Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Leeds, kicks off its year-long cultural celebrations with a spectacular show at Headingley Stadium attracting thousands of visitors.

The Yorkshire metropolis is getting ready to be the beating heart of UK culture in 2023 with a full, 12-month programme of celebrations.

It all started in 2014 when Leeds, along with several other British cities, applied to become the European Capital of Culture, as the UK was designated to host the EU event in 2023. However, the Brexit vote changed everything: with the UK voting to leave the EU, the four cities saw their hopes crushed as the European Commission ruled that only cities from a member state, from a future candidate to join or from the European Economic Area could host the event or win the title.

However, Leeds decided to go ahead with the celebration of a year of culture. Leeds 2023 is run by the Leeds Culture Trust, an independent charity set up in 2019 by Leeds City Council as part of its Culture Strategy and as a response to the cancellation of the UK’s participation in the European Capital of Culture competition.

The ‘Leeds 2023’ campaign

The ‘Leeds 2023’ campaign was born out of the city’s ambition to deliver a year of creative experiences connecting and benefiting people both now and in the future.

Throughout 2023, the programme is set to celebrate and transform the city’s identity locally, nationally and internationally – creating a lasting legacy of economic and social impact. 

‘Awakening’ is the programme theme for Part One of Leeds’ Year of Culture, running from January to April 2023. Inspired by the artist in all of us and the hidden stories of the city, Leeds itself will be both muse and backdrop to an original and surprising programme that invites the world to experience the city afresh. 

Through commissions and exciting national and international partnerships, residents and visitors alike will have the opportunity to discover the wealth and diversity of the city’s culture.

Advertising for Leeds 2023 for its Awakening event (Photo: Leeds 2023)

Top picks from Part One of the 2023 programme include:

  • ‘Smeaton 300’ – a programme inspired by Leeds-born, world-renowned engineer and astronomer John Smeaton. Smeaton300 will include a magical mobile observatory, which will tour the city from June to December.
  • ‘1001 stories’ developed by repertory theatre, Leeds Playhouse and The Performance Ensemble, is taking place in April, and will put the voices of older people centre-stage, creating artistic work from their stories about love, loss, heartbreak, community, and chance meetings.
  • A sound walk in music through the centre of Leeds, As You Are’ is also happening in April. Composed by South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North.
  • Another unmissable experience, ‘All That Lives’ is a collaboration by Leeds artist Ellie Harrison and Mexican artists Zion Art Studio, will reimagine Day of the Dead with the people of Yorkshire in November.

“With the kind support and the true Yorkshire grit of the whole city, along with the help of partners, colleagues and peers, from the very local to the global, we have together dreamed up a year of creativity that we hope will provide much needed joy, delight and extraordinary experiences for everyone,” said Kully Thiarai, creative director and CEO Leeds 2023.

“Our Year of Culture is designed to wake up our senses and reveal our city in brand new and surprising ways; in ways perhaps that people never expected or noticed previously. We know that when this city speaks it has a proper story to tell. And it is our ambition to be the spotlight and foghorn for all the glorious creativity that is behind every door, in every home: broadcasting the brilliance of Leeds beyond the region and to all of us who live and work in the city. Come experience Leeds like never before and together let’s make it a year to remember!”

A return of tourists to Leeds

Most of all, it will also help putting Leeds back into the tourism map. In July 2020 the city’s tourism agency, “Visit Leeds”, launched the “Rediscover Leeds” campaign, designed to encourage people to get back to exploring the diverse experiences the city has to offer.

The campaign aims to help revive the city’s rich tourism, hospitality, leisure, business and cultural industries that have been hit hard by Covid-19. In 2019, Leeds welcomed 30.42 million day and overnight visitors worth £1.89 billion to the local economy. Leeds was also the 5th most popular conference destination in the UK, with business tourism worth £559.5 million to the local economy. According to local sources, in 2022 Leeds hotels experienced visitor numbers close to 2019 figures.