The Best Things To Do in Burnley
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
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Despite there being many things to do in Burnley, it's not often considered a major tourist destination in England. Having spent two days in the city, I was pleasantly surprised by how many interesting historic attractions in Burnley there are to explore, and how picturesque the surrounding landscape is. We were given plenty of recommendations on walks and hikes to go on around Burnley during our trip as well, meaning if you're an outdoorsy type of person you won't be left disappointed here! So, what exactly is Burnley famous for?
Since the medieval period, Burnley has largely been known as a market town, as it was surrounded by farmland, with manor houses and royal forests (such as the Forest of Bowland) dotted around the countryside. It was during the Industrial Revolution that Burnley really made a name for itself, becoming Lancashire's most important mill town as well as one of the world's largest producers of cotton cloth. Today, Burnley is still largely a manufacturing city, but it has much more to offer tourists and is definitely worth visiting if you happen to find yourself in the north of England. It's also a great option for a day trip from either Manchester or Liverpool. Here's what I found to be the best things to do in Burnley:
1. Visit Gawthorpe Hall
One of the best tourist attractions in Burnley has to be Gawthorpe Hall. The current hall dates back to 1600 and was redesigned in the 1850's, by the same man who designed the Houses of Parliament and Downton Abbey. Gawthorpe Hall has actually been given the nickname of the "Downton of the North" because of this connection. It's set within hundreds of acres of beautiful parkland which is completely free to walk around, but there is a £6 entry fee to go inside of the hall. Whether you're on a day trip to Burnley or are staying a bit longer in the city, visiting Gawthorpe Hall is an incredible experience and should be at the very top of your list of things to do in Burnley.
2. Educate yourself at Queen Street Mill Textile Museum
Queen Street Mill Textile Museum is only the second historic factory that I've visited on my travels (the first being in Scotland as part of Scotland's Explorer Pass). If you're looking for unique spots in Burnley to visit, you'll want to make a stop here. The mill dates back to the 19th century and is the last operational steam-powered weaving mill in the world. The mill is only open on specific days of the week, and costs just £3 for the tour, but if you happen to be visiting Burnley when it's not open, I would still recommend driving to the mill to take a look at its original exterior. It's definitely a must-see in Burnley!
Visiting Queen Street Mill Textile Museum is one of the best things to do in Burnley, and the tour itself is very informative. We had a lovely tour guide who took us around the different areas of the mill, showing us how the machines would have been used to produce Burnley's world-famous calico cloth. The mill only closed its doors in 1982 and has since opened as a museum where you can step back into Victorian times and learn about the important role that mills played in Burnley's history. Queen Street Mill is also where a scene from The King's Speech was filmed - so there's that too!
3. Stop by St Peter's Church
A bit of a hidden gem in Burnley, but still an important historic attraction, is St Peter's Church. The oldest part of the church dates back to the 15th century, but the site has been a place of Christian worship for over one thousand years. It has a rather interesting historic graveyard surrounding it as well which you can walk around, and the church itself has been designated a Grade II* listed building. Visiting the church is one of the best free things to do in Burnley, and is worth the short walk from the city centre to see!
4. Walk to the Singing Ringing Tree
A very unique point of interest in Burnley is the Singing Ringing Tree. It's a musical sculpture constructed of pipes, taking the shape of a tree bending in the wind. As the wind passes through the pipes, it creates a tune which you can hear as you approach it. It was completed in 2006, and the site offers incredible panoramic views of the countryside - perfect for watching the sunset or having a picnic. There's a parking lot nearby, so if you don't fancy hiking up to it you can opt to park here instead and take an easy 10 minute walk to it. Make sure you add this one to your list of things to do in Burnley!
5. Explore Burnley's city centre
Although there aren't too many things to do in Burnley's city centre in terms of attractions, it's worth taking some time out of your schedule and walking around it. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from, and you'll be able to gain a further understanding of the industrial nature of the city. One of the most popular streets in Burnley, especially for nightlife, is Hammerton Street, which is very picturesque to walk along. Most of Burnley's main attractions are outside of the city centre though, so you won't need to plan too much time here.
6. Have lunch at The Palazzo
There are plenty of places to eat in Burnley, and after doing extensive research we decided to have lunch at The Palazzo, which is located in the heart of the city centre. The interior of the restaurant is stunning, with its high ceilings, elaborate decorations, and tall pillars. The building was built in the 19th century, and was once home to a bank, so you can imagine how impressive the architecture is. It's now a traditional Italian restaurant serving a delicious selection of pizzas and pastas, all made right on site. They also have a lot of great cocktail deals on too!
7. Take a stroll around Towneley Hall
Towneley Hall is one of the most impressive buildings in all of Burnley. It sits within the largest park in the city and has a history dating back to the 13th century. Entry to the historic house costs £2.75, and you'll be able to visit its various rooms, learn about the history of the family who once owned the property, and observe some of the hall's fascinating art and artefacts collection. The grounds surrounding the hall are also worth walking around, and are very popular with city residents throughout the year. If you only have a few hours to spend in Burnley, I would put Towneley Hall towards the top end of your list of things to do in Burnley.
8. Take a drive around the countryside
If you have some time to spare during your trip to Burnley, the countryside surrounding the city is absolutely breathtaking and worth driving around - especially if you have nice weather! There are plenty of day trips from Burnley you can go on to the various little villages in the area, as well as a number of restaurants near Burnley to stop at along the way. As you make your way through the countryside, don't forget to stop off at some viewpoints and take in your surroundings (and get some photos too).
9. Plan a trip to Heptonstall
Out of all of the villages near Burnley to visit, I would highly recommend taking the short drive into Yorkshire and visiting Heptonstall. The first written record of this village comes from 1274, and it was historically known as being important for hand-loom weaving. One of the main attractions in Heptonstall is the Church of St Thomas a' Becket, a ruined 13th century church which was partly destroyed during a storm in the 19th century. A second church was later built next to it which is still operating, making it one of the only sites in England to be home to two churches at once. It's a fascinating place near Burnley to visit if you have time!
10. Go on a day trip to Hebden Bridge
Located very close to Heptonstall (the village's original settlement) is the popular Yorkshire market town of Hebden Bridge. Its location among fast-flowing streams and its access to major wool markets made it ideal for the use of water-powered weaving mills. The village began to grow in size and importance in the 19th century, and today this town is very popular with tourists because of its market as well as its shops and restaurants. The surrounding area is also a haven for people looking to get involved in outdoor activities. Visiting Hebden Bridge is one of the best things to do near Burnley and should definitely be considered when you're planning your trip to the area.
Where To Stay In Burnley
We were fortunate enough to be able to spend 2 nights at the stunning Rosehill House Hotel, which is ideally located for accessing both Burnley's city centre and further out attractions such as the Queen Street Mill and Gawthorpe Hall. The house that the hotel now occupies was built in 1856 for a cotton mill owner, and since then has changed hands many times, eventually being turned into a hotel in 1963. The hotel is now a family run business, and they have kept many of the unique original features of the house such as the stained glass windows and Italian fireplaces, which adds to its charm. The owners and staff that we came across were all lovely to talk to and very helpful, which made us feel all the more welcome during our stay.
Rosehill House Hotel features 31 bedrooms of varying sizes, and all of them have been individually designed so no two are the same. We stayed in one of their Suite rooms which costs £100 per night or £110 per night including breakfast (based on two people sharing). Our room was beautifully decorated, with vintage yet modern furnishings, and plenty of amenities and bathroom toiletries too. We had a comfortable seating area where we could watch the TV, and even had access to some outdoor space from our room as well. It's one of the most unique rooms that I've stayed in, and I'm sure the other rooms are equally as impressive.
Breakfast was included with our stay, and we could choose from the hotel's hot breakfast menu as well as the continental breakfast items that were laid out. All of their hot food is made to order, and there are vegetarian and vegan options available too for anyone who has dietary requirements. The breakfast is definitely a great way to start the day, so I would recommend adding it to your booking!
Rosehill House Hotel is also home to Dugdales Restaurant, which is a popular place to eat in Burnley for everyone, not just guests of the hotel. We dined at the hotel's restaurant on our last night, and loved the atmosphere inside of the dining room, as well as its original features. The menu may vary from the one you can find on their website, as they like to add seasonal dishes to it. All of their ingredients are locally sourced where possible as well, and you can definitely taste the freshness of the food in every bite. Even if you aren't staying at Rosehill House Hotel, I would recommend booking a table here for dinner (or even afternoon tea)!
As well as being an ideal historic hotel in Burnley to stay at, Rosehill House Hotel is also very popular for functions and events. Whether it's weddings, intimate family gatherings, or larger get togethers, their outdoor spaces and variety of rooms can cater to everyone. One of my favourite spots in the hotel was their gin bar, which is something that I haven't seen in any other hotel and is definitely a unique feature to Rosehill House Hotel. There are also a lot of quirky decorations dotted around the inside of the hotel which are always fun to come across.
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If you're running out of things to do in Lancashire, maybe you should think about adding Burnley to your agenda! I'm very glad that I chose to visit the city, and I had no idea that there were that many interesting things to do in Burnley until I got there. With so many towns near Burnley to visit as well, you'll be spoiled for choice in terms of day trips from the city, and you can always opt to hike along one of the many trails that surround Burnley too - you never know what unique spots you'll come across!