This is a sponsored article on behalf of LNER.
Here at Londonist, we cover one city: London. Don't act surprised, it's in our name. But every now and again even ardent London lovers like ourselves feel the need to get away and explore the rest of the country. Especially as London's so sprawling — at times the Big Smoke feels overwhelming.
Allow us to offer up an alternative. Leeds. It's got all the best bits of London condensed into a more manageable city. Don't believe us? Take a look below.
Where to see history and culture in Leeds
You've just arrived in Leeds via train and want to dive head-first into some awesome culture. Head to the south exit of the station to catch a brilliantly yellow water taxi to the Royal Armouries, the national collection of all things war-related that is free to visit. If you like swords, this is your Mecca, as there are countless versions of them from throughout earth's history, and fictional timelines too — there's a gallery dedicated to props from the Lord of the Rings films.
To get the best look at Leeds' past, take a trip to Armley Mills Industrial Museum. It's a pleasant 30 minute walk from the station, along a canal. This was once one of the largest wool mills in the world, and now offers a chance to find out how that industry, along with steam engine production and printing, moulded Leeds into what it is today.
If you're more of an art expert than a history buff, Leeds still has you covered. The Henry Moore Institute is a key tenant of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, and has exhibitions from some of the world's best sculptors. Right next door is Leeds Art Gallery, for everything else and sometimes more sculptures.
A guide to food (or 'scran', as Yorkshire locals call it)
Kirkgate Market is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe, a veritable smorgasbord of mouth watering food. It holds plenty of history, as a certain shop that everyone in the country is familiar with had its genesis here: Marks & Spencer. You can still see Michael Marks' original penny bazaar today. However, Kirkgate Market isn't stuck in the past — it's also home to plenty of cutting edge cuisine, with new stallholders always welcome to apply for space.
Choosing just one place to eat in Kirkgate is nigh on impossible, but if you've really only got time for one, then head for Owt. The weekly menu uses ingredients sourced from other stalls within the market, and is extremely vegan-friendly.
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Just outside Kirkgate you'll find Eat Your Greens, an excellently named restaurant-cum-bar-cum-grocery store. As the moniker suggests, this isn't one for picky eaters, but if you're willing to experiment we heartily recommend the spicy fish bone broth. Another excellent shout is Bundobust, which serves Indian street food galore at reasonable prices and is just a stone's throw away from Leeds Station.
Where to get a drink in Leeds
One of Britain's fastest-growing craft beer brands is Northern Monk, which has not one, but two breweries in the industrial Holbeck area. Obviously you're best off heading to the one with a taproom. Before you start quaffing pale ale, take a tour of the brewery itself — you'll need to book ahead, and tickets cost £10.
Moving back to the heart of the city, Wapentake is a delightful spot. It describes itself as a cafe and bar hybrid, although we think it's got a good enough beer selection on tap — and enough old school charm — to throw 'pub' into the mix too.
If you're after a spot that has that magical 'secret' air about it, then head to The Domino, beneath one of the city's fancy arcades (don't worry, we're getting to those). It's a jazz bar accessed through what appears to be a functioning barber shop. Don't worry though, this isn't like London's overprices speakeasies — it's one of Leeds' cheapest rounds.
Finally, for the more old school among you, we present Whitelocks. Built in 1715, it's the oldest public house in the city, and serves up a cavalcade of Yorkshire's best ales. The tiled interior lends the place bags of character and was a favourite haunt among poetic greats, like T. S. Eliot and John Betjeman.
Where to go shopping in Leeds
If there's one department that Leeds totally outdoes London on, it's shopping arcade. We love London's brilliant Burlington Arcade, but it rather pales into insignificance against Leeds' plentiful collection.
Each arcade has its own character. Head to Victoria Quarter — which dates back to 1900 — for impressive marble, mosaic flooring and intricate ironwork. However, unless you've come to Leeds with a particularly big budget, it doesn't have the shops for you — think Harvey Nicholls, Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood. For something a bit more affordable, allow us to point you in the direction of The Corn Exchange.
Okay, so it's not technically an arcade, but it's from the same architectural period and is an absolute beaut. The jaw-dropping Grade I* listed Victorian structure could sit happily in either the food or drink sections of this article — we see you Humpit and Little Leeds Beerhouse — but it's the shops that are the star attraction. Our favourite stores include a vintage camera store, a nautically themed gift shop and a shop proclaiming the greatness of Yorkshire. Add to that a bounty of excellent independent fashion retailers and you've got a perfect day of retail therapy.
If you find the idea of so many shops in one place a bit daunting, allow us to whittle it all down to one perfect independent: Colours May Vary. Sitting close to Kirkgate Market, this independent focuses on carefully crafted art and design, and the shop itself is just as pretty as the works it sells.
How to get there
Getting to Leeds has never been simpler, it's just two hours and 16 minutes from King's Cross. And it's about to get a significant upgrade too, with the introduction of the new Azuma trains from London North Eastern Railway (LNER). These state-of-the-art beasts take their name from the Japanese word for east, as they'll be heading up Britain's east coast. The Azuma launches on Wednesday 15 May 2019.
LNER's fleet is increasing in size, from 45 trains to 65 — which means an extra 6,000 seats are available between London and the north daily. And with each of those seats comes a power socket, along with an extra 7cm of leg room, more overhead and under seat luggage space, and improved wifi. In total, 31 LNER trains will travel between London and Leeds on weekdays.
The best part of all this? LNER is giving away a pair of free first class return tickets to Leeds. Just enter your details below for a chance to win.
This competition has now closed.