Unexpected Beauty in Leeds, England

Leeds isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think of natural beauty or stunning architecture – but a recent trip had me eating my words. Tasked with making the trip north to add another section to my on-going ‘Single’s Guide to the UK’ – I wasn’t holding out the highest hopes for digging out romantic hotspots in Leeds, but I was more than happy to eat some more of my words!

Clarence Dock , Leeds

If you are using a BritRail Pass, jumping off the train at Leeds City Station, and making your way to the River Aire will get you in touch with nature. The riverside is lined with beautiful 17th century buildings and wandering along the towpaths here was an uplifting experience after the congested railway ride.

I quickly came to the conclusion that I’d judged Leeds hardly, and equally as quickly it became apparent that it was a great destination for lovers of art to explore. The City Art Gallery is famed for its synergy between historically famous painters and modern local talent – all in a beautifully architecture Victorian building in the heart of the city. Boasting one of the best collections of British art in the world - some of the artists whose work can be found hanging on the walls include Turner, Girtin, Cortman and CCozens. After taking the time to fully explore this magnificent collection I moved on to the Design Gallery and Craft Shop before wandering next door to check out the Town Hall and Leeds Library.

The city of Leeds is steeped in history and culture and the Leeds Industrial Museum is the perfect place to get a feel for it. The museum is located in Armley Mills, which is one of the biggest woollen mills in the whole world, and contains a fascinating collection of exhibits that bring life in Leeds during the 18th and 19th centuries to life. Leeds also contains a number of other interesting and informative museums for visitors to explore including the Leeds Museums Natural Science Collection and the Thackray Medical Museum – not for the squeamish!

Leeds is also a great place to indulge in a spot of shopping. Browsing for bargains in the Corn Exchange was a lot of fun and I managed to find plenty of great souvenirs to take back to London, while strolling through the Victorian Quarter was a serene experience. Strolling past the Old Cinema in the centre of town, it was swarming with couples with first date written all over their faces – if only they knew what a cliché they were falling into by a date at the movies. Zipping my professional opinion and urge to give advice, I continued walking north through the city. Pausing for lunch at the charming Edwardian Kirkgate Market, I took a moment to catch my breath and try some of the local food – which pretty much consists of anything deep fried. A moment of guilty pleasure that I regretted in a bumpy taxi ride later on!

Sitting in the rural county of Yorkshire, Leeds is surrounding by the northern hills and dales that I craved to explore. After letting my lunch settle, I picked up the rental car and made the hour long journey to the nearby natural park through the lakes of Hetton and Grassington. Having travelled most of the UK, the Yorkshire Dales still rank as one of the most majestic wild places I’ve discovered and certainly the best picnic spot I’ve come across.

Just outside the city, I stumbled across Temple Newsam House. This magnificent 16th century Tudor-Jacobean country house can be found four miles from the heart of Leeds and was once home to Lord Darnley, husband of the famed Mary Queen of Scots.

Harewood House is perhaps one of the most famous attractions in this part of the world and is located just seven miles from central Leeds. Harewood House was designed by John Carr of York and is full of stunning furniture created by Thomas Chippendale. The attraction also features large gardens as well as bird gardens and wandering around the picturesque gardens in the sunshine was a very romantic experience.

Being a lover of the theatre, I was delighted to have a veritable feast of shows to choose from when I came back into the city in the evening. Being able to choose from the Grand Theatre, the City Varieties Theatre and the Civic Theatre was like having Christmas come early. Choosing to watch a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Yorkshire Playhouse was the perfect way to end the evening.

Pleasantly delighted and surprised with what Leeds had shown me, it was easy to drift off in my hotel that night and if I hadn’t been on such a tight schedule – I could easily have spent another week in the Yorkshire heartlands. Truly a hidden gem lost in the wilds of Northern England.

About the Author: Sarah Jane Fanning is a relationship advice guru and marketing consultant based in London. Travelling around the UK to find romantic hotspots and discover more about the quirks of dating in the different cities – Sarah has unearthed a new strategy for regional dating.

Photo by Paul Stevenson via Flickr Creative Commons