Four years ago, my gravitation to traveling emanated while I was just an exchange student. Being first travel piece on this blog, it is only fitting that I start where it all began: Leeds.
For those of you like me who desire to explore a new country or city, and really get to know the place, and not just be a wandering tourist, a study abroad program is for you. This is an example of taking advantage of the special programs your college or university has to offer you. It will probably require extreme budgeting, such as choosing to cook over eating out, or taking extra hours at work. In my case, a study abroad program resulted in taking a fifth year to graduate, due to specific degree requirements. But in the end, it simply boiled down to me just really wanting to do this. So do it.
I spent overall five months in Leeds, attending the University of Leeds for a winter semester back in 2014. I enrolled in three electives, and specifically chose courses that Carleton wouldn’t normally provide: from a cultural history of the Caribbean, to Cults of Saints in Medieval Europe, and Medieval Barbarians. Despite rumour and speculation that British universities are scary and tough, I was graced with some very helpful and accommodating instructors who ensured I was able to adapt accordingly. While yes, homework is important, as the welcome orientation reminded us, it was truly about belonging to a new place.
Leeds is situated in West Yorkshire, roughly a few hundred kilometres northwest of London. Although the city goes back to Anglo-Saxon times (or probably much earlier) as a settlement, Leeds grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution due to the growth of cloth mills and coal mines. Much like Manchester, the city boasts an impressive Victorian history, which is exemplified through its architecture, most notably its Town Hall, and the shopping mall, County Arcade.
The list of museums and historic attractions in Leeds fails to disappoint. For the history buffs, here are some exceptional locations which I had visited during my time in Leeds.
Kirkstall Abbey: Although I did not visit the Abbey until I returned to Leeds this past October, it is my number one recommendation. Just a short bus ride from the city centre and free admission, the abbey founded in 1152 by a Cistercian Order. Although later disestablished by Henry VIII, significant remnants of the abbey still remains, especially the nave.
Royal Armouries Museum: Have you ever encountered one of those floor mirrors designed specifically to prevent visitors from straining their necks from looking above? The Royal Armouries has this, so you can look at just a sample of their extensive collection of weapons and armour. It presents objects from early medieval knights as well as artifacts from around the world. Admission is free and accessible by 1 mile outside Leeds City Station by public transport.
Other museums and sites to check out are the Leeds City Museum and the Abbey House Museum (located across the street from Kirkstall Abbey). A list of museums can be viewed here: Leeds Museums
As part of its Victorian roots, Leeds is well-known for its shopping hubs and impressive food markets. It was also where Marks & Spencer formed as a major retail company in the 1880s. One of the most famous shopping centres is the historic Corn Exchange built in 1861. The city has several shopping arcades off the main streets, most notably the Thornton’s Arcade and the County Arcade.
However, because I am a foodie, one of my favourite spots was the Kirkgate Market. A few times a month, I often journeyed further away from Tesco or Morrison’s to pick up some fresh produce. The market also consists of a wide collection of drinks, jewelry, and other treasures representing various places around the world.
Food and Drink:
I must admit, during my time in Leeds, I often huddled near the university grounds to eat, drink, or grab a coffee. Usually trying to save some quid, I spent a lot of time grabbing cheap (but delicious) pizza or noodles from takeout joints, or general pub fare. Although I haven’t yet explored them, the food scene in Leeds has taken off within the past couple of years, and many new interesting spots have popped up. Here are some examples to check out.
Of course, you’d be hard pressed to find any English city without its good share of pubs. However, if you want to attempt a common British practice of a pub crawl, Leeds is the perfect city. The infamous Otley Run, which I tried once, is a popular weekend (or mid-week) extravaganza for university students or like-minded or aged individuals. Knocking back a beer in as many as 11 pubs in one night in costume (yes Brits like to dress up, even when it isn’t Halloween) is generally how it works. Whether or not you make it to the last pub still standing, it’s worth the challenge and the memories.
Generally, Headingley is the best spot for a British pub experience among the younger crowd. Although there are too many to name, the Original Oak and Headingley Taps are the most classic. Continuing west down Woodhouse Lane are the Library Pub, LS6, and the Hyde Park Pub. However, my favourite was the The Packhorse Pub, as it was where the university’s folk society met each Monday night for jams and drinks. However, if you visit its other location in the city centre, you will find yourself in the oldest pub in the city (almost 1000 years old)!
Although Leeds doesn’t compare to Manchester in terms of its music scene, the city still boasts an excellent community of artists and venues. It was also where the Who recorded their first live album in 1970. Being a fan of local music scenes, Leeds does not disappoint, especially if you’re into garage, punk, alternative or indie rock. Some of mt favourite spots included Wharf Chambers, located near the River Aire and Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen (excellent food as well). Situated in the city is also the Leeds College of Music, and the Brudenell Social Club is also one of the most popular hangout spots in the city. If you are lucky enough to visit Leeds in mid August, then you can check out the magnificent Leeds Festival which hosts a massive variety of big names and up and coming bands.
There is too much to say about my experience in Leeds for just one post. One of my favourite reasons for writing about travel, especially solo, is how I can shape any experience to suit my personality, my interests, and find ways to calm my fears. How did I cope, being a student and all by myself in a city over 8000 km from home? What makes an exchange unique compared to other travel experiences? Later on, I hope to shed light on the more personal sensitivities to solo traveling. But, because of this, I know I chose the right city!
Historical and other information was from: