50 things you absolutely have to do in Leeds before you die – how many have you done?
Always wanted to see a film at Hyde Park Picture House? Keep meaning to do the Meanwood Valley Trail? Somehow, life always gets in the way – and all those things you planned to do, end up on the back burner. Well not anymore, because we’ve put together a handy bucket list to help you make the most of Leeds. Start ticking it off, one by one.
1. Play retro games at Arcade Club
Arcade Club is heaven for video gamers. This retro gaming centre is home to 250 machines split across two floors. From Pac Man to Street Fighter, FIFA and Call of Duty, you can play on everything for a one off entry fee of £16. There’s a bar and a restaurant too, so once you’re inside, you never have to leave.
2. Go ice skating on Millennium Square
Every February, Millennium Square is transformed into a winter wonderland – Ice Cube brings us our very own indoor rink, so you can spend 45 minutes skating around on the ice. They even offer lessons – so no excuses, you can tick this bad boy off your bucket list even if you’ve never been skating in your life.
3. Take in the surprise view
It’s one of those things we all say we’ll do, but how many of you have actually done it? Get yourself over to Otley Chevin and look out over the countryside from the Surprise View. On a clear day, you can see all the way to York Minster and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
4. Do the Otley Run
You can’t live in Leeds and not do the Otley Run. It’s a right of passage, a 16-venue pub crawl that will take you on a boozy trail from Headingley to the city centre. It may be popular with students, but you’re never too old to tick this one off.
5. Go to a gig at Brudenell Social Club
It’s a small, independent music venue, but the Brudenell has a big reputation. They put on gigs almost every day, bringing in a mix of local and international talent and giving you a chance to see them in an intimate space before they hit the big time.
6. Try an experiential cocktail at Below Stairs
Have you been to Below Stairs yet? It’s earned a place on this list with its unusual cocktails. You see, they’re not just tasty, they tell a story. 109 Miles to Filey will transport you to the Yorkshire coast with seaweed-infused gin, wild flower eau du vie, whisky sea foam and chocolate pebbles, while The Bazar Daquiri will recreate a Moroccan bazaar in a glass.
7. Take a ride on the oldest working railway in the world
Did you know that Leeds is home to the oldest working railway in the world? Middleton Railway follows the 1-mile former colliery line from Moor Road to Park Halt station – and you can still ride it to this day. Be sure to stop by the museum first to learn about the history of the railway and see their collection of massive steam, diesel and electric locomotives.
8. Snaffle a Yorkshire pudding wrap
This is an absolute must. Head to the street food hall at Kirkgate Market and make a beeline for The Yorkshire Wrap Company. They’ll whip you up a Yorkshire pudding, fill it with goodies like roast beef, red cabbage, onion and horseradish or roast pork, sage and onion stuffing with mustard and apple sauce, then roll it up like a wrap. Absolute genius.
9. See Northern Ballet in action
We’re so lucky to have an award-winning ballet company right on our doorstep, but have you ever actually watched them in action? You can see them on their home turf at Leeds Playhouse or Leeds Grand Theatre – and 2020 will give you host of top-class performances to see, including Geisha, The Great Gatsby and Merlin.
10. Play a game of beer pong
Come on, you know you want to. Round up your mates, head to Roxy Ball Room and get a round in at the bar, because it’s time to test your skills on the beer pong table. Get your ball into all of the other team’s cups and make them neck every one – before they do the same to you.
11. Complete the whole Country Way
It’s a 62-mile hike around some of the most beautiful parts of Leeds, but few have ever completed it, so why not make it your mission to tick off the whole Country Way? You won’t be able to do it in one go, but you can split the walk up into four parts, never doing more than 6 miles a day.
12. Visit the oldest pub in England
That’s right, Leeds is home to the oldest pub in England – and it should definitely be on your bucket list. The Bingley Arms is a traditional pub that dates back to 953AD when Samson Ellis brewed beer in the central part of the building. Nowadays, they serve up real ales and classic pub grub – try their Sunday roast.
13. See the city lit up after dark at Light Night
Every October, Leeds comes to life for Light Night, with a series of unique light projections, art installations and live performances in venues across the city centre. It’s a magical experience and everyone should do it at least once.
14. Go foraging with Edible Leeds
What better excuse to head out into the Leeds countryside than to pick a harvest of fresh veggies from the wild? Craig Worrall will be your guide as you set off on one of his Edible Leeds adventures, which range from cooking with foraged foods to wild fungi walks. This is a must for foodies and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
15. Do the whole rock ‘n’ roll camping thing at Leeds Fest
Yep, we live in Leeds so we don’t need to do an all-nighter, but you don’t really get the full festival experience unless you stay overnight. So get a tent, get a weekend ticket and get set for three days of live music, late nights and long queues at the bar. You’ll never enjoy a warm shower as much as when you get home either.
16. Close your eyes and take a leap of faith
You’ve probably never even heard of it, but West Leeds Activity Centre has a challenge you’d be mad to miss. Their Leap of Faith will see you climb a 20-foot pole and jump off it – the aim is to hit a punching bag suspended in the air, but whether you reach it or not, you’ll still have the drop to contend with. You can even do it blindfolded.
17. Experience immersive cinema at Kirkstall Abbey
This is cinema, but not as you know it. Sneaky Experience takes over Kirkstall Abbey throughout the year to bring classic movies to life. You can watch favourites like Harry Potter, Ghostbusters and Grease in historic surroundings as characters from the film wander around. You can also take part in themed activities before the flick starts and enjoy a few drinks from the bar.
18. Play petanque in Bond Court
Petanque is the French version of boules and there’s a court right in heart of the city. You’ll find it in Bond Court and you can pick up a set of balls to use at the nearby Bottega Milanese. It’s free to play and it’s a great way to make your lunch break a little more interesting – so go on, tick it off your bucket list.
19. Pay a visit to the city’s cat cafe
Okay, we’re going to put a disclaimer on this one – if you’re allergic to cats, you get a free pass to skip The Kitty Cafe. But if you’re not, why not find out what all the fuss is about? You can grab a coffee or choose from over 100 varieties of tea, and enjoy your cuppa while watching their cats roam free.
20. Take a ride on the water taxi
For some, it’s a way to get from A to B, but really you don’t need to be going somewhere to have a ride on the water taxi – it’s actually worth a go in its own right. For £1, you’ll get a scenic trip down the River Aire between Granary Wharf and Leeds Dock, so why the hell not?
21. See the biggest elephant armour in the world
Since you’re going on the water taxi anyway, you might as well tick off this one too. The Royal Armouries Museum is home to the biggest elephant armour in the world and that’s got to be worth seeking out. It’s just one of the 8,500 objects they have on display from the National Arms and Armour Collection.
22. Pick up a homegrown bottle of plonk at our local vineyard
Leventhorpe Vineyard is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. It’s a low-altitude, south-facing site that’s perfect for growing grapes – and that’s exactly what they do here. George and Janet Bowden make their own red, white and sparkling wine which you can buy straight from the source.
23. Complete the escape game sextet
Leeds now has six escape games – but can you beat them all? From the creepy-as-heck challenges at The Great Escape Game to the hyper-realistic experiences at Kanyu, there are so many options that you could easily spend the year working your way through them. So your task, should you choose to accept it, is to complete one room at each venue.
24. Pop your opera cherry with Opera North
Opera’s not your thing, right? Wrong. Give it whack. You’ve got one of the best opera companies in the country right on your doorstep, so what have you got to lose? If you just want to dip your toe in the water, look out for their pop-ups for a chance to get a taster with craft beer, cocktails and street food.
25. Round up your mates and get stuck into these fries
Ah, Session Fries. These bad boys are the stuff of legends. Patty Smith’s cook up their signature twice-cooked chips, then smother them in smoked pancetta, pecorino cheese, fried rosemary, pickled chillies and Sriracha chilli mayo. It’s finished with a sprinkling of rosemary sea salt before you all get stuck in.
26. Take on the Meanwood Valley Trail
It’s the most famous walk in Leeds, but have you ever actually done it? The Meanwood Valley Trail stretches from Woodhouse Moor to Golden Acre Park – it’s seven miles of beautiful scenery, natural wonders and remnants from the city’s past, so stop putting it off and get it ticked off.
27. Feed the penguins at Harewood House
You’ll have to wait for spring to do this one, but it’s worth it – you see, Harewood House has a flock of Humboldt penguins and you can feed them. It’s a bit pricey, at £45 for adults and £38.70 for kids, but this is a once in a lifetime treat, so splash out and make some memories.
28. Have a beer metres from where it’s made (hell, have a few)
Northern Monk has made it easy for us to drink their beer by creating a taproom at the Holbeck brewery. But they’re not the only ones. You can drink beer fresh from the taps at Tapped, The Brewery Tap and North Brew Co. too.
29. Fill up on street food at Belgrave Feast
Come on, everyone has to do Belgrave Feast at least once. They fill every inch of space with street food vendors, so you can tuck into everything from jerk chicken to bao buns, hot dogs and chocolate brownies. It comes with craft stalls, kids activities and entertainment too, so you can make a day of it.
30. Join the crowds for Leeds West Indian Carnival
It’s Europe’s longest-running West Indian Carnival and they put on one hell of a show. The streets are packed with revellers, as the carnival winds its way from Potternewton Park through Chapeltown and Harehills until it gets back to the start where the celebrations continue. Expect music, dancing and bright bursts of colour.
31. Go ghost hunting in one of the city’s most haunted buildings
You don’t often get to go into the city’s landmarks after dark – unless you’re on a ghost hunt that is. You can do them in Armley Mills, Thackray Medical Museum, Temple Newsam and Thwaite Mills – but whichever you choose, the format is the same. Think vigils, seances and high-tech gadgets like infrared cameras and K2 meters.
32. Catch a film at Hyde Park Picture House
Sure, you could go to a modern cinema to see the latest blockbuster, but there’s something really special about going to Hyde Park Picture House. It’s a throw-back to a lost time – it opened in 1914, just as World War I was kicking off, and it still has much of its original charm. So don’t just watch the film, take a moment to appreciate the venue itself.
33. Eat out in the city’s only Michelin Star restaurant
Michael O’Hare’s The Man Behind the Curtain bagged a coveted Michelin Star in 2015 and it’s been the ultimate foodie destination ever since. His creations are unusual, experimental and unlike anything you’ve had before – so this isn’t just about filling your belly, it’s an experience.
34. Meet the meerkats at Tropical World
Tropical World isn’t just for kids you know, it’s a fun day out for everyone. You can see crocodiles, piranhas, snakes and the entire cast from Finding Nemo. They even have a family of meerkats. And it’s only £7 a go.
35. Do the music venue sprint for Live at Leeds
Running from one venue to the next, flashing your wristband at the door and racing inside to catch the latest up and coming talent on stage before you sprint off to the next show – there’s nothing quite like Live at Leeds.
36. Pull an all-nighter with back-to-back horror movies
Leeds International Film Festival offers a packed calendar of events, but few are as iconic as Night of the Dead. This movie marathon will see you settling in for the night as they play a string of new-age horror movies, back to back. It’s creepy, it’s tense and it’s a rip-roaring night out.
37. Stop mid-shop for a kick-ass falafel wrap
They’re immensely popular with good reason, but have you tried The Falafel Guys yet? You’ll find them on Briggate and in Assembly Underground, where they serve up their homemade falafel, hummus and tahini, wrapped up with salad, chillies, garlic mayo and chilli sauce. Try it!
38. Step inside Leeds Minster and marvel at its architectural glory
It’s stunning from the outside, but Leeds Minster is just as impressive inside, so don’t just admire it from afar. It’s free to visit and you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful arches, colourful stained glass windows and ornate woodwork.
39. Go to war with your mates at iCombat
This one’s pretty cool. iCombat is a laser tag game, designed for adults – and it feels real. Their guns are replica M4s, so they’re infra-red, but they’re the same size, weight and dimensions as the real thing – they’re even loaded with CO2, so they’ll give you a real kick when you fire them. Let’s go to war.
40. Sink a pint or two at Leeds International Beer Festival
It’s one of the biggest events in the city’s festival calendar, as Leeds Town Hall fills up with brewers from all over the world. Galway Bay, Mikkeller, 8 Wired Brewing Co, Yeastie Boys – they’re all names we’ve seen on the line-up in recent years, and we’re expecting even more in the future, so make sure you get a ticket.
41. Devour all manner of deliciousness at Leeds Indie Food
Leeds Indie Food showcases the best of the city’s food and drink scene over the course of three weeks. It’s your chance to see the genius of the city’s bars, cafes and restaurants as they join forces for a series of scrumptious collaborations. From foraging supper clubs to bus-hopping boozing, this is a must for foodies.
42. Do a nose to tail, roots to shoots supper club
If you haven’t tried The Swine That Dines yet, you should add it to your bucket list. They do nose-to-tail dining for the carnivores, using parts of the animal you’ve probably never tried, and roots-to-shoots menus for the veggies.
43. Enter a barbershop to find The Domino Club
Hidden away in the basement of Lords Barbering, you’ll find a cool-as-heck subterranean jazz bar full of leather booths, flickering candles and creative cocktails. Get their barkeeps to whip you up something special before you settle down to enjoy live jazz and blues music in an atmospheric setting.
44. Do an arty double-whammy
It’s only too easy to take Leeds Art Gallery for granted, but inside this mecca of art, you’ll find a vast collection of paintings, sculptures and installations that will blow your socks off. You can discover one of the most impressive collections of British twentieth-century art in the UK here before you nip next door to see the latest world-leading sculptural exhibition at The Henry Moore Institute.
45. Have a pint in one of the city’s oldest pubs
Whitelock’s is over 300 years old and it hasn’t lost any of its original character. In fact, the interiors date all the way back to the 1800s, giving it a certain old-world charm. You can enjoy a pint of proper Yorkshire ale here, or even better, a home-cooked roast dinner – it’s a little bit of history we’re happy to relive again and again.
46. Go to a clubnight with a live orchestra
It’s been one of the most popular events in Leeds for the past three years and Opera North has confirmed that The Symphonic Sounds of Back to Basics will return for 2020. They’ll have a 50-piece orchestra playing old school dance tunes alongside DJs, live vocalists and a series of special guests in Millennium Square – trust us, you need to be there.
47. Swim in the great outdoors at Ilkley Lido
Swap your local sports centre for a swimming pool with a difference. Ilkley Lido is nestled in the Yorkshire countryside, so you can take in the stunning views as you go for a dip in the outdoor swimming pool. They have one indoors if the weather’s rubbish and you can even have a go at tennis or bowls while you’re there.
48. Swing through the treetops at Go Ape
Fancy a big ol’ adrenaline rush? Head to Go Ape, an tree-top obstacle course high above the Menagerie Wood at Temple Newsam. You can take on Tarzan swings, log-balances and zip wires as you make your way from one end of the wood to the other, before you take a nail-biting plunge back to terra firma to finish.
49. Wield an axe at TimberJacks
Axe-throwing is like darts on steroids and you can give it a go at TimberJacks. You’ll be taught all the essential techniques by their expert staff before you’re let loose on the bullseye. It’s 15-feet away, so you’ll need skill, accuracy and a little bit of luck. Want to mix it up? Try their Apple Challenge to try and see if you can split an apple suspended from the ceiling.
50. Drink champagne with the best view Leeds
It may not be the coolest bar, it may not do the most experimental cocktails, but there’s one thing that sets Sky Lounge apart from everywhere else – the view. So just once, head up to the 13th floor and treat yourself to a bottle of bubbly with views for miles around.Cover image credit: Lucy Forrester