Why you should move to Leeds
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Property, life and culture in Leeds
Whisper it quietly, but noisy Manchester may be wide of the mark in its claim to be the capital of the north. Leeds, some argue, is the real powerhouse. Depending on which survey you read, it is the UK’s fastest growing city, with an economy worth a staggering £64 billion. That has spawned a vast range of eateries, bars, cafes and a retail sector dubbed the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’ by the Lonely Planet guide. The city centre population has trebled in 15 years and Channel Four has been enticed out of London, occupying the former Majestic nightclub in city square, augmenting a booming media sector. But all this would be nought if the city did not have soul. Happily, the place is brimming with character and a vibrant cultural scene. Add the proximity of stunning countryside (three national parks within an hour’s drive) and there’s no wonder this is a city on the up.
Bag a property
Leeds has lovely suburbs including Chapel Allerton, replete with Victorian villas, tree-lined streets, restaurants, live music, shops and bars. Around £300,000 buys a three bed semi. Just as leafy is pretty Horsforth, where prices are if anything a tad higher. Excellent schools are a feature of both neighbourhoods. More ‘countrified’ are Roundhay, Bramhope and Alwoodley, all aspirational places to live and with a price tag to match. The same can be said for Leeds Waterfront. Once dark and dingy it has been revitalised, with historic buildings converted to swish apartments. With everything within walking distance your travel costs will be nil. A two bed flat costs £200,000, but you can treble that for a penthouse. To rent a one bed flat in the popular Granary Wharfe complex fees can hit £900 per month. Not far away on the South Bank, a low carbon village is being built, with dwellings made from wood and featuring solar panels and state of the art insulation, with prices from £300,000. Generally, property is cheaper on the city’s south side, around Hunslet, Holbeck and Morley.
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Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a mass transit system. Which is odd given the fact it was the first in Britain to have overhead-powered electric trams in 1891. Parking is also at a premium, a result of surplus land being off and council policies favouring green transport. But the bus service is excellent and rail access could hardly be better. Leeds station is the UK’s third busiest, serving the suburbs and further afield. Manchester is one hour away, London two and half and Settle in the Yorkshire Dales a 60 minutes journey through glorious countryside. Biking is a viable option, particularly with the completion of the Leeds City Centre Cycle Super Highway, whilst a water taxi runs from Leeds Dock to Granary Wharf every 15 minutes, apart from Sunday.
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Temple Newsam, on the city outskirts, is a rare survivor, a fabulous Tudor-Jacobean country house set within a Capability Brown landscape, with plenty of walks and lots of family events. Also great for kids is Tropical World at Roundhay Park, offering close encounters with crocs, butterflies, snakes and meerkats - not for the faint hearted! The Royal Armouries and Thackray Medical Museum are other top attractions, whilst the bijou Cottage Road Cinema (1912) and Hyde Park Picture House (1914) are part of a rich cultural scene including the Henry Moore Institute, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet, City Varieties, Leeds Grand and Opera North. You don’t have to go far for fresh air. Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve and Meanwood Valley are both being managed for plants and animals, whilst a trip to the Chevin, near Leeds Bradford Airport, is a viable bike ride. This dramatic wooded outcrop, seen on a stormy day, inspired William Turner to paint his masterpiece Hannibal over the Alps. The views are stunning. And don’t forget to take a stroll around the city centre to admire its Victorian architecture. In particular check out the remarkable Moorish inspired St Paul’s House in Park Square, a former warehouse with exquisite detailing including minarets, along with the Metropole Hotel on King Street, adorned with a flamboyant terracotta facade.
Leeds has it all, major chains, including Harvey Nichols, and independents dotted across the city. It is consistently rated one of the best shopping experiences in the UK. A fabulous starting point is the Corn Exchange, an iconic domed roofed building dating to 1864, packed with an eclectic range of small traders, such as the Simcha Gallery, a family run jewellery and craft shop, and oddities like Nautical and Nice, a gift shop for sea dogs offering globes, vintage compasses and model boats. Next door is Kirkgate Market, the largest covered market in Europe and a Grade I historic landmark too, offering everything from fresh fruit to exotic spices, plus a weekly Asian Bazaar and Flea Market. For clothing check out Blue Rinse on Call Lane, a one-stop-shop for vintage fashion since 1997, with pre-loved garments and other items re-purposed in their sewing room, from sneakers to dresses. Historic Thornton Arcade is home to the award-winning OK Comics and an excellent craft beer shop, Tall Boys Beer Market. Plusher Victoria Quarter boasts designer boutiques featuring the likes of Vivienne Westwood. Gaze up and you can admire the biggest stained glass roof in Britain. The suburbs have their own attractions including the Cave in Horsforth, a family-run furniture store selling quirky and unusual homeware, and The Little Bookshop in Chapel Allerton, the only independent children’s bookshop in Leeds.
Cafe and cocktails
For beer and food try the Northern Monk Refectory, housed in a Grade II former mill building, part of the amazing Marshall flax mill complex, part of which has a frontage like an Egyptian temple! The city has great arts and food venues, including Sheaf Street (concerts, cafe and restaurant) and in Chapel Allerton, Seven Arts, with a tasty menu providing veggie and vegan alternatives, plus regular live music. For more gigs head to Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park, an institution attracting big names and which in past has staged secret concerns by the likes of Franz Ferdinand. Ibérica on East Parade does nice tapas, as does El Gato Negro on Park Row. Reliable French cuisine is on offer at Sous le Nez, which does an early bird option and Thai food can be had at Sukhothai, with outlets in the city centre, Headingley and Chapel Allerton. For coffee try Fettle on Great George Street (which also does Ippuku Japanese tea) or the sumptuous Tiled Hall, off the Headrow, with a simple menu of sandwiches, salads and soups, where you revell in the amazing surroundings. For a quirky dining experience try The Owl, located on Fish and Game Row in Kirkgate Market which using ingredients surrounding stalls.