🗞️ 2023 – The Year Review
In the last 12 months, Leeds has been a bustling, vibrant hub filled with new openings, attractions and culture. We’ve seen everything, from bear hunts to festivals, street art to restaurant launches, and we wanted to share a few of our highlights.
2023’s Top New Openings…
2023 saw a triumphant growth of businesses setting up shops throughout the city. From retail to hospitality, all bases were covered this year, bolstering our well-earned reputation as a city of culture to new heights.
The launch that had everyone talking was the famed Flat Iron, which opened their doors in late November to a crowd of over 300 hungry steak lovers. Similarly, Pizza Pilgrims welcomed the public to their vibrant new restaurant, giving them a taste of Italian life alongside their celebrated pizza menu. Alongside these renowned names, Leeds also took some fantastic local businesses under its wing, including the highly anticipated brunch spot Farmhouse, the now critically acclaimed dining spot Empire Cafe, the sandwich kings Things in Bread and the unveiling of the newly refurbished Restaurant Bar and Grill.
Alongside brand new eateries, Leeds is also the host to a fresh set of shops and venues, set to make the retail and nightlife sectors thrive. Some notable launches include the brand new (and absolutely massive) Marks & Spencer’s Megastore in White Rose, the brand new music venue Project House, the modernist lifestyle store Sonder and the brand new food and venue hub – the Northern Market.
2023’s Best New Attractions…
Leeds International Festival of Ideas is an ever-evolving celebration of exceptional minds, inspiring topics and powerful voices, and this year’s festival took it to brand new heights. LIFI23 has been the biggest and best yet, drawing in some of the Nation’s most influential faces to touch on some of the most pressing topics our generation faces. Taking place in the Leeds Playhouse, the four-day festival boasted an impressive 11 events, delivering the voices of 39 speakers to an audience of over 5,000 people.
LIFI23 touched on topics such as entrepreneurship, grief, women’s health and mindfulness, and brought an impressive roster of celebrities, specialists and public speakers to the city. Across the three days, the Playhouse welcomed famed faces such as Steven Bartlett, Davina McCall MBE, Ruby Wax OBE, Christopher Eccleston, Bimini, Dame Prue Leith, Will Young and Rob Rinder. With such a phenomenal lineup sharing ideas on a whole host of powerful topics, there’s no surprise the festival made such a monumental impact on the city.
With over 85% of attendees saying LIFI was the reason they had visited the city, and almost half attending more than one event, the festival was a true reflection of the cultural power Leeds has. Not only that, but 99% of visitors said that they had a very good experience at LIFI23, boasting about the varied and unique programmes on offer, and 100% strongly agreed that LIFI was good value for money. A truly remarkable four-day event, LIFI23 has proudly made an impact on the whole region, and we can’t wait to see what 2024 has in store.
Leeds Bear Hunt
In the summer we saw Leeds get taken over by the colourful paw prints of bears, scattered around the city to be found by eager bear hunters. Inspired by Michael Rosen’s iconic children’s book ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’, Leeds put on a phenomenal trail throughout the summer months, with over 35 bear sculptures and nearly 50 bear cubs hidden in plain sight throughout the city. A creative and innovative day out for the family, this magnificent trail highlighted the best Leeds has to offer, with sculptures being hidden in a whole host of exciting destinations, from landmark destinations to lesser-known spots. We also had our very bear which was based at Leeds Station.
An adventurous challenge for the public to enjoy, the Bear Hunt also contributed to the Leeds Hospitals Charities. Similarly, the auction held following the trail’s end in September invited people to auction for the bears, with all proceeds going to Leeds Children’s Hospitals. The Leeds Bear Hunt had an astounding impact on the whole of Yorkshire, making days out very special for locals and tourists alike. With 88% of bear hunters saying they spent more time in Leeds as a result of the trail, 57% of them visited new places they had not been yet, and 13% staying overnight, the adventure was a clear win for businesses and visitors throughout the city.
Hyde Park Picture House
Hyde Park Picture House finally re-opened after a huge renovation project that lasted over 2 years. Before its closure in 2020 for renovation, the cinema had been a monumental part of the city since 1914. This summer, the cinema reopened its doors, inviting a new generation of film lovers to enjoy the stunning venue and also the extended offer the new spaces have. Retaining all of its original features, including gas lamps and a fully functional ticket office at the front, the cinema also had a couple of new additions, including a new screening room, accessible screens, a brand-new cafe and a community room.
Magical Night At The Queen’s
Move over Christmas Markets… This December, Leeds had something truly special.
In the approach to Christmas, LeedsBID worked with The Queen’s Hotel to showcase the most talked about activation across the festive season. The nine-night extravaganza combined the creative genius of Spanish visual pioneers OnionLab with the vision of LeedsBID, who projected onto the walls of the landmark hotel to take spectators on a magical tour of the hotel. Combining festive stories and characters throughout, the unique exhibition was even narrated by British acting legend Celia Imrie CBE.
The unique display was a true triumph, combining state-of-the-art technology with innovative and creative storytelling. Crowds flocked to see the stunning spectacle in the run-up to Christmas, with many travelling from afar to be captivated by the festive narrative. A truly beautiful and incredibly made experience, the ‘Magical Night At The Queen’s’ is certainly one to remember.
This year saw us take up a partnership with one of the newest Ice Hockey clubs in the UK, and it has very quickly embedded itself into the city, becoming the fastest-growing sports club in Leeds. Growing from a ‘business start-up’ in April 2021, to National Division Champions in the 2022-2023 season. A trip down to The Castle has become renowned for its incredible atmosphere, welcoming crowds into the 2,200-capacity space, and we have enjoyed getting to know the players and being part of the action. “LET’S GO LEEDS KNIGHTS”
Rob Burrow Marathon
Rob Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease back in December 2019, and since then his best mate, Kevin Sinfield, has been the biggest cheerleader of MND. Inspiring millions, the Burrow family have made extraordinary efforts to raise funds and awareness of MND since Rob’s diagnosis in 2019. The Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon was launched earlier this year and will forever live on as a sporting event in Leeds, and the iconic photo of Kev carrying Rob over the line will live on in the hearts of so many.
Kev has since gone on to many challenges including the 7 in 7 and both have reported to receive honours in the New Year Honours list. Watch this space.
Seeing is believing…
In recent years, Leeds has been celebrated for its brilliant and ever growing street art scene, with landlords even willing to hand over the sides of buildings or parts of parks for art. Below, we’ve picked our three favourites from this year, with many more featured in our Street Art Guide.
Street Art – The Tetley
The Tetley worked with Legal & General and invited artists for an open call to transform the Mustard Wharf building at Tower Works. Once a factory by T. R. Harding, the building produced steel pins for Yorkshire’s textile industry, Tower Works holds a rich industrial history.
Chosen for this project, mural artist Zoë Power brings her unique style, blending traditional painting with striking graphic imagery. Her proposal integrates factory cogs and woollen weave patterns, a nod to the site’s past as a wool comb factory. Within the artwork, a connecting thread symbolises hope, bridging the historical context with the present.
Street Art – Hibiscus Rising
A vibrant technicolour model now stands in the centre of Leeds, situated in the Aire Park development in South Bank. The stunning spectacle was brought to life by Yinka Shonibare CBE RA to honour David Oluwale, the British Nigerian and Leeds resident who sadly lost his life in the River Aire in 1969.
The model is inspired by the Nigerian native Hibiscus flower, and is glistening with African inspired batik patterns and colours. Designed to stand as a beacon of hope, the model is a place for city goers to come together, and share a message of healing, growth and renewal.
Street Art – Inhale, Exhale at Buttons Yard
A bold and vibrant piece of street art now adorns the walls of Buttons Yard, a popular walkway from Leeds Station to Lower Briggate.The walls of the old railway arches have been brought to life with an array of striking illustrations, which are the work of designer and illustrator Freddie Denton.
The artwork, entitled Inhale, Exhale, brought to the city by LeedsBID (Leeds Business Improvement District), is intended to gently remind commuters to slow down and be present in a continually fast paced world.
Hit shows – Oliver! Jamie etc
The theatre world seems to have returned to pre-pandemic heights, introducing the city to some phenomenal new productions. Leeds has, in fact, been so abundant in theatre this year, that we’ve had to have a dedicated theatre roundup to celebrate it. You can see our most recent article on this HERE.
Never before have we seen so many five star reviews than for the spectacular ‘Oliver!’, which came to Leeds Playhouse at the end of 2023. The phenomenal production brought to the stage a wealth of talented child actors, all performing the classic Charles Dickens tale. However, the fabulous lineup doesn’t end there, as Leeds was also treated to some other fantastic performances. The exceptional ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ was a triumph at the Leeds Grand Theatre, along with the unforgettable musical comedy ‘I Should Be So Lucky’. We also got to enjoy the hilariously compelling ‘Beautiful Thing’, the weird and wonderful ‘Enormous Crocodile’, and the return of the visual masterpiece ‘The Nutcracker’.
We created our very mini-zone last minute as part of the welcome for the attendees of UKREiFF. Taking over the lower ground of Leeds Corn Exchange, we put a light on the city using our usual alternative way.
What is UKREiiF? The UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum came to Leeds with thousands of attendees, taking over Royal Armouries and the city, with Hotel stays maxed out and restaurants brimming. Looks like Leeds will be hosting this for the foreseeable future, which is a testament to the city for welcoming so many people.
Beloved Leeds Classics..
Light Night returned to Leeds this October, flooding the city in a wash of bright neons, twinkling bulbs and unique exhibitions. Bringing together some of the finest creatives from across the globe, Light Night harnesses the power of art and light, through a myriad of installations, immersive experiences and visual displays. Often held in some of the city’s most iconic locations, including Millenium Square and the Leeds Docks, this year’s celebration was spread far and wide, allowing the whole city to enjoy this once-a-year festival.
Live at Leeds
Live at Leeds is the gift that keeps on giving, and it certainly didn’t disappoint this year. The one-day musical festival introduces audiences to a whole host of up-and-coming artists, especially those in the rock and indie music scene. Spread throughout the whole city, the festival takes guests on a whirlwind tour of some of Leeds’ greatest venues. Live At Leeds also hosts ‘Live At Leeds In The Park’, a fantastic day event held at Temple Newsam, bringing together some of the best names in the indie genre. This year, the festival was lucky enough to host the timeless Two Door Cinema Club, DMA’s, The Hives and The Lathums, amongst many others who made a truly unforgettable experience.
Leeds International Film Festival
The biggest film festival outside of London returned to the city of Leeds this year, celebrating the rich and diverse world of film. Dating back to 1987, the festival has grown into a formidable force in the world of cinema, showcasing a staggering 140 films from 78 countries in 2022. This year, the festival offered some truly remarkable showcases, from blockbusters like Poor Things and All Of Our Things, to independent titles like Animal Kingdom and Goodbye, Julia.
Bramham Park lit up once again for the groundbreaking Leeds Festival, which returned to the city for its 24th year. The festival is a true celebration of all things music and invites a staggering audience of 105,000 to bear witness to it every single year. This year, a complete sell-out, the festival was delighted to host international stars like Billie Eilish, The Killers, Sam Fender and The 1975. Alongside the stellar lineup, up-and-coming artists were also welcomed to the stage. It was brilliant spectacle for all the age groups, something that was noted this year!