England was never really on my bucket list, let alone a small town in northern England that I’ve never heard of! However, my brother got accepted to Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy and their main location of study would be in Leeds. Naturally, I saw this as an opportunity to cross the pond and that’s exactly what I did.
I did tons of research and started to embrace the idea of northern England. Shortly after my arrival, I was sold on the whole England thing and I still had so much left to discover. Leeds was the gateway to my experiencing life off the beaten path. When people travel to England, the most common place you hear about is London. Don’t get me wrong, I love London! However, since there’s so much to do there, it’s easy to bypass the rich culture that is there. Leeds helped me see things differently and I’m glad I got to spend time there.
Since I spend a lot of time there, I did a lot of exploring and learning. As I stated in my previous post, Leeds is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.K. Although they are constantly growing, there is still a small-town vibe and the locals are still very friendly. They are often referred to as a “college town” since they have three universities with nearly 50,000 students enrolled. However, their city is still rich in traditional English culture, history, and Victorian architecture while there’s still this English grit to it. They were once a huge part of the Industrial Revolution and while they preserved their history, they have slowly incorporated more contemporary shops, clubs, pubs, and restaurants. This has helped to cater to the fast-paced culture of the 21st century and of course, the students inhabiting there. There is truly something for everyone there. Here is my list of things to check out and the best part is that they’re all mostly free!
Kirkstall Abbey – The fantastic thing about this Cistercian monastery is that the admission is free! The grounds of the abbey are a public park and is situated on the River Aire. It is located in Kirkstall, a suburb of Leeds. The ruins themselves are breathtaking and if you go to the Visitor Centre, they have interactive exhibits where you can learn about the history and the daily lives of the monks. If you’re lucky, you might get a guided tour. When I was there, I was told they didn’t offer official tours but that every now and then there would be someone from the Visitor Centre willing to give a complimentary tour.
Beckett Park – Let it be noted that while this is an actual park, it is also the name of a suburb/residential area. If we’re getting technical, it is part of the Kirkstall suburb. I, however, am talking about the park itself. While there are lots of parks and outdoorsy things in Leeds, my favorite is Beckett Park. I might be a bit biased since my brother’s uni was only a few feet away from it. In the route I used to get to my Airbnb rental, I had to walk through the park. The park is huge with lots of space and has one main, paved pathway spanning the length of the park with two additional paved pathways stemming off the north side. This isn’t a place for those who like to hike. It’s more laid back for picnics, dogs, and children. You’ll often see students from Leeds Beckett University since they border each other. It’s just the right size and the price is just right – free!
Trinity Leeds – If you like to shop, this is right up your alley. This shopping centre is located in Leeds City Centre and has over 120 stores! You can definitely do some financial damage here, especially with a giant Topshop located here. Aside from the stores, the architecture of the development is wonderful. The structure is very contemporary, providing contrast to the buildings surrounding it. Trinity Leeds has a very beautiful and noticeable glass dome and even features several art pieces in and around the premises.
Victoria Leeds – Also known as Victoria Gate or Victoria Quarters, this is an upscale shopping centre. It was originally built in the 1900s so the architecture is exquisite! I went in specifically to see the inside and was blown away by the amount of detail in the building. There are lots of shops and a few dining options but save yourself some money and go for the architecture!
Leeds Corn Exchange – This is yet another shopping centre that was beautifully built and is considered a cultural icon. The Corn Exchange is a circular building with a dome on top and ornate details inside and out. Historically, this building was for actual corn exchange but was eventually restored and renovated for contemporary trade. There are significantly less shops here than at Trinity Leeds and Victoria Leeds but their retailers are local. This is huge in finding a unique souvenir! Moreover, they typically have seasonal exhibits inside including pop-up restaurants, Christmas tree lighting, record fairs, and much more! What’s more,
Leeds Town Hall – One of the largest town halls in the United Kingdom, it was originally used for judicial purposes. Today, it is used for concerts and varieties of functions. They offer tours for a small fee and have a wide assortment of musical options and exhibits for separate fees. If you like music, this is a terrific place to check out a show. I took the tour and it was very informative. I learned about the history of the building, the significant events that took place, and their plans for the future. It’s wonderful to see how they preserve their history while combining contemporary music and events.
Headingley Carnegie Stadium – I am a huge sports enthusiast so naturally, I had to visit this stadium. While standing in front of it, I was told by a local that it was built in the late 1800s! It’s definitely filled with tons of history. This is actually two different stadiums – one side is for rugby while the other is for cricket. Rest assured that this has been renovated a few times since it’s original construction and is still just as enchanting.
Elland Road – This is a football (“soccer” for you, Americans) stadium which is home to Leeds United F.C. This is another important piece of the Leeds culture as it has been around for many, many years. Even if you don’t like football, visiting is a must. You have to embrace the culture of football over there. It’s a fantastic atmosphere! It’s almost equivalent to American football. There’s a lot more passion, enthusiasm, and beer! Definitely try to attend a match if you have the chance – it will be the time of your life.
If you ever decide to go to England, I highly recommend taking a train to Leeds. It’s a great place rich with culture and is definitely up and coming. While you’re up north, be sure to visit Manchester and Liverpool too! Take advantage of the great public transit system they have and explore, explore, EXPLORE!