Yorkshire Sculpture Park - Top Tips for Visiting

This post is based on a visit in August 2020. 

A budget-friendly day out in Yorkshire. Perfect for those who enjoy long walks in beautiful countryside with various modern sculptures to enjoy. Lots of space, open loos, dogs welcome on leads and a fabulous spot for a picnic. 

Yorkshire Sculpture Park - Top Tips for Visiting

Yorkshire Sculpture Park has always been on my list of places to visit but we have just never made it. My friend posted a few photos from her visit last week on Facebook though and I was sold. It looked fab so I booked us tickets. It is just under a 2 hour easy drive from Newcastle straight down the A1. 

I think Yorkshire Sculpture Park used to be free entry and you paid for parking (I spotted an old sign which said parking was £12). They have changed the system recently to help with social distancing and I think it works really well. 

At the moment, you pre-book a morning or afternoon arrival time online. You can arrive at any time during your slot and can stay at the park all day until it closes. At the moment, it is £6 per adult and kids go free so for us, our visit was £12 (your ticket includes parking). I thought this was a bargain and YSP is a charity and your entrance fee is put towards the fabulous work they do. Booking online also registers your details for track and trace. 

On arrival, have your tickets ready on your phone or printed out and show them to the attendant when prompted from your car. This is the only time you really come into contact with anyone at admissions, you simply park your car up and then walk into the sculpture park. There are accessible parking spots much closer to the entrance.  All attendants were wearing visors and kept the queue moving quickly. 

I was shocked at how busy the car park was. I think we had forgotten what crowded places were like. It reminded me of the car parks at a theme park. 

Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a huge place - it covers 500 acres. There is loads of outdoor space but there are also a lot of people there (at least they were on the day of our visit) . 

There are lots of safety measures in place though and YSP have done everything they can to keep visitors safe from only opening specific areas to plenty of hand sanitiser stations, gates left open where possible, right of way signs on two-way gates so you automatically know who has right of way (more places should have these) and one way routes around exhibitions which are clearly signposted. 

Despite the numbers, there were not really any queues on the day of our visit ( a couple of people in front of us at the cafe queue but we were straight in the toilets and indoor exhibitions). I was really impressed with the toilets - we used some smaller ones by the Giant Ring sculpture above the formal gardens.

One family bubble is allowed in at a time, you then lock the main door into the building (and an engaged sign with show up), then you have access to the whole toilet block yourself - there is a separate female and male toilet with three cubicles in each. When the whole family is done you unlock the main door into the building. People queue outside and it is so much quicker than the one in, one out systems in some places. 

Yorkshire Sculpture Park is mostly outdoors which means that COVID 19 is much less likely to spread. We were mostly able to socially distance with other families, especially when looking around the sculptures but we did have to fleetingly pass other families on some pathways where a one way system was impossible (or ignored). I am not too worried about this though as the latest evidence does say that fleetingly passing someone is unlikely to spread Coronavirus. It didn't happen a lot. 

There are a couple of indoor areas - an indoor exhibition and cafe for example. These areas all have a member of staff on the door (wearing PPE) and they ensure everyone is wearing a face covering (usual exemptions apply), numbers are limited and that hand sanitiser is used. I watched as one lady was refused entry into the cafe to buy an ice cream as she did not have a face covering (she was not exempt) and it was good to see YSP taking this seriously. 

Wherever you go these days, even if it is outdoors, try and get into the habit of having a face covering with you. You never know when you may need it. 

Basically, there were lots of people there but with the measures in place and the amount of space, I feel happy that visiting here is pretty low risk. 
You can buy a map on arrival at the visitor centre but just snap a photo of the maps on display on your phone, follow the signs or save your pennies and download a free map from their website to your phone.  
We booked an afternoon slot. We left at 11am and got there for 1ish. We brought a picnic and headed to the picnic tables in the first field we came to by the entrance gate. There are only a couple of tables and lots of regulars were pretty savvy and had brought their own blankets and camping chairs.

After looking at the map, we thought there was only one or two picnic areas but there are many throughout the park and most were much better than where we picked near the entrance which was the busiest part. My recommendation would be to take a picnic blanket and enjoy a picnic in the formal gardens (or woodland you walk through to get there which has a few tables). There are lots of bins so please leave no trace. 

Do not attempt to eat your picnic on the grass in the Country Park - you have to dodge a serious amount of sheep poo in this area and one family who tried it were joined by a few sheep who tried to steal their food. The Gardens, Woodland or Hillside Area are much nicer. 
After our picnic, we walked through the woodland to the formal gardens. There is a very easy one way system to follow. 

If you face the river on arrival, the woodland and formal gardens are on your right. Most of this area was accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs with smooth pathways. The Country Park (in the other direction) is mostly grass and the terrain is a bit more challenging in this area. YSP advise you ask staff for the best routes to take if you are visiting with a pushchair or wheelchair. 

The formal gardens are beautiful in themselves. I loved all of the flowers and trees - there are some pretty exotic looking ones that we had not seen before. The sculptures are pretty good too and there is plenty of space to walk around them. This area is showing pieces from Joana Vasconceios (as well as the Underground Gallery) until 3 Jan 2021. 

The Underground Gallery isnt actually underground but it is on the lower level. It has limited numbers and feels light and airy - we were in there for less than 10 minutes and it is definitely worth a quick walk through. 

There is a fair bit of seating around the park but you do have to walk a lot. We only managed to see 1.5 exhibitions and were there for just over three hours walking non-stop (that was Jack's limit). Put your walking shoes on and prepare for kids who do not like walking to moan a little. The park is not flat, there are some hills but nothing steep. 

We liked the seats above the gardens as they offered beautiful panoramic views of the countryside, there are fruit trees lining the walls and it was a brilliant place to butterfly spot. 

You can bring a picnic or there are a couple of takeaway options which were not too busy when we visited. Sandwiches, salads and kids lunch boxes (£5) plus a selection of ice creams and drinks are available. Payment is via card / contactless and please remember your face covering. All seating is outdoors so probably not the best place to stop for a bite to eat on a rainy day. 

After walking around the woodland, gardens, galleries and hillside, we looped back around to the entrance and headed down to the Damien Hirst exhibition (here until 1 April 2022) in the Country Park. This area is less suitable for pushchairs but there were a few people with them so it could not have been too bad. 
You have to walk through fields of sheep which is amusing - they do not seem bothered by us humans at all. 

The sculptures in this area are pretty spread out and Jack had had enough by this point (three hours in) so we got to see one up close and admired the others from afar. It was very humid on the day of our visit and after three hours of walking, we were all feeling a little tired so made our way back to the car. 

Yorkshire Sculpture Park - Top Tips for Visiting

I was worried about how the kids would enjoy YSP but they did seem to enjoy themselves. I think because there is so much to see, it stops it from being too boring. It was only after three hours that Jack started to moan that he was too hot and his legs were hurting (and once he starts, there is no stopping him) which is pretty good going for him. 

I had a brilliant day, the gardens actually exceeded my expectations. I love modern art and I always tell the kids it is good for your soul and makes you think (which they take the mick out of me for) but it is true. We had lots of thoughtful discussions across the day. Even if you do not think you are someone who usually likes art, being outside in beautiful scenery with something a little different to look at is nice and a lovely break from the norm. 

Yorkshire Sculpture Park Information 

  • Pre-book your tickets online (£6 per adult, U18s free - prices include parking). Book a morning or afternoon arrival time (arrive any time in your  2.5hour slot and stay as long as you wish until closing)
  • Use Postcode WF4 4JX
  • Dogs are welcome but keep them on a short lead
  • You can bring a picnic - take your litter home & use a designated area
  • Some areas are accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Ask at the Visitor Centre for the best routes. A changing places toilet is available
  • Face coverings must be worn in indoor spaces including the takeaway cafe and exhibitions
  • Follow signage
  • Toilets are available throughout the site with reduced opening
  • Limited takeaway food and drinks available (card payment only)
  • Do not climb on or touch the sculptures
  • No ball games, kites, frisbees, scooters, bikes or skateboards allowed
  • Do not pick flowers, feed animals or climb trees
  • No BBQs
  • Take a bottle of water with you each - especially on a hot day. All that walking is thirsty work 
  • Take your litter home 
  • The 96 bus (between Barnsley and Wakefield) stops at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park entrance and Wakefield Train Station is a short taxi journey (should cost around £10). If you visit by public transport, you still need to pre-book your ticket online first. 
  • Leeds (I recommend the water taxi and Royal Armouries) and Bradford (I recommend the National Media & Science Museum) are nearby should you wish to extend your stay 

    Find out more and book your ticket here:  https://ysp.org.uk/ 

For us, £12 was an absolute bargain and we loved our day trip to Yorkshire. It is suitable for everyone but I would particularly recommend to those looking for a beautiful long walk in the country with added interest, families with older kids and teens, families with dogs looking for a day out and of course, those who love modern art. 

There were a lot of toddlers and younger children there on our visit. Families with younger ones seemed to mostly be using the park as a base to meet friends,  pick one area and set up a picnic while the little ones ran around which worked well. 

I would not recommend YSP to those who are wary of lots of people. It isn't crowded, you are never within 2m of anyone for longer than 2 seconds (and this does not happen very often) but there are a lot of people there. I also would not recommend to those less mobile or kids who hate walking as there is a lot of walking. We only covered maybe 1/4 of the site and felt like we had a good workout. 

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Thank you for your support as always. 

Please follow social distancing rules & Government guidelines , respect the local area, leave no trace, take litter home, park responsibly and if somewhere is busy on arrival, please consider leaving and returning at a later date. 

Remember face coverings are required for indoor attractions / shops for those aged 11+ (usual exemptions apply)  

Check for local lockdowns / travel restrictions before visiting anywhere. 

Always check updated opening hours / protocols with venues direct before setting off as things may have changed after this post was published. 


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