Only have one day in Leeds and wondering how to make the most of it? This itinerary will guide you through the city’s historical and cultural highlights.
Leeds might not hold the same tourist clout as other UK cities such as London or Edinburgh. Nevertheless, this West Yorkshire city offers visitors a raft of historic attractions, excellent shopping and a thriving nightlife scene. On my visits to Leeds, I especially loved its independent spirit reflected in its array of unique shops and eateries.
Much like other northern English cities, Leeds experienced a spurt of rapid growth during the Industrial Revolution. During this period, the city was an important centre for machinery, textile, and coal industries.
However, with the decline of manufacturing in the 20th century, Leeds adapted and evolved to become a service industry hub. Today, it is a thriving city that plays host to a raft of financial services, media and cultural organisations.
Follow this one-day Leeds itinerary to learn about the city’s past, uncover the best architectural gems and find out what contemporary Leeds is all about.
One Day in Leeds Itinerary – Morning
Self-Guided Architecture Tour
Start your one day in Leeds by getting a feel for the city. Take a wander to discover some of its most impressive architecture.
Alternatively, join this city walking tour to learn about the history and highlights of Leeds. They run every day at 10.30am and are a great way to maximise your time in you only have one day in Leeds. The cost is £12 (15 USD) per person.
If you arrived by train, your most convenient first stop would be City Square, located just a few steps away from Leeds train station. This square boasts several architectural highlights such as the art deco Queens Hotel, the former Leeds General Post Office, and the headquarters of Channel 4.
City Square is also renowned for its impressive array of bronze statues. Among these are depictions of significant historical figures like Edward, the Black Prince, and James Watt, whose inventive prowess greatly influenced the Industrial Revolution.
You’ll also encounter eight nude nymphs bearing lamps. Their initial installation sparked considerable controversy. Today, however, they have seamlessly blended into the square, contributing to its classic ambiance.
Stroll up Park Row to the nearby Victoria Square, the most notable feature of which is the iconic Leeds Town Hall. Opened in the 19th century by Queen Victoria herself, it remains one of the largest town hall buildings in the UK. Currently, it is closed for restoration works, so visitors can only admire its grand exterior. However, it will re-open in 2024.
A short stroll along Calverley Street will take you to Millennium Square. Along the way, check out the Mandela Gardens, a peaceful corner of the city commemorating the legacy on Nelson Mandela.
Millennium Square is a public space that often hosts concerts and other large-scale events. It is surrounded by several historic buildings, including the Leeds City Museum and Leeds Civic Hall that houses Leeds City Council offices.
Visit Leeds Art Gallery or Leeds City Museum
You can incorporate a visit to Leeds Art Gallery (Victoria Square) or Leeds City Museum (Millennium Square) as part of your architecture walk.
Leeds Art Gallery features an important collection of modern and contemporary British Art. In addition to the permanent exhibition, there is a diverse programme of temporary exhibitions and events. Be sure to check what’s on before your visit.
I also highly recommend making a pit stop at the Tiled Hall Café located within the gallery. With its mosaic ceiling and tiled walls, it is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places to enjoy a tea and cake in Leeds. The beautiful space is a piece of art in its own right.
Leeds City Museum brings together exhibitions on the city’s past, ancient treasures and natural history. Its treasures include extinct animal bones and a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. I especially enjoyed learning about the city transforming from an industrial powerhouse to a modern centre of culture, academia and financial services.
If time allows you may be able to visit both attractions in one day. I would allow one to two hours for each. However, if you don’t want to rush, focus on just one. Both Leeds Art Gallery and Leeds City Museum are free to visit.
One Day in Leeds Itinerary – Lunch
It’s time to re-fuel after a busy morning of sightseeing. As the next stop on the itinerary is the city’s famous shopping arcades, it makes sense to enjoy a meal in that area as well.
Check out Rabbit Hole Coffee, located at Harvey Nichols in the stunning Victoria Quarter. This independent outlet offers quality coffee, artisan sandwiches and delicious cakes. Exploring Leeds will burn a lot of calories, so why not indulge a little, right?
One Day in Leeds Itinerary – Afternoon
After a sumptuous lunch, take the time to appreciate one of Leeds’ most famous features – its beautiful shopping arcades.
If you opted to have lunch at Rabbit Hole Coffee, you will find yourself at Victoria Quarter. Clad in marble, intricate mosaics and wrought iron, this 19th century shopping precinct is now home to premium designer brands and the first Harvey Nichols outside London.
Just a stone’s throw from Victoria Quarter, on the other side of Briggate, is Queens Arcade. While not as opulent as its neighbour across the street, this Grade-II listed building possesses its own charm. The original features include the glass roof and elegant curved balconies. In terms of shops, you will find a mix of established brands and independents.
Other historic arcades that are worth a visit are Thronton’s Arcade and Grand Arcade. The former is right next to Queens Arcade and the latter is just a five-minute walk away on Merrion Street. Both are full of charm and character and feature a raft of independent shops and eateries.
For a more contemporary shopping experience, check out the newly opened Victoria Gate. The architects behind it reinterpreted the classic Victorian arcade for a contemporary audience. The result is slick, stylish and high-end. Victoria Gate is home to a flagship John Lewis department store and a selection of luxury clothing and lifestyle brands.
Once you’d had a good look around the arcade, head over to the iconic Kirkgate Market. Just a two-minute walk away from Victoria Quarter, Kirkgate Market is one of the largest indoor markets that remain in operations in Europe.
The market opened its doors in 1857 and has become a staple of the city’s shopping scene. You can find pretty much anything there, from clothing and beauty products to furniture and fresh produce.
To top this off, visitors can also enjoy an extensive selection of street food vendors and cafes. From French patisserie and Yorkshire puddings to sushi and kebabs, there is something for every taste.
If you’d like to savour a few of Kirkgate Market’s offerings, you can modify this itinerary by having lunch at the market followed by a wander around the Leeds arcades.
As you continue walking south from Kirkgate Market, an unusual building with a domed roof will soon catch your eye on the left. This is the Corn Exchange, the beating heart of Leeds’s independent shopping scene.
The Corn Exchange is worth a visit for the architecture alone. Stepping inside, you’ll be struck by the vastness of its interiors, with the domed ceiling creating a feeling of lightness and space. Along the walls you will see two tiers of arches that originally led to the corn exchange offices.
Today, these arches host an array of independent vendors. Offering everything from vintage fashion and records to Yorkshire souvenirs and indoor plants, there’s an abundance of eclectic shops to discover.
On the ground floor you will find a cosy coffee shop, an ideal spot to enjoy a drink and some people watching within the magnificent interiors of this period building.
One Day in Leeds Itinerary – Evening
If you don’t have to go home just yet, I recommend heading to Leeds Waterfront to experience a different side of the city. Located just south of the city centre, this area was once home to busy store yards and warehouses. However, with the decline of British industry, the area fell into a near derelict state.
In more recent years, this area has seen substantial regeneration. It is now home to cafes, bars, public art displays and the excellent Royal Armouries Museum. It’s also a great place to just take a stroll along the river Aire and enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere. Check out this map of this precinct to better navigate your way around it.
For this itinerary, I would suggest having a drink, perhaps followed by dinner, in the Granary Wharf area. Enjoy the waterfront views at the Lock kitchen and bar, or indulge in the Italian classics at Livin Italy.
When it’s time to go home, the Leeds train station is within easy walking distance from these great spots.
How to Get to Leeds
If you’re travelling from another UK city, taking the train is likely to be one of the most convenient options. Leeds railway station is situated right in the city centre, making it an ideal option for a day trip. You will be able to tackle this itinerary virtually the moment you step off the train.
For those seeking a more affordable travel alternative, consider taking a coach. The station for Megabus and National Express coaches is situated on Dyer Street, just a short stroll from Kirkgate Market.
However, bear in mind that travelling by coach might involve longer journey times. Be sure to check this prior to booking your travel. I normally use Trainline for my train and coach journeys.
Getting Around Leeds
You can easily tackle this one day in Leeds itinerary on foot. Leeds city centre is compact, with many pedestrianised streets, so it’s a pleasure to walk around it. However, if you are planning to venture out to the suburbs then you might need to use the local bus or train network.
What is the Best Time to Visit Leeds
Most of the attractions on this list are indoor so you can enjoy them irrespective of the season. However, I would suggest heading to Leeds in late spring or summer to make the most of longer days and sunshine. A winter visit certainly has its own charm, but be prepared for colder, wetter, and less predictable weather conditions.
Where to Stay in Leeds
This this one-day Leeds itinerary, you don’t really need to stay in the city overnight. However, if you would like to extend your stay, there is a raft of great accommodation options available. I recommend staying centrally so you don’t need to travel far after a long day of sightseeing.
Here are a couple of my favourite options:
- Quebecs is a luxurious boutique hotel housed in a magnificent Victorian building, located just a short distance from Leeds Railway Station.
- Dakota Leeds offers contemporary luxury right in the heart of Leeds and within walking distance of the railway station.
I hope this one day in Leeds itinerary will help you plan your own unforgettable visit. You may find that one day is not enough to experience everything that the city has to offer.
When I first came to Leeds, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, it pleasantly surprised me with its selection of high-quality attractions, eclectic shopping and walkability.
If you are planning to explore more of Northwest England, be sure to visit other fascinating cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. Although these cities share common historical themes, they all possess distinct personalities.
FAQs: One Day in Leeds
Leeds is absolutely worth a visit. It has a walkable city centre featuring beautiful architecture, excellent cultural attractions and a raft of independent shops and cafes. There is something for everyone in this impressive city.
One day is just about enough to see the highlights of Leeds. You can also easily spend 2-3 days there if you’d like to cover more ground.
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