Whitby is one of the most popular destinations on the Yorkshire Coast and there’s a lot to love about a visit to this historic seaside town. From enjoying fresh fish and chips by the harbour to shopping for some precious Whitby Jet, we have compiled some of our favourite things about Whitby as inspiration for your next gorgeous Yorkshire holiday.
A brief history of Whitby
One of the things that makes Whitby so special is a rich history that’s still in evidence throughout its traditional fisherman’s cottages and charming streets.
One of Whitby’s most renowned former residents is Captain James Cook who famously set sail from Whitby Harbour on an expedition to Australia in the 18th century. On a visit to Whitby, you can climb aboard a full-size replica of Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour which is filled with interesting exhibits and learn more about the explorer himself in the Captain Cook Memorial Museum.
Whitby’s seafaring history dates back to Elizabethan times. By the end of the 18th century, the town was not only a thriving fishing port but the third-largest shipbuilder in the UK and many of the traditional fisherman’s cottages in the town date back to this era. Today, Whitby harbour still teems with colourful fishing boats which bring home their tasty catch of the day and take out any amateurs who are keen for a day at sea.
Whitby is part of the Jurassic Yorkshire Coast and budding fossil hunters can find an assortment of ammonites around the ancient cliffs and beaches. Keep an eye out for Whitby Jet, a black gemstone formed from prehistoric fossilised wood.
Whitby Whale Bones
The huge 15-foot whalebone arch is a distinctive Whitby landmark and a great spot for a photo, which has stood on West Cliff since 1853 as a mark of the town’s whaling industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fortunately, whaling in Whitby is now firmly an activity of the past, these days you can enjoy a wonderful whale watching trip during your short break or holiday.
The best things to do at Whitby
There’s something to keep the whole family occupied during a visit to Whitby. Here are just some of our favourite things to see and do:
The impressive ruins of the 13th-century Whitby Abbey are perched on a clifftop looking out over the sea and you’ll have to climb 199 steps from the town to reach the abbey’s dog-friendly grounds. Bram Stoker was inspired by the Gothic abbey during his 1890 visit to Whitby and featured the famous 199 steps within his classic vampire novel Dracula. Whitby Abbey today is an English Heritage site and visitors can take part in Easter adventures around the grounds and visit an on-site museum that contains a rare signed copy of Dracula.
Whitby Goth Festival
Whitby celebrates its gothic past with the Whitby Goth Weekend, an alternative music festival which takes place twice-yearly. Each April and October, visitors flock to Whitby in an array of amazing outfits and there are concerts, stalls and lots of special events taking place around the town.
Beachy fun and games
There’s lots of family-friendly beach fun to be had at Whitby with an array of shops selling buckets and spades and a dog-friendly beach that has Blue Flag status. Enjoy the view from the east and west piers, take the Whitby Cliff Lift down to the beach, rent out a colourful beach hut for the day and go for a paddle in the sea. Whitby has a surf school so you can make the most of the coastal swell and is an RNLI lifeguarded beach to keep everyone safe during your visit.
Penny arcades and mini golf
Whitby has plenty of traditional British seaside charm that makes it a nostalgic treat for parents and lots of fun for little ones. Grab sticks of rock and candy floss before heading to the arcade for a classic push penny game. Children can win giant cuddly toys, play a range of interactive arcade games and try their hand at ten-pin bowling at Pleasureland on Pier Road.
The nine-hole Arnold Palmer Putting Course is located on Whitby’s North Promenade and is great fun for the whole family. There’s a range of crazy golf challenges to complete and stunning sea views as you walk around the course.
Catch a boat (and a fish)
You can choose from a wide range of boat trips on a visit to Whitby with everything from a 25-minute jaunt to nearby Sandsend through to half-day coastal cruises and full-day fishing trips. Some of our favourites include:
- A taster session with Whitby Fishing Trips that’s perfect for a family outing.
- Climbing aboard the Bark Endeavour for a short boat trip filled with sea shanties and tales of Captain Cook.
- Whale watching trips between August and October when you are most likely to catch a glimpse of these incredible sea creatures.
- Watching a sunset from the sea on a magical twilight boat trip with Whitby Coastal Cruises.
The old town section of Whitby is filled with red-roofed houses and a maze of charming narrow streets that contain an assortment of independent shops dotted around an ancient market place.
Pick up pretty Whitby Jet earrings and necklaces from jewellers including Whitby Jet Store and The Black Pearl. You’ll find unique hand-crafted pieces throughout the town that make perfect gifts or keepsakes.
Pay a visit to Whitby Glass which is home to the famous Whitby Lucky Ducks. These bright coloured glass ducks have been hand-crafted in the shop for more than 60 years and are said to bring good fortune to their owners.
For some old-fashioned sweets, head to Sandgate Sweet Shop which has over 100 jars filled with everything from mint humbugs to dolly mixtures. Justin’s Chocolatier is also a popular calling point for anyone with a sweet tooth as their chocolate and fudge is handmade in store and absolutely delicious.
There are also a wide range of gift shops throughout the town:
- While away some time browsing the beautiful items in stylish emporium Kemps on the Coast.
- There’s a real Alice in Wonderland feel to The White Rabbit, a gift shop that’s filled with pretty trinkets.
- Shop locally at Made in Whitby where all the cards and gifts are hand-made in the town.
- Artemis and the Mermaid is filled with unusual items from quirky hand-crafted jewellery to fabulous knitted sea creatures.
- Natural Wonders specialises in selling fossils and other minerals found on the Yorkshire Coast.
Whitby food and drink
From casual cafes to traditional pubs, not to mention some of the freshest fish and seafood around, there are plenty of food and drink options to choose from on a visit to Whitby.
Fish and seafood
No visit to Whitby is complete without getting some tasty fish and chips; the fresh fish comes in daily from local fishermen and is battered and fried to perfection. Favourite Whitby fish and chip shops include:
The Magpie Cafe - there’s regularly a queue out of the door at The Magpie Cafe which serves an array of fresh fish and an amazing seafood platter. Fish and chips is also available to take away if you fancy eating them from the paper.
Star Inn the Harbour - this nautical-themed Andrew Pern brasserie is located in a distinctive hexagonal building on Whitby’s harbourside. Alongside classic fish and chips there are also meat dishes from the North York Moors, an oyster bar and a hot or cold seafood platter.
Quayside - a classic fish and chip shop with an on-site restaurant that serves cod, haddock, scampi and special homemade fishcakes.
Trenchers Restaurant - named the UK’s best fish and chip shop in 2019, Trenchers looks out over the sea and has chip shop classics available to takeaway and a range of options including fresh crab and seafood chowder on offer in its light and bright restaurant.
It’s also worth trying the kippers at Fortune’s Kippers, a Whitby smokehouse that dates back to 1872, and sampling the oysters at Wheelers - Whitby’s oldest oyster bar.
A visit to Whitby doesn’t mean you have to eat fish and chips; there are lots of alternative eateries to try too.
The Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash shop is a bit of a Whitby institution with a huge selection of pies that are cooked fresh each day and served with homemade mashed potato, garden peas and a rich gravy. A perfect choice for an autumn or winter’s day.
Botham’s of Whitby is a top Yorkshire purveyor of cakes - its flagship cafe and store has taken pride of place on Skinner Street since the 1920s. A visit is a real vintage treat with dainty china cups of tea served by staff dressed in authentic 1920s outfits.
Also on Skinner Street is the stylish Cranberry Swamp, a small independent cafe that specialises in gluten-free food. It’s particularly good for breakfast and brunch with dishes such as house kedgeree and Mexican eggs on the menu.
For a romantic dinner, Ditto is a small intimate restaurant that has a range of contemporary European dishes on the menu. There’s only one sitting each night so you can linger over your meal as long as you like and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Albert’s Restaurant is housed in the W Hammond Museum of Whitby Jet, part of the grand Wesley Hall. It’s the chance to dine surrounded by some beautiful jewellery including the world’s largest piece of Whitby Jet. A great option for a special treat!
The Moon & Sixpence is a brasserie that serves cocktails, champagne, seafood, grills and Cajun-style food in stylish surroundings that look out over the harbour.
For a French-style feast, head to Mademoiselles which is located in a wonderful Georgian building. The bistro offers regularly changing specials, daily afternoon tea and a huge range of gins and spirits. There’s a special gin room if you just want to call in for a drink and a secret courtyard garden that’s gorgeous in the summer months.
Pubs and bars
Whitby Brewery is a microbrewery in a barn that’s just a stone’s throw from Whitby Abbey. It produces ales ranging from the pale and light Abbey Blonde to the dark and creamy Jet Black. As well as a bar where you can grab a pint or two, there’s also a shop so you can stock up on bottles of your favourite tipple.
The Black Horse Inn dates back to the 16th century and is one of Whitby’s oldest pubs. It’s a CAMRA recognised pub that serves a selection of small bites including local cheese boards and seafood cocktails.
Enjoy a warm welcome and good food at Middle England Tavern, a Whitby pub with a prime spot on the harbour.
The Duke of York is a family-friendly pub that’s located at the bottom of the 199 steps. The establishment is more than 250 years old and there’s a good selection of historic memorabilia displayed on the walls.
From bracing strolls along the beach to the scenic cliff top Cleveland Way route, these are some of our favourite Whitby walks to try.
Best scenic walk - The Cleveland Way
The Cleveland Way is a 109-mile National Trail waymarked route that takes in the whole of the North York Moors coastline. Whitby makes an ideal starting point for a walk along the Cleveland Way and we recommend heading south along the cliff tops to the pretty village of Robin Hood's Bay. Wander down through the village to the beach below - there are lots of pubs and cafes to call in on the way! We recommend turning the walk into a circular route and returning back via The Cinder Track, a disused railway line that runs through the moorland between Scarborough and Whitby.
Best romantic walk - The Esk Valley
Follow the path of the River Esk as it runs down the Esk Valley from Grosmont to Whitby. We recommend catching the NYMR steam train to Grosmont and then walking the scenic 8-mile route back to Whitby. You’ll pass through fields, woodland and little hamlets before ending up at Whitby Pier where you can reward yourself with fish and chips.
Best family-friendly walk - Falling Foss
The 30-foot Falling Foss lies around 6 miles from Whitby and is one of Yorkshire’s prettiest waterfalls. Falling Foss is surrounded by idyllic woodland and you can take a family-friendly trail through the trees. The route is around 2 miles in total so perfect for little legs and there’s a lovely tea garden where you can stop for refreshments before going for a paddle in the shallow waters.
Best dog-friendly walk - Whitby to Sandsend
Take a walk along the beach from Whitby to the neighbouring village of Sandsend. The beach is dog-friendly so it’s a good choice for four-legged friends to explore. You can take along a frisbee for them to play with as you walk and they can dip their paws in the sea. The walk is around 3 miles and the Wits End Cafe on the beach in Sandsend is a great dog-friendly eatery to call in before the return leg of the walk.
Pretty villages near Whitby
Whitby has a prime spot on the North York Moors coastline, surrounded by picturesque coastal coves and idyllic rural hamlets. Here are some of our favourite pretty villages to visit:
Robin Hood's Bay
One of the prettiest Yorkshire villages around, the fisherman’s cottages that make up Robin Hood's Bay seemingly cling to the side of a cliff as they tumble down towards the sea. The village’s crisscrossing paths and narrow alleyways made it a haven for smuggling in the 18th century but today, Robin Hood's Bay is filled with gorgeous shops and cafes, many of which are dog friendly.
A picturesque North York Moors village that lies on the banks of the River Esk, around 2 miles from Whitby, Ruswarp highlights include a miniature steam railway, a distinctive viaduct, and wooden rowing boats for hire during the summer months. Ruswarp shops include a butchers and general store and The Bridge Inn is a traditional village pub that offers a range of home-cooked food.
Goathland has a wonderful setting in the North York Moors National Park with sheep grazing on its peaceful village green and scenic countryside that includes the 70-foot Mallyan Spout waterfall. The village doubled as Aidensfield in ITV’s Heartbeat and it’s worth calling in the Aidensfield Stores for some souvenirs of your visit. Goathland Station also appeared as Hogsmeade in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and you can catch a steam train here to travel the short journey to Whitby in vintage style.
Where to stay for your Whitby getaway
If this has inspired you to pay a visit to Whitby, you’ll find an array of lovely holiday cottages to rest your head during a short break or holiday.
A stylish two-bedroom apartment that’s located in a Grade II-listed Sea Captain’s house, Spyglass 1708 has a prime spot in town with views over to Whitby Abbey. This property makes a great base for couples, families and friends alike.
This spacious four-bedroom holiday home lies a couple of miles from Whitby in Ruswarp and has large gardens, gorgeous views and a feature double wood burner to keep the dining and living rooms toasty and warm.
A fairy-tale 17th-century cottage that was once the home of a famous Yorkshire fossil hunter and more recently featured in American Vogue and on Channel 4’s Homes by the Sea. The Sandsend property comes with half an acre of beautifully crafted gardens and lots of romantic charm.
This quirky little barn conversion is nestled high in the moorland above Robin Hood's Bay with the delights of Whitby just a short drive away. Swallow Cottage is a romantic retreat that’s full to the brim of characterful features inside and has a south-facing courtyard garden for dining alfresco.
Whether you are looking for a cosy romantic retreat or a spacious family-friendly holiday home, you can browse the full range of Whitby and Yorkshire coastal cottages on the Gorgeous Cottages website.