Leeds struts across England’s urban stage like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, oozing the confidence that befits the favourite child of the New Urban Revolution, that unassailable force that has turned punch-drunk postindustrial cities into visions of the future. And the future round these parts is all about retail. For Leeds is the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’, the shopping mecca whose counter is just getting longer. Its heart is lined with busy pedestrianised streets, packed with shops, restaurants, upstanding Victorian edifices and stunning arcades. From cutting-edge couture to contemporary cuisine, Leeds will serve it to you on a plate… or in a stylishly designed bag. And when you’re through for the day, the night awaits, full of pubs, clubs and more restaurants to keep you fed and fuelled for more. Underpinning Leeds’ remarkable ability to turn a profit from hedonism is the ubiquitous northern grit, that stubborn fortitude that has overcome the demise of the city’s textile industry and seen it become the country’s second-most important financial centre after London. They might like to party around here, but they’re tough as old boots, too.
One of the fastest-growing cities in the UK, Leeds is the glitzy embodiment of rediscovered northern self-confidence. More than a decade of redevelopment has seen the city centre transform from near-derelict mill town into a vision of 21st-century urban chic, with skyscraping office blocks, glass-and-steel waterfront apartment complexes and renovated Victorian shopping arcades. The financial crisis of 2008–10 saw many flagship development projects grind to a halt, but tower cranes are beginning to sprout on the skyline again and a massive new entertainment venue, the Leeds Arena, opened in 2013. Known as the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’, Leeds has made itself a shopping mecca, its streets lined with bustling malls sporting the top names in fashion. And when you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, there’s a plethora of pubs, clubs and excellent restaurants to relax in. From cutting-edge couture to contemporary cuisine, Leeds will serve it to you on a plate (or more likely in a stylishly designed bag). Amid all this fashion-conscious finery, it seems fitting that the network of city bus routes includes peach, mauve and magenta lines as well as the more humdrum red, orange and blue.
Some critics (OK, us) feel that Leeds is a little light in terms of nonretail attractions compared to its neighbours in Manchester and York, but the city is in the midst of a huge transformation and that may all have changed by the time you read this. In the meantime, besides its own draws, Leeds is an excellent base for excursions to Haworth, Hebden Bridge and Bradford.
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