15 Best Places to Visit in South Yorkshire

Written by Alex Bird
Updated on
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South Yorkshire was conquered by the coal and steel industries in the 18th and 19th centuries, and after these activities faded the region had to find a new path.

For Sheffield that path is education, culture and a fertile live music scene.

Around the county you have the moors, dales and fells of the peak district to the west and lots of enthralling relics from the time when South Yorkshire led world for innovation and manufacturing.

Decades after the mines closed down nature has started taking over once more.

See “flashes”, wetlands caused by subsidence around rivers, and many of these man-made phenomena are protected bird sanctuaries or country parks.

Lets explore the best places to visit in South Yorkshire:

1. Sheffield

SheffieldSource: flickr

If there’s  a model for how to be a post-industrial city Sheffield would definitely be in the running.

After a couple of decades of regeneration the centre is creative, fun and young, full of nightlife and culture.

Some of this dynamism is owed to Sheffield’s large university population, but also sights like the Millennium Galleries and the fabulous Winter Garden, which was unveiled in 2003. And then there’s the time-honoured institutions like the Crucible Theatre, which has welcomed the World Snooker Championship since the 1970s.

Steel is still manufactured around Sheffield, and there are also well-preserved mills and machinery at Kelham Island and the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.

2. Doncaster

Doncaster, EnglandSource: wikipedia
Doncaster, England

Any British town with the “caster” suffix was once a Roman fortress so this applies to Doncaster.

The town lies on a large coal seam and this attracted industry starting in the 1700s, though there are many strings to Doncaster’s bow.

One of these is aviation, made clear at the Vulcan Experience, showcasing the Avro Vulcan, which was assembled in Doncaster, and the South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum, a trove of 20th-century helicopters and planes at a former RAF hangar.

If you’re around in late-summer two of England’s most valuable races on the flat are run at the historic Doncaster Racecourse; the St Leger Stakes and the Racing Post Trophy.

3. Barnsley

Barnsley Town HallSource: flickr
Barnsley Town Hall

Coal-mining and glassmaking were the foundations of the economy in Barnsley, but after the last local pit closed in the 90s the town staged an economic recovery and has enough to keep you occupied for a day or so.

A lot of the allure lies in the grand estates and country parks close to the town, some of which we’ll cover later.

The big monument in Barnsley is the town hall, which was completed in 1932 and is large enough to be seen from the undulating hillsides miles outside the town.

There’s a high-quality social history museum inside, conveying the mining heritage that disappeared in the space of a couple of decades.

Monday to Saturday, call in at Barnsley’s market, which has been running since the 14th century and has more than 300 stalls.

4. Rotherham

Rotherham, EnglandSource: flickr
Rotherham, England

Coal, iron, steel, pottery and glass: These were the industries that caused Rotherham to expand in the 1700s, but the town had been a significant place for centuries before that.

Rotherham Bridge will illustrate this fact nicely; the structure over the River Don was built in 1483 and is rare in the UK as a chapel is an integral part of the structure.

To get your head around Rotherham go to the Clifton Museum, where the town’s industry will be laid bare and there’s a big display of the prized Rockingham pottery which was fashioned in local kilns.

5. Peak District

Peak DistrictSource: flickr
Peak District

Sheffield is billed as the eastern gateway to the Peak District National Park, which covers a majestic and sparsely populated upland region.

In these northern stretches of the park you’ll journey into barren sandstone moorland, which has a wild and desolate allure that brings Wuthering Heights to mind.

There will be rugged sandstone walls delineating pasture, dales dotted with sheep and lots of remote hamlets and villages where time seems to have stood still.

Sheffield has road and train links delivering you to the park in a matter of minutes.

6. Wentworth

Wentworth WoodhouseSource: flickr
Wentworth Woodhouse

North of Rotherham, Wentworth is a beautiful village of sandstone cottages and imposing houses, some clad with ivy.

A lot of the buildings on Main Street are listed, and many are restaurants, pubs and local village shops.

The village has been here since the 11th century, and ever-present throughout this time has been the Holy Trinity Church, now in an arresting state of semi -ruin.

But the headline attraction is the jaw-dropping Wentworth Woodhouse, a stunning 18th-century country estate that melds English baroque with Palladian design.

You won’t be surprised to hear that a host of period TV shows and films have been shot in this noble setting.

7. Cawthorne

Cannon Hall farmSource: flickr
Cannon Hall farm

Cawthorne has all the essentials of an English rural village, with a pretty medieval church, a pub tea room and manor house.

The local stately home, Cannon Hall is a gorgeous Georgian pile that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jane Austen period drama.

In the ballroom, dining room, library and drawing room there’s sumptuous period furniture by some of the 18th-century’s most lauded craftsmen like Thomas Chippendale and George Hepplewhite.

Bring the kids to Cannon Hall farm where you can watch state-of-the art farming machinery at work, and see tractors trundling around like any other day.

The best time to visit is in spring when hundreds of baby animals are born, and you’ll get to see Shetland pony and donkey foals, as well as piglets and lambs.

8. Woodlands

WoodlandsSource: flickr

Preserved as a conservation area just north of Doncaster, Woodlands is a model village, built at the turn of the century  for miners at Brodsworth Colliery.

The Model Village Movement came about at the end of the 19th century, as industrialists realised the benefit of giving their workforce more desirable places to live.

At Woodlands there’s generous green in six hectares hemmed by some 120 houses.

These were devised to face the greenery rather than other houses as they would a typical industrial residential street.

9. Sprotbrough and Cusworth

Cusworth HallSource: flickr
Cusworth Hall

This parish a short way west of Doncaster has three individual villages and some pristine expanses of countryside to recharge those batteries.

The Spotbrough Flash is a soothing patchwork of wetland, meadows and ash and sycamore woods on a limestone ridge.

In grassy areas there’s a sea of wildflowers like cowslips and orchids in summer.

The grounds of Cusworth Hall are dreamy too, with a serpentine lake with ducks and a glorious Georgian mansion at the top of the rise, designed by James Paine, one of the country’s foremost architects of the day.

The interior is a museum that shows how Doncastrians, rich and not so rich, lived in days gone by.

10. High Bradfield

Bradfield Church, High BradfieldSource: flickr
Bradfield Church, High Bradfield

This endearing little village is set within the boundary of the Peak District, in hilly scenery with vistas over the Bradfield Dale to the Derwent Edge escarpment and a massive sweep of the Dark Peak.

Nestling in pasture for sheep grazing, it’s a given that High Bradfield should be fine walking territory, and there’s some fascinating stuff to discover minutes on foot from the village.

One is Bailey Hill, which has all the signs of a Normal motte and bailey fortress, while Castle Hill was once a Saxon camp.

In the village, the Church of St Nicholas is one of a select few Grade I-listed buildings in the Sheffield region.

It takes full advantage of the majestic location and has a Saxon cross in its nave from the year 800.

11. Penistone

PenistoneSource: flickr

The likeable market town of Penistone is the highest in Yorkshire, at over 220 metres.

Here on the western side of the county, at the edge of the Pennines, the countryside starts to get dramatic.

There are five superb local walks starting in Penistone, entering a landscape of arable farms and pasture grazed by the hardy whitefaced woodland sheep.

And there will always be a pub close by for a meal or leisurely pint.

For people in need of outdoor seclusion you have the empty moorland around the Langsett Reservoir where you could stroll for hours and hardly meet a soul.

In the town see the Church of St John the Baptist, with a 16th-century tower and a nave and chancel that could be as old as the 11th century.

12. Elsecar

Elsecar Heritage Railway CentreSource: flickr
Elsecar Heritage Railway Centre

In rolling countryside between Rotherham and Barnsley, the village of Elsecar witnessed coal-mining activity from the 15th century to the 1980s.

Despite and maybe because of that history Elsecar has a lot of personality, on streets with old stone cottages and the converted vestiges of the mines’ outbuildings and iron forges.

At the Elsecar Heritage Centre are restored cobblestone streets and workshops that still have machinery to keep industrial historians riveted: The 18th-century Newcomen Beam Engine dates to 1795 and was designed to extract water from coal pits to allow for deeper exploration.

You could linger at the heritage centre for a good while, pottering around the sweet independent shops and taking a ride on the mile-long Elsecar Heritage Railway.

13. Worsbrough

Worsbrough MillSource: flickr
Worsbrough Mill

A diffuse cluster of villages in dramatic countryside, Worsbrough has been settled since the 600s and was mentioned in the Domesday Book in the 11th century.

Worsbrough Mill on the River Dove is a working flour mill that still has both its water-powered mechanism that goes back to the 1600s and its 19th-century steam apparatus.

As well as offering a couple of hours of edification, the location is fabulous, within the 100-hectare Worsbrough Country Park.

Following the course of the former railway line through Worsbrough is a length of the Trans Pennine Trail, which spans both coasts in northern England.

Pause a moment at the 12th-century Church of St Mary, which has a mass grave for the 75 victims of the Darley Main Colliery disaster in 1849.

14. High Hoyland

High HoylandSource: flickr
High Hoyland

A destination for a whirlwind visit, but one you’re sure to recall fondly, High Hoyland is a tiny hillside village northwest of Barnsley.

You’ll know why you came when you’re sitting in front of the Cherry Tree Inn and staring dumbstruck at the views down to Cannon Hall and then Barnsley in the distance.

You can park up and join a footpath to spend a little more time in this wonderful setting; there’s a old bridleway that runs along the ridge above the village.

Just up the road from High Hoyland is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with works by Barbara Hepworth and one of the largest sets of Henry Moore’s bronzes anywhere.

15. Thorne

Parish Church of St. Nicholas Thorne, Thorne EnglandSource: flickr
Parish Church of St. Nicholas Thorne, Thorne England

The market town of Thorne has a few interesting stories to tell and some rare wilderness to navigate.

Thorne was a marshy region until the Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden helped create polders (reclaimed farmland) in the 1600s by plotting a system of dykes.

You can see how the landscape once looked at the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve, more than 2,800 hectares of bogs and woods supporting more than 5,000 plant and animal species.

Birds like ringed plovers, lapwings and oystercatchers are all to be seen and heard in summer.

Inside Thorne, stretch your legs on the tow path of the Stainforth and Keadby canal and bring the little guys to the miniature that runs in summer at Thorne Park.

15 Best Places to Visit in South Yorkshire:

  • Sheffield
  • Doncaster
  • Barnsley
  • Rotherham
  • Peak District
  • Wentworth
  • Cawthorne
  • Woodlands
  • Sprotbrough and Cusworth
  • High Bradfield
  • Penistone
  • Elsecar
  • Worsbrough
  • High Hoyland
  • Thorne