hidden gems in Leeds. The Bookish Type is a wonderful bookshop that champions LGBTIQA+ authors. You’ll find everything from children’s and YA books to poetry, graphic novels and more, all with queer themes and characters. Whether you’re looking for something to read yourself or a gift for a loved one, the friendly staff are on hand to help. You can even pick up unique zines, cards and prints from local LGBT+ artists and authors.
The Bookish Type, 58 Merrion Centre (upstairs), Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 8NG.
You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but The Old Red Bus Station is home to some of the best vegan food in Leeds. Head inside, and you’ll be greeted with a 100% vegan menu at their Cantina restaurant, making it a delight for those who are plant-based or cutting down on meat. Think naughty junk food and diner meals done ethically. A dirty burger? They’ve got several, from classic cheeseburgers to Mediterranean-style cauliflower steaks. Loaded fries? Of course! Dessert? Get your gob round delicious deep-fried Oreos.
Cantina at The Old Red Bus Station, 101 Vicar Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7NL.
City Varieties Music Hall
On an unassuming alley between Briggate and Lands Lane, you’ll find Leeds’ oldest working theatre tucked away. It has all the best bits of an old Victorian theatre – red velvet seating, gold adornments and a stage made for comedy, singalongs and drama. Fun fact, it actually holds the Guinness World Record for the nation’s longest-running music hall. Who knew? It still lives up to its name, with a whole host of well-known comedians, musicians and variety performers treading the boards each week.
City Varieties Music Hall, Swan Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LW.
The Water Taxi
Did you know that one of the best ways to get from Granary Wharf to Leeds Dock (or vice versa) is by water? Jump on one of the little yellow boats, pay £2 for your trip and find a seat. Choose outside if the weather’s fine and enjoy the view of the Leeds skyline as you trundle down the waterway. If it’s drizzling, you can sit inside and stay dry. 10 to 15 minutes later and you’ll arrive at your destination. Not only is it convenient and cheap, but travelling by water taxi reveals a side of Leeds you might not otherwise see.
You can catch the Water Taxi from Leeds Dock or Granary Wharf – look out for the yellow flag.
You could walk past Below Stairs hundreds of times without ever noticing it’s there. But if you dare to investigate a little further, and venture down the stairs, you’ll find an utterly delightful cocktail bar. Each drink is bafflingly creative, designed to take you on a sensory journey. Take Primary Education, for example, it’s inspired by long winter walks to school and the steaming bowls of porridge that got you through them. Think oat’d Slane Irish Whisky, butter-washed Genever, Cocchi Americano and Muscovado sugar. It’s an absolute no-brainer.
Below Stairs, 12 South Parade, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 5AL.
Nestled in Kirkgate Market, you’ll find a cute shop and cafe perfect for tea lovers. You can slurp on your usual Yorkshire, Earl Grey or English Breakfast teas, but they also have a selection of unusual blends to pick from to have in the cafe or to enjoy at home. From herbaceous green tea to sweet oolong, they’re sure to stock a brew to make your tastebuds tingle. For a real treat, opt for a flowering tea that blossoms in your teacup, and a slice of cake to complement it. Not a tea person? Don’t worry, they also have coffee!
Teapot, Kirkgate Market, 28-34 George Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7HY.
The Ivanhoe Clock
You’ve probably walked through Thornton’s Arcade thousands of times, but have you ever thought to look up? If you did, you’d see the magnificent Ivanhoe Clock. It was built in 1877 by famous Leeds clockmakers William Potts and Sons. It features the almost life-size characters of Sir Walter Scott’s legendary novel, including Robin Hood, Richard the Lion-Heart, Friar Tuck and Gurth the Swineherd all painted with beautiful detail. Each character has moving parts, allowing them to each strike the quarter hours. It’s a clock you should make time to see.
Thornton’s Arcade, just off Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LQ.
Take a stroll up Mabgate and you’re sure to be surprised by this hidden Leeds gem. A mural, painted on the end of the terrace, with a clock indicating a journey through time, it tells the story of how Caribbean people arrived and settled in Leeds over the years. It was created over 30 years ago by community artist Janet de Wagt. She worked on it with high school students, some of whom are immortalised in the art itself. It continues to hold significant cultural importance to this day and is a part of Leeds history.
Mabgate Mural, 93 Mabgate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS9 7DR.
Whitelock’s is one of the oldest pubs in Leeds, and a true hidden treasure. If you didn’t already know about it, you’d probably never stumble upon this storied boozer unless you peered down an alleyway off a particular part of Briggate. With a courtyard that draws you in and a cosy interior that just oozes old-world charm – the pub dates from 1715 – it’s easy to while away hours here putting the world to rights. Soak in the history with a pint of cask ale and tuck into a plate of yummy beer-battered haddock and chunky chips.
Whitelock’s, 4 Turk’s Head Yard, City Centre, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6HB.