At Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), works of modern and contemporary art are scattered through 500 acres of a beautiful historic estate. Don’t be surprised to see a sculpture by Joan Miró surrounded by peacefully grazing sheep! As the UK’s leading outdoor art gallery, YSP has more than 60 sculptures by major artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Andy Goldsworthy and more. There are also five indoor galleries, special events, workshops and courses, plus a shop and restaurant.
Shopping medieval-style on The Shambles
Once voted Britain’s most picturesque street, The Shambles in York is a curiously quaint, flag-stoned avenue overhung by haphazard timber-framed houses from the 15th century. The street was once lined with butchers’ shops; the narrowness was meant to keep the meat out of direct sunlight. Most properties still have exterior wooden shelves – reminders of when cuts of meat were served from the open windows. Today, the beautifully restored buildings house an appealing mix of shops and places to eat. Smell the delicious aromas wafting from chocolatiers, fudge-makers and cafés, and browse unique jewellery, curiosities and antiques tucked away behind old-fashioned shop fronts.
Day 1: York
The heritage city of York is reputedly Europe’s most haunted city. But don’t let that scare you off! In York, you can dip in and out of the shops and cafes that line The Shambles, one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval shopping streets, take afternoon tea vintage-style in Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, go on a ghost walk, and sniff the whiff of a bygone York at York Castle Museum.
York’s Chocolate Story is a delicious introduction to York’s centuries-old love affair with the cocoa bean. Two of Britain’s best-loved confectionery manufacturers, Rowntree’s and Terry’s of York, started life in this city, giving birth to many favourite chocolate bars, jelly sweets and wafer-biscuit brands, including the world-famous KitKat bar. Follow centuries of cocoa history, learn local chocolate-making secrets and try your hand at crafting a chocolate along the way.
England’s biggest cathedral and one of the world’s loveliest Gothic cathedrals, York Minster dominates the skyline of the city. It houses the world’s largest medieval stained-glass window, and the views from the parapet are sensational, but head down to the Undercroft to Revealing York Minster, which tells the story of the site’s 2,000-year-old history. You’ll see a Viking lord’s carved elephant tusk, the excavated barracks of Roman soldiers, and ancient manuscripts.
Day 2: Leeds
A 45-minute drive or 20-minute train ride to the south of York brings you to Leeds, a proud northern English city with a lively cultural scene. Be blown away by powerful performances from Opera North and Northern Ballet, browse the luxury shops in the Victoria Quarter, dance the night away in atmospheric venues, see 20th-century British art at Leeds Art Gallery, and uncover the history of Marks & Spencer, one of Britain’s best-loved high street shops.
Leeds and music go together like fish and chips, and the city and its surrounds has an enviable music festival calendar, from the city centre-based Slam Dunk and Live at Leeds festivals to the Black Sheep Folk Festival in nearby Otley. But the big daddy on Leeds music festival scene is the massive Leeds Music Festival, with superstar international rock acts such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Foo Fighters, Greenday and Radiohead.
Leeds is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful stately homes, many of which host festivals and events. Harewood House, one of Britain’s finest country estates, has a dynamic events calendar with outdoor cinema, triathlons and shows such as the Great British Food Festival. Tudor-Jacobean mansion Temple Newsam hosts annual 1980s music bonanza Let’s Rock Leeds!, while the iconic Leeds Music Festival takes place at Bramham Park, a Grade I-listed 18th-century country house.
Northern Ballet is one of the best-loved dance companies in the world. Their inventive full-length performances will take you on an emotional journey and leave you in awe. Watch them perform on their home turf, Leeds’ Phoenix Dance Theatre. It’s also well worth catching a performance by the award-winning Opera North, one of Europe’s leading arts organisations, in their home theatre, the splendid 19th-century Leeds Grand Theatre.
Days 3-4: Manchester
It’s an easy one-hour journey by road or rail from Leeds to Manchester, another northern cultural powerhouse of a city with plenty to keep you busy for a day or three. Whatever you do, don’t miss the city’s bohemian, creative Northern Quarter. You’ll spend hours browsing its independent art galleries, boutiques and vintage stores. Afflecks is the area’s most famous shopping emporium, with four floors dedicated to an eclectic selection of independent designers and traders.
Every two years, the city’s indoor and outdoor venues welcome the Manchester International Festival, an international arts festival that brings new and original music, visual arts, food and dance works to the forefront. It commissions new productions – past highlights have included works by artists such as Björk and Blur frontman Damon Albarn – and attracts internationally renowned artists including Jeremy Deller and Steve McQueen. Don’t miss the next Manchester International Festival, June – July 2017.
There’s a very good reason why The Whitworth art gallery won VisitEngland's gold prize for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2016 and the Art Fund's Museum of the Year 2015; it’s a must-see, with spacious, well-lit rooms that house one of the north of England’s most internationally renowned collections of modern art. See thousands of artworks from some of the world’s leading contemporary artists, plus exhibitions from the gallery’s historic collection.
The Quays are a hotspot for a cultural day out, incorporating attractions as diverse as The Lowry arts centre, the Imperial War Museum North and tours of the British Broadcasting Corporation at MediaCityUK. There’s also a dynamic year-round programme of events and activities. The waterside site in Salford, Greater Manchester, was built following the closure of Manchester Docks in 1982; you’ll find it along the Manchester Ship Canal.
Day 5: Chester
An hour by road or rail to the south east of Manchester brings you to Chester. This historic city began life as a Roman fort, and the impressive medieval walls surrounding it sit partly on Roman foundations. Check out the 1,000-year-old cathedral, place a bet at Chester Racecourse, one of the oldest in the country and don’t miss The Rows, unique two-tiered black-and-white clad medieval shopping galleries housing an eclectic range of designer boutiques, restaurants and tearooms.
Unravel the realities of Downton Abbey-style life above and below the stairs at Tatton Park, a grand estate with a richly furnished neo-classical mansion set amid acres of manicured landscaped gardens and seemingly endless rolling parkland. It has a lively events program, including art exhibitions, outdoor cinema, workshops and guided walks, as well as a working kitchen garden and special animal? breeds at the working farm.
With more than 2,000 years of history under its belt, it’s no surprise that Chester is one of Britain’s most haunted cities. It’s a beautiful city to see by day, but join a night-time walking ghost tour and add layers of spooky history to the city’s top sights and offbeat places. Hear about the marching ghosts of Roman soldiers, haunted chocolate shops, and pubs rife with paranormal activity. It’s spine-chilling stuff!
Chester Literature Festival features international best-selling authors alongside up-and-coming writers, coming from across the literary spectrum from politics and poetry to comedy, history, culture and more. Book clubs, open mic nights, exhibitions and workshops open up the festival to venues across Chester via the Festival Fringe. The event is organised by Storyhouse, an award-winning production company (and, from spring 2017, cultural centre) that also runs open-air theatre and cinema events.