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If the keyword is ‘quirky’, then you have to start with the Leeds Corn Exchange. Situated on Call Lane, you can’t miss this historic 1864 building: it’s the one that looks like a mini Royal Albert Hall, with a curvaceous dome that offers far more character than your average retail warehouse. Step inside and you’ll find stylish staircases guiding you between three floors of delightfully off-beat independent boutiques, beerhouses and restaurants. Don’t miss the acclaimed Little Pink Wardrobe, whose on-trend, hand-picked pieces offer effortless cool at competitive prices. Pick up evening wear at Precious Proms & Pearls, find designer menswear at MKI – then fuel up with a restorative deli bagel from Primo’s.
Back on the front steps of the Corn Exchange, you’ll find yourself within ambling distance of another must-visit location. Kirkgate Market is a stone cold local legend, opened back in 1822 and still enjoying its enviable status as the largest covered market in Europe. Around 800 stalls draw upwards of 100,000 visitors each week – alongside regular pop-up events like the Asian Bazaar every Wednesday morning – and if you can’t find something you like amongst the countless fashion, jewellery and homewares stalls, then frankly you have failed as a shopper.
Bang in the heart of the city’s Northern Quarter, the Grand Arcade dubs itself “the home of Leeds independents”, and you’ll soak up that artisan vibe as you stroll this stunning Grade II-listed Victorian walkway. Locals have been picking up bargains here since 1897, and you’ll do the same, with a roll call that includes The Traditional Shaving Company and The Bridal Emporium. But the jewel in the crown is Our Handmade Collective: opened in 2013 by Claire Riley and Natalie Entwistle, this charming indie has sailed to a #1 rating on TripAdvisor, with unique items that ensure nobody goes home empty-handed. But don’t load up because we’re off to Manchester.
It couldn’t be easier to get from Leeds city centre to the big brands of Northern neighbour and friendly rival, Manchester. Step aboard the regular TransPennine Express service – with direct trains typically departing four times an hour – then sink back into your seat and cruise to Manchester Victoria in as little as 48 minutes. Good thing you’ve saved energy, because you’ll need it to run the gauntlet of big-brand shopping that lies just beyond the station doors.
No self-respecting shopper can claim to have ‘done’ Manchester without a visit to New Cathedral Street. Sleek, spacious and sunkissed, this pedestrianised retail street is where you’ll find all the world’s flagship luxury brands, and the roll-call alone should be enough to flutter your wallet – choose from Harvey Nichols, Reiss, Selfridges, Ted Baker, Paul Smith, Burberry and Hugo Boss. Plus, just when you thought New Cathedral Street couldn’t get any more glamorous – the mighty Ralph Lauren has announced plans to open its first Manchester branch, right here.
If you haven’t maxed-out, it’s time to hit the retail institution that has pulled in competitive shoppers since 1975. The vibe at Manchester Arndale is another world compared to the morning you’ve just spent on the indie circuit. Not better, not worse, just different. You don’t come here for cult purchases or artisan curiosities – you come to find the world’s biggest brands, all ready and waiting under one roof. Since the millennium, the Arndale has enjoyed a flurry of modernisation and a raft of extensions, and its title as Europe’s largest city-centre shopping hub is not to be sniffed at. The whole setup is sleek, easy to navigate and sprinkled with the little touches – from prosecco bars to baby-changing rooms – that make shopping here a real pleasure.
Come into the Arndale on the Lower Level and you’ll be dazzled by a head-turning array of household names, spanning from Next and Timberland to Superdry and Topman. Take the escalator to the Upper Level and you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice again, with bookworms making a beeline for Waterstone’s, music-lovers beating a path to HMV and arm-in-arm couples dropping by Victoria’s Secret. Plus, don’t miss Halle Place – this new £11 million dining quarter is where you’ll recharge with everything from Italian street food to sizzling burritos.
It’s been a full day and by now, you’re probably laden down with shopping bags. So it’s a good thing the TransPennine Express service keeps going even longer than even the most hardened shopaholic – with the last train direct train back to Leeds departing after 11pm. Come aboard, take a load off – and you’ll be home before you know it.