Published: 16:20, 11 December 2017
It was with slight trepidation that I headed for the largest city in West Yorkshire for a first-time visit by train, wondering how I would be able to do it justice in a weekend without a car to get around.
I needn’t have worried. Firstly, travelling to Leeds by rail is surprisingly easy and relatively quick, and secondly, the city centre is deceptively compact and easy to traverse on foot.
Our journey started in a Southeastern carriage from Ebbsfleet just after 9am on a Saturday heading for London’s St Pancras International, followed by a short walk to King’s Cross.
There was enough time to grab some sustenance for the journey before boarding a Virgin East Coast train direct to Leeds with minimal stops.
As we neared our destination, passing through stations such as Doncaster, our carriage filled with rowdy supporters of the once mighty Leeds United – via the buffet car for a livener or two – heading for a home game.
By just after 12.15pm we had reached our destination, relaxed and free from the stress of encountering interminable delays from the inevitable traffic jams by road.
All we had to do then was find our hotel. Again, no problem.
We had been billeted at the imposing four-star Grade II listed Queens Hotel which has exclusive access from the busy 17-platform station, making it the biggest outside London.
There was barely time to check in and take in the elegant 1930s art deco surroundings situated on the city square before our carefully balanced itinerary took us to our first gastronomic treat – a vegetarian Indian restaurant called Bundobust.
After feasting on the street foods of India, accompanied by a fine selection of craft beers, some exercise was in order and came in the form of a walking tour with affable Blue Badge guide Mike Barber who enthusiastically imparted his vast knowledge of the city which stands about 190 miles from London on the valley of the River Aire in the eastern foothills of the Pennines.
While there was a lot to take in, it afforded the opportunity to view the city’s fine architecture, buildings of note and a sprawling shopping centre which could easily rival London’s.
Our tour covered parks at Roundhay and Temple Newsam, “edifices of civic pride” Morley Town Hall and a trio of buildings - the Town Hall, Corn Exchange and City Museum by the architect Cuthbert Brodrick.
Two white buildings on the Leeds skyline are the Parkinson building of Leeds University and the Civic Hall, with golden owls atop the twin spires.
There was a brief stop off at the splendid art gallery next to the Henry Moore Institute at The Headrow.
Leeds is truly a shoppers paradise and malls such as the Victoria Quarter and Victoria Gate are also visually stunning.
Credit card busting designer stores Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood and Harvey Nichols beckon from two iron-wrought Victorian arcades.
It was at Kirkgate Market that Marks & Spencer had its humble beginnings with Michael Marks opening the first Penny Bazaar stall in 1884.
Leg weary from the tour and a spot of retail therapy, it was time for some culture in the form of the opera Osud at the Grand Theatre in the shopping area of New Briggate.
Reeling from the tragic story, refreshment was on offer at the award-winning Ox Club, a contemporary solid fuel grill restaurant which has earned a listing in the Michelin Guide.
We sat at the counter and marvelled at the frantic activity serving up creations from the wood grill such as sirloin on the bone and salt grilled mackerel.
The next day we took a short bus ride to the outskirts of the town for an Emmerdale Studio Experience tour, where sets from the soap are recreated, including the famous helicopter crash scene.
A light lunch at Pizza Fella followed featuring, a wood-fired oven, and then more free time to circumnavigate the expansive shopping opportunities before enjoying cocktails and dinner at the classy Restaurant Bar and Grill in the heart of the city square.
There is so much to see and do in Leeds and, sadly, we didn’t make it to the free-to-enter Royal Armouries, the UK’s national museum of arms and armour, as the boat we planned to take there did not arrive in time before our departure.
We will, therefore, have to save that treat for another day.
There is also a webpage for the festive season at visitleeds.co.uk/Christmas and #LeedsChristmas on social media - Twitter/Instagram @ visit Leeds, Facebook /loveleedsmore.
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