Things To Do In Halifax
When I first started this blog, I never imagined for a second that one day I’d end up writing a post about the various things to do in Halifax – my happy-valley little hometown.
Firstly, this is because the sum total of my travels to date has essentially been one big attempt to get as far away from Halifax as I possibly can. I hit the road and didn’t look back for a good long while.
But, it was also because it never actually occurred to me that people would even want to read such a post.
I mean, who the hell ever visits Halifax?
But then, through the magic of Google Keywords (an SEO tool used by the likes of me), I discovered that 1000 people are searching for what exactly there is ‘to do in Halifax’ every single month which suggests that 1000 people are visiting, and need information about what to see, what to do and what to avoid.
And so, I guess that I had better set about answering that.
Halifax train station is situated at the bottom of the town center opposite the domineering Beacon Hill. If you arrive at the train station then it is easy to find the town center as there is only one way to go – simply head forwards and upwards. There are signs for the Piece Hall as soon as you get out of the station.
There are only 2 platforms handling trains towards Manchester and Leeds. There are several trains an hour from Leeds, Bradford and Manchester and less frequent ones from York and Preston. There are also 2 services per hour to and from Huddersfield.
Hebden Bridge can also be reached from Halifax train station, there are 4 per hour (for Manchester and Preston) and the ride takes around 13 minutes.
The bus station handles busses from Bradford & Leeds as well as Rochdale & Burnley. If you arrive at the bus station, simply head right from the main entrance area and you will hit the town.
Things To Do in Halifax
The Piece Hall is the jewel in whatever crown Halifax purports to wear. It is an impressive & sprawling 18th-century former cloth trading hall which was built by the wealthy merchants at the peak of the industrial revolution (Halifax’s golden-age of prosperity). It is now an open-air events space lined by a variety of shops and cafes.
The Piece Hall was closed for major refurbishment for nearly a decade but reopened in August 2017 after a multi-million-pound makeover. The restored Piece Hall is still finding its purpose in the town and for me, doesn’t quite to seem to know what it wants. It is nevertheless an impressive space, is totally unique in the UK and has the potential to do something.
There are a few cafes, a gin bar, and one restaurant. There are also a growing number of shops selling trinkets.
Eureka holds the prestigious title of being the UK’s National Children’s Science Museum or something like that. It is a child-focused, highly interactive science museum that brings the subject to life. On weekdays it’s very popular with busloads of school children from across the district.
Eureka is still quite rewarding to visit as an adult and even big kids will not struggle to joyfully pass an hour or so in here. That said, I am not sure the £12.95 price tag can be justified unless you are bringing kids along.
Architecture of Halifax
Halifax has some cracking architectural gems ranging from its 18th Century heyday right up to the 20th century. There are a hell of a lot of Grade II and even Grade I buildings across the town, its suburbs and across the Calder Valley.
Much of the town centre dates back to the cloth trading and industrial era and there are some fine examples of Victorian civic construction. The Halifax Town Hall and All Souls Church (situated in Boothtown, about 15 minutes walk from the bus station) were designed by Sir Charles Barry who also designed the Houses of Parliament.
The bank buildings of Halifax are also particularly impressive which makes sense when considering that the financial services sector continues to employ about 6000 people in the town. The rather noble-looking Lloyds and Natwest buildings on Commercial Street date back to the 1850’s as does the Halifax Branch a bit further along.
However, the most dominant of the bank buildings has to be the monolithic Lloyds Banking Group office at Trinity Road. It’s a mass of sandstone of glass constructed in 1977 as the former Halifax Building Society headquarter. Oddly, the office was built in the site of an old Masonic Temple which can still be seen – simply walk up towards the entrance, then into the opening which separates the two buildings and peer through the glass.
For a kick-ass viewpoint over the town, head up to Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill is easily visible from the town centre, it’s the hill which rises up from behind the train station with the beacon on top. The beacon was erected as a war warning but was mercifuly, never lit for this purpose. It was also, formerly the space for exhibiting the bodies of executed criminals to serve as a stark warning to others for all to see.
The trail to Beacon Hill through the woods is very pleasant and makes for a manageable little hike. Walk North-west from the town centre towards the hill. Alternatively, you can take the 20 Claremount Bus (from opposite WH Smiths) to the terminus, get off and then walk to the summit through the fields.
Wainhouse Tower dominates the skyline around Halifax. It’s perched over the Copley valley and is visible for miles around. Apparently, Wainhouse Tower is the largest folly in Europe because it was built to serve no purpose whatsoever. It is open to the public on Bank Holidays only and you have to walk to the top. I did ask for a private showing for the purposes of researching this article but the council wanted £87.50 just to let me in…
To get to the tower itself, get on the 574/579 Bus and jump off after King Cross by the fire station. Then walk up the path and head towards the tower. The path leads through an eerie, overgrown graveyard.
Shibden Hall is a stately manor house once owned by the prominent Lister family. The hall dates back to at least 1420 and despite extensive additions over the years, the Tudor front is still visible. It is open to the public and houses the council ran, Yorkshire Folk museum inside.
The hall is also built into the grounds of a pleasant park and landscaped gardens. There are a few paths to walk around, a children’s boat lake and a children’s mini-railway.
The Industrial Museum tells the story of Halifax Industrial history. There are some working artifacts such as looms. This isn’t necessarily one to bring the kids to but will be of interest to anybody with an interest in local history or the history of industry.
Streets in the Sky
The Borough Market in Halifax is internally very impressive and an under-appreciated gem. However, the most intriguing thing about it is the “Streets in the Sky”, an actual street of terraced houses built one-storey above ground level into the market. The houses are all currently sat empty which is a real waste of prime real estate. However, the dilapidation does lend it an eerie charm.
The Streets in the Sky are currently closed to the public except on Bank Holidays.
It seems that Halifax has always resisted progress. Along with Hull, Halifax was the last town in England to cease using the guillotine as a means of execution and continued with the barbaric practice for years after the rest of the country had abandoned it. In fact, there is even an olde saying; “May the good Lord spare us from Hull, Hell & Halifax” and the severed head of John the Baptist was once the town’s emblem.
The site of the Gibbet is a short, 10-minute walk up from the town centre. Its original spot is marked by a replica of the apparatus erected in 1974. In the absence of the genuine guillotine, maybe the walk up can only be justified by hardcore history buffs.
Bankfield Museum is set in an elegant, Victorian Manor house in Boothtown near to the Akroydon Workers village. It was originally established as the official, regimental museum of the Duke of Wellington regiment and still houses a fine selection of officer uniforms and weaponry from The Battle of Dettington (1773) right through to the modern day occupation of Iraq.
As well as the military and textiles collections, the building interior is lavish and in itself is well worth checking out; it encapsulates a bygone age of opulent Victorian splendor.
Dean Clough Art Gallery
Dean Clough Industrial complex was once the largest industrial park in Europe and churned out countless tonnes of wool and textile products each year. Following the decline of industry, the complex has now successfully revived sparing it from decay and demolition. The mills are now populated mostly be office spaces but there are a few decent restaurants and bars as well as an art gallery.
Whilst none of the artists on display are exactly famous (yet..), the quality is very good and the exhibitions well curated. You can pass a very pleasant hour here before having some slightly overpriced but decent lunch at 53 Degrees North.
The charming town of Hebden Bridge is 13 miles away from Halifax centre set in the heart of the Calder Valley. It is situated right on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border and is roughly, halfway between Leeds and Manchester. Hebden Bridge is part of the Calderdale Metropolitan area but residents will be mortally offended if you ever suggest they that live in Halifax.
Hebden is a quirky, bohemian town where you can find vegetarian bakeries, ethnic-ware shops, and holistic therapies There are also some great day hikes in and around the area and the pubs are (mostly) very welcoming. I will do a separate post on Hebden Bridge because it deserves one.
Heptonstall is a tiny hamlet of cottages set some 800 feet above Hebden Bridge. It feels like it has hardly changed in 400 years with little, weavers houses and narrow, cobbled streets. Heptonstall has an awesome, ruined church, a spectacular view out across the valley and is also the final resting place of American Poet Sylvia Plath. She is buried in the Churchyard.
Heptonstall can be accessed by following the steep paths up from Hebden Bridge. There is one which starts near Hangingroyd and goes up through the woods or alternatively you can follow the main road which rises up past the Fox & Goose pub. It is a steep climb but manageable to all except the very infirm. It should take around 15 minutes.
Stoodley Pike is one of the many hills (“Pike” is an old-fashioned, local word for hill) that rises up over the Calder Valley between Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. Stoodley Pike is readily identifiable by the phallic, pointed stone monument which sits on top it and is visible from much of the valley. Hiking up to Stoodley Pike is a rite of passage for locals. You can climb the dark steps up towards the monument out onto the panorama viewing platform. There are some great day hikes to and from Stoodley Pike that take in the wild moors and the quaint hamlets.
It is usually very windy at the summit and conditions can be very harsh in winter.
Nightlife & Entertainment in Halifax
Halifax was recently described by The Guardian as “The Shoreditch of the North” on account it’s apparent renaissance, run of hipster bars and Indie music scene. In reality, that is a very generous comparison and the town remains a bit of a cultural void despite some improvements.
The Victoria Theatre hosts mostly populist productions but does occasionally stage big-name gigs. The Stone Roses, Kasabian, and The Waterboys have all played in recent years. The monthly comedy night (held on the last Friday) is also usually very good.
There are 2 cinemas in Halifax. The Vue is situated at the soulless, Broadstreet plaza and shows Hollywood hits for inflated prices. Square Chapel down near the Piece Hall shows a lot of indie and British films.
The good news is that, provided you can find something worth doing in the evening, there are a few good pubs for you to have a drink in either before or afterward.
Best Pubs in Halifax
Firstly, the Old Cock Pub behind Greggs on “the precinct” is the oldest tavern in Halifax and is quite important in local history. However, I cannot recommend frequenting it at the moment. There is a decent Wetherspoons, The Percy Shaw, at Broad Street (the big, modern plaza) named after the guy who invented the “Cat’s Eyes”, reflective road studs.
The Grayston Unity
Situated directly opposite the Town Hall, the Grayston Unity is a pint-sized little boozer which holds the prestigious honour of being the smallest venue in the UK. It offers a decent selection of craft ale, a lot of weird gin’s and some award winning pork pies.
The Grayston does gigs, poetry nights and has a selection of board games and books.
The Lantern is fast establishing itself as the hippest boozer in town. It has some amazing ales (if the Opaque is on, you have to try it), plays decent tunes (think 6 music) and attracts a decent clientele. The upstairs section opens on weekend for gigs (Baxter Dury, Space) and holds occasional disco’s.
The Victorian Craft Ale Cafe
The Victorian was one of the first of the “renaissance” bars to open. It’s spacious, warm & welcoming and has a lot of real ale on tap.
There are a few nightclubs in Halifax. I cannot recommend any of them to you unless you like shit music and random violence. The night ends after last orders.
Best Restaurants in Halifax
There are enough decent eating options in Halifax but nowhere truly special.
The Olive Branch next to McDonald’s, is a Turkish style bistro which does a fantastic, £4.95 lunch time offer. My favourites are the Shwarma and the veg Moussaka. The Thai Corner situated inside the Borough Market is always buzzing on a lunchtime and offers great value Thai favourites at great prices.
Thai food is very much en-vogue in Halifax right now (presumably because of the number of divorcee’s bringing their Thai brides back…) and we now have “The Thai-angle”, a trio of Thai restaurants situated at the top of Broad Street but best accessed via Waterhouse Street.
Halifax is in West Yorkshire which of course means that there are a lot of decent Indian/Pakistan restaurants to choose from offering great curries at very acceptable prices. The best ones are situated in Sowerby Bridge (10 minutes from Halifax by train) but the pick of the ones in the centre has to Kamran which is a humble, unassuming old-skool curry house above a shop on Union Street. Kashmiri Aroma opposite the Broad Street Plaza was also good the last time I visited.
Ricci’s Place on Town Hall Street does good Italian & Tapas dishes and is open from brunch until supper. Oh, and there is a good vegetarian restaurant situated above the heath food shop near the bus station; it is only open during the day.
Urban Exploration in Halifax
One of my favourite things in Halifax is simply checking out the quaint little corners and admiring the old buildings. Some are still occupied and well maintained whilst others are in abandoned and falling into disrepair. There are some highly impressive Victorian structures around and a few utterly charming, workers villages built by notable, local industrial philanthropists to home their work forces.
The entire suburb of Manor Heath and Saville Park harks back to a long passed age of prosperity. There are some magnificent mansions, large family homes, and charming terraces. Saville Park can be reached by jumping on the bus 579 bus.
The Crossley Heath School is located the at the top of Manor Heath moor is an imposing example construction. Ii was originally built as an orphanage after the Crimean War. The utterly unique Big 6 on Thomas Street is one of the strangest I’ve ever drunk in – it is literally a pub built into a terraced house.
There are also some stunning, palatial manor houses built right onto Manor Heath and the park is worth checking out.
Albert Promenade is a Victorian promenade once Pilar for sundae strolls which offers breathtaking, views over the valleys – it is especially stunning at dawn or dusk. There is also a lesser known, overgrown promenade situated right between Burnley and Rochdale Road near to “The Grand View” Pub.
There are 2 notable worker villages in Halifax. None have been turned into tourist attractions like Saltaire near Bradford or Port Sunlight on the Wirral, but they are still pretty and charming and fine examples of the Victorian trend.
Ackroydon is the nearest to the town centre. It is located in Boothtown which is a 15 walk from the cent across the North Bridge. North Bridge itself offers a good view over Dean Clough which, seen in the right light, looks like Bladerunner with a cheeky “Hollywood” sign hung over it. What remains of Akroydon is the very impressive, mock-Gothic, All Souls Church (which needs some repair) and the nearby streets of descending, terraced houses.
Copley Village is much more impressive but you will need to get on a bus to reach it. The 560 bus from Halifax Bus Station takes you to the heart of the village. The village is constructed along the banks of the River Calder set amongst some wild woodland. There is another, smaller church (also needing repair) as well as the gorgeous the houses. Copley Village is the ideal stating point for a hike along the river or canal bank or over the hill and into the moors.