Student Guide to Leeds 2015-16

"Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!" and "YOOORKshire, YOOORKshire" are two very helpful chants you will hear a lot over the next few years. Allow us to explore your new home in a little more detail, from cutting-edge art to rivers of booze

Feature by Edy Hurst | 16 Sep 2015

Leeds is a city in t’north o’ England. People here have Yorkshire accents, occasionally own whippets, and have been spotted with flat caps. During the Industrial Revolution, Leeds was the capital of the North, housing the banks and manufacturing wool; before then, it was a nationally regarded market town for travelling knights and dames of Medieval time. History lesson over – now throw all of that away, as none of it will help you. Especially the flat cap bit – there's little that's more tiresome than a cap-toting student.

Rather than conforming to the image of a land filled with old man’s pubs and pasties, Leeds is possibly one of the most diverse, vibrant and busy cities that you could have the fortune of studying in. The West Riding capital is a melting pot of further education institutions, with the University of Leeds' redbrick academia sitting aside the state-of-the-art Leeds Beckett. Both of these campuses rub shoulders with not only a unique conservatoire in the shape of Leeds College of Music, but also a College of Art that’s launched world famous artists such as Damien Hirst.

As you can probably imagine, this combination of a transient student population with a city of proud Yorkshire folk can strike a stark contrast, but both sets of residents ground one another. Leeds is a city of many faces; a university town with a reputation for ‘messy’ nights, and, at the same time, a treasure trove of cutting-edge galleries and much-loved indie institutions – all wrapped in a classic Yorkshire landscape.

But hey, these are all things you’ll find out. One of the best bits of this city is discovering its secrets for yourself – and, conveniently, in your grubby mitts lies a cheeky guide to help you get started. 

The first thing to know about Leeds is that it is one big hill. In fact, the first thing you’ll realise is that a lot of the areas of the city are divided up by sweeping gradients. Friendships will be built and broken on the determination of hobbling up a few more degrees of incline.

From the perspective of a fresh faced adventurer, Leeds could be perceived as three different areas: the main campuses and their ten-minute walk to the city centre; the trademark student haven of Hyde Park, and the greenery of Headingley, haunt of the discerning academic. Each area has its own gems, and all three hold their own distinct character.

The compact city centre (only a 20-minute walk from one end to the other) has undergone a great deal of change in recent years – and students West Riding-bound arrive at an interesting time. A seeming knock-on effect from the recession has been that many graduates who might otherwise have headed down to London have instead stayed in this former woollen city. What were once ephemeral passion projects initiated during a student’s course are beginning to flourish into firm city fixtures.

Food-wise, Almost Famous, Red’s True Barbecue and many more have helped to establish Leeds as the third corner of the hipster restaurateur’s northern triangle alongside Manchester and Liverpool – not to mention the superb selection of curry houses, resulting from the stone’s throw distance of Balti birthplace Bradford.

Leeds' nightlife is often regarded as among the best in the country, with clubs and nights specifically aimed at the studious populace. You've got your standard club fodder, of course, all shiny bright lights and sticky floors, but also jazz cafes, punk and rock bars and indie hangouts galore.

As for shopping, the city centre has a great deal to offer every delectation. The recently opened Trinity mall hosts an array of designer names and brands, and across from the entrance to Briggate (one of the main streets), the Victoria Quarter showcases high-end arcades with a selection of flagship stores. Just over the road from there and you have the huge Leeds markets: take the time to walk around them and you’ll get an insight into the real city beyond the retail hub.

"Leeds is a complete mess of energy and excitement, a place where everyone thinks they can run the town"

Rest assured, amid all the capitalism there’s still ample competition for low priced pastry and pints. The winding main road of Woodhouse Lane meanders from the University of Leeds to the city centre, passing many of the larger clubs on the way – but carry on along The Headrow and down to the end of the consumer corridor and you’ll find a series of more discreet clubs, eateries and vintage shops.

Running up that hill, we come to the student nucleus: Hyde Park (not the London one – and try to avoid making that joke). Whereas the centre of Leeds is experiencing something of a refurbishment, Hyde Park's redbrick terraces maintain their street cred as rough-around-the-edges abodes of choice. Hyde Park is the sort of place where you’ll see a daytime house party next door to a family home, or a hungover student fishing out a football for the kids across the street; there’s a unique blend of students and residents living side by side.

It's in Hyde Park that you'll also find a number of Leeds institutions, including the legendary Brudenell Social Club and Hyde Park Picture House. Much like the area, from the outside they appear humble and perhaps a little run down, but explore them and you’ll uncover some of the very best gigs, screenings and other arty happenings city has to offer.

Last, but certainly not least, is Headingley. For aspirational students or those who just wish not to live somewhere their parents would call ‘digs,’ Headingley is a leafier and slightly pricier place of part-time residence. It houses a wide range of student halls and campuses a little further from the main centre, and has its own fair share of cafes, bakeries, takeaways and even an American candy shop. All that, and we haven't even mentioned that it's the starting place of the renowned Otley Run, a massive pub crawl that runs like a boozy river throughout Leeds, claiming the sobriety of student and visitor alike.

When it comes to living arrangements, chances are you’ll have to decide between here or Hyde Park – and while it may be the difference between a bus or a walk to campus, there’s unmistakable beauty and a greener feel to Headingley.

Leeds is a complete mess of energy and excitement, a place where everyone thinks they can run the town. A high-minded culture hub with a gonzo sensibility and the sort of hectic, grimy nights out you could only dream of at high school, it is entirely what you make of it. 

In short, here lies the land where some of your best memories will be grown – and we hope the following pages will help show you where to plant those seeds.