Updated: Oct 19, 2020
We are a typical American family, but my roots are across the Pond in Yorkshire, U.K., where most of my side of the family still live. We recently spent two months touring the U.K., making West Yorkshire our home base. Staying with family much of the time, we got the insider track on all the best family-friendly things to do in Yorkshire, and now we share our Top 5 with you. You won’t find these in most tour books -- so enjoy rubbing shoulders with the locals as you explore!
The Shambles, a.k.a. Diagon Alley (York)
Every kid loves Harry Potter! Earn parent points by spending time in The Shambles (J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley) in York. In Medieval times, this street ran red with the blood of butchered meat, as this was the epicenter of the meat market. (Yuck!! Not quite a tourist destination!) But in modern times, it is a charming, pedestrian-only cobbled street with fun shops and boutiques. In recent years, a plethora of fun Harry Potter-themed shops have opened, and your kids will imagine they have truly entered the wizarding world! Visitors can mix potions and elixirs, shop for wands (both “real” and chocolate) and wizard robes, sip a (non-alcoholic) Butter Beer, and search for the Shambles’ smallest resident at #10.
INSIDER TIP #1: Get to The Shambles early (between 7am and 9am) or late (after the sun has gone down), to experience the historic street without the crowds. No shops are open, and you can get your insta-worthy Harry Potter-themed pics!
INSIDER TIP #2: If driving, park at Q-Park Shambles for easy access. Just type postal code YO1 7NZ into your GPS and it will lead you right to it!
For more information, visit https://www.shamblesyork.com
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (Wakefield)
This one-of-a-kind modern sculpture park is situated on 500 acres in the green rolling hills of Wakefield. The ever-changing open air exhibitions feature the likes of Damien Hirst (his ten-meter-tall The Virgin Mother, a favorite of ours, remains here until April 2022), the imaginative Joana Vasconcelos, local artist Sean Henry, and more. Sheep freely graze the fields as you wander - a delight to parent and child alike!
Walk the green hillsides dotted by sheep, and be delighted by the sculptures upon which you stumble. The kiddos will be inspired by the breath-taking works that they encounter, and will have opportunity to try their own imagination through hands-on interactive activities as well.
INSIDER TIP #1: Be prepared for a vigorous walk: Pack a picnic lunch and wear good walking shoes -- you'll be enjoying some spectacular views of both sculptures and countryside!
INSIDER TIP #2: When you check in, ask about the park’s Family Learning program -- this will enhance your family experience tremendously. Learn more at https://ysp.org.uk/learning/family.
National Coal Mining Museum for England (Wakefield)
Take an unforgettable tour 140 meters underground in this historic northern coal mine. Our family’s tour guide was a retired real-life miner with a broad Yorkshire accent, full of stories and wit. He and his mining buddies supplied us with hard hats, torches (flashlights), and jackets (it gets chilly down there!), and took us on an underground journey through history. You’ll hear stories of the men, women, children, and animals who worked here, and why each of their roles was critical to the work. You’ll learn the dangers posed to workers in the mines, and you’ll see how this changed through history, beginning with Queen Victoria’ advocacy for child miners, and spanning through the age of modern machinery. After your 1.5-hour tour, enjoy the on-site train, cafe, playground, nature walks, colliery, and gift shop.
INSIDER TIP #1: Don’t expect to take your insta-worthy pics underground. Due to safety measures, you’ll leave phones in above-ground lockers.
INSIDER TIP #2: Be prepared. Wear warm clothes and good walking shoes. Expect to duck through smaller spaces on your tour, and be aware that your loaned lights with battery packs, which each person will carry for the duration of your tour, weigh 2kg (approx 4.4lb).
For more info, visit https://www.ncm.org.uk/
Cannon Hall Farm (Barnsley)
Cannon Hall Farm was a big favorite for our family (and I'm kicking myself for not getting better pictures! We were just having too much fun!). Farm animals, playgrounds, farm shop, fresh ice cream, and a superb cafe? Yes, please! Here, an operational Yorkshire farm has become an attraction for visitors as well. You can easily spend a full day here. We loved touring the farrowing houses, milking parlour, and cattle barn, as well as seeing the rare breeds and pigs -- oh, so many wiggly pink piglets! You can also enjoy sheep racing, ferret racing, a reptile house, and tractor rides, and we guarantee you will delight in visiting the meerkat enclosure.
If you follow our travels, you know we are big on searching out local playgrounds to help the kids get the wiggles out. The adventure playground at Cannon Hall Farm can’t be beat. We loved the beautiful wood construction and we all tried our hand at the Climbing Forest (ropes course). For younger kids, there is a tube maze, and in case of inclement weather, there is an excellent indoor playground as well. It was hard to tear the kids away from it all!
INSIDER TIP #1: Don’t miss out on the daily talks and races -- check out the farm’s activity timetables ahead of time at https://www.cannonhallfarm.co.uk/plan-your-visit/activity-timetables/.
INSIDER TIP #2: Save your grocery budget for the Cannon Hall Farm Shop. You can’t beat their fresh baked goods, meats and sausages direct from the farm, and locally sourced fruits and veggies (when in season).
For more info, visit https://www.cannonhallfarm.co.uk/
The Piece Hall (Halifax)
This Georgian structure was built in 1779 to house the booming textile market of West Riding, Yorkshire -- a trade spanning 800 years starting in the 12th century. Named for the “pieces” of cloth that were sold here, this is the only remaining structure of its kind in the U.K., and is protected as a historical building (Grade I). The Piece Hall was a symbol of affluence and culture in its time, as it displayed the success and pride of the Northern textile makers whose goods were enjoyed all over the country, and even throughout the world.
The Piece Hall’s expansive inner courtyard is surrounded by the building itself, which today houses gift shops, art galleries, and more. Be sure to visit the Heritage Spaces on the second floor, where you can learn about the history of the Piece Hall and the Yorkshire textile trade. Kids can touch various textiles, try on Georgian clothing, and visit a Trader’s Room in its original condition.
INSIDER TIP #1: The Piece Hall is host to all kinds of events, including concerts, interactive art workshops, and more. Plan your visit right at https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk/whats-on.
INSIDER TIP #2: Upstairs you’ll find a fabulous little art shop called Custard Create - we spent over an hour in this shop alone. Owner and digital artist Kim Orwin (a.k.a. Kimmi Custard) hosts open art time for kids of all ages. Kimmi and I chatted like old friends over a cup of tea, while the kids created their masterpieces. Her studio is stocked with all kinds of art supplies for kids to enjoy, and you’ll love perusing her distinct, playful digital art -- you’re sure to find a perfect souvenir of your day. https://custardcreate.co.uk/
So there you have it!
We 5 Thrive’s Top 5 Family-Friendly Activities in Yorkshire, England. We hope your family enjoys them as much as we did!
Planning a visit to Yorkshire, but not sure where to start? Contact us -- we have decades of experience in this gorgeous part of the world! Whether you prefer guided tours or fully independent travel, we've got you covered.