It’s rare I get the chance to explore and appreciate my own city, or maybe it’s purely down to choice because I’m so familiarised with its surroundings that I just shake it off as being ordinary. It’s easy to forget all the exquisite details of somewhere you’ve lived all your life but it’s also great to get out there and refresh your mind to a more open state of discovery and admiration. I’m always so busy concentrating on a certain aspect of my hometown instead of a whole, so much so that I can often overlook the authenticity and the general northern vibe.
Leeds is the third largest city in the UK and undoubtedly the heart of Yorkshire – the place it all goes off through day to night. Which guarantees come Christmas time, the magic happens. From a food and drink bonanza, to musical features, and people roaming the bars and clubs dressed in Christmas jumpers. What makes it even better is, it’s right on my doorstep ready for me to visit anytime. If blogging’s taught me anything it’s to find the drive to get out there and love life. So, what happens when I’m let loose round town on the weekend before the big two five? Well, lots of photo taking, plenty of wandering stares and a few snarky comments here and there of course. All to let everyone else take a glimpse into Leeds city centre at Christmas time!
Let’s crack on shall we?! (take your time ’cause it’s gonna be a long one).
There’s the markets | the famous Christkindel German market which begins mid November into the end of December, Leeds’ historic Kirkgate Market (indoor and out), Briggate’s Farmers Market, and the occasional strip of sellers along Albion Place. You name it, we got it! The German market proves to be the most popular, with the hoards of beer and mulled wine craving people desperate to enter the Frankfurter’s Scheune. Personally, the only reason I’m drawn to it is for the pretty festive greenery, the scenic, character filled wooden chalets, the beautiful carousel and the unique gifts, decorations and goodies on offer – not to mention the fantastic choice of traditional food including those huge bratwursts, potato pancakes, sizzling mains, and for those with a sweet tooth; doughnuts, churros, waffles, pretzels, crepes, chocolates, novelty biscuits and much more. The mouth watering smell alone is enough to make me gain a good few pounds! Kirkgate market is my second favourite place to browse, I’ve had some fun times traipsing around there when I was younger. It’s home to some of the best traders around and is the main attraction for fresh flowers, fruit, meat and those extra accessories that make Christmas special; because nothing says Christmas like some tinsel trimmed clementines.
There’s the architecture | although Leeds is well known for its range of noticeable buildings, I never actually realised just how much tourist potential it has until I drained myself of energy straining my legs to admire the views. There’s some serious hidden gems to watch out for and in my eyes, the older, the better – you can get a real feel of the originality from the structure and the layout. Like the Corn Exchange for example, it’s incredible every day of the year but once the joyful tree and simple, classic embellishments are hung it brings the ambience to life. The Town Hall is another timeless, vintage construction; and when those shimmering lights are draped across the front it makes me feel all warm and merry. As do those giant wreaths gracing Leeds Civic Hall!
There’s the food and drink | it’s food and drink central in Leeds, the opportunities to overindulge are endless. As if new restaurants and bars opening every week wasn’t enough, once December falls then the wholesome fuelled air comes to life. Walking from one end of town to the other meant I was able to soak in the different distinctive scents stretching from the sickly to the crisp cuisine. Calling in for a cocktail or two to go with your meal at whatever check point you’re closest to is another option, with bars like The Alchemist even updating their menu with festive choices. Or if you’re more of a sit back and relax with a cuppa kinda person then coffee shop stops are the one. I recently had a divine hot chocolate and butterscotch flapjack from Mrs Atha’s. If you prefer to come and grab as you go, there’s SO much available as you’re strolling down the streets. Mobile stations are set up all over, selling everything from pizza, to pastries, to ice cream (yes, even at Christmas) and the whirlwind of international deli at every corner. There’s even the themed feasts at the local drinking joints now and again. With every spot you pass it’s impossible to be disappointed – and it’s almost guaranteed each venue will be ready and all prepared to uplift you for Christmas.
There’s the shows | Christmas isn’t complete without a cheesy pantomime or a musical, is it?! I absolutely love attending a good show that involves and captivates the audience in such an upbeat, comical and even emotional essence. They’re the perfect switch off distraction from all the Christmas stress and it can really boost your spirits. I miss going to the City Varieties to see the typical fairytales when I was a kid, throwing sponge bricks at the villain was so highly satisfying. There’s not only that one location however, there’s the Carriageworks Theatre for smaller events, the Grand Theatre, the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the town hall broadcast some fun-filled smaller productions most years too. The Northern Ballet is currently playing at The Grand and I’m dying to go see it!
There’s the music | if anyone’s ever stepped foot into Leeds city centre, you’ll know there’s always some form of musical based artist giving it their all. Whether that’s a man in leopard print playing the flute or an extremely talented act that gathers the crowds and forms a giant circle. At Christmas time, you’re seriously enlightened with variety. In the past week or so I’ve encountered everything from charity Santa’s singing The Beatles and another trombone and guitar playing reggae-style band that persuaded members of the public to take guide and jive, to harmonising brass bands and ceremonial choirs putting you under their spell. It definitely provides that well needed giggle/cheeriness and allows everyone to crack the festive mood into gear. You can really feel the excitement bouncing off the bopping heads and smiley faces.
There’s the shopping | there’s no denying I do get fed up of my hometown and can find almost anything to complain about but one thing I just can’t fault is the array of stores and the quality of shopping; from high street to designer. I may be a little biased here but I genuinely think our shopping centres may be some of the best in the country. Trinity Leeds is my holy grail, The Light is a cute compacted place where you can also go and see a film, St John’s and the Merrion Centre are ideal for those discount shops, the Victoria Quarter is stunning and I tend to marvel the decor more than I do the boutiques, the arcades – Queens, Thorntons, Central, County and Grand – are just as pretty and it’s not only the designs that draw in the crowds but the independent retailers too. Connecting the main streets with a section you can take a break from the manic mess of Briggate is genius and can really help ease the intensity of Christmas shopping and near broken arms from all the bags. My personal highlight is to perch on the benches opposite the water fountains and the dazzling ceiling hangings in the VQ. Another ultimate must visit is the Yorkshire Soap Company, I fell in love with all the dainty, delicately made soaps and bath bombs, all Christmas themed whilst the Home Alone soundtrack played *squeal*. Everything is so beautiful during the Christmas period; a standing, twinkling tree for each part and ensured trimmed up space at every avenue, and not only that, but the window displays are also super eye catching and well built up. If you enjoy capturing a photo that compliments every angle you’ll most likely have a brimful camera roll (and an empty purse) at the end of a shopping based day in Leeds.
There’s the lights | after a great big deal of a light switch on at Victoria Gardens (the same place the Coca Cola truck lands) in November, the streets of Leeds are continuously lit up as soon as dawn breaks into evening. The figuring of the lights is individual and that’s what I love – you get a separate striking greeting as you reach each area. Snowmen, Santa, dancing bears, Christmas trees, champagne glasses, pulled crackers, bows, etc etc. They cater for both Christmas and new year and even stretch as far as the Granary Wharf!
There’s the entertainment for kids | or if you’re like me, the big kids. There’s nothing I savour more than happy and content children. Undeniably, the main joy around Christmas is based around children, their naive beliefs and enjoyment towards something so bland such as balloon making or crafting a nativity scene. The fairground that accompanies the German Market is always so lively, packed with families having a fabulous time; spending their last two pounds on the teacups and trying again and again to hook a duck to win a giant minion in a Santa’s hat. There are a number of Santa’s grottos and their elves spread across Leeds to keep the kids engrossed, as are some bouncy, spirited sing along shows (tonight is a quote to quote Elf parade at the town hall and I’m a teeny bit gutted it isn’t acceptable to attend that on my own as a 22 year old). Honestly, it’s the simple stuff that truly matters when it comes down to it.
There’s the reindeer trail | at every landmark site in Leeds city centre you’ll see a plastic reindeer in a distinctive colour. All intended to present an enchanting journey on the quest to finding each one as you head off. Magical Leeds even run a competition for best selfie with the reindeers, giving you and your young (or even old) relatives the chance to be as creative as possible. Not only that, every weekend in December REAL reindeers (dancer and prancer to be exact) visit both Kirkgate Market and the Merrion Centre where it’s free to pet them. Or in my case, wait for the perfect approaching moment with the camera whilst they graze on hay. How lovely.
There’s the night life | for those who thrive off an intoxicating environment. The nightclubs have speciality Christmas events, there’s plenty of parties throughout December or the opportunity to stay chatting in a low light rustic bar all night whilst you swig your festive spirits. If you fancy something aside from the German Market, there’s the Electric Press right beside it which has a few potential restaurants and bars. Or just a short walk from Millennium Square and you’ll hit the centre right away. If all was successful, you could even join in the drunkards who prevent you from walking normally on the path whilst they sway vigorously and sing Christmas songs at the top of their voice *sigh*.
And then there’s just the natural, laid back yet engaging atmosphere – the realistic shoppers dashing around, dressed up characters casually walking the street (a snowman in a workers jacket, only in Leeds right?!), the recognisable chestnut man shouting at the top of his voice, people going home for Christmas, and the city square tree becoming a regular pass by as you reach the station. There’s so many activities left right and centre, you have to be fast at catching sight of them because blink and you’ll miss it. It’s such a diverse city where you can relish in all five senses and that’s really quite great. Christmas is a time to bring everyone together and Leeds does that just finely. I’m forever proud to be from here (even if my frequent moaning does tell a different story).
Have you visited Leeds? What completes a Christmassy vibe for you? Most importantly, are you all ready for the big day? Only 4 more days to go!