Get outside in Leeds

University of Leeds
5 min readNov 13, 2020

As you read this, it’s likely Leeds is your home, has been, or will be. Whether you grew up here, commute in or are studying, this is a city of endless possibility. It’s a place where the echoes of the past mingle with the shiny glass of the future — its history is woven through the streets and parks like the weft interweaves through the warp on the huge looms which made Leeds a home for textiles two hundred years ago.

Leeds is yours to discover, and we’ll help you plot a course through the open spaces, woodlands and ridges that cover much of the city.


Across the city, there’s 62 different community parks to explore — places for picnics, exercise, walking or quiet contemplation. As a place for fresh air and a home for wildlife, these are perfect to visit for a change of scenery, a location for you to find your peace.

You’ll probably already know Woodhouse Moor, next to the University, perhaps your nearest green space. If you’d have visited back in 1644, you’d have seen the cabins where members of the population were isolating from a pandemic, drawn to the wide open space while the plague raged in the city.

Let’s explore some you might not have visited yet.

The Mansion in autumn — Roundhay park

Roundhay Park

The jewel in the crown of Leeds parks, and one of the largest city parks in Europe, this has to go on your bucket list for a visit.

With sweeping parkland, lakes, streams, bandstands and hidden castle, it’s easy to spend hours here.

There’s a couple of cafes too, meaning you can refuel — wide paths and ramps as well as steps make Roundhay park accessible too.

The Hollies/Meanwood Park

Part of the Meanwood Valley trail, Meanwood Park is a beautiful and varied strip of green on north Leeds, about ten minutes walk from Headingley. The park has lots to explore — from winding streams, forgotten gateposts to nowhere, waterfalls and hidden monuments. J.R.R Tolkein, during his five years working at the University of Leeds enjoyed walking through here — and it’s thought The Shire and Middle Earth may have been partly inspired by his time spent in Yorkshire.

During wet weather, this can be quite muddy — so make sure you’ve got the right footwear. Not all of Meanwood park is accessible, although the main path through the lower park is.

Waterfall in Meanwood park

The Leeds and Liverpool canal

Reflections in the water of the Leeds and Liverpool canal

The canal is one of the more hidden gems in the city. Right in the south of city (near Sentinel Towers, The Tannery and the Refinery), it stretches from Leeds city centre in one direction, all the way to Liverpool, so is one of the longer routes you can take. You can walk into town along it, or go for a walk out of the city. If you’re prepared to walk a few miles, you’ll get to a great pub called the Abbey Inn where you can sit outside on a sunny afternoon. It goes past some amazing old locks and you can see Kirkstall Abbey from there too. There are loads of access points, including if you go under the viaduct by Kirkstall Road Aldi. If you walk down until the marina (you’ll know it from all the houseboats), you can cross over a small bridge and come back through Armley park).

Read more about walking through the small parks and exploring the areas around the University by third year student Georgie.

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey, one of the best preserved Cistercian monasteries in the country, founded over 800 years ago

The romantic ruins of Kirkstall Abbey have been an eternal magnet for visitors, long after the twelfth century Abbey was ruined. It’s right next to the river Aire, and whether you go inside or not, a visit here is nice for a slow wander, and a decent path going round the perimeter of the ruin make this suitable for all.


The undulating topography of the Leeds has shaped the development of the city, and with it have evolved ribbons of woodland, becoming home to wildlife and trees, perfect to explore on a quiet weekend, or a free afternoon.

From Woodhouse Ridge, with it’s long forgotten ruins of the bandstand, originally part of the Edwardian pleasure gardens that were here, the lovely Meanwood Urban farm and Sugarwell Hill park to the hidden lake in the middle of Gledhow Valley woods, once painted by J.M.W.Turner.

Swans on Gledhow valley lake

The roads less travelled

It’s not always about the countryside — the roads and streets are full of surprises, and can be perfect to explore. Across Leeds, the streets echo with the history of different times.

A lost zoo in Headingley?

Did you know there was once a bear pit in Leeds? Cardigan Road was part of Leeds Zoological and Botanical Gardens and opened in 1840. Victorian visitors could climb the spiral staircases within the towers and look down safely upon the brown bear. Other animals seen in the gardens, which opened in 1840, included a pair of swans, some fowl, an eagle, a racoon, a fox, some monkeys and tortoises.

Why not follow the free audio tour?

The forgotten bear pit in Headingley

Hyde Park street art trail

On the side of buildings and walls across Hyde Park are beautiful and vibrant artwork — street art and murals, by local artists that are nice to discover.

Fem Sorcell | @femsorcell| Chestnut Avenue mural


Whatever Leeds is to you — a place you’re passing through for a term, or are here for the long haul, get out, get active, discover and explore. To get to know your surroundings helps put things into perspective, helps see where and how you fit.

Leeds is somewhere which I particularly detest as an odious place.

Charles Dickens, when describing his visit to Leeds on December 1st, 1847

If only he’d read this.