Wakefield is a city in West Yorkshire, England, lying 15 km south of Leeds. It's home to the Hepworth Gallery and the National Mining Museum for England. It's also a transport hub, and alternative base for visiting Leeds or York. 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 and Victorian buildings extends up Wood Street to St Johns.
The other main towns are Castleford, Pontefract, Knottingley, and Normanton, plus the southeast 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.
- 1 Wakefield Westgate station, Mulberry Way, WF1 2QN. The city’s main station (rebuilt in 2013) is on the East Coast main line between Leeds and London King's 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, Birmingham and Bristol. For Bradford, change at Leeds. For Manchester Airport, change at Leeds, Huddersfield or Sheffield.
- 2 Wakefield Kirkgate station, Monk St, WF1 4EL. (rebuilt in 2015, but no toilets).
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 IATA) 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 Terminal 5), 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, Düsseldorf and Dublin, and for the more distant UK cities e.g. Southampton, Exeter and Belfast. It’s the base of the low-cost carrier Jet2.
Manchester Airport (MAN IATA) 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.
Doncaster Airport (DSA IATA) 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 London King's Cross (but for Stansted Airport (STN IATA), change at Peterborough). Then for Heathrow Airport (LHR IATA) take the westbound London Underground Piccadilly line (1 hour), or for Gatwick Airport (LGW IATA) step across the street into London St Pancras for the direct Thameslink service (1 hour) towards Brighton. Even Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG IATA) is only two hours away.
P&O Ferries run (usually overnight) between Kingston-upon-Hull (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 hr) and also below Wakefield Flood Lock (72 hr). 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.
Good connections to the motorway network.
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 6PM, 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, Mon-Sat every 10-15 min. Its route is 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.
- 1 Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield WF1 5AW (1 km south of the centre, walk or free bus), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 10AM-5PM. Opened in 2011, this 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 and story makes up the bulk of the permanent collection. There are also rotating exhibitions of other artists. Free.
- 2 Chantry Chapel. Just north of the gallery, note the 14th-century Chantry Chapel perched on the river bridge.
- 3 Anglican Cathedral (Cathedral Church of All Saints), ☏ . The Anglican Cathedral (central) has the tallest spire in Yorkshire. Although it is of medieval origin, most of what you see now is Victorian Gothic reconstruction.
- 4 Sandal Castle (3 km south, frequent buses). Visitor Centre is open daily in summer: 11AM-4:30PM; Sa & Su only in winter: 11AM– 4PM. The castle grounds are open from dawn until dusk. 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.
- 5 Nostell Priory, on A638 Doncaster Road, Nostell, WF4 1QE (8 km SE from the city, take bus towards Ackworth, Doncaster or South Elmsall), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. W-Su 1PM-5PM. Fine 18th-century 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.
- There's a small local history museum, free, on Burton Street, M Tu F 09:00-17:00, W Th 09:00-19:00, Sa 09:00-16:00.
- Pontefract is a small market town 10 miles east (bus 148 or 149 runs every 10 mins, 40 mins). The main attractions are the castle, the museum and the racecourse.
- 6 National Mining Museum for England, New Road, Overton WF4 4RH (10 km west of Wakefield on A642 to Huddersfield), ☏ . Daily 10AM–5PM. 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. Free admission & parking.
- 7 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. Free.
- Castleford Forum Museum, Carleton Street Castleford WF10 1BB (top floor of library in town centre). M Tu Th F 9.30AM-5PM, Sa 9.30AM-4PM. Covers Castleford from Bronze Age & Roman times, through its industrial heyday to the present. And of course Henry Moore. Free.
- Xscape. 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. The X32 bus runs hourly from Wakefield (30 mins) otherwise change buses in Pontefract. From Leeds take bus 410 or 411 towards Pontefract, or X62 coach towards Hull, or train towards Knottingley getting off at Glasshoughton.
- 1 Diggerland, Willowbridge Ln, Castleford, WF10 5NW (off Jcn 31 of M62, follow A655 towards Castleford for 1 km). July & Aug; daily 10AM-5PM; Feb-June & Sept-Oct: weekends & school holiday weeks 10AM-5PM; Nov-Jan: closed. You get to drive real diggers! And play silly games with them, like knocking over skittles. Walk-up price £20 adult & children over 90 cm, £10 over 65s, free for children to 90 cm. Cheaper if you buy in advance online.
- 2 Wakefield Theatre Royal. A Victorian gem with regular shows.
- Country parks are at Pugney’s (3 miles south of city, water sports); Anglers/Wintersett (6 miles SE, series of small lakes with wildlife reserve and angling areas); and Newmillerdam (6 miles 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.
- Watch rugby league (13-a-side): West Yorkshire is the heartland of this game, played Feb-Aug.
- Castleford Tigers play in Super League at The Jungle on Wheldon Rd Castleford.
- Wakefield Trinity (aka Wildcats) play in Super League at Belle Vue stadium in Wakefield.
- Featherstone Rovers play in the RFL Championship, the second tier, at Post Office Road in Featherstone.
- For soccer head into Leeds or even Manchester. The strength of RL locally leaves little room for soccer support, and Wakefield is the largest district in England to have no major-league soccer team.
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, ☏ . lunch daily, dinner M-Sa. 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.
Beyond that, you might do better in Leeds, but reliable nearby choices include:
- Harewood Arms, 101 Kirkgate, ☏ . Pub grub.
- Qubana, 1-3 Wood Street WF1 2EL, ☏ . Daily M-Th from noon, F-Su from 10AM. In 2017 this restaurant moved around the corner from Northgate into larger premises (a disused bank) at the head of Wood St. Menus are tapas, Hispanic, Caribbean. Occasional live entertainment.
- Italian choices include Prego Pizzeria(107 Westgate, ☏ ), Bella Roma (63 Northgate, ☏ ) and Capri at the Vine (82 Leeds Rd WF1 2QF, ☏ ).
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, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- 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, ☏ .
- Lots more industrial heritage in Huddersfield and Halifax.
- Easy day trips include Leeds, Bradford, Saltaire, Haworth and the Worth Valley Steam Railway; Harrogate, Knaresborough and Skipton; and Sheffield.
- York is a national treasure and a must-see.
- Day-trippable at a stretch, but deserving at least a weekend, are Manchester and Durham.
|Routes through Wakefield|
|Leeds ←||N S||→ Barnsley → Sheffield|
|Leeds ← South Leeds ←||N S||→ Barnsley → Sheffield|