Essential Wakefield

Award-winning art and sculpture, fascinating history and heritage, innovative food and drink venues, a vibrant live music scene, breathtaking green spaces and much more...

By Eleanor Taylor, Experience Wakefield

The Wakefield district – and the city that shares its name – is filled to the brim with reasons to visit, and this guide features all our unmissable attractions and experiences.  

For art aficionados, Wakefield is a must. Making up two “points” on the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, Wakefield has developed a reputation as the European City of Sculpture – and with good reason. The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park (both recipients of the world’s largest museum prize – the Art Fund Museum of the Year award) have their home here. These must-visit venues celebrate the district’s links to two of the 20th century’s sculptural titans, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, showcasing their work as well as remarkable international collections and exciting touring exhibits.

Or for a look at the work of some of the up-and-coming artists who call this centre for culture and creativity their home, why not take part in Artwalk? This creative extravaganza takes place every other month, and features pop-up exhibitions, live music, performances, poetry and so much more in quirky and unexpected venues across the city. 

Seaside in Wakefield

Wakefield Cathedral

Wakefield Cathedral

Once you’ve scratched your art-itch, it’s time to take on the rest of what Wakefield’s got to offer. The district’s proud of its heritage – and boasts an impressive pedigree. Why not pay a visit to National Trust Nostell? This spectacular Palladian mansion is one of Yorkshire’s great houses. Here you’ll find a stunning array of treasures, from masterpiece artworks and sumptuous fabrics to an unparalleled collection of Thomas Chippendale furniture. The house itself is situated in resplendent parkland, offering a variety of walks.

Or if your tastes are more down to earth (literally), then you’ll love a visit to the National Coal Mining Museum For England. A love-letter to the district’s mining history – and a fantastic way to keep stories of this important heritage alive – there’s plenty here to interest adults and children alike. Head 140 feet underground for a tour of the country’s last deep coal mine, take in innovative, interactive exhibits, or even meet adorable pit ponies!

Wakefield’s got an abundance of architectural gems, too. Theatre Royal Wakefield has a packed schedule of  fantastic, world-class performances (including their cracking annual pantomime – even the reveal trailer has become an annual event for Wakefieldians), but apart from that, it’s also a brilliant example of Victorian design by famous architect Frank Matcham – the impressive Grade II listed, 19th Century building is in fact his smallest surviving auditorium… good things in small packages, and all that.

Nostell Priory, Wakefield

Theatre Royal Wakefield

And speaking of small things… have you visited our Chantry Chapel? Small but perfectly formed, the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin (to give it its full name) is situated on the city’s medieval bridge over the river Calder (itself a scheduled ancient monument – told you there was a lot of history here). This tiny temple is the oldest and most ornate of the country’s surviving bridge chapels (there are, sadly, only a handful left standing).

We do, of course, have a larger place of worship in the city, and the proud owner of Yorkshire’s tallest church spire, to boot. Mighty Wakefield Cathedral’s lofty forms display the best of a blend of medieval and Victorian-Edwardian architectural styles. From the 17th century rood screen and the achingly beautiful quire ceiling to the early-20th century Gothic Revival chancel and transept, the cathedral’s interior melds old and new seamlessly, even incorporating a very modern floor sculpture. “The Labyrinth” was installed in 2013, and features locally-quarried stone in a fluid, twisting shape, encouraging visitors to walk its forms and reflect as they do so. The Cathedral takes part in regular cultural activities, including serving as host to avant garde art pieces and tranquil concerts.

“You also shouldn’t miss a stop at The Art House. This is the house that art built, and its home to more than 50 artist studios, gallery spaces, and even a café and shop. The beating heart of the alternative arts scene in Wakefield, it hosts a year-round programme of exhibitions, events and classes, as well as being the HQ of a variety of global artists, makers and creative businesses.”

John Doe

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

The Art House, Wakefield

Did you know that Wakefield used to be known as “the merrie city”? You do now. Why do I mention this? Because basically nothing has changed. We’ll still take any excuse to make merry, big-style, with regular festivals for every season. In February, we kick the food-and-drink festival scene off with a bang. The annual Rhubarb Festival sees us paint the town pink as rhubarb-madness takes over the city for a whole week, with an eclectic mix of food, drink, art, heritage, live music, comedy and performances. 

In June, it’s time for Long Division. This vibrant, unapologetic celebration of independent music brings together the perfect balance of established artists with up and coming acts at venues all over the city.
The summer sun is (hopefully) beating down when Seaside in the City rolls around. This fabulously fun festival turns land-locked Wakefield into a day at the beach, with tempting summer treats, thrilling street theatre and – of course – an enormous sandpit!

Then in autumn, get your writer’s cap on for WordFest, a celebration of the written word, with workshops and events taking place across libraries and other venues throughout the entire district. 

And if those regular offerings weren’t enough to get you feeling the festival spirit, then don’t forget that the city routinely hosts show-stopping, one-off festivals, like 2019’s Festival of the Moon – a two-week long programme of space-themed events, music, performances, interactive activities and so much more. 

So if you’ve not visited Wakefield yet, all we can say is, what the ‘eck are you waiting for? Come and see us; you’ll love it here.

Essential Experiences

the hepworth

The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield is an award-winning art gallery in the heart of Yorkshire, set within Wakefield’s historic waterfront overlooking the River Calder. Designed by the acclaimed Dav...

Art House

The Art House

Welcome to the house that art built. The Art House provides time, space and support for artists, makers and creative businesses to develop their practice. It is a place where ar...

Rhubarb Festival 2023