This West Yorkshire city that now ranks among the four largest population centers in Britain, grew out of a small medieval manor in the ancient forest of Loidis. Protected by its Norman overlord Ilbert de Lacy from the devastation of William the Conqueror's Harrying of the North, it developed into a center for the wool trade. Leeds later flourished and expanded with 18-19th century mills, iron foundries, printing shops, and engineering industries. Banking, financial, insurance and legal services would also became important sources of local wealth.
Now the UK's third largest manufacturing center, the area has moved into the modern post-industrial economy. Companies include the digital gaming studios that produce internationally-popular video games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. With three universities, Leeds now has one of the county's largest student populations, and a thriving and energetic nightlife to match.
The Arts & Shopping
Major music, theater and dance venues include: the Grand Theatre, home to Opera North; and City Varieties Music Hall, where performances by Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini once took place. The Phoenix Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet Theatre are based in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, the country's largest dance performance space outside London. The First Direct Arena and O2 Academy host live music performances, indoor sports and other events.
A truly diverse city of over 140 ethnic groups, Leeds has a variety of dining options, and cultural events including the August Bank Holiday Monday Leeds Carnival, Western Europe's oldest West Indian Carnival and the second largest in the UK after London's Notting Hill Carnival.
The Henry Moore Institute, a major sculpture gallery, sits at city center alongside the Leeds Art Gallery with its collection of 20th-century British Art. The Leeds International Film Festival, the second largest in England, screens films from around the world each November. The Garforth Arts Festival in July, and the Leeds Music Festival in August are other local events of note.
There are plenty of places to go shopping in the principal commercial center for the region. Trinity Leeds, the largest of the new city center malls, has department stores, 120 shops, restaurants, bars, a Radison Blu Hotel, and Everyman, an indy cinema complex. Another six nearby shopping centers bring the downtown retail total to roughly one thousand stores. Leeds Kirkgate Market, on Vicar Lane, the largest covered market in Europe, has another 800 shops and food stalls, and halls dating from 1875 and 1904.
The gay scene is mostly packed tight around the lower end of Briggate, the wide street with a history dating to 1207 that runs north to south through the center of Leeds, just before the River Aire crossing at Leeds Bridge. Nearby Manchester has many more gay bars and clubs than the dozen or so here, but The New Penny, the oldest British gay bar outside London, is still a lively nightspot.
A number of gay and lesbian social groups are active too, including bears, hikers, a rugby team and a gay diner's club (see below). The Leeds Queer Film Festival takes place in July and Leeds Pride attracts over 30,000 people in early August, for the parade through city center, a program of stage entertainment, street stall vendors, and events around town.
The Leeds Bradford International Airport in Yeadon, 10 miles (16 km) northwest of city center, has connections to about 50 European destinations, along with North African cities, and New York City. Fly to London Heathrow to connect to hundreds of destinations world wide.
Flying Tiger buses link the airport with major rail hubs at Leeds and Bradford train stations for under £4; also with stops at the Leeds Bus and Coach Station on Dyer Street, where most buses and all National Express Coaches terminate. See the National Rail website for train routes and schedules.
Avis, Enterprise, Europcar (National and Alamo owner/affiliate), and Hertz car rental companies have desks in the main terminal building - but remember they drive on the left in Britain.
West Yorkshire Metro buses and trains provide public transport services throughout the Leeds and Bradford region, including number 757 buses to and from the airport. From Leeds railway station at New Station Street, MetroTrains operated by Northern Rail run to the suburbs of Leeds and beyond, to all parts of Leeds City Region. A major rail hub, the station has over 900 trains stopping here each day. Direct service destinations include: London KGX; Manchester Airport, Victoria or Piccadilly; and Hull, one hour away, with ferry services to the Dutch city of Rotterdam and Zeebrugge in Belgium, run by P&O Ferries.
The Pound Sterling, with symbol £ and ISO code GBP, is the currency of the United Kingdom, subdivided into 100 pence. See XE.com for current exchange rates. ATMs may be found all around Leeds, but check with your home bank for British partner banks with the best withdrawal fee rates. Major credit cards are accepted at most businesses here, but inform your home bank of travel plans, and be sure to have contact information in case of card loss or theft while travelling.
Media and resources
Gay Leeds has the best online guide to local LGBT and gay-friendly businesses and events.
Shout is Yorkshire's queer paper and website, with coverage of Leeds and other area cities including Sheffield and Bradford.
Lesbian Socials in Leeds is a group of more than 350 women from all over Yorkshire with regular social gatherings, movies, meals and games nights.
Leeds Gay Men is a men's social group, not for dating or cruising, but for casual get-togethers or camping trips with a group of almost 500 guys, for "just plain fun events."
The White Rose Bears host events for bears, cubs and otters including social nights, bowling, Halloween, Christmas and Easter parties.
The Yorkshire Bears is another men's social group, with guys of all shapes and sizes as well as bears among their over 900 members, with trips and get-togethers to meet and party with other bear groups from around Britain and Europe.
The Leeds Hornets RFC is Yorkshire's inclusive rugby team that welcomes players irrespective of age, experience, fitness or sexuality, with Monday and Wednesday evening trainings at Leodensians Rugby Ground, Alwoodley.
The Yorkshire Relish Dining Group brings members of the Leeds LGB community together to enjoy good food and wine at area restaurants.
Visit Leeds is a useful tourism website, with food and hotel suggestions and events listings. Their Leeds Visitor Centre at the Leeds City Station Arcade can help with public transport advice, tickets and passes, hotel bookings, plus tickets to the theatre and other major city events - open every day 10am to 4pm, and 9am-5.30pm Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Blayds (3-7 Blayds Yard, off Lower Briggate), longtime LGBT community bar, drag shows, games, theme events, White Rose Bears social nights.
Bridge (1-5 Bridge End, Lower Briggate), gay mixed crowd neighborhood pub, drag shows, open from noon daily except Sunday, theme party nights.
Fibre (168 Lower Briggate opposite Viaduct), large upscale, gay-friendly dance club, courtyard, shows, open noon until 1am, Friday until 3 and Saturday 4am.
Club Mission (11 Heaton's Ct, under the arches), large House music nightclub, gay-friendly mix, three dance floors, outdoor terrace, open Thursday-Saturday plus Monday nights until 4am.
Mission 2 (Lower Briggate), longtime Saturday gay dance nights, now Cloud 9, previously Back Door Disco, men/women mix, performances/shows next to Viaduct Showbar; also Homo Shagtastic Monday nights.
The New Penny (57 Call Ln), Britain's oldest gay bar outside London, late hours, drag shows, special parties.
Queen's Court (167 Lower Briggate next to Fibre), daily noon to midnight restaurant/ cocktail lounge, summer courtyard, DJ sets, gay-friendly mix.
Stone Roses (9 Briggate), guitar-fuelled Indie music club, Madchester old skool DJ sets, young mixed crowd, Thursdays through Saturdays at viaduct next to Mission 2.
The Viaduct Showbar (11 Lower Briggate at Heaton's Ct), Friday/Saturday drag cabaret showbar, Monday Kandyfloss pre-parties for Homo Shagtastic at Mission 2.
Basement Complex (7 Heatons Ct), men's sauna and steam room, two spa pools, massage therapy, cafe beverages and snacks, internet lounge leather sofas, feature film screenings, digital TV.
Steam Complex (8 Eyres Ave, Armley), large men's sauna/steam complex just west of Leeds city center, open every day 10am-11pm and non-stop Thursday 10am through Sunday 11pm, with tanning, private cabins, playrooms, bar, cinema and special events.
Lindum Sauna (307 Manningham Ln), men's sauna in city of Bradford, a bit west of Leeds, with two saunas, lounge, private video rooms, in-out passes.
Plastic Ivy (33 Leeds Rd, Dewsbury), men's sauna 20 minutes by train to the southwest of Leeds, a short walk from the station, two floor facility with spa pool, sauna, steam, video cabins, cruise ares/dark rooms, cinema, internet cafe and lounge.