With its acres of rolling parkland, playgrounds and lakes, a trip to Roundhay Park is a must when you’re in Leeds. Free to enter, it’s one of Europe’s largest city parks, but what makes it such a magnet for visitors is that it has Tropical World (one of Leeds’ most popular tourist attractions) right on its leafy doorstep.
Back in the 11th century, Roundhay was known as 'Le Rundeheai' - a term thought to mean ‘the round hunting enclosure’. William the Conqueror gave the land to Ilbert De Lacy, who turned it into a deer hunting park. Back then, Roundhay’s two beautiful lakes were yet to be built. They only appeared in the early 19th century, when part of the land was bought by wealthy local banker Thomas Nicholson. The bit of the land he bought was filled with the industrial remains of the old coal mines and to disguise this, Nicholson filled in two disused quarries to form the lakes. He paid unemployed soldiers back from the Napoleonic Wars to do the work and named one ‘Waterloo Lake’ in the veterans’ honour, turning him into a bit of a saintly figure in the city.
With its lakes, streams and playgrounds, plus a raft of sporting activities from canoeing to skating to choose from, there’ll be something to do at Roundhay whenever you go. But it’s worth checking to see if your visit coincides with one of the special events the park is famous for. Roundhay hosts the biggest bonfire night celebration in Leeds, with 70,000 people coming to watch the firework display. At Christmas there’s a Magical Lantern Festival where visitors follow a night-time trail round the park, with huge illuminations lighting their way. On a smaller scale, the park plays host to regular farmers’ markets at its recently restored Oakwood Clock site. These are held on the third Saturday of the month.
While a stroll round the park is free, if you’re visiting Roundhay it’s worth paying the small entrance fee to have a look round the covered ornamental gardens found at Tropical World. Find out what makes it one of Leeds’ most popular tourist attractions below.
Even if the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse, you won’t be stuck for a place to shelter at Roundhay. That’s because the park is home to Tropical World - a place so warm you’ll dry off in no time! Filled with tropical plants, each of its glasshouses represent a different climate and apart from the plants, there’s a butterfly house and many birds, bats and reptiles living free inside the various zones. There’s also the Explorers’ Cafe when you need a breather from the heat!
Coming to Leeds in spring or summer? A trip to one of Roundhay Park’s specialist gardens is a must. Managed by some of the city’s finest horticulturalists, the award-winning displays take their inspiration from both the magnificent Alhambra gardens in Spain and the Monet gardens in France. You’ll find them opposite the Roundhay Fox pub on Mansion Lane. There are also specialist gardens in the Canal and Coronation areas, off Princes Avenue near Tropical World.
If you love working up a sweat, Roundhay Park is the place to get active. From canoeing on Waterloo lake to organised weekly Parkruns, there’s a year-round calendar of sporting activities to get involved with. Bring your bikes and have a go at the grass cycling track. It’s free to use - as are the football pitches and tennis courts, although these need to be booked in advance. If that sounds too energetic, there are also gentle guided wildlife walks to take part in.
There are three disabled parking spaces on Mansion Lane, and five outside Tropical World. All entrances to the park and all paths within it are wheelchair friendly. Accessible toilets can be found in Tropical World, the Visitor Centre and the Education Rooms. There’s accessible playground equipment for kids, and you can even book a mobility scooter for use around the park. These are available from Tropical World - bring along some ID with you to pick one up.
If you’re in the park to explore Tropical World, remember to dress appropriately. It may be cold outside, but if you’re wrapped up in too many layers you may feel distinctly overdressed for the warm climates inside the glasshouses.
With 700 acres of glorious scenery to explore, a walk around Roundhay can seriously work up an appetite. Luckily, there are several lovely cafes and restaurants inside the park that take full advantage of the picturesque location - and have menus to satisfy any culinary craving.
Tropical World Cafe
You don’t have to pay the entrance fee to Tropical World to enjoy its recently renovated cafe. This stunning conservatory is flooded with natural light and lets you enjoy a simple menu of jacket potatoes, paninis, and cake with a side helping of beautiful views, courtesy of the Canal Gardens.
The Lakeside Cafe
With its tranquil setting on the edge of Waterloo Lake, the Lakeside Cafe is a popular spot all day every day. Even first thing on a Monday morning it’s packed with people, drawn by the tasty breakfasts, fresh sandwiches from the deli counter and a changing rota of hot lunch specials.
Garden Room Cafe and Restaurant
Known for its fantastic brunches and afternoon teas, the Garden Room Cafe is situated in the Mansion, the stately home in the park that’s become a popular wedding venue. Inside, the restaurant has stunning period features, but there’s also an outdoor terrace area too - the perfect spot for a glass of Prosecco while you enjoy the view.
The Roundhay Fox
Roaring log fires, hearty Sunday lunches and a beer garden - step into the Roundhay Fox and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into a cosy pub in the middle of the country. Dog-friendly, it’s the perfect place to warm up in if you fancied a pint of real ale or glass of something grapey after tramping round the park on a cold day.
You’ll find Roundhay Park just three miles north of Leeds city centre. As such, it’s easy to get to by car or public transport.
You’ll find Roundhay Park off the A58 Wetherby Road at Oakwood. The postcode for your sat nav is LS8 2HH. Car parking is both free and plentiful - you’ll find five car parks dotted around the park.
Coming from the city centre? The easiest way to get to Roundhay is by bus. Hop on either the 2 or 12 - both services run regularly (approximately every 10 minutes) to and from the park every day.
If you’re visiting the park from further afield, Leeds station is about four miles away. On leaving the station, head to the Corn Exchange and pick up the number 12 bus that runs from here.
From the city centre to its leafy suburbs and beautiful surrounding countryside, you'll find lots of great hotels in Leeds. If you need to be central, try the First Direct Arena Hotel and Trinity Leeds Hotel, or Leeds City West for Elland Road. For those jetting in, check out Leeds/Bradford Airport hotel.
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