Not very long ago the West Yorkshire city of Leeds was a grim, grey industrial town; however, in little more than a decade, Leeds has enjoyed an economic boom and its transformation has earned it accolades from all quarters. It is now recognised as one of Europe's most successful cities. Along with this boom has come regeneration and a fresh tide of tourism.
Leeds currently attracts about 20 million tourists a year, the majority of which are day-trippers. The reasons visitors come to Leeds are many and varied; its famously wild nightspots, frequent cultural events, abundant shopping and fascinating collection of museums are just a few.
Sharing access to the nearby international airport is the neighbouring historic Yorkshire city of Bradford, also a vibrant, cosmopolitan city offering plenty to amuse and entertain visitors. Bradford has attractions like the National Media Museum, Industrial Museum, and a splendid art gallery contained in beautiful Lister Park.
These two complementary Yorkshire cities, with their packed calendars of festivals and events, have become the beating heart of northern England. Visitors to the UK should not pass up the opportunity to visit Leeds, which has been dubbed the 'Knightsbridge of the North'.
The Armley Mills Industrial Museum was a working cloth mill until 1969, when the City Council turned it into an award-winning industrial museum. In fact, it was once the world's largest wool mill. Exhibits trace the history of textiles, clothing, engineering and locomotive manufacture in Yorkshire. Particularly interesting is a section devoted to the 1920s silent movie projectors, operating water wheels and the huge spinning mules that were in use in the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum has an unexpectedly lovely riverside setting and is the ideal place to learn about the industries that the city of Leeds was built on.
There is surely no more interesting day out in Leeds than a visit to the Thackray Museum, which tells the story of medical advances through the ages. A recreated Victorian street, complete with sights, sounds and smells, highlights the lives, ailments and treatment of a bygone era in vivid clarity, and visitors can also step inside the human body in an interactive gallery. The museum was the vision of Paul Thackray, a former director of a medical supplies company, and since its opening in 1997 has become one of Britain's best museums as well as one of the largest medical museums in the UK.
In the heart of the city, the Leeds Art Gallery offers a feast for art lovers, its collections covering everything from traditional prints, watercolours, paintings and sculpture to weird and wonderful contemporary works. The gallery is renowned for having the best collection of British art outside of London - a fiercely contested accolade. Adjoining the gallery is the Henry Moore Institute, with its acclaimed sculpture study centre, and a full programme of sculpture exhibitions that run all year round. There is no admission charge for the Leeds Art Gallery and the collection could easily captivate visitors for a few hours.
This fun, lively museum contains six themed galleries (covering War, Tournaments, Self-Defence, Hunting, Oriental Weaponry and the new and attractive Hall of Steel), and is filled with interactive displays, dramatic interpretations, action scenarios and some really exciting exhibits. This is more a cross between a theme park and a museum, bringing history alive in many unique ways, from watching gun-makers ply their craft to demonstrations of English traditions like falconry and horsemanship. Those interested in weaponry and military history will be thrilled by the extensive collection of the museum and the chance to witness things previously only read about.
The entertaining Abbey House Museum is contained in the gatehouse of the picturesque, ruined Kirkstall Abbey, dating from 1152. Abbey House allows visitors to walk around the streets of 1880s Leeds, while the upstairs section features galleries detailing the history of Kirkstall Abbey and the social history of the area. The museum has won awards for being family-friendly and fun for children. There is a restaurant and a gift shop at the museum. What is left of Kirkstall Abbey is set in lovely grounds by the Aire River and it would be a great pity to visit the museum without exploring the ruins. There is a small playground for children outside the museum.
Leeds experiences typical English weather with a mixture of gloriously sunny days and overcast weather in this temperate climate. During the summer (June to August) Leeds has plenty of sunshine with mild weather and average temperatures between 47°F (8°C) and 68°F (20°C), while winters (December to February) can be long, damp and cold when snow and frost is not uncommon and temperatures range from 32°F (0°C) to 44°F (7°C). Spring is the best time to visit Leeds as the weather tends to be fairly mild from March to May.
Leeds has a good bus system that serves the city and much of West Yorkshire. Day passes are good value for travellers, and can be bought on the bus. The Leeds CityBus loops around the city centre, passing every six to seven minutes. It is a slow, but scenic way to get around the city and see the sights, operating on a hop-on, hop-off capacity for £1 a ride. For visitors staying in the city centre, the easiest way to get around Leeds is on foot. Central Leeds is mostly pedestrianised, making car travel impractical. Taxis are available, with pre-booked taxis generally cheaper than the black and white cabs that can be hailed on the street. Uber and other taxi apps are also available.
For those who love to shop, Leeds is pure paradise. The city's retail areas include the Victoria Quarter, Corn Exchange, Headrow Centre and Leeds Shopping Plaza, all packed with top-quality, big-name stores. With development ongoing, shopping opportunities are continually getting bigger and better.
For culture-vultures, Leeds offers major national and international theatre, dance, opera and music events in a variety of top-class venues, as well as a major art gallery housing an important collection of traditional and contemporary British art.
Among the city's dozens of museums there is the intriguing Thackray, offering a vivid insight into Victorian medical practices; the Amley Mills, housed in an old woollen mill and demonstrating industrial and railway history; and the Royal Armouries, the oldest museum in the UK, containing a fascinating collection of ancient weaponry and torture instruments.
Plenty to see and do means there is never a dull moment in Leeds, and at night the action shifts to the hundreds of pubs, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Some of the live band venues, like The Cockpit, Joseph's Well and The Wardrobe, are internationally renowned. Leeds is also recognised as one of the UK's clubbing capitals.