Ilkley is an affluent spa town in West Yorkshire, just an hour’s drive outside the major city of Leeds. The town has a country feel yet is full of entertainment. There are plenty of things to do in Ilkley that I’d recommend adding to your itinerary.
Ilkley has the moor to explore, vintage toy collections at Ilkley Toy Museum, and even segments of a Roman wall. Whether you want light-hearted fun, a history lesson, or a physical activity, Ilkley has a lot to offer. These are my top ten recommendations on things to do in Ilkley.
Shop on Ilkley Grove
Ilkley has a slow pace and sociable atmosphere. The best way to experience this laidback, indulgent side of the town is by shopping on Ilkley Grove.
Ilkley Grove is a shopping street lined by cherry blossoms that are decked out in fairy lights all year round. There’s a mixture of independent shops, well-known chains, and charity shops. The charity shops are always packed with bargains, and I’d recommend that everyone splurges on a few second-hand items. The Grove’s independent shops include the wonderful old Ilkley Grove Bookshop. Book lovers should make sure to stop by.
Walking the Grove only takes a few minutes, but if you are window shopping or hunting for deals, allow an hour or so. You can always pop into a café for a break. I’d recommend Café 39 for a pretty, floral environment or splashing out on an experience at Betty’s – a Victorian-style chain café and restaurant.
Swim at Ilkley Lido
Are you brave? Ilkley Lido is an unheated pool that opens from late spring through to autumn. The pool is surrounded by grassy areas perfect for sunbathing and picnicking and is shielded from outside view by a thick hedge. The lido has its own café onsite, and visitors use the changing facilities from the indoor pool.
If you are visiting between May and September, Ilkley Lido is one of the best things to do in Ilkley. It is popular among solo visitors, families, teenagers, and elderly swimmers alike. The lido has a friendly atmosphere and plenty of room to find a peaceful spot.
Don’t worry if you are visiting outside of the lido’s opening months. You can swim at the indoor pool in Ilkley all year, which is a perfect rainy-day activity in Ilkley.
Visit White Wells
White Wells is an iconic place to visit in Ilkley. The tiny 18th-century spa bath sits a short walk up into the moorlands above Ilkley and is famous for both its views and bathing opportunities.
The white-washed complex includes a privately owned cottage, a bathhouse containing a plunge pool, and a café. The residents own the entire property and run bathing sessions and White Wells café. The plunge pool has had some famous visitors, including Charles Darwin, and taking a cold dip is my biggest recommendation for visitors.
To visit White Wells, walk up from Ilkley Town Centre or park at the White Wells car park (or Darwin Gardens if it is full). The walk from the car park to White Wells is only ten to fifteen minutes long. You follow a large, pebbled track, crossing a small stream and arriving at White Wells before your walk has even begun.
Outside White Wells, you can sit on the picnic benches and admire the views of Ilkley and the surrounding valley. You can also try the natural moorland water from the well behind the building or toss a lucky coin into the plunge pool. It is worth enquiring about a dip if you are interested, and you’ll be able to enquire in the café during its opening hours.
Walk from Ben Rhydding to Ilkley along the River Wharfe
A beautiful path runs along the River Wharfe, connecting Ilkley and Ben Rhydding. I suggest starting the walk at Ilkley Stepping Stones, which you can reach by walking down the public footpath next to the Texaco garage. If you are driving, park at the layby parking spot on Denton Road (LS29 0DF) and starting the walk by crossing the Ilkley Stepping Stones and continuing right along the river.
You can follow the shaded riverside path to the Pebbled Beach and Ilkley Swing Bridge. This is a popular spot for wild swimming amongst locals and visitors, and if the weather is warm enough, you can go for a swim.
Continuing past the Pebbled Beach, you’ll follow a tarmacked public footpath alongside the river and finish your walk in Ilkley Park Riverside Gardens. The park is hugely popular for families thanks to a massive fenced-off play area. And, if you visit during snow, Ilkley Park is the prime sledging spot.
The Riverside Gardens pub is a good place to stop and refuel in Ilkley. You can also grab an ice cream as a quick reward from the takeaway cabin.
Walking from Ben Rhydding to Ilkley along the River Wharfe is easily a full-day activity. In warm weather, make sure to allow at least half a day so that you can stop for a swim and sunbathe.
Watch a film at Ilkley Cinema
Ilkley Cinema is much cuter than your average cinema in the UK. The cinema is an independent venue and takes comfort very seriously. In the two screen rooms, you’ll find armchairs and couches – forget about uncomfortable pull-down cinema chairs.
As an independent venue, Ilkley Cinema tends to have unusual, quirky, and arty films showing. Don’t be surprised to see only one or two mainstream films on the schedule, and book your tickets with an open mind. Ilkley Cinema is a venue that puts the experience back into watching films, especially in an era where you can find everything with just a click on Netflix or Hulu.
Order a snack when you pick up your tickets and make the most of having your food served at your seat (which means it isn’t your fault for spilling the drink or dropping popcorn on the way up the stairs). After your film, you can grab a cocktail and sit outside on the balcony terrace for a while.
Visit the Ilkley Moor Cow & Calf Rocks
Ilkley Moor is 1,670 acres of protected moorland. However, the most famous part of Ilkley Moor is actually just on the outskirts of Ilkley Town Centre. The Cow and Calf Rocks are the postcard image of Ilkley and are the perfect place to experience Ilkley Moor and get a view over Ilkley and its surrounding valley.
To reach the Cow and Calf Rocks, walk or drive up Cowpasture Road, continuing past Ilkley Grammar School and the cattle grid. On foot, you’ll reach a car park after fifteen minutes, and in a car, it takes less than five minutes. You can admire the quarry and scale of the Cow and Calf from the ground. Alternatively, walk up the track to the left of the quarry, climbing up and looping to the right to stand on the Cow itself.
In summer, you can see rock climbers and adventurers tackling the rocks. Of course, don’t try this yourself unless you are a trained and confident climber. Quite a few people injure themselves at the Cow and Calf Rocks, so be careful.
Once you’ve finished exploring, the Cow & Calf Pub and Restaurant is a brilliant spot for a pint. Grab a table and admire the scenery as you relax. Bonus points if you bag a table outside to watch the sunset.
Stop by Ilkley Manor House
Ilkley Manor House is located in a tiny courtyard off of Church Street. Originally, this area was the centre of the Roman Olicana Fort, and you can still see sections of the wall preserved around the Manor House.
The Manor House itself dates back to the 14th century and it is the oldest building in Ilkley. Ilkley Manor House is part art gallery, part museum, and part cultural centre. Honestly, there are so many different things going on at Ilkley Manor House that it is hard to keep up. If you want a cultural or historical attraction in Ilkley, the Manor House is an entertaining choice.
Visitors can admire a mixture of permanent and temporary exhibitions, and you should check the official website for upcoming events that coincide with your visit dates.
Spot the bluebells in Middleton Woods
No matter how often you see them, there is something stunning about waves and waves of electric purple bluebells. Middleton Woods turns into a real-life fairy or elven world from March to May.
You can enter Middleton Woods (sometimes called Bluebell Woods) through a small gate opposite the Ilkley Swing Bridge or a stile on Curly Hill Road. The best way to explore is to follow the woodland tracks and get lost in Middleton Woods. Honestly, you won’t be lost for long as the woods are only a small area, and all the tracks connect at some point.
Middleton Woods is popular with dog walkers, families, and runners. That said, even in peak seasons, it won’t be heaving with other people. If you want a relaxing experience, Middleton Woods is a good place to walk.
Visit the Toy Museum
Who doesn’t love a bit of fun history? The Ilkley Toy Museum is located on a back road in central Ilkley. For such a small, hidden spot, it has an impressive collection.
Some of the toys at Ilkley Toy Museum date back to 350 BC. You can spot life-sized teddy bears, a 1940s model playground, sindy dollhouses, and even carved Greek dolls. The collection has been accrued over the last two decades, and you’ll quickly see how adored and well-maintained it is. I first visited the Toy Museum at six years old and was mesmerised by its significance even then, so it is a suitable attraction for families with young children as well as adults.
The Ilkley Toy Museum is one of the best things to do in Ilkley on a rainy day. As an inside activity, it is engaging enough to entertain adults and children. Allow at least an hour to explore all of the exhibits.
Experience local café culture
Ilkley’s café culture is second to none and there are plenty of amazing places to eat in Ilkley.
You’ll find Victorian dining at Betty’s, trendy floral café culture at Café 39, and even a toast-themed café aptly called Toast House. You should dedicate at least an afternoon to café hopping and sampling different coffees in Ilkley.
Apart from the well-established café hot spots, I have two recommendations for cafés that are relatively new to the Ilkley scene. The Greenhouse Ilkley is a stunning venue on Leeds Road that is great for a convenient brunch or breakfast. The interior design is beautiful, and the whole café has wood-panelled walls. It has a slight rustic vibe – with natural wooden features but an overall modern, sleek design.
The second newbie to Ilkley’s café culture is actually slightly outside of Ilkley. The Joyful Deli is a farm café on Ilkley Road, just outside Addingham, Ilkley’s neighbouring village. The Deli has everything your stomach could dream of, including homemade pizzas, cakes, soups, and snack boards. The Deli is a fantastic spot if you want a brunch or afternoon snack. On a warm day, you can sit outside the traditional stone building and imagine that you’ve been whisked away to Italy or Brittany.
You can easily walk to the Joyful Deli by following The Dales Way along the River Wharfe. It takes under an hour to walk to the Joyful Deli, ‘the scenic way’ from Ilkley Town Centre.
Ilkley Quickfire Questions
Now that we’ve covered the best things to do in Ilkley, let’s look at some quick common questions.
Is Ilkley worth visiting?
Yes, Ilkley is worth visiting. The town has a lot of historical things to do, plus beautiful scenery that is very typical of the Yorkshire Dales. If you want an introduction to Yorkshire, Ilkley is an easy place to access and a great example of the county.
Is Ilkley a nice area?
Ilkley is a very nice area. The locals are friendly and the town has a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere. The crime rate is extremely low and you can walk around safely during the day or night.
How to get to Ilkley?
Getting to Ilkley is simple.
You can enter Ilkley through A roads, B roads, and country backroads. Driving to Ilkley is a piece of cake and should pose no problems. Just watch the speed cameras on the A65 from Burley.
You can catch the train to Ilkley directly from Leeds and Bradford in approximately 25 minutes, which costs between £2.80 and £6 one-way, depending on your fare type. Downloading the Trainline app on your phone is the best way to purchase tickets, although you can buy tickets at certain stations or onboard from the conductor if the station has no ticket barriers.
If you don’t mind a slower journey, Ilkley is easily accessed by bus. You can catch the 64 from Skipton, X84 from Leeds, 62 from Keighley, 74 from York, and 74 from Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The Ilkley Bus Station is easy to find and is located just outside the train station, so there is no confusion there.
On a side note, if you want a pretty town to use as a base to explore the National Park, Ilkley is a great option. The town’s bus routes connect it with even the smallest Dales towns, like Malham and Buckden.
Getting around Ilkley
You can drive around Ilkley if you want, but everything is within walking distance. Getting around Ilkley on foot is extremely straightforward, and the town is walkable and signposted. If you get lost, ask the nearest person, or have a quick glance at Google Maps. Really, you shouldn’t have any issues at all.
Where to park in Ilkley?
Sadly, the answer to this question has recently changed. A few years ago, street parking was free in Ilkley. However, now, you’ll have to pay to park anywhere remotely central, which is a bit of a pain.
If you are desperate for free parking (I don’t blame you, I am too), then Grove Road is my favourite spot. Drive past the ticketed parking spots and you’ll reach unmarked roadside where it is free to park. Don’t bother trying Denton Road opposite Ilkley Park, as this stretch turns to mayhem.
The good news is that most places in Ilkley are free to park for an hour and completely free to park in the evening. Check the individual ticket machine for guidance.
Ilkley is a great place to visit in Yorkshire, and I hope you enjoy your time in the town. Once you’ve experienced all the things to do in Ilkley, you can always explore the nearby attractions as well. Bolton Abbey Estate is a fun day out and Beamsley Beacon is short, mildly challenging walk just a short drive from Ilkley Town Centre.
Have you visited Ilkley before? Feel free to drop your thoughts and any advice for people planning a visit in the comments below.