For the second in our series that seeks out the best secret spots and ways to enjoy an alternative side of city life, we’re in Leeds. Yorkshire’s largest city, Leeds is home to the original Tetley brewery, the Kaiser Chiefs and a large collection of owl statues. One of Leeds’ main attractions to outdoor-loving folk is the proximity of the Yorkshire moors and Dales.
Whilst Leeds offers easy access to countless opportunities for hiking, cycling, climbing and many other sports in the surrounding countryside, there’s plenty of opportunities to get outdoors in the city itself. The sun may not always shine in Leeds, but when it does, here’s how to make the most of it.
Run the waterways
The Leeds and Liverpool canal provides a thread of green and blue that winds right to the heart of the city. Conveniently, there are several train lines that run parallel to the canal, offering a great opportunity for a flat, one-way run. Kirstall Forge train station is 4 miles from the city centre (detour to visit the impressive Kirkstall Abbey) or take a 9 mile trip out to Apperley Bridge.
If you prefer two wheels to two legs, there’s an excellent cycle path alongside the canal that runs for 17 miles out to Bingley. Make sure you leave time to stop off at the World Heritage Site of Saltaire enroute. From Bingley you can either get the train back into Leeds or turn around and cycle home.
Wander through Roundhay Park
Situated three miles north of Leeds city centre, Roundhay Park boasts 700 acres of parks, lakes and woodland along with a variety of sporting activities. Jump on buses 2 or 12 from the city centre and ask to get off at Roundhay Park Gates. The Park also hosts Tropical World, home to a vast collection of tropical plants, birds, butterflies and meerkats that will keep kids (and adults) entranced for hours.
Many of the park’s trails are tarmac paths designed with accessibility in mind, so it’s a great place for wheelchair users (and parents with buggies) to explore nature. You can even book a free motability powered scooter or wheelchair for use in the park and Tropical World.
Rodley Nature Reserve
If you’re looking for a spot of wildlife, take a trip out to Rodley Nature Reserve. This wetland reserve is situated four miles from the city centre and is a haven for migrating birds. It’s handily located next to the canal so why not combine a visit with a short cycle trip. The wetland and woodland habitats support a wide variety of bird-life, along with dragonflies, damselflies and 361 species of moth.
The Reserve is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays – check the website for details of opening hours.
Goor’s Guided Tours
Fancy exploring a different side to the city? Kenneth Goor has been running guided tours in Leeds for over thirty years, and has 21 guided walks in the city centre alone. From pubs and markets, to body snatching and witchcraft, everyone will learn something new about the history of Leeds and its people. If you’ve visiting around Halloween don’t miss one of his ghostly specials!
For upcoming tours, check out his calendar of events.
Get lost in the Chevin Forest Park
The Chevin sits on a steep escarpement above the market town of Otley, offering sweeping views across the Wharfe valley. As well as having a variety of themed walking trails, there are also two permanent orienteering courses; a starter course suitable for children, and a more technical course. A free beginners guide to orienteering and copies of both maps can be downloaded from the Airienteers website.
The Chevin is also home to one of Yorkshire’s most famous climbing areas: Caley crag and boulders. If you’re an experienced climber, bring along your bouldering mat and beanie for a taste of Yorkshire gritstone. If you’ve not climbed before but fancy giving it a go then it’s best to learn the basics indoors at one of Leeds’s climbing centres (The Leeds Wall, The Depot, City Bloc and The Climbing Lab all offer instruction).
Everything you need to know about visiting Leeds
When to visit: Clear, crisp autumn days are my favourite time of year in Yorkshire, but this is Britain, so good weather is never guaranteed. Summer will give you the best chance of being able to get out to the park with a picnic.
How to get there: Leeds is easily accessible via train with direct connections to major cities (2 hrs 30mins from London). Leeds-Bradford airport has a range of flights, mainly to European destinations – if you’re traveling from further afield, fly into Manchester airport and take a scenic train rise across the Pennine moors.
Where to stay: There’s accommodation to suit most tastes and budgets, though the majority of city centre accommodation is large chain hotels.. If you’re looking for luxury and convenience, then you’d be hard pushed to beat Quebec’s Luxury Apartments located in the Old Post Office building on City Square – just opposite the train station. For a more budget option, check out the Art Hostel, centrally located with quirky rooms designed by local and international artists.
What to eat: Or rather what to drink! Yorkshire is the home of a traditional pint a British ale, though with craft breweries springing up all over Leeds there’s options for even the fussiest beer drinker. Bundobust is a small restaurant close to the train station that serves both craft beers (and cocktails) and fantastic vegetarian Indian street food – I can personally recommend it.