Yorkshire’s Gone Troppo

Leeds is home to a surprisingly dense rainforest, all in the confines of Roundhay Park.

Poor old Leeds. For such a genuinely pretty and friendly place, it doesn’t top many lists of long weekend breaks in the UK. A student city, it’s got plenty of youthful buzz, but just doesn’t pull in the crowds the way historical cities like Edinburgh or beach towns like Brighton do. Even when outsiders head to God’s Own County of Yorkshire, they tend to be looking for moors and dales rather than the urban environment they’ve probably just escaped from. Lovers of history make a beeline for York, and Leeds is so often overlooked as a destination holiday.

All of which is a shame, because Leeds has plenty to offer the winter weekender, with a wealth of indoor activities and windy walks. One of the major attractions is Roundhay Park, a 700 acre sprawling landscape of lakes, woodland and gardens, run and owned by the city council. A million people visit the park each year.

A designated hunting park during the 13th Century, Roundhay was passed down through the aristocracy, a succession that included Henry IV and the Tudor dynasty, until Henry VIII gave the park to Tomas Darcy. It was in 1871 that the Mayor of Leeds spearheaded the purchase of Roundhay for the city, and development began to turn it into the leading attraction it is today. Renowned architect George Corson landscaped the grounds, and it became home to Britain’s first ever electric tram with overhead power in 1891.

Today, the most ambitious element of Roundhay is the indoor rainforest. After Kew Gardens, Tropical World holds the biggest collection of exotic plants in the UK. The vast greenhouse also contains a butterfly house featuring many rare species, and an unbelievable recreation of a real Amazonian jungle experience. The cost of entry is less than £4, and anyone that comes to experience the tropical climate and biosphere does not go away disappointed. It’s the perfect way to end a day strolling around the park, or even as a sneaky way to get out of the drizzle that turns into an equally wet – but warm – walk.

Compared with Dublin or London, Leeds is an affordable city to stay in, and doesn’t have the tourist trappings of overpriced attractions. In recent years there has been extensive development in the area, turning the Leeds nightlife and commerce into proper contenders. There are plenty of hotels around the city centre, including the Crown Plaza Leeds hotel, as well as a good selection of museums and art galleries to enjoy.

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