Anyone who still thinks it's grim up north should get themselves to Leeds straight away - a new boutique hotel, The New Ellington, has just opened, there's enough shopping to exhaust a WAG, restaurants and bars galore, plus stunning buildings, art and opera to tick the culture boxes.
Starter for 10: Leeds
Tucked away in an anonymous-looking red brick building, the newly opened New Ellington hotel is anything but dull once you walk inside. Zebra print and bright striped velvet chairs fill the entrance, dominated by the hotel's bar and its incredible selection of gin – the Bramble cocktail will convert anyone, although non-gin drinkers will love the gorgeous orangey Breakfast Martini too.
The funky art deco decor is a tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington, who played the city's music festival in 1958, and there's black and white photos and 20s-style paintings in the downstairs restaurant. With 35 chic minimalist bedrooms and ultra-friendly staff, it's a real gem. Rooms cost from £89, visit www.bespokehotels.com/ellingtonleeds or call 0844 815 9838 to book.
Many visitors to the city miss the River Aire completely, but it's one of the best ways to enjoy a different view of Leeds, understand some of its history, and explore the recent waterside developments. The Leeds City Cruise travels between Clarence Dock, Brewery Wharf and Granary Wharf, with the trip lasting around an hour.
At Granary Wharf, stop for the great view from the 13th floor Sky Lounge bar in the City Inn, while at Clarence Dock, there's the Royal Armouries to enjoy, including an incredible collection of centuries-old armour. The cruise runs between 11am and 3.30pm on weekends until October 31, and will start again next May. Adult tickets cost £3. Go to www.yorkshire.com or call 0845 388 4901 for more information.
Leeds is the only English city outside London with its own opera house – Opera North is based at the Grand Theatre in the city when it's not touring. And if you think opera means expensive and high-brow, think again. This year they're performing The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Merry Widow and Carmen, with prices starting from £10.
There's also regular concerts and events throughout the year, including the chance to have dinner with The Merry Widow cast.
Not one art gallery but two – the Leeds Art Gallery has one of the UK's best collections of modern art outside the capital, focusing on living artists, as well as works by JMW Turner and Rembrandt, plus sculpture from Anthony Gormley and Rodin.
Have a quick stop to refuel at the cafe, with its gorgeous tiled ceiling (and equally good quiche) then next door is more sculpture at the Henry Moore Institute, linked by a walkway. Both museums are free.
The symbol of the city, Leeds has owls scattered all around town in some unexpected places – linked by the Leeds Owl Trail, it's also one of the best ways to see a lot of the city's highlights, while getting your bearings.
Starting in Millennium Square with the gold statues created in 2000, you'll also wander past St Anne's Cathedral, the grand and imposing Town Hall, the old Leeds City Tramways Department – now home to The Malmaison hotel – and Kirkgate Market, the largest indoor market in Europe. With 400 stalls inside, and 200 outside, it's also where Marks and Spencer started life, at Michael Marks' penny bazaar.
Skip the big name chains and head straight to the revitalised Corn Exchange for their downstairs restaurant Piazza by Anthony. With a stunning view up to the twinkly lights around the glass domed ceiling, there's food shops all around to whet your appetite and some fabulous pasta and fresh fish – try the crab gnocchi to keep out the winter chill.
For something more laid-back, the intimate Arts Café bar nearby has regular exhibitions of artwork by local artists on the walls and beautifully cooked food.
More than 30,000 students means you're spoiled for choice when it comes to places for a quick drink, whether you're looking for traditional pubs, cocktails or something a bit more swanky.
If you'd rather a glamorous place to see, be seen and choose from over 100 types of bubbly as well as 70 different cocktails, Epernay Champagne bar is hard to beat. Settle back in the courtyard terrace and sip in style. Or for something funkier, the award-winning Sandinista has over 30 types of rum, pages of cocktails and tapas to soak it all up.
Leeds boasts a whopping five miles of shopping streets, including a branch of Harvey Nichols. But as well as the designer and high street favourites in the Victoria Quarter, and the independent shops in the arcades, the Corn Exchange has some of the city's newest openings.
Vintage lovers or anyone looking for quirky jewellery should head straight to Bird's Yard on Kirkgate, with several floors of small boutiques to wander through – it's closed on Mondays.
The city isn't short of great places for live music, with the O2 Academy and The Cockpit. But if you're looking to spot the next hot up-and-coming star before they break the big time, head to The Wardrobe.
Just around the corner from Leeds College of Music, there's live gigs along with great cocktails and Sunday roasts.
There's more than 200 screenings over the 13 days of the Leeds International Film Festival from November 4-21, for an experience you won't get at your local cinema.
Or get into the Christmas spirit with the Christkindelmarkt on Millennium Square from November 12 to December 19, with over 40 traders from Frankfurt setting up stall, complete with some warming gluhwein and bratwurst as you browse.
And art-lovers should head to the Leeds Art Gallery between November 26 and February 6, 2011 for the Northern Art Prize, with an exhibition of the shortlisted artists.