It's grim up north ... unless you're in Leeds, the British city of the year

The city of Leeds has won an accolade from arguably the most discerning travellers in the land.

Although it is still considered unkind on the eye by some, the Yorkshire hub cannot be beaten in terms of pure enjoyment, according to readers of Condé Nast Traveller magazine, who voted it their favourite British city of the year.

Visitors found that they could enjoy such shopping meccas as the upmarket department store Harvey Nichols, or the country's first Marks & Spencer, and stay in one of several boutique hotels such as 42 The Calls.

They were also impressed with the surrounding Yorkshire countryside, which contrasted with a vibrant nightlife driven by about 200 bars, clubs and restaurants in the city centre.

The city beat London - still popular among business travellers - and last year's winner, Edinburgh, which was relegated to third place.

Sarah Miller, editor of Traveller, said that she was not surprised at the choice of the magazine's readers, who are typically professionals living in the South-east with a large travel budget.

She said: "Maybe people felt that they didn't want to spend time in London.

"They are happy instead to take a drive up the M1 and visit Leeds for the shopping, restaurants and nightlife." The poll of 82,000 readers opened in mid-March, shortly before the start of the war in Iraq and the outbreak of the Sars virus in Hong Kong.

Amid such uncertainty the magazine's readers, many of whom are the bearers of well-stamped passports, preferred to stay closer to home.

Italy was voted the favourite foreign country and received the accolade for best foreign city (Rome) and best overseas leisure hotel (Hotel Cipriani in Venice). Safety was a primary factor in the increased popularity of holidays in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean, Ms Miller said.

The nearest to a perfect score of 100 in the 23 readers' award categories was given for the charms of the Pangkor Laut Resort spa complex on a private island covered in virgin rainforest in the Straits of Malacca, in Malaysia, which scored 92 per cent.

TOP 10 UK CITIES

1 Leeds

2 London

3 Edinburgh

4 Glasgow

5 Bath

6 Manchester

7 Newcastle

8 York

9 Oxford

10 Cambridge

TOP 10 WORLD CITIES

1Rome

2 Paris

3 Sydney

4 New York

5 Venice

6 Barcelona

7 Florence

8 Seville

9 Singapore

10 Prague

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