Leeds’ arcades are awash with history, but they’re also chock full of amazing shops and eateries that you really need to try out.
Leeds’ shopping scene has been dominated by its fantastic and historic arcades for over a century now. And while many of them have been through hard times, they’re all beautiful examples of the past feeding through into the present. Even better, they offer shoppers a different kind of experience. So whether you’re after upmarket brands, high street favourites or independent genius, it’s time to explore the city’s arcades.
Built in 1889 by London arcade guru Edward Clark, Queen’s Arcade is perhaps the most daring of the original arcades. It was the only one that integrated a hotel into its design, alongside its retail offering, and while it’s no longer open, it separates Queen’s Arcade from the rest of the Leeds arcades, with a magnificent four storey frontage.
Inside it was subject to a bit of a makeover in the early 1990s, but you’ll still find yourself surrounded by old school character. It’s home to some hugely reputable brands such as denim legend Levi’s, London boutique Lipsy and shoe giants Office and Jones the Bootmaker, showing the quality stores these shopping arcades attract.
But it’s not all about the big names – the arcades take great pride in the city’s independents and Queen’s Arcade is no different. Accent Clothing has been dressing the men, women and children of Leeds for 30 years, while Aladdin’s Cave has some fantastic new and vintage jewellery, and Mary Shortle often delights and scares in equal measure with her doll shop.
Queen’s Arcade, Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LF.
As the first of the Leeds arcades, built in 1878, Thornton’s Arcade has plenty to crow about. Named after Charles Thornton, the fella who had the ingenious idea of covering up the shopping alleys that connected Briggate to its side streets. The three storey arcade is dressed up in impressive neo-gothic architecture, and also has a famous Potts’ Clock, the Ivanhoe Clock, which features characters from Robin Hood who all strike the quarters.
While time has passed, Thornton’s is still as impressive as any of the arcades you’ll come across and that’s large in part down to who they have in there. There are big names like Starbucks if you need a caffeine hit, Dune when shopping for some new shoes, and Ann Summers for those of you looking to wow your other half, but it’s also got a huge selection of Leeds’ independent favourites.
OK Comics is a fine example – it’s one of the most renowned comic book shops in the country, always willing to go the extra mile. There’s also Chimp, an uber-cool menswear store, Welcome Skate Store for new boards and threads and Bon Bons for when you need to sate that sweet tooth. Its latest addition is also well worth checking out – Tall Boys Beer Market offers up the finest craft beers from around the world, and you can even take them upstairs to their beer cafe for a small corkage if you can’t wait to try them out.
Thornton’s Arcade, Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6LQ.
The most famous of all the Leeds arcades, Victoria Quarter was built in 1900 by Frank Matcham, the guy responsible for the London Palladium and Coliseum. With all those gilded mosaics, the bold marble and the fancy ironwork, it’s easy to see why it is so grand. It had however, fell into disrepair by the 1980s, and a painstaking renovation was carried out which brought it back to life with a stunning stained glass roof on Queen Victoria Street added.
Today, it’s perhaps the most exclusive of the shopping arcades in Leeds, with some huge names opening landmark stores along County Arcade, Cross Arcade and Queen Victoria Street. Alongside the wonderful Harvey Nichols, which replaced the old Empire Theatre in 1996, the likes of Reiss, Paul Smith, Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood, Mulberry, Michael Kors, and Radley have become huge pulls for the city’s shoppers.
And alongside over 70 luxury shops, the Victoria Quarter is home to some impressive dining options too. There’s a Bagel Nash, Opposite Cafe and YO Sushi to tuck into, while Filmore and Union spread along Queen Victoria Street with their impressive, healthy fare. Oh, and Harvey Nichols have both their Fourth Floor Cafe and Espresso Bar that make the arcades here, the most impressive in Leeds.
Victoria Quarter, Briggate, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6AX.
It’s been a rough ride for Grand Arcade. Opened in 1897, it was a fine example of Victorian architecture, with two extravagant buildings joined together down the middle, and an incredibly unique Potts Clock acting as the cherry on the cake. Fast forward 100 years, and it looked like it was going to be the latest of a number of arcades to have to close down.
Not anymore though, in the past five years Grand Arcade has found itself at the heart of a burgeoning Northern Quarter where some of the finest independents in Leeds are grouping together. The likes of Our Handmade Collective, Casa Colombiana and Traditional Shaving Company opened up in there when all seemed lost and helped to reinvigorate the arcades.
Alongside those three, heavy metal stalwarts Santiago Bar, retro brew makers Just Grand! Vintage Tearoom and veggie friendly favourites Roots and Fruits continue to bring folk in, the latter is an independent mainstay that has been serving up tasty fodder for over 25 years. Recent additions like Thai street food cafe Zaap and Asian fusion restaurant Bar Soba show that there’s plenty of life left in the arcades, and Grand Arcade is leading the way.
Grand Arcade, Merrion Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6PG.
A new arcade might seem a little odd in comparison, but Central Arcade, connecting Briggate and Central Road is exactly that, opening up in 2012 on the site of the what used to Market Street Arcade. And it’s a good job, because the old arcade had become run down, a shabby cousin of the other, more grander arcades in Leeds.
The £3 million transformation is a modern realisation of what shopping arcades can be, split over three floors and it’s tried to attract folk with a range of cool fashion brands. There’s Owen Scott, a bespoke tailor who splits time between Leeds, Huddersfield and Saville Row, slick menswear boutique The Allotment and street clothing folk Audere, all helping to dress the city. The latest addition, premium denim brand Denham, is quite the catch, marking a turning point in the arcade’s tricky history.
It’s not just clothing though – the arcade benefits from the diversity on offer and Brotherhood Tattoo Studio is evident of that as it continues to grow its reputation. The jewel in the crown however is Bird and Beast, a chicken restaurant that serves up some of the finest poultry in the city, and its sister venue, Bird and Beats, a slick bar that is one of Leeds’ best kept secrets.
Central Arcade, Central Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6DE.