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. Together these venues also host the Yorkshire Sculpture International, a brilliant festival taking place across Wakefield and Leeds. 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.

Our top picks

The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, Yorkshire, WF1 5AW - Visit now

Multi-award winning gallery with breath-taking exhibitions showcasing the very best international, modern and contemporary art. The gallery is surrounded by one of the Uk’s largest public gardens, architecture by critically acclaimed landscape artist Tom Stuart-Smith. Also included are stunning views over the river and of significant local heritage sites such as Wakefield Cathedral and The Chantry Chapel of St Marys.

The Hepworth Wakefield

Venue 23

Venue 23, 23 Smyth Street, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 1ED - Visit now

Just a five minute walk from Wakefield’s Westgate station lies this independently run live music venue which has previously hosted hugely popular bands and artists; Joy Division, Kasabian, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and New Order founder Peter Hook. A perfect venue for fans of music, drama and comedy.

The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin

The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, 3 Calder Vale Rd, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5DL - Visit now

One of only three surviving bridge chapels in England showcasing George Gilbert Scott revival of gothic style architecture thought to reflect and encapsulate God’s true style. Visit this incredible building equipped with the knowledge of its history – and look out for the carved heads on either side of the windows outside, each of which is based on a modern figure connected with the church.

The Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin
Courtesy of The Friends of the Chantry Chapel of St Mary Wakefield

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle, Castle Garth, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, WF8 1QH - Visit now

Nicknamed the ‘Key to the North’, Pontefract castle is  now an award winning valuable heritage site and visitor attraction due to its witness to watershed moments in British history. situated within the castle is a café, castle-themed adventure play area, gift shop and visitor centre, perfect for a family day out.

Pontefract Castle
Wakefield Council

Theatre Royal Wakefield

Theatre Royal Wakefield, 12 Drury Lane, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 2TE - Visit now

The Theatre Royal Wakefield is a beautiful Victorian theatre with an important architectural heritage, now home to a very modern programme of productions and shows with an emphasis of collaboration with the local community. The café-bar on Westgate is also open to visitors during the day for coffee, soft drinks and cake, transitioning into a full bar for the evening

Theatre Royal Wakefield
Jessica Rooney

Nostell Priory and Parkland

Nostell Priory and Parkland, Doncaster Road, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 1QE - Visit now

Nostell Priory appears as the very depiction of wealth and status, home to treasures including over 100 items designed by famous furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. Visitors are welcome to explore both the Priory and the Parkland with guided walks around the parkland, as well as the estate’s various gardens to explore.

Nostell Priory and Parkland
National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The Art House, Wakefield

The Art House, Wakefield, Drury Lane, Wakefield, WF2 9DS - Visit now

The Art house hosts a programme of exhibitions, events, residencies and workshops, all designed to support artists, makers and creative businesses. Equality of access and higher diversity at the centre of everything it does, whilst managing over 50 accessible artist studios.

The Art House, Wakefield
Courtesy of The Art House. Photo by Jules Lister

Wakefield Cathedral

Wakefield Cathedral, Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 1HG - Visit now

Still a working church today,the cathedral is situated at the heart of the city centre.Wakefield Cathedral has a majestic historical fabric spanning over 800 years. The cathedral’s spire makes it the tallest church in Yorkshire, with tower tours run two to three times a year; these are advertised online, with pre-booking essential. Wakefield Cathedral is also a place of musical excellence with an internationally-renowned choir, Compton organ and 14 cathedral bells – the heaviest of which weighs nearly 1,800kg and was cast in 1947.

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Huddersfield Art Gallery courtesy of Kirklees Council
Huddersfield Art Gallery

Based in the town centre and easily accessible, Huddersfield Art Gallery is home to an extensive and stunning collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures.

West Yorkshire
Bankfield Museum

Situated in the beautiful gardens of Akroyd Park, Bankfield Museum is a grand Victorian villa with permanent exhibitions of textiles and costume, as well as varying temporary exhibitions also.

West Yorkshire
Open Gallery

A beautiful and varied collection of contemporary art from across the UK. Their regular exhibitions are both seasonal and thematic and always worth visiting…

AC Gallery

What was once, in the 1950s, a family ran art shop, has since evolved through the generations into a successful series of galleries across the north.

Music venue
Jock’s Cavern

High quality cocktails and vibrant live music is what makes Jocks Cavern so popular. This underground bar offers an intimate and effervescent atmosphere to indulge in their well-stocked bar.

Bar or Pub
Now Serving

In the heart of Wakefield this basement bar, ‘high end, low brow’ by their own description, remains a popular watering hole.

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Waterton Park Hotel
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Shot down Huddersfield Narrow Canal
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A round-up of the best walks in Wakefield, including the town centre, official tours and the surrounding area by Creative Tourist.

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Hebden Bridge
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Byrom Arcade
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