Tell me about living in Leeds or Cardiff!
October 31, 2013 5:48 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are considering a temporary relocation to the UK from Canada - he plans to apply to various MA programs at UK universities in the next year or two. We’d love to learn more about life in Leeds and Cardiff as they are two cities with programs he’s interested in. We’ve read previous AskMeFi threads on Cardiff here and here.

We live in Toronto and both grew up in the greater Toronto area, so we’re excited about the prospect of living somewhere further than 100 km from our birthplaces. We also really like UK culture in general and feel comfortable and happy when we visit London.

There are also several academic possibilities in London, but we’ve visited London several times and have family there so we have a fairly good sense of what it would be like to live there. Plus we’re curious about living somewhere a little more affordable than London.

In our spare time we like hanging out in pubs (especially ones where we get to know the staff and other locals), eating at restaurants (mainly budget and moderately priced ones) shopping along high streets and wandering in parks. For cooking we usually buy food at a variety of grocery stores, markets and specialty shops. I like the look of Cardiff Market and it reminds me of Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. We also like seeing live jazz, comedy and going to the movies.

We’re interested in giving a smaller city a try – we’d like to live somewhere compact, walkable, with good transit, as well as access to the aforementioned things to do.

Also curious about how easy/difficult it would be to travel to London from either city, or out to the surrounding countryside using trains or buses.

And as we're currently bracing ourselves for another Canadian winter - what's winter like there?
posted by champagneminimalist to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yup both cities will satisy your cultural needs. Both enjoy wet relatively temperate winters. Both have direct train services to london which can be surprisingly cheap if booked in advance. Both are useful hubs for enjoying extensive if somewhat different countryside. Good luck.
posted by BenPens at 6:21 AM on October 31, 2013

Best answer: As I mentioned in one of the threads you link to, I think Cardiff is a lovely place to live.

Having visited Toronto - all too briefly - Cardiff is pretty much *nothing* like Toronto. Much, much smaller, public transport is patchy at best, and of course no magnificent lake on your doorstep.

Saying all of that, Cardiff does indeed have *the sea* on its front doorstep, as well as mountains and countryside at the back door. Pretty easy access to both as well. From where I live in the suburbs of Cardiff, I can walk to the countryside in about 20 minutes.

For the weather... well, let's just say that there's a reason Wales is so lush and green (it rains all the time!). We rarely get particularly extreme conditions, but UK infrastructure is such that even the tiniest amount of snow, wind or rain causes extreme havoc. This is a fact of life with living in the Britain.

City-centre-wise, shopping is on a par with what you'd expect in a major UK city (except London). The indoor market is pretty good, but unless you're living in the city centre isn't terribly convenient for weekly shopping. Loads of parks, places to go, pubs, walks, nice little cafes and places to eat. The city centre itself is extremely walkable - one end to the other in about half an hour. Out of town there's a good range of all the major supermarkets, DIY shops and other assorted chain shopping experiences.

Links from Cardiff to elsewhere (by train) aren't too bad - London in just over 2 hours. The airport situation isn't great - good luck finding anywhere to go from Cardiff airport, but Heathrow is straight down the M4 motorway.

Any particular queries, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by car01 at 6:33 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Leeds and have done for the past 6 years. I really like the city as it's just the right size for stuff to happen without being overwhelming.

There is a good train line to London taking a little bit over 2 hours 15 minutes. Usual warnings about train prices (far too long of a discussion to cover here).

Like most cities there's different areas for different needs. If you like I can recommend some area to consider?

There are lots of shops and restaurants here. Pubs heavily depends on where you end up living. Though there are a few gems here and there.

The dales and moors to the north are lovely countryside. Some local buses and trains go there.

York which is a short train ride away is a super day out/ weekend away.

The University of Leeds (there are 3 I think) is well respected and is close to the city centre.
posted by 92_elements at 6:34 AM on October 31, 2013

Leeds will likely fulfill your needs, but also note that most cities in England are so near together that travelling between them is a cinch. Leeds to Manchester takes as little as 55 minutes, and trains even run through the night. London is only 2 to 2.5 hours away. It's a great multiplier effect which means that you can really add up the offerings of several towns. However, aside from heavy rail public transport within Leeds is all bus, there being no light rail or trams.

In Leeds, winter won't be particularly cold or snowy compared with Canada. It will be somewhat darker though, being further north than Edmonton, and likely much wetter.
posted by Thing at 6:37 AM on October 31, 2013

Best answer: I live in Leeds and am an expat from Vermont. I've also visited Toronto so know a bit about the city but I mostly stuck to touristy types.

Both Leeds and Cardiff (I think) will be much more affordable than London. I just bought a house that costs much less than what a one bedroom flat would go for in London and I live in a nice leafy area a few steps from the countryside and at the end of a busline for heading into the city center which is only a 30 minute ride.

Market: Leeds has Kirkgate Market which is huge and actually really nice.

Movies: The Leeds International Film Festival is starting up soon and is a yearly event with lots of interesting movies on in some different locations. There are 3 major movie theatres along with at least two independent (Hyde park picture house and Cottage road cinemas) movie theatres all showing a wide veriety of movies.

Comedy: Leeds is oddly quite a good place to go and see comedy. A lot of the time you'll get some big names in UK comedy coming through to try out some new material. There is also Kill for a seat shows oddly both in Leeds and Wales.

Jazz: Don't know I tend to listen to Jazz in the dark at home with headphones and nice whiskey.

Pubs: You'll be in Yorkshire the home of good real ale. There are easily 30 breweries in a 30 mile radius and easily 10 in Leeds alone (depending on how you draw the boundaries). There are also the market town taverns like Acradia and Veritas.

Shops: There are neat asian grocery shops as well as Abu Bhakar and the International Supermarket and a multitude of little fruit and veg shops with random ingredients in them.

Winter: There isn't winter over here, at least not like what you would consider winter. There might be a 3 inch snowstorm and everything will shut down for a day. The absolutely lowest temperature would be something like -10C.

Size of City: You can walk from one end of the city center to the other in 15 -20 minutes and if you lived in Headingley you could walk in to the University in 20 minutes and be able to walk back from downtown in 45 minutes.

Rent and housing: Be sure to check Gumtree for a place to live. I found all three of the places I rented on gumtree and they were all fairly good. I would estimate about £500 for a one bedroom place and £700 for a two bed place.

Travel: Leeds train station is a major hub in the region and is on the east coast mainline. Travel to London takes 2:30 approx and there are going to be at least two trains an hour. If you book in advance you can get tickets for usually about £40-£60 return. Air travel consists of flying from either Leeds Bradforn Airport (for trips around Europe) or getting to Manchester Airport (on the train direct into the airport in an hour) for international and more European destinations. Heading out into the countryside is obviously easier with a car, but there are real ale train pub crawls in the countryside and it is very easy to get out into the dales and have a good walk on a train. There is even the three peaks challenge that you can do from the train.

Public transport: in Leeds it is mostly by bus and is either good to middling depending on where you live and where you want to go. Most routes run like spokes from the city center so if you wanted to go laterally it might need two busses. If you're at the University though are are living along the Otley road you wouldn't ever bother checking a bus schedule because there are 5 lines that run up the road that each run rather frequently.

Obviously you can msg me for more info.
posted by koolkat at 6:54 AM on October 31, 2013

Best answer: Hi from Leeds!

We have great pubs and bars, though the good ones are often busy enough that it’s not going to get to the “where everyone knows your name” situation unless you’re a pretty serious alcoholic! You’d have better luck outside of the city centre if you’re looking for a “local”. I can think of at least two bars with live jazz (Sela Bar and The Wardrobe) and, while stand-up isn’t my thing, I know there are regular small comedy shows at places like The Adelphi (great pub, gorgeous building) or The Library (cheap student pub, also a gorgeous building) and bigger-name comedians at the beautifully restored City Varieties Music Hall.

We also have Europe’s largest indoor market – Kirkstall Markets – which houses traditional market stalls (butchers, bakers, fishmongers, clothes, homewares). It has a great atmosphere – lots of traditional hawker shouting. For window-shopping (or regular shopping if you can afford it!) there’s the Victoria Quarter, which consists of glass- covered arcades lined with designer shops of various sorts. The high street has been pretty much decimated by the new American-shopping-mall style Trinity Shopping Centre, but it’s centrally located and at least you can take care of your Apple Store-Topshop-Marks and Spencer shopping out of the rain. There’s also a new food court that has a rotating selection of “food trucks” and plenty of seating that looks like it will be a nice place for a quick bite once the crowds die down a bit.

Food-wise, there’s plenty of overpriced overhyped crap (Google Jay Rayner’s review of Red’s True Barbecue for an example), but there’s also plenty of deservedly-hyped places (Friends of Ham comes to mind) and hole-in-the-wall ethnic places with great, cheap food (like Safran, for Persian, or Thai Aroy Dee or Jino’s Thai for homestyle Thai food and BYOB drink policies).

No matter which uni you’re at, everything is pretty walkable. There are tons of busses and there’s a decent local rail service. If you want some outdoors time, you can get trains or buses to some of the most beautiful places in the world – from the Yorkshire coast to the Yorkshire dales to the Lake District. Try getting the regular train to Keighley, then the vintage steam train to Haworth, and then have a walk around the Bronte Moors.

If you look ahead of time and plan your trip around your train tickets rather than the other way around, you can get tickets to London for around £20 each way sometimes. There’s also the megabus, which is long and tedious but super, super cheap. If you need to be in London on short notice, be prepared to pay quite a bit – hundreds of pounds at peak times!

I’m originally from Tennessee – and while the winters here are definitely darker and longer, they don’t seem that much colder to me. There are lots of lovely surprise days that are sunny and warm where you find yourself carrying your coat instead of wearing it – in fact, a couple of years ago we were in Newcastle (another great place not too far away by train) for Christmas and it was warm enough that we were walking along the beach at Tynemouth in short sleeves on boxing day.
posted by cilantro at 6:59 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd pick Leeds. It's a bigger place in terms of people, and IMHO a better place to live in terms of shopping and eating and drinking. It's a pretty compact town, too. Shopping is on a par between the two places but if you wanted a better range of shops in Leeds you'd go to Manchester whereas Cardiff has Bristol (marginally bigger) nearby and then really it's London.

Cardiff gives you access to the Welsh countryside, which is fantastic, but Leeds has the Yorkshire countryside right on its doorstep. Culturally there is more in Cardiff because of its status as the capital, but Leeds is close to Manchester so it doesn't miss out on what it doesn't have itself. Both cities are about the same time to London on the train at just over 2 hours. Leeds will also give you access to Edinburgh in 3 hours on the train.

Weatherwise Leeds is colder and drier - 30 or so less rainy days per year and half the rainfall.

Friends of mine have happily moved from London to Leeds. I don't think they would necessarily have been as keen to move to Cardiff.

Also: pick the right pub and the beer in Leeds is sublime. Not as easy in Cardiff.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:10 AM on October 31, 2013

As a UK→Toronto migrant, you're going to find the weather in either fucking depressing. Winters are dark, and cycle wetly around freezing. Weather is unpredictable enough that you could have a sudden unexpected soaking.
posted by scruss at 7:59 AM on October 31, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone so far! I appreciate all the information - lots to think about.

Leeds seems to be pulling ahead at the moment - the proximity to Manchester is something that hadn't occurred to me, as well as being only 3 hours away from Edinburgh, another city we've always dreamed of visiting.

Our idea is only about one week old at the moment, but I will be sure to take you up on your kind offers for more info as we get further along in our planning, and much will depend on which school(s) he gets into.

I knew that asking a question here would give me great answers, and I am happy that I asked.
posted by champagneminimalist at 9:59 AM on October 31, 2013

Out of the two, I think Leeds will feel a bit more connected both to the surrounding countryside and the broader urban area: Bradford, Huddersfield, York, Sheffield and, a bit further, Manchester.

I visited friends in Cardiff over the summer, and it's a fine, liveable city with lots going on and a good regular connection to London, but it feels slightly more out on a limb: the train and road links are pretty much tied to a coastal backbone with spurs running northward into the valleys. And as MuffinMan says, its status as the capital means there's a concentration of politics and media and culture that carries the aura of being sufficient.
posted by holgate at 10:07 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Leeds is alright, but it doesn't have a barrage where you can watch boats go up and down and up and down and up and down all day.

So bear that in mind.

There is also the Welsh National Opera, which looks pretty impressive! Also Welsh beaches are very nice.

Other than all the things listed above, Leeds also has The Grove Inn, Seven Arts, the College of Music, Wharf Chambers and Howard Assembly Room all of which have at least some jazz performances. LCM students often increase the jazz quotient during term time. In Headingley, the traditional student accommodation hot spot, there is Cafe Lento (Yorkshire Jazz venue of the year 2012) and Heart.

In Manchester Band on the Wall often get some well established names. There is also Matt and Phred's which apparently has poor sound, which is a pity. They are both about a 15 minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly station, which is an hour from Leeds on the Trans Pennine Express.

On the way to Manchester there is the Marsden Jazz Festival at the beginning of autumn.

So, it would appear there is plenty of jazz in Leeds and my not hearing any recently says more about me than it does about the local jazz scene.

Jongleurs has become the Highlight Comedy Club and there is comedy at the Hi Fi club (incidentally, another jazz venue with free gigs on Sundays). The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds also has some comedy from time to time.

Leeds Council are attempting to gentrify the market by raising the rents, removing the traditional step toward building a retail business, so that they can use it as a revenue generator. There is some talk of emulating Borough Market in London, which is not the most inclusive environment, much as I like it. They haven't killed it yet though! There are also farmers' markets on the weekends around Leeds. There is also a rich variety of immigrant population with attendant delicatessens/grocers.

I rent out my spare room, so you would be welcome to use it short or long term if you needed somewhere to stay.
posted by asok at 8:08 AM on November 11, 2013

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