Things to do in Wakefield

Polly Checkland Harding

It was the opening of The Hepworth in 2011 that announced Wakefield city centre’s status as a standalone cultural destination. Prior to the arrival of the £35m art museum, which went on to win the Art Fund Museum of the Year award in 2017, it was the attractions satellite to Wakefield that were the draw, with the city centre often overlooked by visitors. Today, Wakefield remains a great jumping off point for the ancient ruins of Pontefract Castle and the extraordinary grand house and parklands at Nostell Priory, but the city centre is also recognised as a serious contender in its own right: here, you’ll find The Art House, a large artist studio complex and National Portfolio Organisation, Theatre Royal Wakefield, which has the smallest surviving auditorium designed by legendary architect Frank Matcham, and Wakefield Cathedral, a Grade I listed building whose origins date back to the Doomsday Book of 1086.

Wakefield, the birthplace of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, is now a part of the prestigious Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, which includes The Hepworth, Leeds Art Gallery, the Henry Moore Institute and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an incredible cultural attraction with a new £3.6m visitor centre. Wakefield’s hidden gems are also increasingly on the radar, with visitors discovering the fascinating history of Chantry Chapel St Mary the Virgin and the unique collection at the Mental Health Museum. There’s more still to uncover, such as the unassuming childhood home of overlooked Victorian author George Gissing, who said: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather; every sky has its beauty.’

So does every city. Here, the medieval layout of Wakefield survives recognisably, along with the buildings that were built using a fortune founded on textiles. The ancient fabric of this mercantile town now has cultural institutions and festivals to merit it – discover these and more in our must-see guide to Wakefield.

Discover our top picks

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life
Exhibitions 21 May 2021–27 February 2022,

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life at The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield celebrates its 10th birthday with the largest exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work since the artist’s death in 1975.

Vision & Reality: 100 Years of Contemporary Art in Wakefield at The Hepworth Wakefield
Exhibitions Until 25 April 2021, FREE

Vision & Reality: 100 Years of Contemporary Art in Wakefield at The Hepworth Wakefield

100 years of contemporary art in one sitting? Feast your eyes at The Hepworth Wakefield and discover the story behind its remarkable collection.

Jadé Fadojutimi at The Hepworth Wakefield
Exhibitions 20 November 2021–1 May 2022, FREE

Jadé Fadojutimi at The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield will present an exhibition of new work by British artist Jadé Fadojutimi.

Sheila Hicks: Off Grid at The Hepworth Wakefield
Exhibitions 27 November 2021–29 May 2022,

Sheila Hicks: Off Grid at The Hepworth Wakefield

Drawing together over 70 pieces from international public and private collections, this major exhibition will explore the many facets of Hicks’ ground-breaking work – from her intimate Minimes, small woven drawings she creates on a hand-held frame, to large-scale installations that fill gallery spaces with vibrant colour.

Long Division Festival
Music 25 September 2021 12:00 pm,

Long Division Festival

Founded in 2011, Long Division Festival is an award-winning, metropolitan music festival that has played host to British Sea Power, The Fall and We Are Scientists.

Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Exhibitions 5 June 2021 10:00 am,

Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Stop and spend an hour or two with this special creation, nestled within a stand of birch trees beside Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Upper Lake.