Leeds is out there waiting for you to conquer it. Here’s our essential must-do list for all freshers. Have at it!
What’s the first thing you should do as a fresher in Leeds? Everything, that’s what! Leeds is packed with exciting stuff you need to do, see, taste and smell all year round. No matter the season, it’s a helluva city. From unmissable pub crawls to bafflingly bonkers bingo, gorgeous countryside to one-of-a-kind nights out, you’ll get to know Leeds so well you’ll never want to leave.
1. Take on the legendary Otley Run
The Otley Run is the ultimate Leeds challenge for freshers. The good news? There won’t be any running. It’s a pub crawl starting at Woodie’s Ale House in Headingley, and finishing at The Dry Dock on the edge of the city centre. You’ll cover 15 watering holes in total, so it’s the perfect way to get a good sense of the area’s boozers, from proper pubs through to modern bars.
There are rules to all this, of course. If you ignore any of them, you can’t really say you’ve ‘done’ it. First up, you have to drink at each and every stop – so maybe skip those double-hopped 8% IPAs. Secondly, fancy dress is pretty much compulsory. Freestyle it or coordinate with your mates – this is the time to go nuts at one of the city’s fancy dress shops. But don’t fret, we’ve put together a survival guide to help get you through it.
2. Get to a gig at Brudenell Social Club
Leeds has a fabulous live music scene and the Brudenell Social Club is at the very heart of it. This brilliant, buzzing venue is the go-to spot for acts that span all genres, with a heady mix of touring legends and up-and-coming artists. It’s the place to be if you want to say, years from now, that you saw them before they were famous. It’s big enough to rock out in but intimate enough for all kinds of music.
The venue itself is the stuff of legends, a former working men’s club transformed into a place with great acoustics – the sound system here doesn’t mess about. At the Brudenell, they sure know how to cater to students, with well-priced cask ales and craft beers, a brilliant range of bar snacks and the crust-kissed goodness of Pieminister pies. Nothing but good times and good vibes.
Brudenell Social Club, 33 Queens Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 1NY.
3. Sip some suds at Leeds landmark Whitelock’s
There’s no shortage of great pubs in Leeds, but Whitelock’s may just be the daddy of them all. Pints have been pulled here for over 300 years, in fact, it first opened its doors way back in 1715. While it may have changed in that time, it hasn’t changed much. Head into the yard where it sits and admire the relic of a building, before nipping inside to what many locals consider the perfect pub.
There’s a handsome bar, original features and lovely etched, stained-glass windows. If you’re here for a drink, you can sit on the benches in the courtyard – there’s always a buzz of people coming and going – or stay inside to really soak up the old-world atmosphere. Beer is the name of the game here, with a huge selection of cask and keg beers for all budgets. This is the place to go for a round of ales with a side of history.
Whitelock’s Ale House, Turk’s Head Yard, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6HB.
4. Discover history and beauty at Kirkstall Abbey
Make your way out to Kirkstall Abbey not just for the centuries of history (although that is definitely fascinating) but also for the ruined grandeur of the building itself, set inside one of the loveliest green spaces in Leeds. Founded in 1152, the abbey was home to monks until the mid-16th century, when Henry VIII infamously disestablished the monasteries.
The spectral shell is a stunning part of the landscape that every fresher in Leeds should see. The monks are long gone, but Kirkstall Abbey still teems with life. Some come for the heritage, others for the nature. The abbey itself is free to visit, but you can also pay a small fee to visit the former gatehouse that has been transformed into a museum, where you can travel back to Victorian times in a Grade II-listed building.
Kirkstall Abbey, Abbey Road, Kirkstall, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS5 3EH.
5. Join the party on the city’s wildest streets
If you’re up for a night out in Leeds, there are three places that need to be on your radar. For the perfect fresher night out, Call Lane, Merrion Street and Greek Street prove that three is the magic number. Call Lane is craft beer and cocktail central, with colourful bars so close to each other that you can do an entire pub crawl and only cover 50 metres. Look out for Leeds classics like Oporto and Jake’s Bar, along with Caribbean cracker Jamrock.
All of the streets are pedestrianised to some extent – ideal for when you’re rolling out of a bar somewhat the worse for wear. On Greek Street, make sure you check out The Lost & Found and the buzzing Neighbourhood. Merrion Street offers beers, cocktails and rock music at Mojo and Verve, games galore at Roxy Ball Room and wild nights at The Key Club.
6. Experience shopping nirvana at Kirkgate Market
Kirkgate Market is one of the finest gems in Leeds, and it’s definitely a fresher’s friend. It opened all the way back in 1857 and, while it has experienced numerous changes, it still retains what has always made it so special. That means the very best Yorkshire produce from farm, field and sea, as well as a gorgeous Victorian interior worth a spot on the Gram.
They’ve got everything you need to stock up on, from everyday ingredients to hard-to-source spices and sensational seafood. It’s also chock-full of places to eat. Think cheap and cheerful greasy spoons alongside the lavish international flavours of the food hall. Yorkshire pudding wraps, vintage clothes, freshly-baked sourdough bread or refills from a zero waste food store – who knows what you’ll be carrying home?
Kirkgate Market, Vicar Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7HY.
7. Unearth vintage gems at Headingley’s thrift shops
Being a student is all about living within a budget, and one of the best ways to do that is to grab a bargain from one of the many thrift and charity shops in Headingley. Whether you want to call it vintage, second-hand or pre-loved, it’s a great way to update your wardrobe and decorate your room with some timeless style, and all without taxing your bank account too much.
Wander the streets of Headingley and you’ll find treasures galore, whether it’s affordable furniture at Mind, or classic fashion from the 1920s to 1990s at British Heart Foundation. Vintage Boutique in Hyde Park is a lovingly curated shop that runs the gamut from clothes to books, art to accessories. Elsewhere, you’ll find not just a huge Oxfam, but a dedicated Oxfam bookshop too.
Check out our Headingley thrift shopping crawl.
8. Throw the stress away at Whistle Punks
With all the imposing deadlines and seemingly never-ending studying, being a student comes with a boatload of stress. But instead of keeping it all pent up inside, why not let it all out with a game of axe throwing? At Whistle Punks you can do just that. Every Wednesday is student night, so that means cheaper tickets and a night out that might even do you some good.
That relentless report you’ve got to write? Chuck an axe at it. Nerve-wracking presentation coming up? Ditto. Gather all your flatmates together for a bit of bonding and take out all your frustrations on the target board. First time? Don’t worry, the friendly team will give everyone a run-through the basics.
Whistle Punks, The Electric Press 4, Millennium Square, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AD.
9. Relax and play in Roundhay Park
This is about to become your favourite park. A 700-acre playground north-east of the city, Roundhay Park is a beloved part of Leeds life. Its size means it has something for absolutely everyone – it’s the beating green heart of the city, slowly changing in the autumn to shades of russet and orange. Whatever time of year, it’s gorgeous.
You can head here with friends for a picnic among the splendour, or seek out a never-ending selection of running and walking routes. If you’re looking to get active, there are football and cricket pitches, tennis courts, a golf course and even a skate park. Soak up the serenity of the lakes, then head into Tropical World to meet the meerkats. Roundhay Park – it’s a reet good day out.
Roundhay Park, Mansion Lane, Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8 2HH.
10. See if your number’s up at Bongo’s Bingo
Bongo’s Bingo is fun to the power of laughs. This isn’t the kind of bingo where your gran clutches a dabber and shouts ‘line’ to win a bag of meat from the local butcher. Instead, expect pumping music, a bonkers stage show, daft prizes and dance-off galore. It’s bingo injected with true rave energy, and glowsticks are pretty much obligatory. Dress up or dress down, it doesn’t matter – you’ll be swept up in the hilarity.
Beyond all the high-octane craziness, there are actual prizes up for grabs. While cash may well be very useful to a fresher in Leeds, is it really better than a bottle of gin or Jäger, an inflatable toy or a cardboard cutout of Phillip Schofield? Don’t answer that. Where else can you play bingo, carry away baffling prizes and be showered in Coco Pops while dancing to rave classics? Again, don’t answer.
Bongo’s Bingo, O2 Academy Leeds, 55 Cookridge Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AW.
11. Feed your greed at Belgrave Feast
It’s not just the restaurants and cafes you need to work your way through in Leeds – this is a city full of food festivals and pop-ups. Belgrave Music Hall is a favourite among students, with its ace bar, live gigs and rooftop terrace, but it does a great job of feeding you too. The burgers and sensational Session Fries at Patty Smith’s are a dirty revelation, the pizza at Dough Boys a chin-dripping delight.
Hold on, it gets better. Every month, Belgrave Feast invites a shifting line-up of street food vendors to move in and take over the ground floor. There might be fab falafel, oozing poutine or bao buns so springy it’s like they’re made of edible memory foam. Add live music and an art market for the perfect day out. Arrive hungry – you’ll probably want to try more than one dish.
Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 8JP.
12. Bounce into action at Gravity
Sometimes, a person just needs to bounce. If you and your new housemates are looking for a fun day out with added bouncing, look no further than Gravity. It’s a huge park with over 100 trampolines, all connected to make one giant, springy playground. This isn’t just a great way to burn off energy – you can also head there to keep fit. Their workout sessions are an unusual way to get your cardio and core exercise in.
If you’re just going for the buzz, there’s lots to keep you entertained. You can have a laugh competing against your mates across the dodgeball sessions and obstacle courses, pile into airbags and let yourself fall safely into the slam dunk zones. They even have after-dark events on Fridays, with a light show, soundtrack and no kids. It’s like the biggest pillow party on earth – and you’re all invited.
Gravity Active Entertainment Leeds, Cardigan Fields Leisure Park, Kirkstall Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS4 2DG.
13. Catch a match at Headingley Stadium
If you don’t know rugby yet, it’s time to get to know it. Being on the M62 corridor, rugby is at the heart of sport in Leeds, and you can get in on all the action at Headingley Stadium. Here, you can catch the local legends Leeds Rhinos playing in the Super League. More of a cricket fan? The cricket ground is home to Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the England national team themselves.
The stadium also hosts some of the biggest national and international-level sporting events, like the Rugby League World Cup, with teams coming to Leeds from South America and Down Under, and The Hundred, a country-wide city cricket battle. And when it’s so easy to get to, there’s simply no excuse not to grab your tickets and come be a part of a city that is serious about its sport. It’s a must for any sport-loving student.
Headingley Stadium, St Michael’s Lane, Headingley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 3BR.
14. Meander through nature on the Meanwood Valley Trail
Another gorgeous slice of Leeds greenery, the Meanwood Valley Trail is a verdant vein of glorious Yorkshire landscape. Nature fans will soon fall in love with this seven-mile stretch of God’s Own County. As the name suggests, the trail heads through Meanwood, before taking you up to Adel and Alwoodley. It’s a joy in autumn as the leaves turn shades of ochre but beautiful all year round.
Start your trek at the statue of Henry Marsden on Woodhouse Moor – it’s close to the University of Leeds, so ideal for freshers. You’ll pass through parts of Headingley, wander by the side of Meanwood Beck, tip-toe over weirs and through gardens on your way to Golden Acre Park. Look out for the Slabbering Baby and pack a picnic – there are plenty of places perfect to stop and enjoy your surroundings.
The walk starts at Woodhouse Moor Car Park, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS6 1BJ or Golden Acre Park, Off Arthington Road, Bramhope, Leeds, LS16 8BQ. Check out the route.
15. Sip on secret cocktails at The Maven
There are a few secret speakeasy-style bars in the city, such as The Domino Club and Blind Tyger, that you’ll want to hunt out. Make The Maven your first port of call – it doesn’t just serve up potent drinks, it also packs a mean party. Sipping cocktails is fine, sloshing them around as you dance is much more fun.
Being hidden doesn’t mean this bar is shy – it might be all dark wood inside, but it’s a welcoming place with cosy booths, and it really comes alive as it fills up. The expert mixologists know the lavishly stocked bar inside out, and will serve you up alcoholic treats, such as the Hibiscus Swizzle, Blind Date or Gin Garden. There’s beer and wine too, plus a great list of Italian aperitivos if you fancy trying something new.
The Maven, 1 Call Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 7DH.
16. Make a furry friend at Kitty Cafe
You might not have realised that the thing missing from your life was a cafe where you get to pet cats but, hey, different strokes for different folks. Kitty Cafe is the place to go to make feline friends while you grab lunch or a coffee. It’s not just about the food and meeting furry friends though – the Kitty Cafe doubles up as a re-homing centre for cats and kittens. The money you spend helps the cafe care for them before they find their forever home.
So, while the cats may have changed by the time you go, you’re quite likely to meet Cookie, Saffy, Crinkle, Sid and Nancy. Some of them are shy, others will be all over you as you munch on pizza, panini, quesadillas or an afternoon tea with cakes and scones. Grab a toy if you want to play with them, or just enjoy the charming, soothing sight of them jumping from their walkways to snuggle down to sleep.
Kitty Cafe, 8-9 Kirkgate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6BZ.
17. Pound your peers at Roxy’s pub games
Fun? Games? Drinks? Check! Check! Check! There are two Roxy Ball Rooms in Leeds – one on Boar Lane, another on Merrion Street – as well as Roxy Lanes on Bond Street. Here, you can work your way through a huge variety of games in a party atmosphere where the drinks never stop flowing. If you have to pick one, head for Merrion Street – after all, it’s open until 4am on Friday and Saturday.
Kick things off with Beer Pong – one of the fastest, funnest ways to get the party started. Of course, it’s always better if you lose. After that, you can move on to shuffleboard, table tennis, duck pin bowling, karaoke rooms or even crazy pool (a quirky hybrid of pool and crazy golf). There’s no point trying to keep score, because the cocktails, beers and shots will make it all a bit of a blur. You all won.
Roxy Ball Room, 58 Boar Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6HW. Roxy Ball Room, 9a Merrion Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6PQ. Roxy Lanes, The Light, 44-48 The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 8TL.
18. Get in the swing of things at Go Ape
After a hard week of study, what better way to let off some steam with your fellow Leeds freshers than by sharing an adventure? Head to Temple Newsam where Go Ape awaits – you’ll climb, you’ll dangle, you might even plummet, but you’ll do it safely and in some of the city’s loveliest parkland. This is a treetop adventure course set in a 1,500-acre park, promising vertiginous thrills and the rush of adrenaline.
You can do your best Tarzan impression as you go tree-to-tree on ziplines, and push yourself on the Treetop Challenge course, which will test your skill and bravery on 17-metre-high platforms. The 13-metre Plummet may not sound like much, but in the flesh it’s somewhat more daunting – there’s a reason why some people use it to warm up for bungee jumps. It’s open whatever the weather – the mud just makes it even more fun.
Go Ape Temple Newsam, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS15 0AD.
19. Enter the drag den at Viaduct Showbar
The Viaduct Showbar is a landmark of LGBTQ+ culture and nightlife in Leeds – head here and you’re in for a wild night. You can go in the afternoon for cheap pints and bingo, but come the evening and the place really comes alive. It goes until after midnight every single day of the week, with parties rocking on until 3am on Thursday night, 4am on Friday and Saturday. It’s unrepentantly in-your-face, but that’s why you’re there.
Tuesday is the night for student specials, with cheap pints, shots and bombs to a soundtrack of cheesy pop. There are games to join in with on Waka Waka Wednesday and the rest of the week marries camp classics with charismatic drag queens and the Viaduct’s own showgirls. It’s the perfect weekend showstopper before you head back to lectures on Monday.
Viaduct Showbar, 11 Lower Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6ER.
20. Brighten up your life at Leeds Light Night
Light Night has been illuminating Leeds since 2005, and if you’re a fresher you should really make the most of it. It’s a chance to see the playful side of the city after dark, with two nights of light projections, performances and art installations. There are loads of things going on in what is a highlight of the cultural calendar. With a changing focus each year, heading to Light Night is definitely a bright idea.
You might see poetry writ large in neon on Briggate and vivid watering cans pouring fibre optic ‘water’ into the River Aire. You might spot a giant, colourful octopus trying to escape from the Victoria Quarter or catch an immersive dance performance by Northern Ballet. If you’ve already familiarised yourself with Leeds in your first few weeks in the city, this is a chance to see it in a totally different light.
Leeds Light Night takes place all around the city every Autumn. Check their website for more details.
21. Discover an indie paradise at the Corn Exchange
The Corn Exchange, which you’ll soon more frequently refer to as the ‘Corn Ex’, is the place in Leeds city centre for all things independent. Whether it’s secondhand fashion, meaningful gifts, handmade fibre crafts, or Yorkshire-inspired merch, you’ll find it all here. Wander around the two floors in this dome of Victorian architecture excellence, peering into shop doors on your rounds.
Once a thriving centre of commerce, today creatives of all kinds have breathed new life into this living Leeds landmark. You could pick up a plant for your room from The Plant Point, get inked at Red Tattoo and Design, support local artists at Indie Makers, or take home some not-so-new but new-to-you garms from Chinese Laundry. And it’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city, so make sure you snap a shot.
Leeds Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 7BR.Cover image credit: © Copyright Leeds-List 2022 by Max Wailes.