Starting university is both an interesting and daunting transition in life. It can be overwhelming to arrive in a new city, for some even a new country, and when first arriving in Leeds it can be difficult to get the grip of such a big and vibrant place. First year can at times feel a bit like fumbling in the dark, trying to find the cafés that fit your taste buds, the paths that will make you want to walk for ages, and the unknown corners that you can enjoy on your own or with company. In this guide, you will be provided with some of the best-hidden and most secretive places and societies in Leeds that many people don’t get to discover during their time at university. It took me a year making mistake after mistake to find these 10 gems, so I hope that you get to experience them all, and find them just as enjoyable as I did.
10) Moments café
Near the train station in Leeds, is a café that is hidden way better than our famous go-to place on campus. It is a wonderful, small area with comfortable chairs, good food (especially breakfast) and great coffee. The staff is always friendly, and it is an easy place to de-plug with a book, or begin brainstorming for an essay. It is normally packed with people, but hardly any students so it is the perfect place to go when in need of fresh faces.
In the middle of the city, near the Corn Exchange, is a small, red house with beautiful patterns painted on its façade. It is one of the best value-for-money places to eat in Leeds, and if you like Middle Eastern food it is definitely one of the best options out there (trust me, I know what I’m talking about). An extra bonus is that you always get a fresh, mint tea on the house while waiting for your food. Also, the owner is very cheerful, and may end up telling you a bit of his life story, if you throw in a couple of French or Arabic phrases.
This place is pretty well-known amongst most Leeds students, but I would still find it disgraceful not to mention in my guide, just in case you’ve missed it. Smokestack is one of the best places in the Leeds nightlife scene: it is not too big, entrance is free and their wonderful DJ Chico plays the best jazz and soul tunes most nights. It is the optimal place to go on a Friday or Saturday night, or if you just don’t feel like buying overpriced tickets in advance for Canal Mills or Beaverworks (where you 9/10 times wish you were in Smokestack instead anyway)
7) Spoken Word society
Again, this is a society that Leeds students may know about, but when I discovered it at the end of my first year, I wish that someone had told me about it earlier. It can seem a bit secretive, but this says nothing about the inclusion and warm welcoming you feel when attending their events. Regardless if you are into poetry or not, this is an event that must be experienced at least once (and it gets addicting with time). The bravery of the people performing is admirable, and there is often interesting conversation going on in the breaks and after the readings. If you feel that your artistic side has something to share with the world, you may even end up reading your own poetry aloud on stage one day.
6) Abu Bakr
The best supermarket in all of West Yorkshire (in many people’s opinion, at least) is, luckily, located very close to campus, in the student-populated area Hyde Park. It has everything your heart could desire from cheap medjool dates and fruit to camel milk (still questioning if this is vegan) to frozen parsnips to 10 kg bags of rice and beans. It is a place where none of the prices are ever set in stone, and a place where you can become friends with the staff if you visit regularly. Who knows, you might become as lucky as I was, and receive a free piece of homemade Baklava during your weekly shop.
5) Meditation society
The word ‘meditation’ can often scare people away from the effective practice, but don’t judge the art-form before you’ve tried it! Every Wednesday there is free meditation in the Union. It is guided for two hours, but you can stay for as short or long as you please. This is a seriously good place to go if you are stressed with assignments or exams (but then again, why bother about that until second year).
4) Beckett Headingley campus
Even though Leeds Beckett is mostly associated with a very embarrassing annual rugby game, it shouldn’t be counted out completely from October and on-wards. Beckett has a stunning campus in Headingly, which is highly recommended in terms of going for walks in the winter, or chilling on the patches of grass in the summer. And if you end up feeling like too much of a traitor strolling around unconquered territory, you can always leave the campus and go for a piece of cake at one of the many cafés that are in the area.
3) Leeds-Liverpool Canal
The Leeds-Liverpool canal’s starting point can be found near the city center, and goes all the way to, you guessed it, Liverpool. It is a calming place to go for a run or take a walk, and can be strongly recommended if in need of escape from the university, the city, or just people in general. It also has some nice houseboats that are definitely worth checking out, and some canal boat tours. But beware of the many cyclists you may encounter!
If you are looking for a place to escape, why not check out the nearest woods? Meanwood is only about 15 minutes away from campus in a taxi, and it is the perfect place to collect thoughts and go for long wisdom walks. It’s a little patch of nature in the middle of a big, noisy city, and is honestly worth at least one visit.
1) Roundhay Park
The last, and best, place on the list is Roundhay Park. Being one of the biggest and prettiest city parks in Europe we are lucky to have it basically at our doorstep, only about 15 minutes away by bus from the city center. The walk to Roundhay can also be recommended, where you go through other neighborhoods in Leeds such as Harehills. It is very different from the areas Leeds students usually spend time in, but make sure to bring company, if you walk there though. Roundhay is in a league of its own with its magnificent, green hills and its big, beautiful lake in the middle, not to forget the gorgeous houses that surround it. Rumors have it, that the famous Leeds sociologist Zygmunt Bauman still lives in Roundhay, and the quest to meet him is always a fun challenge while visiting the breathtaking area (I unfortunately haven’t had any luck yet though). It is definitely a place that shouldn’t be missed, so if you haven’t been there yet, I would recommend catching a bus as soon as possible.