Elegant architecture, remarkable history and amazing shops make the famous shopping arcades in Leeds a must-visit.
Leeds is a shopaholic’s paradise and its historic arcades are a key part of the city’s charm. They offer a shopping experience that’s full of character, where a fantastic mix of local independents and nationally renowned brands come together in beautiful surroundings. Their rich heritage has been kept alive, with the ornate Victorian architecture being beautifully preserved across decades. There’s so much to discover, so it’s time to explore the city’s arcades.
Named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Queen’s Arcade is a charming Grade-II listed building that’s stood on Briggate since 1889. It was designed by London arcade-guru Edward Clark and unlike the city’s other arcades, it was once home to a hotel as well as the usual shops. While the hotel no longer exists, it’s left the arcade with an impressive four-storey frontage that’s just as eye-catching today as it ever was. It was given a complete refurbishment in 1994, but you can still see many of the original features, including ornate cast-iron arches, a curved balcony and a classic glass roof.
The arcade is home to big names like Levi’s and Office alongside an array of incredible independents. Take Accent Clothing, for example – it’s a family-run clothes shop that has been plying the city’s fashionable folk with designer wear for over 30 years. There’s also Aladdin’s Cave, a well-established vintage jewellery shop that sells everything from pearl necklaces to classic pocket watches.
Queen’s Arcade, Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LF.
Built in 1878, Thornton’s Arcade was the first of many shopping arcades in Leeds. The neo-gothic structure was designed by George Smith for its namesake Charles Thornton, a Yorkshireman who had the bright idea of covering Briggate’s narrow shopping alleys. Thornton was a colourful local character who also owned the City Varieties Music Hall, so Smith wove plenty of theatrical eccentricities into the arcade’s design, like the tall gothic arches, lancet windows and decorative winged lions. Not to mention the famous Ivanhoe Clock, which has a band of figures from Robin Hood striking the bell every quarter.
The arcade is a beloved attraction in Leeds and not just because of its quirky design. It has a fantastic selection of big brands like Starbucks and Dune as well as some of the city’s best independents. There’s Welcome Skate Store, a one-stop-shop for all your skating needs, as well as OK Comics, one of the best comic book stores in the country.
Thornton’s Arcade, Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LQ.
The Grand Arcade might be one of the lesser known shopping arcades in Leeds, but it’s an important part of what makes this city such a popular shopping destination. It was designed by local architects Smith & Tweddle in 1897 and connects two quaint Victorian shopping streets under a glazed roof. Today, the arcade is at the heart of the city’s thriving Northern Quarter, with the ever-popular Merrion Street next door. Colourful bunting is strung from shop-to-shop and the unique Potts Clock adds to its charm. It’s an animated time piece in the shape of a castle, with two knights to strike on the quarter and four more appearing on the hour.
The intriguing architecture isn’t the only reason this arcade is so special – it’s also a treasure trove of independent shops. Our Handmade Collective is a particular favourite, selling crafts from Yorkshire designers you won’t find anywhere else on the high street. There’s also an eclectic mix of food and drink spots, with the quaint Just Grand! Vintage Tearoom, rock ’n’ roll dive bar Santiago’s and secretive jazz den The Domino Club.
Grand Arcade, Merrion Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6PG.
Victoria Quarter is the most famous shopping arcade in Leeds, attracting people from across the world to marvel at its architectural beauty and shop in its exclusive stores. This spectacular Grade-II listed landmark was designed by Frank Matcham in 1900, the architect for the London Palladium and 200 other theatres. The arcade is full of theatrical grandeur itself, in the marble columns, pink terracotta facades, gilt mosaics and wrought iron detailing. Most dramatic of all is the stained glass roof – the largest in Europe – which is surrounded by detailed murals. It’s certainly a glamorous replacement for the slaughterhouses and slums that once stood there.
The arcade’s original beauty has been richly preserved, with the traditional mahogany shop-fronts still there today. Behind them, you’ll see it’s a hub for luxury fashion and you can find over 75 high-end brands spread across its three sections. There’s Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Reiss and a huge five-floor Harvey Nichols, which shoppers flock to from miles around.
Victoria Quarter, Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6AX.
The city’s newest shopping arcade is Victoria Gate, a lavish £165 million development that helped to secure the city’s place as the retail capital of the North. It was designed by architecture firm ACME, who took inspiration from the city’s existing arcades. The black shop fronts with gold gilded lettering are a modern take on the traditional Victorian style, which you can see in the Victoria Quarter. The huge statement glass roof, made from 1,000 diamond-shaped glass panels, also takes lead from its sister arcade’s iconic roof. It has a seriously glam feel and the granite herringbone floor just tops it all off.
There’s over 42,000 square metres of retail and leisure space, with famous designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein side-by-side. But they’re not the only big names that Victoria Gate has brought to Leeds – exclusive shops like Anthropolgie, The White Company and Hackett London can all be found here. The North’s flagship John Lewis store also calls this arcade home. It’s a five-floor behemoth that covers homeware, tech, clothing, jewellery and even boasts a Clarins spa.
Victoria Gate, Vicar Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 7AU.
Central Arcade is one of the more modern shopping arcades in Leeds. It opened in 2012 after a £3 million transformation of the old Market Street Arcade. Architecture firm Archial NORR gave the area a new lease of life, using light colours and plenty of glass to create a bright and airy shopping space that joins Briggate to Central Road. The capacious arcade is split across three floors, with loads of niche boutiques to explore.
It’s home to not one but two ethically-minded stores. Yellow Sunrise is a treasure trove of exotic finds, with tapestries, incense burners and healing crystals all on the shelves. Next door is Ecotopia, a zero-waste food shop where you can stock up on all the kitchen essentials in your own re-usable plastic containers. You can also find a handful of clothes shops, with bespoke headwear from Pebbles Hats and specialist dancewear from World of Dance.
Central Arcade, Central Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6DE.Cover image: © Copyright Leeds-List 2021 by Katie Nicole