Best Things to Do in Ilkley

Ilkley, a charming town in Yorkshire
Ilkley, a charming town in Yorkshire

By Vicky · Published Sep. 6th, 2023 · Updated Jan. 28th, 2024

Ilkley is a charming town in West Yorkshire known for its beautiful countryside, with plenty of things to do for the entire family. Ilkley is also a historic Spa Town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, famous the song for Ilkley Moor (Baht’at), the Cow and Calf Rocks, and the many cute shops, cafes and restaurants.

Swimming in the river or Victorian Lido (outdoor and indoor swimming pool), strolling through woods full of bluebells and walking in the beautiful surroundings are other highlights.


Ilkley is in West Yorkshire in the north of England, about 30 minutes from Leeds and 15 minutes from Skipton. The town is highly accessible by train, with connections every 30 minutes to Leeds and Bradford. The town itself is very walkable, and the famous moor is also within walking distance from the town centre.

Ilkley Activities Map

Tips for A Visit to Ilkley

  • Ilkley is a great location to base yourself for a few days while exploring the surrounding countryside.
  • The best places to stay in Ilkley are The Cow & Calf Hotel* or The Crescent Inn*.
  • There are two times that are particularly great to visit Ilkley – when the heather on the moor blooms (Aug & Sep) and when the bluebells are out in Middleton Woods (Apr & May).
  • If you want a map for walking in and around Ilkley, get OS Explorer 297 of Lower Wharfedale*.
  • For more walks and things to do in Yorkshire, see our Yorkshire Guide.

Top Things to Do in Ilkley

  1. Walk on Ilkley Moor
  2. Visit the Cow and Calf Rocks
  3. Swim in Ilkley Pool & Lido
  4. Hit the beach by the River Wharfe
  5. Longer Walks and Hikes
  6. Ilkley Manor House
  7. Walk along Ilkley Riverside
  8. Afternoon Tea at Bettys
  1. Discover the Tree Trails
  2. Visit the Ilkley Toy Museum
  3. Check out the Shops
  4. Dining & Pubs
  5. Festivals and Events
  6. Literary Connections
  7. Golf & Tennis
  8. Catch a Movie

1. Walk on Ilkley Moor

White Wells, on Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor is a stunning expanse of open moorland offering picturesque views, walking trails, and a chance to see the famous Cow and Calf Rocks. It’s a popular spot for hiking, picnicking, and taking in the fresh air. Other things of interest to see on the moor are the many rock carvings, interesting rock formations, White Wells and the Twelve Apostles (a ring of stone circles).

2. Visit the Cow and Calf Rocks

Visit the Cow and Calf Rocks, one of the best things to do in Ilkley

The Cow and Calf Rocks are large rock formations and a distinctive feature of the Moor. The Calf is the large boulder, while the Cow is the name of the large cliff behind. There’s also a quarry here, and it’s very popular with rock climbers. If you’re interested in rocks, check out the Ilkley Moor Geology Trail which starts here.

On Ilka Moor Bah’tat

On Ilka Moor Bah’tat (On Ilkley Moor without a hat) is a famous folk song. It’s the story of a guy who is courtin’ Mary Jane. He walks on Ilkley Moor without a hat. It’s very cold so he dies, probably regretting not having put a hat on that morning. His body rots and becomes soil, which the worms eat. Ducks then eat the worms, and the locals eat the ducks. So it’s a bit like they’re eating the main guy in the song.

3. Swim in Ilkley Pool & Lido

Key Information: Open summer only. £5.60/2.90 per adult/child for the day.

In the summer months, you can cool off and relax at Ilkley Lido, one of the best open-air pools in the country. It’s a historic outdoor swimming pool complex and a great place for the entire family. You can swim in the indoor and outdoor pools, and sunbathe and have a picnic on the surrounding grass. In the pool there’s a fountain and a small slide for kids to play on, plus fabulous views of the Moor. Additionally, there are tennis courts and a short mini golf course for a small extra fee.

4. Hit the beach by the River Wharfe

The beach and swimming in the River Wharfe in Ilkley

If you don’t want to visit the Lido, you can always sunbathe, swim and relax by the River Wharfe. You can find popular places to swim between the Old Bridge and Suspension Bridge. When the water is low there are several small pebble beaches by the river banks. Additionally, there are adjacent fields where you can sunbathe and picnic. Just remember to take all your rubbish home!

5. Longer Walks and Hikes

The Dales Way signpost

There are plenty of longer walks and hikes that start in or near Ilkley. The most famous is the Dales Way, which starts by the River Wharfe in Ilkley. This walk is about 79 miles long takes roughly 5-7 days.

You can also go on several day hikes from Ilkley. For example, a long hike on Ilkley Moor, or a walk on the western side of the moor to the intriguing Doubler Stones.

6. Ilkley Manor House

Ilkley Manor House

Key Information: Open weekends 11am-4pm, free entry.

Discover the history of Ilkley at the Manor House, which often hosts exhibitions, events, and cultural activities. In the park just by the Manor House you’ll find a few remains of Olicana, a Roman Fortress constructed here thousands of years ago.

7. Walk along Ilkley Riverside

The River Wharfe

Stroll along the River Wharfe in the beautifully maintained Riverside Gardens. There’s also a children’s playground here. If you’re more interested in wildlife, head over to Ben Rhydding Nature Reserve.

8. Afternoon Tea at Bettys

Betty's Cafe and Tea Rooms in Ilkley

Afternoon Tea at Betty’s is a classic Yorkshire experience and not to be missed on a visit to Ilkley. Be warned, the queues can be long, especially in summer. There’s also a bakery by the cafe which has both sweet and savoury offerings, and which almost never has a long queue.

9. Discover the Tree Trails

There are several fun Tree Trails through Ilkley town centre and on the lower slopes of the Moor. There’s even a tree walk designed for winter when the leaves have disappeared from the trees. You’ll learn about the different types of trees, and perhaps visit parts of Ilkley you’ve not been to before. You can download the brochures from the website, or pick up a free copy from the Grove Bookshop or Tourist Information.

10. Visit the Ilkley Toy Museum

Ilkely Toy Museum, one of the things to do in Ilkley

Key Information: Open 12-4pm weekends, plus Thu & Fri in August. Tickets cost £3.50/2.50 per adult/child.

The Ilkley Toy Museum is a quirky museum that showcases a vast collection of vintage toys and games, making it a fun place to explore for both kids and adults.

11. Check out the Shops

The Grove Bookshop

Ilkley has a variety of independent shops, boutiques, and galleries. Most of these are along Brook Street or the Grove. Particular shops of note are The Grove Bookstore, an independent bookseller, and Lishman’s, a renowned butcher.

12. Dining & Pubs

The Box Tree, a famous restaurant in Ilkley

Enjoy traditional Yorkshire cuisine or international fare at one of Ilkley’s many restaurants and pubs. Don’t forget to try some Yorkshire pudding! The Michelin Starred Box Tree Restaurant is somewhere to go if you’re feeling fancy (book in advance).

13. Festivals and Events

There are several festivals, markets, and events happening in Ilkley throughout the year.

Ilkley Market

On the first Sunday of each month, there’s a delightful continental market in the centre of town. The normally busy Grove is closed to traffic and instead comes alive with the sound of pedestrians and market sellers shouting their wares.

Ilkley Tennis Tournament

The Tennis Tournament tournament takes place at the tennis club down by the river. It’s quite a high-profile event so attracts some of the top British and international stars.

Ilkley Literature Festival

The Ilkley Literature Festival is a notable annual event that happens in early Autumn and is one of the largest literature festivals in the UK. The program comes out several months in advance and you need to book some events in advance as they often sell out.

14. More Literary Connections

Charles Darwin visited Ilkley shortly after he published The Origin of Species. He used this time to recuperate and shelter from the press, and the church which strongly disagreed with his theory. The Brontë sisters lived nearby in Haworth, a potential idea for a day trip, while James Herriot lived not far away in the Yorkshire Dales. You can find many books by the above-mentioned authors in the Grove Bookshop.

15. Golf & Tennis

If you enjoy golf, you can play a round at the Golf Club, which offers scenic views of the surrounding countryside. The Ilkey Tennis Club is a lovely place to play tennis, and also hosts the well-known Ilkley Tennis Tournament every year.

16. Catch a Movie

In the evening or on bad weather days, check out a film at the Cinema. This is an independent and slightly hipster cinema that shows both blockbusters and Indie films. The cinemas are relatively small, but the seats are comfy sofas or armchairs and they bring food and drink directly to your seat. There’s also an outdoor patio on a balcony which you can book in advance to wine and/or dine before your movie.

Ilkley Town Centre Walk

To visit many of the shops and sights mentioned above as things to do in Ilkley, go on a short walking tour of the town centre. This walking tour starts from the train station, opposite the tourist information.

Walking around Ilkley Town Center
Walking around Ilkley Town Center

First walk along The Grove. You’ll see the Grove Bookshop and Betty’s on your right, and Christchurch on your left. Turn down the road to your right after Betty’s, and you’ll reach the Box Tree restaurant on the corner with the main road.

Cross over and take the first right to the Manor House. Head down into the Riverside Gardens and stroll along the river. You can lengthen this walk by walking further along the river banks, with another potential extension into Middleton Woods. When the bluebells are out (Apr & May), Middleton Woods is very beautiful.

Darwin Gardens Map

Just before the New Bridge, leave the park and walk back up to the town centre along Brook Street. You’ll see All Saints’ Parish Church on your right, and The Crescent Inn on your left. There are many more cafes and shops to browse on this street.

If you want to continue to the moor, head straight upwards through the little park by the stream. You’ll soon reach Darwin Gardens and the start of many hikes on Ilkley Moor.

A One-Day Itinerary to Visit Ilkley

River Wharfe from the Old Bridge in Ilkley
  1. Take the train to Ilkley and have a cup of coffee at the lovely Ticket Office Cafe and Bar right at the station.
  2. Make your way around the Ilkley Town Centre Walk to check out some of the shops and sights in Ilkley. Include the Riverside Walk and Middleton Woods if you have the time and energy.
  3. For lunch, why not try Betty’s? This very popular cafe can have long queues, especially on the weekend. Booking in advance is not possible.
  4. After lunch, walk up to the famous Ilkley Moor. For a shorter stroll head up to White Wells from Darwin Gardens, visiting the Lower Tarn on the way back down. If you’re up for a longer walk, continue past White Wells through Rocky Valley to the Cow and Calf Rocks. Reward yourself with a drink in the Cow and Calf Pub (where you can also stay overnight*) while admiring the scenery from the terrace.
  5. Head back down into town and think about somewhere to have dinner. Bistrot Pierre is a good value French Restaurant in the Crescent Hotel, while Friends of Ham and Emporio Italia are also good options. If you’re feeling fancy, try the Box Tree (book in advance), a Michelin-starred restaurant not far from the centre.

Best Places to Stay in Ilkley

Ilkley Riverside Hotel
Riverside Hotel

Ilkley has a moderate selection of hotels, the best of which are suggested below:

Hotels in Ilkley

  • The Craiglands Hotel (Best Western)*: One of the cheaper options in Ilkley, located in a grand old Victorian building located between the town centre and the moor.
  • The Cow & Calf Hotel*: Stay right on Ilkley Moor, with fantastic views across Wharfedale. Be woken up by the bleating of sheep and stroll just across the road to explore the Cow and Calf rocks.
  • Ilkley Riverside Hotel*: Located by the River Wharfe, with views of the moor, this hotel offers good value rooms, a great location and a lovely terrace for outdoor dining in summer.
  • The Crescent Inn*: Stylish rooms in the heart of Ilkley with friendly staff and a great restaurant and bar on the ground floor.

Where to Eat in Ilkley

Bettys (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*): A renowned cafe with exquisite cakes, pastries, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea options. Queues can be long and it’s not possible to book in advance. They also have a bakery section for buying delicious takeaway treats. Open every day 9am – 5pm, along The Grove.

The Box Tree (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*): A Michelin-starred restaurant serving fine cuisine. Open Wed-Sat for dinner, Fri-Sun for lunch. Located on the edge of the A65 main road, not far from the town centre.

Bistrot Pierre (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*): Part of a chain of high quality yet good value French restaurants. Located in the Crescent Hotel.

Friends of Ham (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*): Drinks and light bites including grilled sandwiches, salads and sharing boards with a couple of nice outdoor terraces. Kitchen opens 11 am. Closed Monday.

Emporio Italia (FB page, Tripadvisor Reviews*): An authentic family-run Italian restaurant and one of the best restaurants in Ilkley. Open for dinner only on Thu-Sat. Closed Sun & Mon.

Guidebooks to explore more of Yorkshire

The Rough Guide to Yorkshire* is a great little guidebook and has a section on Ilkley and things to do nearby. The Yorkshire Dales Pathfinder Guide* has a good collection of short hikes suitable for the entire family and the Guide to North Yorkshire Pub Walks* has some fun walks in the Dales for those who are hungry and thirsty.

For more walks and things to do in Yorkshire, see our Yorkshire Guide.

FAQS: Visiting Ilkley

Is Ilkley worth visiting?

Ilkley is definitely worth visiting. There’s lots to do in this charming town, from walks on Ilkley Moor, swimming in the river and visiting the many unique shops, cafes and restaurants.

How big is Ilkley?

Ilkley is a medium-sized town of 15,000 residents. The centre is not too big, and definitely walkable.

Who owns Ilkley Moor?

Bradford Council manages the Moor. This is in contrast to the opposite moor, where Beamsley Beacon is, which is privately owned.

How far is Ilkey from Leeds?

Ilkley is an easy 30-minute train ride from leaves, with trains leaving every half an hour throughout the day.

Where is Ilkley?

Ilkley is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales in Western Yorkshire, 30 minutes from both Leeds and Bradford.

Where is Ilkley Moor?

Ilkley Moor is on the southern edge of the town. Getting there involves walking about 10 minutes uphill from the centre of town.

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