The Yorkshire towns and cities that deserve a place on the tourist trail

Yorkshire has long been known as “God’s own county” – and it’s not just for the delights of its cricket pitches and Wensleydale cheese. As England’s largest county, it is a vast and varied region full of cultural heritage, featuring rugged moors and coastal cliffs, picturesque villages and storied castles – yet many of its attractive post-industrial cities and market towns remain little-visited by domestic tourists.

Here, then, are five to consider for a weekend break or longer holiday…

Otley

This little market town situated between Leeds and the Dales National Park is an excellent starting location for walks, with the Washburn Valley and several reservoirs nearby.

The pretty Wharfemeadows Park runs past a river where rowing boats can be hired, while Otley Chevin Forest Park overlooks the town, and the Wharfe valley offers strolls through woodland and moor.

The town is replete with traditional tea rooms and pubs, with award-winning pork pies and farmers’ markets on offer. Visit a locally owned restaurant, such as Tapas & Tunes and craft beer taprooms, including Shadow Brewing. Low/no alcohol bar Functional Drinks Club opened last year and holds regular kombucha-tasting events.

Otley doesn’t have its own station, but you can get there by bus in 13 minutes or less from Menston railway station , with services run by Northern Trains on the Wharfedale Line between Ilkley and Leeds/Bradford Forster Square.

Pontefract

In the heart of West Yorkshire, Pontefract – or Ponte Carlo as it is jokingly locally referred to due to its scenery and nightlife – is home to one of the country’s most important castles (or at least its remains).

Built by one of William the Conqueror’s allies in 1070, it was once the largest castle in England, known as the “Key to the North”. It was here that Richard II was imprisoned and died after Henry IV usurped his throne, while Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and Sir Thomas Culpeper were found canoodling here – ultimately leading them to the block. It was also the site of a series of sieges during the English Civil War. The castle ruins and museum are free to walk around, although activities such as dungeon tours come with a charge.

The ruins of Pontefract Castle (Photo: Philip Silverman/Getty Images)
The ruins of Pontefract Castle (Photo: Philip Silverman/Getty Images)

Pontefract’s other great claim to fame is as the birthplace of liquorice sweets. Farmers and other residents first grew the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant for medicinal purposes. Then, in 1760, an apothecarist named George Dunhill discovered that adding sugar to the remedy made it rather more pleasurable to eat. Thus, the coin-shaped “Pontefract cake” was created – it even has its own festival. The confectionery connection holds strong, as there is a Haribo factory and outlet in the town, which gives out the scent of vanilla.

The town itself is handsome, with plenty of parks and a mix of medieval, Victorian and Georgian architecture. It is also well served by rail connections, with three stations. The busiest, Monkhill, is on the Pontefract Line and Grand Central Line.

Filey

As a holiday destination, North Yorkshire’s Filey is closely associated with Butlin’s and Haven Holidays, but there is much more to this Victorian seaside town located between Scarborough and Bridlington.

A former fishing village, it has a historic promenade and five mile-long stretch of golden sand. An invigorating walk along the headlands can be followed by fish and chips from Inghams, mini golf and a paddle in the bay. You can also surf and there is a nature reserve and a bird observatory, as well as festivals, from food to folk.

It is also a great base for walking the Cleveland Way, a trail covering coast and moor. Plus, in the peak weeks of summer, it is quieter than Whitby and Scarborough. Its railway station is served by Northern Rail.

Filey esplanade (Photo: David Clapp/Getty Images)
Filey esplanade (Photo: David Clapp/Getty Images)

Bradford

Over the past few years, this underrated urban outcrop of West Yorkshire has been abuzz with revival. Cultural highlights include the city’s textile heritage, showcased in Bradford Industrial Museum, and Cartwright Hall, which has works by Lowry and Lichtenstein.

And, opening in autumn, Bradford Live will occupy the former Odeon next to the Alhambra Theatre, with plans to provide 200-plus cultural events a year.

It is also home to the National Science and Media Museum, which is being transformed in time for Bradford’s adoption of the mantle of UK City of Culture in 2025, for which 1,000 new performances and events, alongside 365 artist commissions are being delivered.

Less than 10 miles away is the picturesque village of Haworth, home of the Brontes and the Parsonage Museum maintained in their honour. Also close by is the Victorian model village Saltaire, a World Heritage Site built by Titus Salt to accommodate his textile mill workers.

You won’t go hungry in Bradford: the city is filled with independent cafés and restaurants, and has been described as the curry capital of Britain.

Bradford is served by LNER and Grand Central Rail.

Bradford town hall (Photo: SAKhanPhotography/Getty Images)
Bradford town hall (Photo: SAKhanPhotography/Getty Images)

Leeds

Yorkshire’s largest city can be overshadowed by York or Manchester, but there is much on offer here. For a day of shopping, visitors can wander Victorian arcades and department stores, including Harvey Nichols. Kirkgate Market is one of the largest indoor stall halls in Europe, where you can buy anything from hair extensions to lamb cutlets.

Owing in part to its huge student cohort (there are four universities in the city), Leeds has plenty of nightlife. The Otley Run, a beer trail with 15 stops, draws groups from all over the country.

Leeds City Square (Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty)
Leeds City Square (Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty)

There is plenty of live music on offer, as well as techno clubs, bierkellers, speakeasies and independent bars, notably around the Call Lane area. In recent years, several upscale restaurants have opened, including Tattu, Crafthouse and Home.

World-class museums such as the Royal Armouries and Leeds City Museum are free, and there are plenty of art galleries.

Leeds station is served by LNER.