A born-and-raised Londoner, Lonely Planet Local Lorna Parkes left the capital in 2015 for a family-friendly life in Leeds, Yorkshire. In between travel gigs for Lonely Planet, she spends her days drinking too much speciality coffee, getting lured into new independent food haunts and trying to resist the local craft breweries’ latest experimental beer launches.
Lorna, the Lonely Planet Leeds Local, outside the city's Corn Exchange © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
When I have friends in town… I take them beer tasting. Yorkshire’s illustrious brewing heritage dates back hundreds of years, and Leeds has some of the country’s best microbreweries and craft-beer bars. I always start at Northern Monk, because it not only does excellent, hoppy American-style IPAs (my favourite), but also has rotating kitchen residencies supporting local indie food start-ups: great for lining the stomach. During the summer months I would then head to Eat North, a weekly craft beer and street food festival with DJs, set on an industrial estate at the North Brewing Co brewery. I might finish off with international craft beers and Indian street food at Bundobust to regain my equilibrium.
Follow the finger to Northern Monk, a top spot for beers and brunch © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
When I feel like splurging… I window-shop in the sumptuous covered 19th-century shopping arcades that occupy the Victoria Quarter laneways off Briggate. Then I splash out on a charcuterie plate of Iberico Bellota and a glass of premium wine in Friends of Ham. It has to be said that Leeds is a beer city and good wine is hard to come by, but this British and European deli-bar is quality.
A typical weekend involves… brunch and browsing. Artisan coffee has well and truly taken off in Leeds and my favourite brunch spot is the North Star Coffee Shop & General Store, run by the city’s own roastery. The coffee is strong and comes with tasting notes, and the breakfasts are superb, especially the creamy slow-scrambled eggs sandwiched into a four-cheese rye scone from the on-site bakery. It’s just around the corner from the Royal Armouries museum, which is free and great for a browse afterwards, particularly with kids on a rainy day. I also often take my young family to Kirkstall Abbey for bike-riding around the gaunt Cistercian ruins and for lunch if its monthly food market is on.
Eat, drink and be merry in the shadow of Kirkstall Abbey's ruins © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
For cheap eats… I head to Kirkgate Market, which has added a street-food hangar to the traditional market (est 1857). Indian food is one of Leeds’ specialities, thanks to its textile manufacturing heritage which brought South Asian immigrants to the area, and award-winning Manjit’s Kitchen is based here. It serves excellent vegetarian Indian street food plates (and Yorkshire craft beers); try the ginormous, crispy and light onion bhajis with tamarind chutney. At night, I head to Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen for cheap slices of gourmet pizza in its lively misfit beer bar.
If I can get a babysitter… I book a table at Ox Club and then go to the jazzy rooftop bar at Headrow House. Happily, they’re both in the same building – once a grotty pub, now converted into one of Leeds’ most all-encompassing nightlife riots. I’m a big foodie and the Ox Club grill restaurant is hands-down the city’s best midrange dining spot: I defy anybody to try dishes like its heritage tomatoes, goats cheese ice cream, lemon verbena and buckwheat, and not be impressed. The rooftop bar has two levels overlooking Leeds’ Victorian centre, with shocking-pink bucket chairs, comfy canopied booths fashioned out of reclaimed wood, and a giant neon sign shouting ‘THE WORLD IS YOURS’.
Enjoy a drink with a view at Headrow House © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
When I want to get out of the city… I drive to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, set on the type of 18th-century country estate that would have inspired the local Bronte sisters, about a 30-minute trip south of Leeds. It’s really family friendly with more than 200 hectares to roam in, planted with giant sculptures by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Andy Goldsworthy, and Barbara Hepworth (the latter was a local).
My favourite hangout… is Granary Wharf, which is where the Leeds and Liverpool Canal ends. Narrowboats are always moored here and it’s also home to one of my favourite bars, Water Lane Boathouse, which occupies a converted boat shed. Leeds is about as far away from the coast as you can get in England, so it’s here that I head to if I’m craving water – sometimes for drinks, sometimes to walk the canal tow path that starts here.
Take a stroll by the canal at Granary Wharf © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
One thing I hate about Leeds is… the weather. The North of England is further than London from the equator (it’s a local joke, but it’s also true). Summers are mild with little to no humidity, barely getting above 22C most of the time. The knock-on effect is that it’s hard to lead an outdoorsy lifestyle.
On a cold winter’s day… everybody in Leeds is searching for the toastiest fireside seat in a pub. Always book ahead for Sunday lunch, because the classic British roast pub dinner is always excellent in Leeds (they don’t call that staple of the Sunday roast ‘Yorkshire pudding’ for nothing) and a weekly institution. Cross Keys pub and The Reliance are two of my city-centre favourites.
You can rely on The Reliance for a top quality Sunday lunch © Lorna Parkes / Lonely Planet
On my daily commute… I always notice the street art. Outside the old Tetley brewery HQ, very near my co-working space, there’s a palm-tree sculpture titled The Sun Shines Every Day Forever (2018) by Matthew Houlding on which locals perch for lunch. I can never bear to join them because it feels like ruining the art (though it is designed to be sat on…).
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