The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide 2023: Leeds, Sheffield, Thirsk, Holmfirth and Ilkley all feature as Yorkshire is praised again

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Five Yorkshire towns and cities have made it into the 2023 edition of The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide.

This year there is a debut for new entry Holmfirth – with the market town near Huddersfield selected for its successful evolution from cobbled backwater full of Last of the Summer Wine fans to a thriving, creative community. Its lack of a railway station no longer holds it back from inclusion in the Guide, as writers decided that due to high-profile issues with reliability on Northern and Transpennine routes, transport links were no longer as relevant.

Ilkley, last year’s overall UK winner, returns to the Guide as writers continue to be impressed by its range of shops, sports facilities, access to incredible countryside and ‘can do’ local attitude that encourages mucking in and community cohesion.

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Thirsk, which has not appeared in the Guide for several years, has made a comeback, picked out for its ‘no-nonsense, sensible’ ethos. The spiritual home of James Herriot has not fallen victim to over-tourism and remains at the heart of a strong farming community.

Thirsk town centreThirsk town centre
Thirsk town centre

Cities have come roaring back to the Guide following the Covid years, when villages and rural locations were favoured, and Leeds appears for the second consecutive year. Writers loved the Climate Innovation District and Kirkgate Market. After it was omitted from the Guide following the fall-out over the tree felling scandal and concerns about the city centre’s future direction since the departure of John Lewis, Sheffield has been included again, with editors particularly impressed with Kelham Island and a cultural footprint that includes an independent music scene and highly-regarded theatre offering.

"Cities are back this year. We realised that there was a lot of panic-moving during the pandemic, and not everyone could hack living in the countryside in places where you are very reliant on a car. It’s easier in the city, there’s culture and convenience and people aren’t hesitant about going to the cinema or theatre any more.

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"We love to spot places at the start of their journey rather than coming in when they are already very popular, and this year’s northern winner, Whitley Bay, is a good example of that.”

Kelham Island Museum, SheffieldKelham Island Museum, Sheffield
Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield


“If the trains don’t work anyway, there’s no point limiting yourself to places with stations!” said Tim. “Holmfirth has a proper buzz now and is full of interesting people doing interesting things. It’s not lost its soul, it’s not just old men on cobbled streets any more but it has the right combination of old and new.

"We picked out the Picture Dome for live music, and proper pubs like the Holmfirth Tavern. About a decade ago there was a campaign against a new Tesco being opened, and that has helped to keep the town centre interesting. The Bluebird Bakery is very wholesome, with good locally-made bread. There is a greengrocer and a good market. The Nest is an events space with classes. It’s a hearty community with conveniences.”


Citu Climate Innovation District Bridge off Clarence Road near the Royal Armouries crossing the River Aire, LeedsCitu Climate Innovation District Bridge off Clarence Road near the Royal Armouries crossing the River Aire, Leeds
Citu Climate Innovation District Bridge off Clarence Road near the Royal Armouries crossing the River Aire, Leeds

“It’s not fashionable, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a sensible, solid, honest choice. You can still feel the sense of what it was like in Herriot’s day. It has good road links, access to the best countryside, but it’s not touristy and the perfect example of somewhere you would look to put down roots. It’s not gone down the Airbnb route and it has good butchers and a market.”


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“Personally I think it’s the best winner we’ve ever had! It’s got everything. The moor on your doorstep, fantastic sports clubs, lovely shops. It’s a great place for teenagers. The community is willing to muck in and they have a knack for achieving things. It helps that the town is affluent, but it has that left-wing edge so people care about sustainability and the environment. They’ve just held their first Pride event, and the literary festival is nearly 50 years old. There are nice, caring people in Ilkley.”


Holmfirth rooftopsHolmfirth rooftops
Holmfirth rooftops

“Leeds doesn’t shout about itself enough. There are some horrible motorways and it keeps the river hidden away, but everywhere is within walking distance. Kirkgate Market is a proper hub for affordable food, Jay Rayner (Guardian food critic) loves going there. The city centre has the right combination of posh and not-so-posh shops, plus the Victorian arcades.

"The Climate Innovation District is fantastic – it’s so hard to buy an eco-home in a normal development. It’s a stylish place, good location, and a decent community of enthusiastic people who have moved from a long way to live there.

"Headingley is changing for the better, the tide of students is receding towards the city centre and there are opportunities for families to get into old student houses and bedsits, There are two independent cinemas, community groups, the greengrocer. Farsley also came close to being included on its own, mainly because of Sunny Bank Mills, which is a proper hive for small businesses.”


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"Sheffield’s had a long absence, and this is the first time we’ve gone back to the centre and said, it’s not just the ‘posh’ bits in the west near the Peak District. The city centre will pick up like crazy in the next five years. There are some really good developers.

"It’s had a tough few years, with the trees and John Lewis leaving, but it’s got a great homegrown cultural scene. The Leadmill’s future is a concern, but the National Theatre’s production of Richard Hawley’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge has shown the country what Sheffield’s about. Leeds has always been more commercial, but Sheffield is all about culture.”