Wakefield is a city in West Yorkshire, England. It lies 15 km south of Leeds, and its main interest to travellers is as a transport hub. The name “Wakefield” also refers to the metropolitan district, which includes several smaller towns plus rural areas.
Wakefield was historically the county town of West Riding, and later of West Yorkshire. It grew rapidly in the 19th and early 20th centuries through textiles, coal mining and related industries: each small town had its own colliery and its own Rugby League team, with fierce local rivalry. The pits have all closed and their sites have been landscaped, and Wakefield has diversified into mixed manufacturing, retail and distribution, as well as public sector employment. It’s also a commuter town for Leeds. The city centre is compact, walkable and mostly non-descript modern, but a parade of fine Georgian / Victorian buildings extends up Wood Street to St Johns.
The other main towns are Castleford, Pontefract, Knottingley, and Normanton, plus the SE corridor of Hemsworth, South Kirkby and South Elmsall. Away from the towns, the district is surprisingly rural, a rolling farm landscape on the edge of the Pennines; the tall Tolkienesque tower gleaming in the distant southwest is Emley Moor TV mast. To the east, beyond the A1, the terrain merges into the flatlands and pig farms of the Aire / Humber plain.
The city’s main station (rebuilt in 2013) is Wakefield Westgate, on the East Coast main line between Leeds and London Kings Cross. Trains to London run twice an hour and take 2 hours. Frequent trains to Leeds take 20 minutes. Trains run at least hourly to York, Durham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham. For Bradford, change at Leeds. For Manchester Airport, change at Leeds, Huddersfield or Sheffield.
There is also a metro rail network, serving Wakefield Westgate, Wakefield Kirkgate (now undergoing a much-needed rebuild), the other townships across the district, plus Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield.
The High Speed Line HS2 will eventually pass some 3 miles east of the city, with the nearest station at Leeds. There are no plans for a station within Wakefield district, but there is to be a rolling stock depot at Crofton. Construction should start in 2027, with completion in 2033.
Major highways bestride Wakefield district like a rugby goalpost, with M1 on the western edge, A1 on the eastern edge, and M62 as the cross-bar. M1 and M62 are often snarled during rush hours, A1 is usually clear but can catch the tailback from Doncaster. There are services at Woolley Edge (M1) and Ferrybridge (A1 / M62), but turn off for supermarket petrol as cheap as you'll find anywhere. Always beware that you may be about to meet a tractor, even on the A1: this is Yorkshire.
By coach, direct National Express services from Wakefield city bus station run to London Victoria (2 or 3 per day, 4-5 hours) and to the Southwest (one per day) via Derby, Birmingham (4 hours) and Bristol. For other destinations, travel via Leeds, which is much better served. When the Wakefield coaches return north, they continue to Bradford and Huddersfield, but will seldom be the best option for getting there.
Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) is the closest airport, but it’s the far side of Leeds and has no rail or motorway link, so reaching it means negotiating city traffic. Frequent flights to Heathrow (by BA to LHR5), but these only make sense if you’re connecting to another flight there - train is faster for central London. LBA is a good choice for Western Europe eg Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Dublin, and for the more distant UK cities eg Southampton, Exeter and Belfast. It’s the base of the low-cost carrier Jet2.
Manchester Airport (MAN) is the best airport for flights beyond Europe. It’s across the Pennines but easy to reach by train, and the competition between airlines means better and cheaper flights than from Leeds Bradford.
Robin Hood Airport (DSA) is at Finningley in the countryside east of Doncaster. Wizz Air has cheap flights to Poland and Lithuania – usually late evening when the bus to Doncaster has stopped running.
For the London airports, take the train to Kings Cross (but for Stansted, change at Peterborough). Then for Heathrow take the Underground Piccadilly line (1 hour), or for Gatwick step across the street into St Pancras for the direct Thameslink service (1 hour) towards Brighton. Even Paris Charles de Gaulle is only two hours away.
P&O Ferries run (usually overnight) between Hull and Rotterdam / Zeebrugge. For Hull ferry terminal, by car follow M62 then A62 east, about 1 hour. By coach, change at Leeds. By train change at Leeds or Doncaster; there’s a shuttle bus between Hull station and the ferry terminal.
Wakefield is traversed by the Calder and Hebble Navigation, and the Aire and Calder Navigation. There are visitor moorings on the former above Fall Ings Lock (72 hrs) and also below Wakefield Flood lock (72 hrs). There are no water points or sanitary facilities along the cut here, except for rubbish disposal at the residential mooring site. The waterways meet at Castleford.
By bus: local bus services are provided by Arriva and (for points south) by Stagecoach. They are designed around the needs of commuters and shoppers so they are frequent Monday to Saturday till 6 pm, but sparse thereafter. So for planning a day trip, bus is generally the best option for points within Wakefield district and for Leeds; for further afield take the train. Some of the bus routes are round-about so always check that you’re taking a reasonably direct service.
A free bus runs clockwise around the city centre: Bus Station > The Springs > Kirkgate Station > Hepworth Gallery > Ings Road Retail Park > Westgate Retail Park > Westgate Station > Westgate > Bus Station
Timetables and route maps are available on the West Yorkshire Metro website .
- The Hepworth Gallery, opened in 2011, (1 km south of the centre, walk or free bus) is the city’s top sight – though it’s debatable whether, given its concrete brutalist design, it counts as an “attraction”. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth spent their early years in Wakefield district and their work is well represented here.
- Just north of the gallery, note the 14th Century Chantry Chapel perched on the river bridge.
- The Anglican Cathedral (central) has the tallest spire in Yorkshire. Although of medieval origin, most of what you see now is Victorian Gothic reconstruction.
- Sandal Castle (3 km south, frequent buses). Visitor Centre is open every day in summer, 11 am - 4.30 pm; Saturdays & Sundays only in winter, 11 am – 4 pm.. Little more than a moat and a stump, you come for the views and the history: in 1460 during the War of the Roses, the Battle of Wakefield was fought nearby, and Richard Duke of York was killed. The castle grounds are open from dawn until dusk.
- Nostell Priory, on A638 Doncaster Road, Nostell, WF4 1QE (8 km SE from the city, take bus towards Ackworth, Doncaster or South Elmsall), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. The house is open 1 pm to 5 pm, Weds to Sundays. Fine 18th C Mansion in Adams Palladian style, period furnishings and extensive parkland. John Harrison who solved the “Longitude Problem” was born nearby, and one of his original clocks is here.
- Pontefract Castle (15 km east of Wakefield, take bus 148, 149 or 150). Was where Richard II met a nasty end. In the Civil Wars it withstood Cromwell’s assaults but after surrendering was demolished to prevent future trouble. Open Mon-Fri 8.30 am till dusk, Sat & Sun 10.30 am till dusk.
- Also in Pontefract, note All Saints church next to the castle, the 18th C Buttercross in the market place, the 14th C merchant's house (known locally as the pub “Counting House”, but now closed and in urgent need of repair) in an alley off Cornmarket, and the museum next to the library (being refurbished, but remains open Mon-Sat 10-4). And note the smell of liquorice: it’s no longer grown here, but it’s still made into sweets at Haribo’s, and there’s an annual Liquorice Fair.
- National Mining Museum (10 km west of the city on A642 to Huddersfield). Open daily 10 am – 5 pm. Few of us nowadays will ever go underground in a working coal mine, so this museum (the former Caphouse Colliery) is an essential experience of this great but departed industry.
- Yorkshire Sculpture Park (10 km south of the city on A636 Denby Dale Rd). The permanent collection is mostly by Moore and Hepworth, plus various temporary installations.
- Diggerland, Willowbridge Lane Castleford WF10 5NW (off Jcn 31 of M62, follow A655 towards Castleford for 1 km). Weekends & school holiday weeks from 13 Feb 2017; all week July & Aug. You get to drive real diggers! And play silly games with them, like knocking over skittles. 2017 prices not yet posted.
- Castleford Forum Museum, Carleton Street Castleford WF10 1BB (top floor of library in town centre). 9.30 - 17.00 Mon & Tue, Thurs to Sat; closed Wed & Sun. Covers Castleford from Bronze Age & Roman times, through its industrial heyday to the present. And of course Henry Moore. free.
- Day trips further out: see the relevant Wikivoyage pages for Leeds (15 km north, bus 110 every ten minutes, takes 40 minutes); Bradford, Saltaire, Haworth, and the Worth Valley Steam Railway; York a national treasure, it simply has to be seen; Harrogate, Knaresborough, and Skipton; and Sheffield.
With your own car you can easily day-trip to the Yorkshire Dales, Pennines, east coast resorts such as Scarborough, and Peak District including Chatsworth.
Xscape is a big entertainment complex near Castleford, at Junction 32 of M62. Attractions include the Cineworld multi-cinema, indoor wall-climbing, bowling, trampolining, indoor golf and, yes, skiing. Plus a dozen bars and food outlets, J32 retail park adjacent, and a Premier Inn. It’s on the transport route between Leeds and Pontefract (bus 410 / 411, or train to Glasshoughton) and lacks a direct link to Wakefield: simplest perhaps to take a bus to Pontefract then change. The X62 coach to Hull also calls at Xscape.
Wakefield Theatre Royal (central), a Victorian gem with regular shows.
Pontefract Racecourse has regular flat-racing events April to October. Other days, it encloses an agreeable park with a large duck pond. Just inside the course railings, there's a paved track for racecourse vehicles, so even in wet weather this is a good walking & running circuit of 2 miles 1 furlong. The bottom end of the park is marshy with a bird hide, and a tunnel cuts under the M62 to give access to J32 / Xscape.
Other notable parks are at Pugney’s (5 km south of city, water sports); Anglers / Wintersett (10 km SE, series of small lakes with wildlife reserve and angling areas); and Newmillerdam (10 km south, stroll wooded vale.) Use OS Landranger map 110 for all these.
The Aire & Calder rivers, once major industrial arteries, are now an important habitat for wildlife, though much remains to be done to rehabilitate the brownfield areas. The best parts (eg the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings) lie on the north bank of the Aire, over the boundary into Leeds, so see that page for details.
The chief spectator sport in Wakefield is Rugby League, the main teams being Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Wildcats (formerly Wakefield Trinity) and Featherstone Rovers. This, plus the proximity of Leeds and Manchester, and TV coverage, leaves little room for local soccer support, and Wakefield is the largest district in England to be entirely lacking a league football team. Symptomatic of this, the highest ranked non-league club Wakefield FC (formerly known as Emley Town FC) folded in 2015.
Wakefield has kept its shopping central, rather than way out on a ring road. The main malls and retail parks are Trinity Walk, just south of the bus station, The Ridings a little further west, and Ings Road / Westgate a little further south.
Out of town the biggest retail park is Junction 32 (off M62), adjacent to Xscape, Castleford.
- Iris Restaurant, 12 Bull Ring, ☎ . As of 2016 this is the only place in the district to make it into the Good Food Guide. Emphasis on British sourcing and style; lunch Mon-Sun, dinner Mon-Sat.
Beyond that, you might do better in Leeds, but reliable nearby choices include:
- Harewood Arms, 101 Kirkgate, ☎ . Pub grub.
- Qubana, 25 Northgate WF1 3BJ, ☎ . tapas & Hispanic / Caribbean
- Italian choices include Prego Pizzaria (107 Westgate, +44 1924 377977), Bella Roma (63 Northgate, +44 1924 371059) and Capri at the Vine (82 Leeds Rd WF1 2QF, +44 1924 370999)
Wakefield district is the core of the “Rhubarb Triangle”, with an annual rhubarb fair in spring.
Wakefield used to be renowned for the Westgate Run, the pub crawl down the strip of pubs, clubs and fast food joints stretching west from the centre down past the station. It’s frankly not what it used to be, when coach parties would come from afar – like the English pub scene in general, it has dwindled thanks to supermarket off-sales, laws on drink-driving and clean air, the accessibility of Ibiza, and the economic downturn. Also, Wakefield doesn't have a university, so it lacks a student buzz. Wakefield's students are often older and doing vocational courses (eg nursing) at Huddersfield or Carnegie (Leeds Met), and have limited appetite for pubbing & clubbing.
Notable city centre pubs include:
- The Harewood Arms, 101 Kirkgate, WF1 1JG.
- The Inns of Court, 22 King Street, WF1 2SR.
- Henry Boons, 130 Westgate, WF2 9SR.
- The Hop, 19 Bank Street, WF1 1EH.
- Bar Mex, Albion Court, WF1 1BB.
- Red Bar, 3 George and Crown Yard off Westgate.
- Priory Bar, 1 Back Lane WF1 2TJ.
- Worth going the 5 km east of town to Kings Arms, Heath Common. Outstanding pub.
HB Clarks have a brewery on Westgate.
Wakefield city centre is short of accommodation – most are out of town to suit motorway travellers. Within walking distance are:
- York House Hotel, 10 Drury Lane, WF1 2TE (next to the Theatre Royal on Westgate), ☎ .
- Holiday Inn Express, Queen St, WF1 1JU, ☎ .
- Premier Travel Inn Wakefield Central, Denby Dale Road, WF2 8DY (in Clarence Park 2 km south of centre), ☎ .
- Campanile, Monckton Road, WF2 7AL (3 km south of centre), ☎ .
Further out, if you’re travelling by car:
- Cedar Court Hotel, at M1 J39 on Denby Dale Rd, WF4 3QZ, ☎ . Often used for conferences and business 'Away Days'.
- Ramada, at M1 J40 / A638, Fryers Way, WF5 9TJ, ☎ .
- Express by Holiday Inn, at M1 J39 on Denby Dale Road, WF4 3BB, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Premier Travel Inn Wakefield South, off M1 J39 on Denby Dale Rd, WF4 3BB, ☎ .
- Premier Travel Inn Wakefield North, on Paragon Business Park, Herriot Way, WF1 2UJ, ☎ .
- Waterton Park Hotel & Spa, Walton, WF2 6PW, ☎ .
Top northern destinations include Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, York, Durham and Newcastle - all day-trippable at a stretch, but deserving at least a weekend each. And then it would be a shame not to continue north and see Edinburgh and Glasgow.