Yorkshire – or God’s Own County as locals like to call it – has long played the muse for writers, painters and film-location scouts, as well as being an industrial powerhouse that helped shape modern Britain. Dramatic topography, stunning heritage sites, urban regeneration areas and world-renowned walking trails are just some of the things that make this one of Britain’s most appealing destinations today.
Don’t be surprised though if it’s the clink of pint glasses in a country pub or the broad-accented, straight-talking locals that make the biggest impression. Here's our guide to the best things to do in Yorkshire, for a taste of the rich brew that is Northern England.
Take a Bronte country tour
Yorkshire has some of the most evocative landscapes in England. It was out on the wiley, windy moors that Heathcliff and Cathy of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights roamed. It was the limestone scars of the dales that supposedly gave Tolkien (a professor at the University of Leeds in the 1920s) inspiration for the fortress of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings. And Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker found their own fantasies in the myths and legends of the Yorkshire Coast.
In the timewarp town of Haworth, West Yorkshire, make a pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage where the three Victorian authors lived, now a house museum crammed with 19th-century literary artifacts. Visit the exquisitely preserved town apothecary where their brother procured his laudanum – today, it's the offbeat store, Cabinet of Curiosities. Afterward, you can strike out over Haworth Moor for the 2.75-mile hike to the Bronte Waterfall.
Hike over moors and dales
Thanks to Yorkshire’s mild summers, it’s never too hot for a bracing country walk. Locals treasure their right to roam and can often be found tramping down the public footpaths that crisscross the rolling valleys, or tracing the lines of drystone walls across the region’s two national parks (the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors) – often with a dog in tow.
Historic coaching inns in tiny villages cater to hikers on the long-distance Pennine Way and Coast to Coast trails. But one of the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales is the 4.5-mile Malham Landscape Trail which takes in Malham Cove, a sheer limestone cliff and nesting spot for peregrine falcons that was used as a setting in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Ride the rails like a Victorian
Two charming heritage railway lines ricochet between small towns and rural villages across the dales and moors of Yorkshire. Both lines are served by steam locomotives as well as classic diesel engines, with stops at some of the best-preserved 19th-century stations in England. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is one for Harry Potter fans, as it chugs daily between Whitby and Pickering via Goathland, which was used as a filming location in several of the films.
In West Yorkshire, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway is a 5-mile track through Bronte country, stopping at Haworth. But it has an equal claim to fame as a movie location – several stations along this line were used to film the original 1970s movie of the Railway Children.
See layers of history in York
York’s historic lineage as the Roman city of Eboracum and later the Viking settlement of Jorvik makes it one of Europe’s most interesting cities for history-lovers and archaeology buffs. However, it’s York’s photogenic medieval remains that particularly ensnare visitors. The crooked half-timbered houses along the Shambles are said to have inspired JK Rowling’s depiction of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books (you’ll notice a flourishing number of Harry Potter magic and potion shops nearby). There are also several excellent medieval house museums to explore, including the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall and Barley Hall.
York is a city that’s really worth exploring over several days, and it’s one of the best places to stay in Yorkshire. Make time for York Minster – the largest medieval cathedral in northern Europe – and its excellent Undercroft museum that digs beneath the city. Circumnavigating the immaculately preserved city walls and bars (gates) is another popular activity. And the interactive Jorvik Viking Centre, with its warts-and-all animatronic theme park-style ride, is another must-see – especially for families.
Get steamy in Harrogate’s thermal springs
Ever since people first noticed the sulfurous waters bubbling up in what is now Harrogate’s Valley Gardens, this Yorkshire town has been known as a spa destination. Developed from the 16th century onward, its thermal springs have attracted a steady stream of luminaries, including Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Agatha Christie. Today it’s an especially pretty country town, popular for weekend breaks with locals and just 30 minutes by train from York.
One of the most compelling reasons to visit is to book a session at Harrogate's Victorian-era Turkish Baths, which are still in perfect working order. The mock-Moorish interior is still as exquisite as the day it opened – book in for a tour followed by a steam bath and scrub. Harrogate is also the home of Bettys tearooms, an icon of Yorkshire that never fails to draw a queue.
Relive favorite Bridgerton moments at Castle Howard
If you’ve seen Bridgerton, Castle Howard might look familiar. It played the part of the Duke of Hastings’ family estate in the first season of the phenomenally popular British period drama, but in real life it’s one of England’s finest examples of baroque and Palladian design. This was the first domestic building in the country to have a domed roof – put there by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of the architects who worked on St Paul’s Cathedral in London, after which it was modeled.
There’s a boating lake as well as informative guides and an exhibition in the main house dedicated to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited – Castle Howard was used as a location for both the film and original 1981 TV adaptation. You could spend a day just roaming the rose gardens, temple follies and baroque fountains in the grounds.
Follow Dracula’s trail in Whitby
The Yorkshire Coast has a string of traditional seaside towns beloved by locals for generous servings of fish and chips, seaside amusements and bracing stretches of seafront. Whitby, though, is the jewel in the crown and much more than just a coastal resort. Its haunting, ruined abbey was founded by Abbess Hild in the 7th century, and in the 18th century, the town was an important shipbuilding center. Captain Cook – famed for his exploratory expeditions to Australia and New Zealand – learned his trade here and his old home has been turned into a fascinating museum.
Whitby also has a literary cachet as the point where Dracula – the vampire from Bram Stoker’s acclaimed 1897 novel – made landfall in England. Stoker found inspiration for his ghoulish blood-sucker in the haunted lanes and fishing cottages on Whitby. This legacy has spawned a local goth movement, with thousands descending on the seaside town each year – especially over Halloween. Bemused officials at St Mary’s Church encounter so many fans on a fruitless hunt for the vampire’s grave that they’ve had to put up a notice explaining that it doesn’t exist.
Scare yourself witless at the Forbidden Corner
Possibly Yorkshire’s most offbeat attraction, the Forbidden Corner is a labyrinth of tunnels, mock-gothic follies and nightmarish chambers reminiscent of David Bowie’s Labyrinth movie. Covering four acres, it was originally conceived as a private folly, but the results were so good the owners couldn’t keep it to themselves.
Although it’s essentially a family attraction, a word of warning: some kids love it, but some get really spooked by it. There’s no map for the gardens; you just have to dive in and hope you don’t get too rattled when the clanking, wailing and moaning starts!
Drink deep of Leeds’ hopping craft beer scene
Leeds is Yorkshire’s largest urban hub – a dynamic, good-time Yorkshire city that grew rich during the industrial revolution and is now legendary for its student scene, nightlife and Victorian-era shopping arcades. But beer is the city's lifeblood. Brewing giant Tetley’s was originally based here and the brewery’s old art deco headquarters is now a cool community space, contemporary gallery and bar-restaurant that's well worth visiting.
Today, Leeds is one of the best places to sample Yorkshire's craft beers, with beer bars and taprooms galore where beer lovers can taste-test unique drops. Try the Northern Monk craft brewery and taproom, wedged into a 19th-century flax mill in Holbeck. There’s also North Brewing Co, which has a giant taproom terrace with DJs and food trucks at Springwell, 10 minutes from Leeds city center. Walk from here along the forested Woodhouse Ridge path and you can continue your beer crawl in the neighborhood taproom of Meanwood Brewery.
Learn more about the abolition of slavery at Hull's Wilberforce House
Since being fêted as the UK's Capital of Culture in 2017, the city of Hull has got a new spring in its step. The marina area has been reborn as a restaurant and bar enclave, the city's permanently docked heritage ships and maritime museums have been revamped, and there’s Stage@TheDock – a new outdoor performance venue overlooking the water.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Hull was one of the UK’s premier whaling ports, but less well known is the fact that this was also the home of William Wilberforce, England’s preeminent abolitionist. Wilberforce was instrumental in the campaign to end slavery across the British Empire and his home is now a must-see museum dedicated to his cause, with poignant displays on the history of slavery in the western world.
Learn about the industrial revolution in Sheffield
Of all Yorkshire’s cities, it is Sheffield – the "steel city," surrounded by rich metal deposits – that has clung to its industrial revolution roots most fondly. The city's oldest district, Kelham Island, houses an excellent museum on Sheffield's metalworking heritage, and the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet – preserved within a modern city suburb – is a frozen-in-time example of a workers’ community before the days of the big steel factories.
In between Leeds and Sheffield, it’s also possible to descend 40ft into a grimy mining pit on a subterranean tour with cheery ex-miners at the National Coal Mining Museum in Overton. The museum sits atop a vintage mine abandoned in the 1980s when Britain’s waning coal industry finally gasped its last breath.
Go t’ut pub with the locals
Grab a pie and a pint in a Yorkshire pub and you’ll learn everything you need to know about local culture, because the village boozer is the epicenter of county life. The array of watering holes on offer is vast – you could create a comprehensive Yorkshire tour based on an extended pub crawl, visiting rural real-ale pubs and urban craft beer taprooms.
The dales and moors are crammed with ancient inns such as Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England where the wind howls outside, making you wonder about the werewolf on a poster inside the bar (a nod to the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London, which follows two American backpackers on a doomed hike over the Yorkshire moors).
A number of beautiful old pubs have now been turned into Michelin-starred gastropubs serving brilliant Yorkshire food, most notably the Black Swan at Oldstead, Star Inn at Harome and Pipe & Glass at South Dalton.
Learn about the Yorkshire Dales’ tasty cheese traditions
As every Wallace & Gromit fan knows, the best cheese in the world is Wensleydale. And Wensleydale – a real place in the Yorkshire dales – has been capitalizing on its fame for some time. In the hiking hub of Hawes, the community-backed Wensleydale Creamery has an excellent museum with a dash of Wallace humor and a lot of information about local cheese-making traditions.
Visitors can see the curds and whey being sifted before tasting dozens of samples, including a cheese infused with Black Sheep Brewery’s Riggwelter ale. To find out more about how Yorkshire is trying to revive its once-thriving cheese-making cottage industry, it’s also well worth visiting the award-winning Courtyard Dairy cheese shop and maturing rooms on the eastern edge of the moors.
Tour the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle
Two of England’s greatest 20th-century sculptors – Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth – had West Yorkshire roots and drew inspiration from the landscapes of this rugged region. Their legacy has spawned numerous art institutions worthy of any visitor’s time, creating what has been dubbed the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.
The top dog is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which has drawn such internationally acclaimed artists as Ai Weiwei and Andy Goldsworthy. Sculptures are dotted across a vast open-air gallery within the 500-acre Bretton Estate near Wakefield – it feels like pure whimsy, and a stroll through the grounds is utter magic.
But the best place to see Moore and Hepworth’s work is the ultra-modern Hepworth Wakefield gallery nearby. The collection is small but it’s the most concentrated hit of either artist’s work you’ll find anywhere in the world. The third prong of the triangle is Leeds Art Gallery, which has a nationally important collection of British art and sculpture.
Beyond the galleries, look out for street art around hubs such as Leeds train station, Kirkgate Market and the old mill district of Holbeck – partly the result of an inspired commissioning spree by the local council to bring more color to the streets of the city.