South Yorkshire is the southern county of Yorkshire in the north of England. Much of it is industrial, but its western reaches in the Pennine hills have lonely moorlands and scenic valleys.
South Yorkshire marks the beginning of "The North" - neighbouring areas just south are in the Midlands. It's nowadays a county in name only, as it's divided into four "unitary" or metropolitan districts, with no county level of government. It's convenient here to consider it in terms of those four, as visitor amenities cluster and transport routes radiate accordingly.
City and towns
The four metropolitan boroughs are Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster.
- 1 Sheffield the "Steel City" is especially renowned for fine steel products including cutlery. There are many visitor attractions and amenities, and two large universities. Sheffield is the birthplace of Arctic Monkeys, Human League and Pulp.
- 2 Rotherham is a smaller steelmaking town.
- 3 Barnsley is a former mining town.
- 4 Doncaster is industrial but has a famous racecourse, and there are several museums and manors in the surrounding countryside.
Yorkshire was the largest county in England, so in Danelaw times from the 9th century it was divided into thirds - in Old Norse Þriðungr hence "ridings". These were the North, East and West Riding, with the city of York a sort of Capital District of its own. The division was formalised into counties in 1889. There never was a "South Riding" - most of the present area was in West. It became heavily industrialised from the 18th century through iron ore and rich seams of coal, the ingredients for forging steel. South Riding was the title of a 1936 novel by Winifred Holtby, depicting life during the 1920 / 30s Depression, but the bigger slump was late 20th century when coal and steel became unprofitable.
In 1974 there were widespread changes to local government in Britain, and a large chunk of West Riding was separated to become South Yorkshire. As a County Council this only lasted until 1986, when its four large conurbations became metropolitan boroughs, with no intermediate layer between them and national government. South Yorkshire remained simply as a "ceremonial" county. Its industrial towns have much in common with each other, so it continues to make sense for travel purposes to describe them collectively.
Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA) closed in Nov 2022.
Manchester Airport (MAN IATA) has global connections, competitive fares, and is only 80-90 min from Sheffield and Doncaster by hourly direct train.
You never fly between London and South Yorkshire, it's too close. Flying into the London airports involves travelling into central London then taking the train north, but that's a quick way to Doncaster.
East Midlands Airport (EMA IATA) near Nottingham has flights from across western Europe and the Med.
Leeds Bradford (LBA IATA) has similar flights to East Midlands, but it's the wrong side of congested Leeds, with no rail link.
Direct trains run every 30 minutes from London St Pancras to Sheffield (2 hours). They run at least twice an hour from London King's Cross to Doncaster (1 hr 40). For Rotherham or Barnsley, travel via Sheffield or Doncaster.
Cross-Country trains run hourly from Derby, Birmingham, Bristol and Plymouth in the south, and from Leeds, York, Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in the north.
East Midlands Trains and Transpennine Express both come from Manchester Piccadilly in the west, and the former also links Liverpool.
Walk or use bus within each town. Between towns there are buses but train is much quicker, with a frequent service. Trams link Sheffield and Rotherham.
- Abbeydale industrial hamlet in Sheffield depicts the early mill era, powered by waterwheels. Then they discovered steam power, fired by coal.
- Later Industrial technology is on display at Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham and Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield.
- Ill-gotten gains: this area lay above the South Yorkshire coalfield, which was thick and easily mined hence immensely profitable, as was the iron and steel industry those coals supported. The owners converted their lucre into vast mansions, and (with a wave of their patrician canes at auctions) bought up freighter-loads of Italianate and Grecian art. Meanwhile their busy colliers dug beneath so industriously that the mansions subsided and fell down. A well-preserved example is Cannon Hall near Barnsley.
- Castles: the best is Conisbrough near Doncaster, paradoxically preserved by falling into ruin, and which launched the modern TV and movie career of Robin Hood. Many 17th / 18th century mansions had no defensive purpose but are described as castles, such as Wentworth near Barnsley, where m'lord swept away the earlier structure, only to painstakingly recreate its picturesque ruin on his front lawn.
- Street art: every urban area has graffiti, but Sheffield has some two dozens murals and similar that rank as works of art.
- Watch football: pro soccer teams play most winter Saturdays, with home stadiums at Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster.
- Walk, bike or boat along the River Don, which is canalised and navigable. South Yorkshire's canals, built to carry away coal, connect to the sea at Goole, and to the Aire-Calder system across the Pennines.
- Go to the races at Doncaster, where the big event is the St Leger in September.
- Sing mass in ancient Egyptian: the Coptic Orthodox Church of St Anthony is in Rotherham. Liturgy is little changed in thousands of years and long pre-dates Arabic.
- Go down a coal mine: the National Mining Museum is just over the boundary into Wakefield, West Yorkshire, but you'll descend into the same coal seam mined in Barnsley and across South Yorkshire.
- Sheffield has the most cosmopolitan choice, in all price ranges.
- Barnsley Steak is actually lamb. It goes well with green beans and new potatoes, and a big chug of red wine.
- This is beer-drinking country. Lots of pubs, and the national chain JD Wetherspoon has earned grudging northern admiration for its commitment to real ale, good grub and customer service.
Standard advice about road safety and valuables. The county is mostly low-lying with few natural hazards.
- Attractive limestone scenery lies a little way southwest in the Peak District.
- York preserves its medieval walls and has many visitor attractions, as does Lincoln.
- Lively Manchester is little over than an hour away.
- Sherwood Forest, enfolding the village of Edwinstowe, is 30 min drive south. Its best-known inhabitant Robin Hood got his big break at Conisbrough near Doncaster, thanks to Sir Walter Scott's novel "Ivanhoe".