15 Best Places to Visit in West Yorkshire

Written by Alex Bird
Updated on
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If you need the fun and culture of a city, Leeds should be your starting point in West Yorkshire, but the dales and moors in the countryside must not be missed.

Adding layers of interest and excitement to rural West Yorkshire is the roll call of cultural giants associated with these villages and towns, from the Brontë sisters to Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and J.M.W. Turner.

One look at the wild moors at Keighley and Haworth and you’ll be transported to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

If you’re into industrial history, Yorkshire was the wool capital of the world in the 1800s and lots of those imposing old mills are now listed buildings, converted into museums or local amenities.

1. Leeds

Leeds, EnglandSource: flickr
Leeds, England

This city was reborn in the 1990s, bouncing back from the decline of the textile industry that was its lifeblood to become the second largest financial centre in the UK. The two universities also give Leeds a youthful and alternative edge and it’s now a prosperous and dynamic city bursting with culture, dining, nightlife, shopping and sights.

You have to see the beautiful amenities built for the wealthy citizens in 19th century, like the Leeds Corn Exchange, the City Varieties Music Hall and Grand Theatre, or the exquisite shopping arcades.

The Exchange Quarter has become a stylish destination for nights out and dining, and there are first-class museums like the Royal Armouries and the Thackray Medical Museum.

2. Bradford

BradfordSource: flickr

One of the big centres for the woollen textile industry, the city of Bradford has kept hold of a great deal of its 18th and 19th century heritage.

It doesn’t get grander than Little Germany, which got its name from the Germany Jewish merchants who constructed ornate warehouses to store and sell woollen goods manufactured in the local mills.

These magnificent buildings have been converted, so Little Germany is still a thriving commercial district, with offices and places to shop.

The Bradford Industrial Museum is in the former Moorside Mills and conserves printing and textile machinery, a lot of which has been kept in working order.

And if you’re partial to Indian and Pakistani food you can’t go wrong in Bradford, which has some of the best curry restaurants in England.

3. Wakefield

WakefieldSource: flickr

In industrial times Wakefield was a textiles and coal city: In the village of Overton just to the southwest is the riveting National Mining Museum, in the buildings of the old Caphouse Colliery.

For something more ancient, the spire of the medieval gothic cathedral is still the tallest structure in Wakefield, soaring to 75 metres.

The cathedral was restored in the 19th century but if you go into the choir you’ll be in the former chancel, which has 15th-century bosses carved into the ceiling.

Come back to modern times with the bold new Hepworth Gallery, named for the 20th-century sculptor Barbara Hepworth, a Wakefield native.

More than 40 of her works are on show, as well as pieces by Henry Moore, who was born in Wakefield’s Castleford district.

4. Halifax

HalifaxSource: flickr

The large market town of Halifax has been spinning wool since the 1400s, and of course, this business really took off in the Industrial Revolution.

For a humungous slab of industrial history, Dean Clough was one of the world’s biggest carpet factories when it was built in the mid-1850s.

This Grade II-listed complex is slightly north of Halifax and along its half-mile length are now 150 local businesses, including a radio station.

Shibden Hall is an older delight, with a Tudor timber-framed facade, and a team of volunteers happy to recount stories about former occupants of a manor that goes back to the 1400s.

In the out-buildings are old workshops, preserving a traditional tannery, brewery, stables and basket-weaving shop.

5. Huddersfield

HuddersfieldSource: flickr

Now a university town, Huddersfield grew quickly in the 1700s when it was taken over by woollen textiles mills.

For a voyage back to industrial times you could book a barge ride through the 3-mile-long Standedge Tunnels on the old Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

The sandstone Castle Hill is just to the south of Huddersfield and was the site of some sort of fortification from the Bronze Age onwards.

In 1899, to celebrate Victoria’s record-breaking silver jubilee, a 30-metre stone tower was placed at the crest.

Make the walk for photo-worthy panoramas of Huddersfield laid out in the Holme and Colne valleys below.

6. Ilkley

IlkleySource: thecommentator

In the 1700s the local spring was ascribed health-giving properties and Ilkley  became a spa town.

Wealthy people would come from far and wide to take “hydropathic” treatments, and one of these was Charles Darwin in 1859, at the very time On the Origin of Species was being published.

There’s still an upmarket atmosphere in Ilkley, underlined by the broad streets and sweet Victorian houses with independent shops, tea rooms and award-winning restaurants.

Now people stay in Ilkley to escape to the Yorkshire Dales, and the 84-mile Dales Way trail starts at the Old Bridge right by the centre of town.

Lastly, the All Saints Church is a blend of Victorian and medieval gothic architecture, but you need to look inside to see the three Saxon crosses, dating to the 8th century.

7. Saltaire

Saltaire, EnglandSource: flickr
Saltaire, England

There was no such place as Saltaire until the 1850s when the industrialist Sir Titus Salt established his colossal woollen mill next to the River Aire and added streets of handsome cottages for his workers.

This model village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, “model” meaning a place of reference.

All of the houses in Saltaire are listed buildings, and the most protected is the Unified Reformed Church, with an Italianate Classical design drawn up by Salt himself.

In 1986 Jonathan Silver, the same man who helped to convert Halifax’s Dean Clough, bought Salt’s Mill and started turning it into shops, offices and leisure facilities.

Don’t miss the gallery devoted to David Hockney, a native of Bradford.

8. Keighley

Keighley - Worth Valley RailwaySource: flickr
Keighley – Worth Valley Railway

If ever there were a location that crystallises the spirit of the Brontë novels it’s Keighley.

The National Trust property East Riddelsden Hall has actually been  a shooting location for a TV adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

While the countryside of the Keighley Moors and Airedale has the rugged sandstone hills that may send you into romantic reverie.

Or you could sit back and watch the beautiful Worth Valley roll by on the Keighley and Worth Valley Heritage Railway, which still uses steam and diesel locomotives.

In a moody Victorian manor is the Cliffe Castle Museum, which has all kinds of interesting oddities like Victorian costume, fossils, an Egyptian mummy, a mineral collection and machinery and tools relating to local trades and industry.

9. Pontefract

PontefractSource: flickr

At one time the market town of Pontefract was said to have had the most pubs per square mile in Britain.

While that can’t be true today there are lots of establishments to call in on for a pint and some warming grub.

The big landmark is Pontefract Castle, which has been an eerie ruin since the 17th-century English Civil War when the royalist forces were besieged several times by the Parliamentarians.

Earlier, King Richard II is claimed to have died in Pontefract Castle, and his supposed death at this place is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

10. Haworth

HaworthSource: flickr

Then immerse yourself even more in the mysterious world of the Brontë sisters at Haworth, where the former Brontë family property has been kept as a museum.

All the three sisters spent the majority of their lives in this very house, and nearly all of the objects in the rooms belonged to them.

Hike along the nature trail over the moors to the Brontë Waterfall, a picturesque walk southwest of the village.

You could also show yourself around the Haworth parish church, where their father Patrick Brontë was the minister until 1861.

11. Hebden Bridge

Hebden BridgeSource: flickr
Hebden Bridge

Simultaneously picturesque and defiantly alternative, Hebden Bridge is populated by artists and new age types.

The market town is described as the lesbian capital of the UK, home to a women-only disco and fabled music venue, the Trades Club.

The likes of Damo Suzuki, Nico and Patti Smith have all played here.

If you’re feeling fit you can make the climb up the steep hill to the village of Heptonstall.

Road traffic is banned in this adorable little settlement so if you do come by car you’ll need to park up outside and enter the cobblestone lanes on foot.

In the secondary graveyard at the St. Thomas the Apostle Church is the burial place of the beloved American poet Sylvia Plath.

12. Holmfirth

HolmfirthSource: flickr

An adorable little town folded into the Peak District’s heather moorland, Holmfirth is all sandstone cottages and townhouses.

The fondly-remembered BBC sitcom Last of the Summer Wine was filmed in the countryside and outside buildings around Holmfirth.

Many people find themselves in the town for a gig at the Picturedrome, an old cinema converted into a live music venue where artists like Adam Ant and the Buzzcocks have all played.

While others come for the the access to the majestic, undulating landscapes of the Holme Valley, a rambler’s dream.

13. Otley

OtleySource: flickr

Nestling in the Wharfdale valley, Otley’s a pretty town that J.M.W. Turner would often visit to paint and see his patron, Walter Ramsden Fawkes.

Weave your way up through forest, heather and meadows to the summit of the Chevin, a 282-metre escarpment.

On the way up there’s a megalithic boundary of big sandstone slabs lining the path.

At “surprise view” you’re granted exhilarating vistas over Otley and lower Wharfdale, which opens out behind.

The River Wharf is beautiful in Otley and a lot of the north bank is parkland taking in the weir and the solemn old tannery and wool mills by the water.

14. Kirkstall

Kirkstall AbbeySource: flickr
Kirkstall Abbey

Your main motivation to drive or get the train from Leeds City Centre to this northwestern suburb is for Kirkstall Abbey, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery that was left to fall into ruin after the 16th-century Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Despite being abandoned for 500 years the ruins are remarkably complete and great fun to explore, as the cloister, chapter house and church nave are all easy to identify.

J.M.W. Turner also painted this scene in the 1797.

15. Wetherby

River Wharfe, WetherbySource: flickr
River Wharfe, Wetherby

The meandering River Wharfe in Wetherby is uncommonly picturesque and you can get down to the banks to see their weir and a large gear from a mill that used to stand here.

The subject of most photos is Wetherby Bridge, which was built in the 1200s and was once on the Great North Road, running from London to Edinburgh.

J.M.W. Turner came by in 1816 and painted this very scene.

The local Wetherby Racecourse was known for being the only course in Yorkshire that not only hosted national hunt (jump) meetings, but put on its first flat race 2015.

15 Best Places to Visit in West Yorkshire:

  • Leeds
  • Bradford
  • Wakefield
  • Halifax
  • Huddersfield
  • Ilkley
  • Saltaire
  • Keighley
  • Pontefract
  • Haworth
  • Hebden Bridge
  • Holmfirth
  • Otley
  • Kirkstall
  • Wetherby