A SHORT BREAK IN LEEDS

The inhabitants of the formerly industrial city work hard at being stylish and having fun. Dave Simpson joined them

Why go?

After years of being saddled with the image of flat caps and Tetley Bitter men, Renaissance Leeds has been largely modelled on continental 24-hour cities, but at the same time it is rediscovering its textile-industry heritage. Beyond the boisterous nightlife and trendy outfitters lie beautiful Edwardian and Georgian buildings, the wonderfully renovated old Corn Exchange, Tetley shire horses and canal views and walkways. At certain moments, as the sun goes down over the skyline and groups of chic revellers throng in the streets, Leeds is the only place to be.

When to go

No time like the present, with the fashionable Exchange Quarter hosting its own Food And Drink Festival from 19-27 March. Leeds is a party city all year round, but further seasonal attractions include the October Film Festival, the summer pop festivals and late August's Caribbean Carnival.

Getting there

Leeds and Bradford Airport at Yeadon offers a network of six European and six domestic (scheduled) routes, with additional charter flights bookable at any travel agent. The airport is served by eight different airlines (for details, tel: 0113-250 9696), but return flights from Heathrow with British Midland start at pounds 69 plus tax (tel: 0345 554554). There are buses from the airport (tel: 0113-245 7676), but the easiest way into the city centre is to hire a cab from the large taxi rank, which will have you there in around 15 minutes (depending on traffic) for around pounds 10.

National Express coaches serve 1,200 destinations across the UK, from the new coach station at Dyer Street (tel: 0113-244 8976; information and booking, tel: 0990 808080).

By rail, a SuperSaver return from London Kings Cross costs pounds 51.50, a saver pounds 61.50 and Apex (booked seven days in advance) tickets are just pounds 30. Journey time is under two-and-a-half hours. (For information, tel: 0345 484950.) Leeds is particularly well served by motorways, notably the M1.

Where to stay

42 The Calls (tel: 0113-244 0099), close to the railway station, is the place to stay if you want to rub shoulders after hours with the club set. This ultra-chic, modern hotel overlooking the canal has a number of progressive facilities, including CD players and speakers in the rooms. Weekday single rooms start at pounds 98, but with weekend special packages offering doubles from pounds 75 a night, staying at 42 The Calls can be an economical and memorable experience.

Deep in the heart of clubland, the recently refurbished and upgraded four-star Metropole on King Street (tel: 0113-245 0841) may soothe many a hangover with its rare glimpse of an old, forgotten England of crystal chandeliers, sweeping staircases and clinking tea cups. Weekend double rooms from pounds 70.

If the city's premier hotels are beyond your budget, the myriad of lodges surrounding Headingley Cricket Ground are cheap but pleasant. Notably, Cardigan Hotel, Cardigan Road (tel: 0113-278 4301), run by Mr and Mrs Mosby, combines excellent accommodation and tasty home cooking for as little as pounds 24 a night. If you come with a group, consider self-catering, which can be as cheap as pounds 10 per night. For information on this and other accommodation, contact Gateway Yorkshire (tel: 0113-242 5242).

Getting around

Leeds city centre is a small, compact, pedestrian-friendly area, summed up perfectly by Sir Ian McKellen: "Leeds is a self-contained city. I do all my shopping on foot, go home and then walk to work ... through the life of the city." Further afield, the network of buses and local trains (see Getting There), plus the occasional taxi, should meet every need.

What to see and do

During the daytime, before you immerse yourself in clubland, the city centre has a broad range of attractions to suit the most eclectic of tastes. For the artistically inclined, the City Art Gallery on The Headrow (tel: 0113-247 8248) has an excellent collection of British 19th-century art (including some fine Pre-Raphaelite paintings) and 20th- century works by, among others, Francis Bacon and Bridget Riley (Lowrys and Turners are currently in storage but viewable by appointment), as well as some good temporary exhibitions. The current Goya exhibition is on until 28 March. Alongside, the Henry Moore Institute (tel: 0113-234 3158) displays sculptures by Yorkshire's famous son and other artists. Entry to these treasure houses and the adjoining City Museum is free.

Masterpieces of a different kind lurk in the renowned Tetley Brewery Wharf on the restored post-industrial canalside Waterfront (tel: 0113- 242 0666): a museum about beer. Daily tours (pounds 3.95 without concessions) take you through the process of making Yorkshire's most famous pint, with, of course, an opportunity to taste it. With Dutch courage supplied by Tetley's, make a visit to the adjoining Royal Armouries, Armouries Drive (tel: 0990 106666). This new building houses all manner of weaponry and battle artefacts, with thrilling re-enactments, jousting, falconry, and interactive displays, along with regular themed exhibitions, such as the forthcoming one on Buffalo Bill which opens on 29 May.

For alternative excitement, Elland Road is of course home to David O'Leary's exhilarating young Leeds United side.

Out of town

A short bus ride from the centre and well worth a (free) visit is Kirkstall Abbey, Kirkstall Road (tel: 0113-263 7861), which retains a grandeur despite Henry VIII's pillaging soldiers. The adjoining (cheap) Abbey House Museum includes a complete Victorian Street which simply must be seen. In a vaguely similar if slightly more gory vein, the new Thackray Medical Museum, Beckett Street, opposite "Jimmy's" hospital (tel: 0113-245 7084) offers the "smells of Victorian slum life" and all you never wanted to know about ancient operations (pounds 3.95, concessions available). Need some fresh air? Three miles from town, accessible by bus or car, is Harewood House (tel: 0113-288 6331). Set in magnificent grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, Lord Harewood's stately home offers art, a breathtaking view of the Aire Valley and a famous bird garden containing 120 exotic and endangered species. Open from March to October (pounds 6.95/pounds 4.50 concessions).

Similarly, Temple Newsham House, off Selby Road (tel: 0113-264 7321) is a superb Tudor-Jacobean stately home listed in the Domesday-book, brimming with ancient furniture and Old Masters.

Shopping

Eyebrows were raised when Harvey Nichols (tel: 0113-204 8888) opened its first and only branch outside London in Leeds' Vicar Lane, but with designer culture sweeping the city, it is no longer out of place. If Dolce & Gabbana and Miu Miu are beyond your wallet, you should at least nip in and admire the marine fish tank. Victoria Quarter, The 4 Cross Arcade (tel: 0113-245 5333) is a slightly more affordable oasis for designer cool and street labels like Stone Island and Firetrap, and the splendid glass-topped building provides more to look at than the clothes. For those who seek cool culture, the ornate Corn Exchange, Call Lane (tel: 0113-234 0363) should suffice. Here you'll find everything from skate gear to condoms to designer watches, impeccably hip clothes shops and weird music in the psychedelically lit Sugarlump. Granary Wharf, The Canal Basin, Neville Street (tel: 0113-244 6570) offers another way of shopping - an array of New Age shops located in the subterranean world beneath Leeds railway bridges. Elsewhere, the Queens Arcade/Briggate/County Arcade areas offer sharp clothes shops such as Hip, Tunnel, Strand and Vivienne Westwood.

Where to eat

Leodis, Victoria Mill, Sovereign Street (tel: 0113-242 1010). This supreme brasserie offers English and French cuisine - meat, fish and vegetarian dishes including 25 starters. The a la carte menu costs pounds 28 per head, but a three-course set menu (Mon-Fri, Sat before 7pm) is available for just pounds 14.95.

Tappanyaki, Belgrave Street (tel: 0113-245 1608) offers a complete Oriental eating adventure, complete with arc-shaped tables, a waterfall, and fresh ingredients prepared on a hot plate at your table. It is very good, very Zen, but pricey. Budget for at least pounds 30-35 a head.

Shabab, 2 Eastgate (tel: 0113- 246 8988) is one of the finest Indian restaurants in Yorkshire and as such is best visited before you hit the lager. Highlights include traditional Indian costumes and an economical buffet option for as little as pounds 9 a head.

Nash's, Merrion Street (tel: 0113-245 7194) has been fish restaurant to the stars for several decades. Set in a Tudor building conveniently opposite the Grand Theatre, this timeless haven offers everything from budget but first-class fish and chips to specials with plaice, mussels, etc. Take time to scan the walls for the autographs of hundreds of famous customers, from Sid James to Peter O'Toole.

La Comida, Mill Hill (tel: 0113-244 0500), a Spanish/Italian trattoria, is Leeds' best-kept secret. Various fish and pasta recipes can all be recommended along with the friendly atmosphere, but the pizzas are possibly the best you'll taste outside Italy. Don't be put off by the autographed football shirts that adorn the walls: on certain nights you will find yourself dining amongst ex-Leeds United greats Norman Hunter and Peter Lorimer, and Leeds/Juventus legend John Charles. Expect to pay pounds 12-20 a head.

Alternatively, all the cafe bars in the Exchange Quarter offer excellent affordable continental food.

Nightlife

Cafe culture has exploded so fast in the past two years that even lifetime residents have difficulty keeping track of the new watering-holes. Generally speaking, the best are found in the Exchange Quarter, a former (and not quite fully reformed) melting pot of sleaze - hence the area's frequent comparisons with Soho. Call Lane bars you must visit include Oporto, Soho, the fabulous vodka bar Revolution and the sublime, avant-garde Norman, recently voted one of the best 100 bars in the world by a Japanese style magazine. The beautiful people are increasingly flocking to Velvet, in Hirst's Yard behind Norman, a colourful gay/mixed cafe bar set in a restored mill, with luxurious furnishings and brain-searing cocktails. As an alternative to nightclub admission charges, many of the larger cafe bars, notably Townhouse, which boasts three floors of dance music, and Arthur Baker's pool-tabled Elbow Room, stay open until 4am. If a more traditional drinking environment is what you are after, squeeze into Whitelocks, Turks Head Yard (off Briggate), which has served fine ales since the 1700s.

Majestyk, City Square, is Leeds' largest nightspot. Set in the enormous dome of an old Rank cinema, this laser-lit superclub offers variants of house music all week, with smart dress codes at weekends. Majestyk can feel a bit like a cattle market at times, but is popular with local models, Leeds United footballers and the Emmerdale cast. Mint, Harrison Street, is best visited on Saturdays, when legendary "Back To Basics" club promoter Dave Beer hosts his latest night. Expect hedonistic house and avoid jeans. If it is full, nip to Liquid, Central Road, for a similarly hip dancefloor experience.

Further information

For more details on accommodation and other entertainments and activities, contact Gateway Yorkshire at the Regional Travel and Tourist Information Centre, PO Box 244, Station Arcade, Leeds City Station (tel: 0113-242 5242). On arrival in Leeds, try to pick up The Little Black Book Of Leeds from any newsagent, an excellent guide to day and nightlife for just pounds 2.

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