Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide writers have told us what they love about Yorkshire - and revealed the places that didn't quite make it

Yorkshire has had one of its most prolific years ever in The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide - boasting the regional winner for the north of England and six other entries.

After a year like no other in which we recalibrated our relationship with place and community, the annual guide's writers have responded to shifting priorities when selecting their list of desirable neighbourhoods, towns and villages.

As editor Tim Palmer admits, 'it hasn't been a great year for cities' - but instead, the focus has switched to local high streets, accessible countryside and social interaction.

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The writers honed in on places where people work together to improve their area, thriving independent businesses and even quirks such as lidos.


The new criteria means that the spa town of Ilkley - previously dismissed as a quiet retirement community best known for its Michelin-starred restaurant The Box Tree - has been named the best place to live in the north, having been absent from the guide since 2013.

There are four new entries from Yorkshire - Easingwold, Todmorden, Masham and Slaithwaite - as well as a return for the Leeds suburb of Chapel Allerton and past winner York.

Ilkley's ascendancy encapsulates how an area's assets are being viewed through a different lens since the pandemic. Previously, a Michelin-starred eatery would ignite the writers' interests - but in 2020 came the realisation that a good local pub, deli or cafe is far more important. The Box Tree lost its star in 2018 and was put up for sale, but the town's food and drink scene has thrived rather than declined.

Tim's team have also paid far more attention to West Yorkshire rather than North this year, mainly due to superior transport links and the fact that several of the region's tourist honeypots, including both National Parks, suffered from anti-social behaviour and environmental damage during the post-lockdown summer as they experienced unprecedented pressure from visitors.


"We're very excited for Yorkshire this year and the pandemic has given us a different focus. We looked at three key factors - countryside, community and convenience, If your only pleasure in life is being able to go for a daily walk, you want to make sure it's a good one. Community is more important than ever now. People want shops that deliver, and neighbours who are nice to each other and respect the rules. They don't want to have to get in their car to go somewhere any more. They want choice to be within easy reach.

"Small towns have suddenly become the best places to live. They're big enough to have everything, but small enough for people to still feel connected. West Yorkshire had suddenly risen to the top of the list in a way it never has before. Places like Slaithwaite and Todmorden give you a great choice of things to do - both have links to Leeds and Manchester, and the rail network is far more extensive in the west.

"The National Parks have had their troubles in the last year, so we've not included any honeypots this time as they are losing their appeal. But in Yorkshire there is fantastic scenery everywhere, you are never far away from it."



Tim's interest in Ilkley was piqued when he read about a local campaign group's successful fight to prevent sewage being dumped in the River Wharfe by Yorkshire Water - a practice that is legal but hardly welcome in this increasingly environmentally-conscious community.

"Ilkley has become a place where people work together to achieve things. The bathing water campaign is a real cause for celebration, and they managed it despite the odds being against them - it was very impressive.

"Other than that, you have the easy trains to Leeds and Bradford, and scenery like Ilkley Moor, which is a wonder. Everyone goes to Ilkley Grammar School (a comprehensive), which brings people together and forges that identity among younger people. With so many good sports clubs too, it's a great place for teenagers. The river is lovely and Ilkley Lido is even better.

"It's just a fantastic combination of convenience and a magical location. We realised it didn't all revolve around The Box Tree - a Michelin star puts somewhere on the map, but good pubs and cafes are something people would much rather have. I also like the new cargo bike scheme for local business deliveries."

Chapel Allerton Festival


An oft-overlooked market town near York has suddenly come into its own this year.

"It's countryside and convenience again. Close to the Howardian Hills, but also bang on the A19 so there are no winding lanes to get to Leeds or York. It's got a pretty Georgian square, it's very civilised - nothing fancy, but nice places to eat. There are three very good pubs and bistro The Olive Branch for your avocado and toast. The nearby schools are good and it's ideal for families who want country, but not too country."

Chapel Allerton

Sometimes parodied for its trendy tropes, yet creative Chapel Allerton is one of the few urban postcodes that enhanced its appeal during the year cities lost their gloss. The north Leeds neighbourhood has featured before, but Tim feels it is still miles ahead of any large city suburb in the UK.

"Leeds has a good claim to be Britain's best city, but some of the visible high-rise buildings are pretty ugly, and they have far more roads than they need. But Chapel Allerton is exactly what you want in a suburb - it's got a brilliant high street with a cheese shop, fishmonger, butcher.


"I'm so impressed with the energy and activities aimed at families. CA Spaces have done things like an advent calendar trail and provided a mud kitchen. They're quite unusual and they're using space really well. For walks, you have Gledhow Valley Woods and the parks nearby.

"I hope it bleeds into its surroundings and its good influence spreads, because it's the right sort of gentrification."


This traditional Dales market town is most commonly associated with sheep - but Tim feels it has developed as one of the better-connected rural enclaves.

"It's on the A1 side of the Dales, and we see it as the gateway. It's proper Dales, but you can still escape quite easily to somewhere like Ripon. It's the best of both worlds. The breweries are great, as is the sheep fair - sheep are all over the place and we were told it's not unusual to find them in your garden.

"It's not stuck in the mud, it's an active place with a community hub and Happy House, which runs creative courses. There's a proper market and the square has a butcher, greengrocer and deli. Ripon Grammar and Bedale High are good schools. It's a safe, friendly choice for families."


As Hebden Bridge has become pricier, its unique soul has begun to migrate further down the Calder Valley to cheaper Todmorden - Yorkshire's last outpost before you reach Manchester.

"Todmorden has a lot of the same advantages as Hebden. It's quite fresh, interesting, and less established, with plenty of character - a place to make your mark.

"We like Incredible Edible, the grow-your-own urban gardening project, and there are great train links to Leeds, Halifax and Manchester."


This former mill village near Huddersfield feels like the region's best-kept secret. Since the regeneration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, it has boomed and now attracts younger buyers who commute to Leeds and Manchester by train.

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Tim is particularly enthused by its high street, which he sees as future-proof with its focus on communal spaces rather than just shops.

"It's got so many good shops, many of them co-operatives. It has things that millennials love - Rumpus for burgers, Anello for pizza, craft breweries, The sustainable children's clothes shop, Acorn & Pip, has a cafe and play area, so it's somewhere people will go to spend time. It's got the quirky Moonraking Festival, and events like lantern parades. It's full of families, nice old mill cottages, and it's just a nice glimpse into the future."


York has become a perennial that just can't be usurped from the guide - mainly because of its educational assets. Tim believes there is nowhere better in the country for schools, both state and independent.

"You have Fulford, which we named the best comprehensive of the decade, and Archbishop Holgate's too. It's also bit funkier now, it's not just history and tourism. The food scene has improved and it's great for dog walking. Bishopthorpe Road is another great high street for the future, and the trains are excellent - it's ideal if you work in London. It's just a hard place to shift."

The ones that didn't quite make it

Since the furore over tree felling died down, Sheffield has appeared in the guide, but the general mood shift away from cities means it has not been included this year.

Tim also likes Hull, which was included in its City of Culture year in 2017, and would like it evolve to return.

"If you're young and creative, it's good value and as good a place as anywhere in the country to be. I also like Beverley."

The coast is also a notable absentee, and Tim admits he is still struggling to find the perfect seaside spot to feature. The forerunner is Saltburn.

"It's a proper old resort town that isn't grim in winter. Whitby is not really a residents' town any more, and Staithes is lovely but full of second homes. I have hopes for Scarborough, but places like Bridlington and Withernsea are a way off yet.

"In the Dales, Settle is interesting, and the area around Keighley, like Silsden and Shipley, is often overlooked. We have included Saltaire before, but the downside is that the Salt houses are so small. In a year like this one, you wouldn't want to be working from home with children in one. With the restrictions on alterations, it's hard how to see how can they become as environmentally friendly as people there would perhaps want to be.

"Holmfirth is better now, it's not just Last of the Summer Wine any more, but it lacks a station. Wetherby is nice and convenient for the A1."

Harrogate has not featured for several years and there is distinct apathy towards one of the region's most affluent towns, yet Tim is encouraged by the news that the Everyman cinema and restaurant quarter will be revitalised by the conversion of the old Jamie's Italian unit into an independent food hall.

"I'm not a fan of Harrogate - it's sold its soul to overpriced corporate shopping and they seem happy to be an expensive town.

"Northallerton is one of the market towns we don't really consider - it seems to be the wrong size. It ended up having a lot of chain stores that don't really want to be there and trying to be a shopping hub, but it hasn't really worked.

"Huddersfield has lovely old buildings but it's looking a bit sad now, and Halifax has pulled quite far ahead of it. Ripon is still good, and I want to explore Pickering and Kirkbymoorside.

"South Yorkshire is harder to include outside of Sheffield, but I'd like to look at somewhere like Penistone."

Read the guide in full here.