Add this hillside sculpture park to your itinerary.
I've always been a big-city kind of person. I love everything about bustling metropolises: the tall, architecturally astounding buildings; the diverse array of people; the freedom and ease of public transportation; the ubiquity of high-quality food, art, and culture; to some extent, even the congestion and stress. I soak up and thrive on the energy exuded by those around me. It's infectious (if not occasionally exhausting).
Several years ago, I attended graduate school in London, living in the slightly more residential yet still urban Bethnal Green neighborhood (for reference, my flat was a 10-minute walk from the Gherkin). If I wasn't taking weekend trips to other big cities, like Dublin, Paris, or Amsterdam, I was exploring London's markets, museums, and expansive parks—a little slice of greenery in the middle of the city.
About a year into my time in London, my sister came to visit me, and we had some days to occupy before going on a standard European Grand Tour. We soon ran out of things to do in London (we'd traveled there with our family a handful of times before), and began brainstorming nearby destinations for a short weekend trip. We remembered our cousin lived in the county of Yorkshire—in a city called Leeds, to be specific. I'd heard it was the major industrial center of Yorkshire, but was a place I had never been to and otherwise didn't know much about.
What was there to see in Leeds? Turns out, quite a lot.
Almost two days of intense touristing later—cathedrals, museums, markets, shopping arcades, and canal-side views—we still hadn't seen it all. But the weather was supposed to be nice the next day (it had rained all weekend), and we wanted to do something outdoors, and more low-key. My cousin said she knew just the place.
As promised, the next day was sunny and lovely. We took a car out and drove for quite some time before pulling up to a large, supremely green property that looked like a giant estate (sounds out of the ordinary, but England has many). As we approached the entrance, I noticed little black-and-white figures dotting the hillside. As we got closer, I identified the little white ones easily (sheep), but it took a minute to figure out the darker ones; they weren't black, but bronze. Sculptures!
Turns out, we were in a town called Wakefield at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an open-air gallery that houses over 80 works of art from a variety of international artists. It's got one of the largest collections of Henry Moore's work in Europe, and features other prominent artists like Ai Weiwei, Jaume Plensa, and Barbara Hepworth. It's sprawled over 200 hectares (500 acres) and open year-round; families picnic and sunbathe in the summer, and in the winter, bundle up to enjoy the art against moody, poetic gray landscapes.
And it was just the thing to do that day. After hours spent weaving our way through the grass, admiring sculptures, and even frolicking with a few sheep, we left the park—artistically fulfilled, adequately sunned, and as relaxed as we'd been the whole trip—and made our way back to London, via Leeds.