Leeds is known for its huge variety of retail spaces, the University of Leeds, Leeds Festival, and for being the home of Emmerdale. It’s also famous for its successful sports teams, the Yorkshire Ripper murders, and for being the birthplace of Marks & Spencer.
Allow me to take you on a tour of 19 things that really put this city on the map.
Leeds is famous for being a prime destination for shoppers in the UK. The city features over 3.5 million square feet of retail space, more than 5 miles of dedicated shopping streets, and the longest pedestrianized shopping area in the country.
The newly paved Briggate area in the city center should be any shopper’s first port-of-call. It’s known for featuring a variety of flagship stores such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, and Louis Vuitton.
The surrounding arcades – County, Cross, Queen’s, and Thornton’s Arcades stretch on for much longer and ensure that even the savviest shoppers have several days of entertainment on their hands.
2. Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre
As if all that wasn’t enough, Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre was opened in 2013, named after the adjacent Holy Trinity Church. It features another whopping 1 million square feet of retail floor space and is occupied by 120 stores.
Along with shopping, visitors can access a four-screen cinema and a large concept food area called Trinity Kitchen.
Leeds is known as a haven for avid golfers, featuring over 20 private and public golf courses. Favorites include Howley Hall Golf Club, home of the PGA in the Yorkshire Open Championship, and the oldest club in Leeds, Headingley Golf Club.
4. The University of Leeds
The University of Leeds receives more applications than any other University in the UK. In addition, with help from the other higher-education institutions in Leeds, the city is the source of more than 10% of all graduate students in the country.
The student population of over 100,000 means Leeds a lively and energetic place full of events, clubs, and restaurants catering to young people.
5. Leeds Beckett University
Leed Beckett, formerly known as Leeds Metropolitan, is another popular university based in the Headingley and Civic Quarter areas of Leeds.
With its history stretching back to 1824 and continuing new investments into teaching and learning facilities, Leeds Beckett attracts bright young students from all over the UK and the world.
6. Leeds Festival
As one of the largest annual music festivals in the world, no piece about Leeds could go without mentioning it. Leeds Festival features the biggest and best music acts in the world year after year (except when COVID stops it).
The partner festival in Reading takes the title for being the oldest festival in the world that is still in existence. While that may be impressive, I firmly believe that the addition of some northern spirit makes Leeds the better experience of the two.
7. Grand Theft Auto
It may surprise you to know that Leeds is famous for Grand Theft Auto. Luckily, I’m talking about the game series and not the crime.
Game company Rockstar Leeds is a subsidiary of Rockstar Games, which is responsible for the world-famous Grand Theft Auto series.
You have the Leeds branch to thank for titles such as Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories.
In case you hadn’t heard already, Yorkshire would have ranked 12th in the medal rankings in the 2012 London Olympics if judged as an independent country. Notably, Olympians from Leeds played a decisive part in this humongous achievement.
The Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonathan saw great success in the triathlon, and Nicola Adams brought home the gold in flyweight women’s boxing.
Another notable mention amongst ‘Loiners’ (people from Leeds) is Nile Wilson in artistic gymnastics, who secured a bronze in the 2016 games.
One of the most popular soap operas in the UK, Emmerdale is a national treasure that Leeds can take some well-deserved credit for. Filming for the show takes place at Kirkstall Road ITV studios in Leeds and at the Harewood Estate not far away.
If you need a break from the constant screaming and shouting of Eastenders, Emmerdale has pleasant farms and rolling hills to soothe your soul.
10. Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer is a hugely famous chain of stores that can be found all over the world. They are known for their high-quality products and their unmistakable Britishness. You might be surprised to know that it all started right here in Leeds!
Back in 1884, a market stall was opened in Leeds Kirkgate Market that would later move to Briggate and become the first Marks & Spencer, both of which you can still visit in the city today.
The Marks & Spencer at Kirkgate Market is the only one of its kind in the world and kept open to pay special respects to the history that the store has in the city.
11. Leeds West Indian Carnival
Leeds West Indian Carnival is the oldest such carnival in the whole of Europe, dating back to 1967. Although less popular than its cousin that takes place in Notting Hill, the Leeds festival offers all of the same great music, dance, and street theatre.
Festivities such as parades, dances, music, and food can be found over a three-day period, starting and finishing in Potternewton Park in Chapeltown.
12. Leeds United Football Club
Despite being towered over by its neighbors in Manchester and Liverpool, Leeds United remains a strong English football club that competes with the best in the Premier League.
They have won one FA Cup, one League Cup, two Community Shields, and two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups.
13. The Yorkshire Ripper Murders
A series of 13 murders in and around Leeds between 1975 and 1980 led to one of the biggest manhunts in history. Authorities searched thousands of homes and interviewed more than 250,000 people, making it one of the most expensive investigations ever carried out in the UK.
The interviews included the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ himself – Peter Sutcliffe, who was spoken to by police nine times before being successfully apprehended in 1981. The Ripper was eventually sentenced to life in prison and died in 2020 from COVID complications.
14. Kirkgate Market
Kirkgate Market was started in 1857 and is now home to more than 600 stalls, making it the largest indoor market in Europe. It is located conveniently right next to the major train and bus station in the city center.
You can find everything imaginable here – clothes, jewelry, hardware, souvenirs, groceries, and of course a huge variety of hot food and snacks.
15. Roundhay Park
Leeds is known for having an unusually huge selection of parks and green spaces that are open to the public. Chief among these is one of the biggest parks in Europe – Roundhay Park.
Roundhay Park was created by William the Conqueror and now covers more than 700 acres of parkland. It features woods, lakes, and a playground for children.
Almost 1 million people visit the park every year, making it also one of the most popular in the whole of Europe.
16. Leeds Rhinos
The Leeds Rhinos are a professional rugby league club based in Leeds that compete in the Super League – the highest level of the English rugby league.
Their home matches take place at the famous Headingley Stadium and the team continues to see great success. The Rhinos have won 11 League Titles, 13 Challenge Cups and three World Club Challenge titles since their formation in 1870.
17. Yorkshire County Cricket Club
Leeds is also famous to some for being the home of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. It is one of only 18 first-class county clubs in England and Wales.
They are the most successful team in English cricketing history, having earned 33 County Championship titles.
18. The Leeds Town Hall Ghost
Leeds Town Hall is said by some to be haunted by a ghost that will tug on your clothes or push you. Legend says that it is likely to be the ghost of Mary Blythe, a young woman who threw herself from the clock tower in 1876.
Some even believe that she is the reason the Town Hall clock doesn’t strike at midnight – in the hope that her ghost won’t wake up. While it’s definitely true that the clock doesn’t chime at midnight, others think that it could be an attempt to keep the stone lions outside from waking.
I’m unsure… both seem a little implausible to me.
19. The Lord of the Rings
This is something that Leeds should be more famous and known for! Its green and lush surroundings may well have inspired the creation of the ‘Shire’ of the Hobbits in The Lord of The Rings.
The author of the book that turned into one of the most successful movie franchises of all time – J.R.R Tolkein, established his academic career at the University of Leeds and was a professor there until 1925. Only after taking in the beautiful Leeds landscape did he go on to write his world-famous books.