Things to do in North Yorkshire, from admiring the incredible Whitby Abbey to peaceful horse riding at Robin Hood’s Bay. Here is our ultimate guide of things to do, attractions and places to visit in North Yorkshire and along the North Yorkshire Coast.
Yorkshire is the largest of England’s historical counties although now divided administratively into three. Its coastline stretches from the River Tees in the North to the Humber in the South, a distance of around 65 miles if you follow the Ordnance Survey high tide line. It divides fairly neatly into different sections and each has attractions that make a visit extremely worthwhile.
We are so lucky in the UK to have some stunning coastline, and no more so than the wild coastline of North Yorkshire. There are over 50 miles of coast dotted with quaint seaside towns, pretty fishing villages, and dramatic clifftop headlands, there is something to offer everyone in this area. In this article, we take a look at some of our favourite things to do in North Yorkshire and along the North Yorkshire Coast.
1. Visit Whitby Abbey
Ah, Whitby! Sitting high above the town of Whitby stands the ruin of Whitby Abbey. Whitby Abbey was a former monastery dating back to the year 657 when the first building was founded on this site. The ruins we see today are that of a 13th century Benedictine Abbey. Located on East Cliff, the ruins have incredible views across the town of Whitby and the surrounding coastline. You can make your way up to the Abbey from the town by climbing up the 199 steps, located on Church Lane. The site also features a visitor centre which is managed by English Heritage, containing items from Whitby Abbey’s history as well as interactive learning elements. There is also an audio tour available that you can listen to while exploring the ancient ruins.
2. Visit Whitby for Goth Weekend
The gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey became the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. The gothic influence is still maintained in the town to this day, with Whitby renowned as the ‘Goth Capital of the UK’ and holding the yearly Whitby Goth Weekend, where thousands of goths from around the world visit the town for a festival of music, shows, and quirky costumes. This is a wonderful time to visit Whitby!
3. Take a ride on Saltburn Cliff Tramway
Saltburn-by-the-Sea is a very popular destination with tourists. It has a large expanse of beach and pretty headland views. The town centre sits at the clifftop, with a steep bank leading down to the promenade and pier. Rather than walk down you can take a ride on the oldest water-balanced funicular cliff lift still in operation. Opened in 1884 the lift still carries passengers 120 feet down to the pier below. The two cars carry 10-12 passengers each and feature beautiful stained glass windows, which add to its Victorian charm.
Once you make it to the beach why not take a stroll along the town’s Victorian Pier which has been restored to its former glory, and is now Grade II listed. From the end of the pier, the views out across the coast and back towards the town are spectacular. The pier is also a popular fishing spot and features an amusement arcade. Perfect for a day trip!
4. Walk the clifftop pathways of the Cleveland Way
The Cleveland Way is maintained by National Trails. It is a 109-mile trail that begins in Helmsley on the North York Moors and also takes in the dramatic coastline from Saltburn-by-the-Sea to Filey. This section takes the path along some of the highest cliffs in the country, as well as dropping down into hidden coves, beautiful fishing villages, and through some of the larger towns along the coast such as Whitby and Scarborough. Whether you want to take in a small section of the trail, or plan to walk the whole coastline, which is just over 50 miles, the choice is yours!
5. Explore the alleyways of Robin Hood’s Bay and it’s Museum
Robin Hood’s Bay is such a fantastic place to visit, this quaint fishing village a few miles south of Whitby conjures up images of smugglers and sea shanties. It’s packed full of gift shops, cafes, and pubs. Whilst there visit the Old Coastguard Station at the foot of the causeway to the beach which has an interactive exhibition or head up the steep hills and tiny alleyways to find the Robin Hood’s Bay Museum with its collection of local artefacts and history.
6. Visit the James Cook Schoolroom Museum
James Cook Schoolroom Museum recreates the 18th Century for visitors interested in this legendary explorer. It is located in Great Ayton where Teesside meets the North York Moors. They follow Cook’s early life on the farm, to his important voyages and untimely death. It’s a great place to visit for all of the family and admission is free.
7. Go horse riding on the beach
Whether you’ve tried horse riding previously or not. Horses cantering through the sand, open space, and the fresh sea air is truly a magical experience. The North Yorkshire Coast has several beaches which are horse-friendly. The long flat expanse of beaches spanning Redcar, Marske, and Saltburn provide perfect horse riding conditions, whereas in Robin Hood’s Bay local riding companies offer beach horse riding for more experienced riders with access through the narrow streets of the town.
8. Check out Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum
Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum in Skinningrove near Saltburn is on the site of the first ironstone mine in the area. You can learn about how ironstone was first discovered in the Cleveland Region and much more. Explore the villages that grew around the mines and steel plants, many being ‘model villages’ built by the mines owners to house the growing number of miners and steelworkers. See how life has changed over the last 100 years with their fascinating time sliders and visit some of the existing mines remains with 3D models of the sites. Examine their ever-growing collection of objects, books and maps with new items added every week, including a weekly mystery object.
9. Eat fish and chips with harbour views
You can’t really visit North Yorkshire without trying fish and chips! It’s customary to have fish and chips at least once. The towns and villages along the coast have a wide variety of fish and chip restaurants, and one of the most popular of these in North Yorkshire is The Magpie Cafe in Whitby. Famed for having the best fish and chips in the area, visitors will queue out onto the street to taste the delicious offerings from the cafe. If you can’t get a table inside, then you could do a lot worse than having a takeaway with views of the beautiful harbour.
10. Try rock pooling
Once the tide goes out at many of the fishing villages, the beaches are left with an array of rock pools brimming with life to explore. Grab a net from one of the local gift shops and head onto the beach to see what marine life you can find that has been left behind by the turning tides. There is a high chance that you will find some crabs, starfish, and sea anemones if you search hard enough. Runswick Bay and Robin Hood’s Bay are perfect locations for rock-pooling, but make sure you check the tide times as it’s easy to get caught out.
The North Yorkshire coastline is one of the best locations in the UK for surfing. Saltburn is now a very popular destination for surfers, with the local geology providing excellent waves and surfing conditions. There are plenty of surf schools in the area where beginners can hire equipment and get out on the water to test out their surfing and paddleboarding skills. Wet suits provided will keep you warm in the chillier months of the year. Saltburn Surf School offers lessons and equipment hire so you can take to the waves and try a spot of surfing in the North Sea.
Whitby Surf School is the ideal place to learn to surf along the North Yorkshire Coast. Whether your first time surfing at Whitby or looking for some extra tuition before you take to heading out on your own, they have fully qualified instructors who are passionate about making the session as fun and exciting as it can be.
12. Visit the lighthouses of Flamborough Head
At the southern end of the North Yorkshire coastline, Flamborough Head is a popular destination for hikers and birdwatchers alike. The headland features two lighthouses. The Old Flamborough Lighthouse was built in 1674, whereas the New Flamborough Lighthouse, which still operates today, was built in 1806. The lighthouse and visitor centre are open seasonally for tours for an admission fee. There are cliff-top trails around the headland, with steps down to the beach to explore the cove. Further north along the headland, the RSPB Bempton Cliffs nature reserve is home to dramatic cliffs where a large number of sea birds gather in the spring. It is a wonderful sight!
13. Visit the Gallery then catch the golden hour at Staithes
Staithes Gallery is housed in an elegant Georgian building on Staithes High Street. The village of Staithes on the North Yorkshire coast has always been and still is a magnet for art and artists. Their aim at Staithes Gallery is to provide a showcase right in the heart of the old village for the very best contemporary artwork inspired by Staithes and the surrounding area. Their exhibitions reflect the quality and variety of art stimulated by this most inspirational of villages.
One of the prettiest villages in the area is Staithes, a small port and fishing village just north of Whitby. As with many of the villages in this area, Staithes is centred around a small sheltered cove with winding cobbled streets and quaint cottages, leading up a steep hill to the headland. With ghost walks, lovely art galleries, and great restaurants offering the best local seafood, it’s a joy to visit. As the sun gets low in the sky and starts to cast its shadows across the village, the cliffs and rooftops glow red while the sky out onto the horizon turns pastel shades of blue and pink. It’s quite a spectacular scene. There’s a great vantage point high up in the town where you can capture the scene in its full glory.
14. Learn to cook at the Arches Cookery School
The Arches Cookery School in Crinkle Bank Farm Loftus takes place in a 200-year old barn conversion. Set in the North York Moors National Park and based close to Whitby, surrounded by a wonderful rural landscape full of ancient woodland and heather moorland. Sarah Muir has been cooking for rock royalty for over twenty years. As a classically trained cook, she has worked in every corner of the world creating and serving food that meets the most demanding and exacting of standards. They have a large range of courses, no matter how experienced you are in the kitchen. Take a browse through their latest courses below.
15. Explore Guisborough forest and walkway
The forest trails to High Cliff Nab above Guisborough, returning through Hutton Village are great family fun you learn more from the Forest and Walkway Visitors’ Centre in Pinchinthorpe. Onsite facilities include two play areas, a trim trail to challenge you, a sculpture trail, circular waymarked walks and bike trails, and a permanent orienteering course. A dipping platform provides access into the wetland area and there’s a regular events programme. This is a perfect day out for all the family.
16. Explore a nature reserve
Elerburn Bank Nature Reserve in Dalby Forest near Pickering is filled with butterflies and moths in season and the colour of wildflowers. The Forest itself is a great place for family picnics, walking biking and orienteering. Little Beck Wood Nature Reserve close to Whitby is another delightful natural area with a good variety of trees and plants as well as small mammals and birds.
17. Take a ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway
North Yorkshire Moors Railway has created a reputation far beyond the borders of Yorkshire and receives a host of visitors annually. Travel across the North York Moors National Park on steam or vintage diesel train and visit some charming station stops along the way, including the famous Goathland this was the original Hogsmeade Station in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as well as Aidensfield in the 90s drama Heartbeat. Goathland has become an increasingly popular tourist destination over the years, a remote village with attracts hoards of visitors each year who are eager to recapture some of the historic scenes from Heartbeat. Goathland Train Station is a must-visit!
18. Explore The Moors National Park Centre
The Moors National Park Centre is a historic visitor centre, set in an idyllic spot on the banks of the River Esk, near Danby. From the doorstep, you can see pretty much everything that makes the North York Moors National Park so special: moorland, woodland, farmland, miles of hedges and drystone walls, historic buildings all basking in glorious peace and quiet. Enjoy a big breath of fresh air and soak up the sweeping views. It’s an official Dark Sky Discovery Site too, one of three in the North York Moors. It’s also home to their beautiful art gallery. Entry to the Centre is free.
19. Explore Rievaulx Abbey
Escape to this tranquil valley of the North York Moors and discover the impressive ruins of one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries. Their visitor experience shines a light on Rievaulx Abbey’s fascinating past and the lives of the monks who called Rievaulx Abbey their home. Explore the elegant museum displaying previously unseen artefacts which tell the story of the rise and dramatic fall of the first Cistercian abbey in the North of England. Wander the extensive ruins of the abbey to discover more about the building and how it looked at various stages of its development. Pick up an audio tour to learn more
20. Wander around Helmsley Castle
Unlock 900 years of life at Helmsley Castle, a must-see for any visitor to the picturesque market town of Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park. Discover how the castle evolved over the centuries, from a mighty medieval fortress to a luxurious Tudor mansion, to a Civil War stronghold and a romantic Victorian ruin.
21. Climb the 199 Steps
The 199 steps, known as the Church Stairs, lead from the Old Town up to St. Mary’s Churchyard. 1340 is the first known record of the 199 steps, however, it is believed the steps were actually made a long time before this. Some historians believe that St Hilda would use the steps as a test to confirm the faith of her followers. This was a test of Christian faith to those who wished to worship in St Mary’s Church.
22. Pick up or just admire some Whitby Jet
At the foot of Whitby’s 199 Steps to the Abbey, W. Hamond Jewellers are the oldest manufacturers and sellers of Whitby Jet Jewellery and ornaments. Established in 1860, W Hamond Jewellers has been welcoming visitors from around the world for over 150 years, showcasing beautiful collections of handcrafted Whitby Jet Jewellery. Their skilled craftsmen select the finest quality Whitby Jet, gathered from the local shores, before being expertly cut, precision set and polished to perfection, transformed into elegant jewellery designs. We also recommend a visit to Albert’s Eatery & Museum of Whitby Jet, which is located on Church Street, just a short walk from W. Hamond’s Whitby Jet shop.
23. Get out on the water with Bay Watersports
Bay Watersports offer plenty of water sports on the Yorkshire Coast. Come and share the amazing Yorkshire Coastline with them and enjoy some of the adrenaline-fuelled watersports activities they have to offer including, Coasteering, Kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Dinghy Sailing, Raft Building and Team Events.
24. Try a beer at Whitby Brewery
We love a cold beer after a long walk! Whitby Brewery has been producing delightfully delicious Yorkshire ales since 2013. The brewery itself was built by hand by local Whitby craftsmen and has proven to be perfect for brewing cracking Yorkshire ales. They only use only the finest floor-malted barley and whole hops to make some of the best beers about. Stop here and try a beer we promise you will thank us for the idea!
25. Hold your nerve at Flamingo Land
The Flamingo Land Resort is a fantastic place to visit. If you have kids with you and you want to keep them happy for a few hours (and tire them out!). You can take the kids to have a look at all the different animals, on the rides and then stay for some food as well. Flamingo Land is located around 40 minutes outside of Whitby. There are plenty of rides and themed days throughout the year and the park now offers accommodation if you wish to stay overnight. The zoo at Flamingo Land is packed with a variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles. A perfect place for a day out.
26. Get out on a boat trip with Yorkshire Coast Boat Trips
Travel in comfort and style between the beautiful seaside towns of Whitby and Scarborough and experience the North Yorkshire coast from a unique perspective with Yorkshire Coast Boat Trips. A one-way journey takes over 1 hour. Why not use Yorkshire Coast Boat Trips to travel between Yorkshire’s historic ports? If you’re staying in Whitby, why not travel to Scarborough in style and enjoy a day out further down the coast. Option of a return via boat on the first trip out later in the day. The boat carries up to twelve passengers in a fully enclosed and heated cabin. Comfortable seats make for a relaxed ride, and large windows make it easier to spot wildlife. If you’re lucky you might spot the odd seal or even a dolphin!
27. Hunt for Jet or Fossils
Children and adults alike are able to go hunting for fossils on the dinosaur coast! This is a great pass time and if you’re lucky, you may uncover some hidden gems.
28. Enjoy the Magical Falling Foss Tea Garden
The Falling Foss Tea Garden is the ideal place to relax after an adventure and enjoy a cup of tea and a delicious cake or homemade soup. You will have a wonderful view of a waterfall as you sit outside and enjoy the sound of the flowing water. Children can explore the forest and let their imaginations run wild as they explore the outdoors. Falling Foss Tea Rooms are open seasonally from April until September.
Of course…we can’t mention everything! This is a selection of our favourite things to do in North Yorkshire. We hope this helps you and gives you a few ideas for your next trip. Let us know your favourite things to do in North Yorkshire and along the North Yorkshire Coast in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.