Dull faceless shopping spots? That’s not the Leeds way. Here’s why so many people travel here for retail therapy in swoonsome surroundings.
When it comes to shopping, Leeds is a looker. Historical arcades that combine amazing stores with breathtaking architecture? Be gone, Bath. Shopping centres that incorporate their surrounds in a way that’s both sympathetic and stunning? So long, London. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – a shopping expedition in Leeds isn’t just a soulless spree through a faceless city centre. No, it’s a treat for the senses, which is why people travel from hither and yon to shop amidst the aesthetic delights of Leeds.
Leeds Corn Exchange
Designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, the man who also drew up the plans for Leeds Town Hall, the Corn Exchange was finished in 1863. It spent the first part of its life doing exactly what you’d expect from the name, with traders still working out of there well over a hundred years later. It was transformed into a gorgeously restored retail site in the late 1980s, before the final corn was traded in 1994. It’s undergone further facelifts since, and today is a Grade I-listed boutique shopping centre that is a treat for the eyes.
The circular sweep of Leeds Corn Exchange is lined with shops, a dramatic staircase leading up to yet more, with plenty of independent retailers to choose from. Grab books and art supplies from Colours May Vary and handcrafted jewellery at Dion Smith. Fill up on delicious food at OWT, browse for new and vintage vinyl at Released Records and get some fresh ink at Red Tattoo. It’s not just a splendid place to hang out and shop, you’ll also be supporting local businesses and artisans.
Such is its modern gleaming splendour, that it’s hard to picture the Victoria Quarter when it was run down and dilapidated. But until the old 19th-century County and Cross Arcades were renovated in the 1990s, that’s exactly what they were. That redevelopment created one of the most stunning shopping areas you’ll ever see, with the addition of a 749-square metre stained-glass roof – the largest of its kind in Europe – the icing on the cake. It has majesty and grace that makes it a pleasure to shop in.
And, oh, those shops. There’s Harvey Nichols, the first ever branch outside of London, and high-end designer wear at the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Louis Vuitton. Beauty brands such as Kiehl’s and Jo Malone rub shoulders with trendy opticians Cubitts and the smorgasbord of sugary delights that is Charbonnel et Walker. Want to watch the world go by under the splendour of the roof? Take a pew, grab a coffee and cake from Rabbit Hole Coffee and listen as someone tinkles the ivories at the famous piano.
The popularity of grand shopping arcades in London spread to the north during the 19th century, and Edward Clark made the journey up from the capital to design and oversee the development of the Queen’s Arcade in 1889, named in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It originally incorporated a long-disappeared hotel, but a sensitive refurbishment in 1994 preserved and breathed new life into many of the original features of Clark’s magnificent arcade.
Today, it’s an atmospheric place to shop, with light cascading down through the roof onto the parquetry below. There’s an intriguing mix of big names, Leeds stalwarts and indies to make your way through here. Hunt out art deco rings at Aladdin’s Cave, designer denim from Accent – which has been a staple here since the 1994 touch-up – and divine coffee and pastries at 42nd East Bakehouse. Need a shopping break? Order up brunch from Olive & Rye, who serve up an exemplary eggs Benedict and perfect pancakes.
The original Leeds shopping arcade remains one of the prettiest, nearly 150 years after it first opened. It’s named for Charles Thornton, landlord of the Old Swan Inn, and incorporates striking Gothic arches and a famous clock tableau which includes figures of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Richard Lionheart. The narrow arcade – just 4.5 metres wide – still evokes the Victorian era that gave birth to it, and you can pick out winged lions and playful architectural touches as you make your way down it.
Shopping-wise, it’s stacked with wonderful independents. Follow your nose to the aromatic artisanal drinks at Kapow Coffee, then stock up on graphic novels and merchandise at OK Comics. Local heroes Welcome Skate Store are in here too, selling boards and related brands, with a branch of Village Books upstairs, ideal for unique journals and publications. Elsewhere in this Tardis-like arcade you’ll find bubble tea, a choice of jewellers and wonderfully tailored clothes for men and women from Masato Jones.
A modern shopping centre that’s a good looker? Yep, it might be a real rarity, but Trinity Leeds bucks the trend. It’s named after the Holy Trinity Church that sits next door, and the first thing Trinity got right was making sure that very church wasn’t blotted out, but instead incorporated into the centre’s design. And then there’s that huge, impressive dome, as well as a brace of Andy Scott sculptures that became Leeds landmarks almost overnight. Minerva on Briggate has become a meeting point for many, while Equus Altus, the horse suspended inside the centre, weighs some two tonnes.
You can make a whole day of it in Trinity Leeds, with shops, eateries, the plush Everyman Cinema and a constant catalogue of events and pop-ups. Try not to drool as you fill your basket with signature chocolates in Lindt, then get the latest tech from the Apple Store. Upstairs you’ll find the ever-popular Lego, while Urban Outfitters and Next take over a couple of floors each. Food-wise, you’re spoiled for choice. Trinity Kitchen hosts countless places to eat, including rotating street food vendors, while there are branches of Wagamama, Yo! Sushi and Franco Manca too.
Victoria Gate is still the new kid in town, pairing up with Victoria Quarter to form Victoria Leeds, one huge shopping and eating experience. The £165m development breathed new life into a run-down site next to the market, and provided a fresh landmark at the same time. The flagship store is John Lewis, which sits at the apex of a horseshoe of shops, the honeycombed roof a playful homage to the architectural style of the Victoria Quarter. It’s a fitting setting for a truly luxe shopping expedition.
In addition to the flagship John Lewis store, this is where you’ll also find home decor, clothing and unique accessories in Anthropologie, preppy clothing in Gant and modern heritage fashion from Seasalt. Feeling flush? Step inside Prestons luxurious Rolex showroom. There’s stellar dining too, from contemporary Japanese brunch at Issho, while lunchtimes are covered by Pret.
No list of gorgeous Leeds shopping spots is complete without Kirkgate Market. Lift your head and drink in the incredible wrought iron architecture of the interior – the main hall opened in 1904, adding on to elements that dates back as far as 1822. This Grade I-listed building remains the largest covered market in Europe, and refurbishments, fires and more have done little to dim its appeal. It remains the heart and soul of Leeds, and a must-visit for both locals and visitors.
There are hundreds of stalls inside, covering everything from clothes to coffee, spices to global foods. It’s hard to get past the sweet stalls without being tempted, while rows dedicated to meat and fish invite you to fill your fridge with brilliant produce. Tailoring and tools, hair salons and herbal remedies, everything is under this collection of connected roofs. Swing by the food hall too for Yorkshire pudding wraps, Indian street food, plant-based hot dogs, Istanbul fish sarnies and aromatic Vietnamese cuisine.