One of the UK’s 15 National Parks, the varied landscape of the North York Moors includes vast swathes of heather-clad moorland, large areas of shady woodland and 26 miles of heritage coastline. Spend time exploring this wonderful landscape and you’ll find something interesting around every corner, from sheep grazing on pretty village greens and colourful walled gardens to medieval abbeys and ancient stone crosses.
Discover the wonderful natural landscape of the North York Moors with gorgeous countryside as far as the eye can see and a wonderful heritage coastline.
Lakes, streams, and waterfalls
Looking out over Gormire Lake from Sutton Bank was described by James Herriot, the author of All Creatures Great and Small, as the finest view in Yorkshire. The glacial lake is a remnant of the ice age and the still, peaceful waters are an ideal choice for wild swimming. Scaling Dam is a man-made reservoir that’s located towards the top edge of the North York Moors with water sports and fishing available with picnic tables and children’s play areas located around the edge of the water.
There are also several streams in the North York Moors National Park that are perfect for paddling in including Hutton Beck which runs right through the middle of the Hutton-le-Hole village green and May Beck which runs through the idyllic woodland that surrounds Falling Foss, a pretty Yorkshire waterfall between Goathland and Robin Hood’s Bay.
If you’re looking for something a little more dramatic, Mallyan Spout is the tallest waterfall in the North York Moors with water falling down around 70-feet at this tucked away spot near Goathland.
Hills and valleys
Roseberry Topping is probably the most recognisable hill in the North York Moors - the distinctive shape is often described as looking like a witches hat and is sometimes called Yorkshire’s Matterhorn as it bears more than a passing resemblance to the famous Alpine peak. It’s a good choice to tackle with little legs as there is an easy going route to the top and the surrounding bluebell woods are stunning in the springtime.
- The highest peak in the National Park is Urra Moor at 454 metres above sea level and there are lots of interesting features such as Bronze Age earthwork and carved stones that you’ll pass on your way to the trig point at the summit.
- At the other end of the spectrum is the spectacular Hole of Horcum, a natural amphitheatre that’s around 400 metres deep and more than half a mile wide. It’s well-worth seeking out on a walk around Levisham Moor and the cauldron-shaped canyon is particularly glorious when the heather here is in full bloom.
- Another flower-filled valley that’s popular with visitors is Farndale which is known as the Daffodil Dale. Wild daffodils grow along the path of the River Dove and Farndale, which is right in the middle of the North York Moors, is filled with these beautiful yellow flowers during the spring months.
There are 44,000 hectares of heather-clad moorland within the North York Moors National Park and this landscape is so important to the wildlife that live here that it’s been deemed a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Birds to look out for in the moorland include merlins, an endangered species that’s the UK’s smallest bird of prey, along with curlews, skylarks and peregrine falcons.
- The North York Moors is home to the largest continuous stretch of moorland in the country, which turns a beautiful hue of purple during the summer months.
- Much of the moorland here is open access so you are free to explore it at your leisure and this vast expanse of flower-strewn countryside
- The peaceful countryside is perfect if you fancy getting away from it all, listening to the birdsong, and enjoying a real sense of space in the great British outdoors.
Of course the North York Moors isn’t just home to lovely countryside it also has a spectacular coastline with a selection of dog-friendly beaches and dramatic cliffs that date back to the time of the dinosaurs. You can enjoy stunning views over the fishing villages, secluded coves that are dotted along the coastline and Jurassic fossils are regularly found on the beaches below.
Pretty villages and market towns
You’ll find vibrant market towns and postcard pretty villages dotted all around the North York Moors National Park with a patchwork of country lanes and walking routes connecting them together so you can easily go exploring during a short break of holiday.
This popular market town has a collection of excellent pubs and tearooms along with lots of interesting independent shops to browse during a visit. Highlights include the imposing Helmsley Castle, the beautiful Helmsley Walled Garden, and a heated open air swimming pool that’s the only one of its kind in Yorkshire. We recommend taking afternoon tea at the historic Black Swan, sampling a handcrafted beer at Helmsley Brewery and taking a wander along the stream that runs along the back of the cobbled market square.
On the edge of the North York Moors, close to Dalby Forest, is the vibrant market town of Pickering. A popular market is held in Pickering every Monday and there are around 100 independent shops to browse in the town including book shops, boutiques, gift shops and a wonderful indoor flea market that’s filled with antiques and trinkets. On the edge of Pickering is a 13th century castle with extensive grounds and interesting exhibitions to explore.
One of Yorkshire’s prettiest villages, Hutton-le-Hole has an idyllic location in a natural hollow of the North York Moors that’s surrounded by wonderful scenery on all sides. A gentle stream flows right through the middle of the picturesque village green and you’ll often see families picnicking here, sheep merrily grazing on the graze and children splashing around in the water. Hutton-le-Hole is also home to the Ryedale Folk Museum, a charming country pub and tea room/ice cream parlour where you can grab refreshments to enjoy on the green.
Goathland may be better known to some as Aidensfield as the village was the setting of popular ITV drama, Heartbeat. It’s just a few miles from Whitby and is another North York Moors village where you can regularly see sheep grazing on the green. Aidensfield Stores is one of the few shops in Goathland and you can pick up some Heartbeat memorabilia here and admire some of the vintage cars used in the TV series that are usually parked outside.
With a babbling beck that runs right the way through the village and a thatched cottage that has adorned the lid of many a biscuit tin, Thornton-le-Dale is one of the most beautiful spots in the North York Moors. Enjoy a scenic walk through the woodland that surrounds Thornton-le-Dale then head to The Chocolate Factory, an artisan chocolatier located in the village.
Robin Hood’s Bay
Possibly the best known and most photographed village in the North York Moors, Robin Hood’s Bay is a collection of narrow alleyways and traditional 17th century fisherman’s cottages that seem miraculously to cling to the side of a cliff. The walk from the top of the village to the beach below is a steep one but there are lots of charming shops, pubs and cafes to call in at along the way.
Staithes is a small fishing village on the North York Moors coastline that’s known for its quaint and colourful cottages and a harbour that’s sheltered by high cliffs. Take a wander around this pretty village and you’ll see traditional lobster pots, wooden fishing boats and narrow cobbled streets with a small selection of gift shops, cafes and pubs. Staithes was used as the setting for CBBC show Captain Jack’s Boat and once a year a selection of the lovely cottages are transformed into miniature art galleries as part of the Staithes Arts and Heritage Festival.
The best North York Moors walks
With 2,250 kilometres of right of way access plus an array of country lanes and forest trails that cover the North York Moors National Park, you’ll find no shortage of walking routes to try that will take you over moorland, through pretty villages and across countryside to the heritage coastline.
One of the best ways to explore the North York Moors is by using the Cleveland Way National Trail which covers a total of 109 miles from its starting point in Helmsley to the end of the route in Filey. The route takes in scenic heather-clad moorland, passing through villages like Osmotherley and landmarks such as Roseberry Topping on its way to the coast. The Cleveland Way is well marked throughout the trail and you can follow clifftop pathways along the coast with towns and villages such as Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby and Scarborough along the way.
There’s lots of ways you can break the Cleveland Way up into smaller chunks and following at least part of the route is a great way to experience the beauty of the North York Moors National Park.
Follow the path of the Esk River from high in the North York Moors and down through the Esk Valley towards Whitby and the coast. If you’re after a meaty walk you can follow the full 37-mile waymarked trail but we recommend walking along the final 8 miles which will take you from the village of Grosmont down to Whitby. Follow the leaping salmon signs which will guide you along the way and you can enjoy a celebratory fish and chips at Whitby before catching a NYMR steam train back to Grosmont.
Hutton-le-Hole and Lastingham
You’ll find lots of scenic country walks between villages in the North York Moors and one of our favourites is a 4-mile circular route that connects Hutton-le-Hole and Lastingham with sweeping moorland views along the way. The walk starts and finishes at Hutton-le-Hole where there are several great options for refreshments and it’s well worth calling at St Mary’s Church at Lastingham which has a wonderfully atmospheric 11th century crypt.
For a challenging walk through some classic moorland scenery, it’s hard to beat this 8-mile walk which will take you up across Cold Moor, up the heights of Urra Moor and along to a group of rock crags that are known as the Wainstones. The views along this walk are some of the most spectacular in the North York Moors and ancient boundary markers and Bronze Age burial sites along the way are a reminder of the long history of this land. The route starts and finishes at the Chop Gate village hall and the nearby Buck Inn pub is a good place to call in for refreshments after you’ve tackled the walk.
North York Moors pubs
There is no shortage of charming country pubs dotted around the North York Moors National Park where you can call in for a pint and a meal after bracing countryside walks. many of the pubs are dog-friendly and come with cosy bars, friendly staff and characterful features.
Here are some of our favourites:
- The Lion Inn is a 16th century inn with low beamed ceilings, period fireplaces, and one of the finest locations around. The pub stands atop Blakey Ridge which at an elevation of 1,325 feet is the highest point of the North York Moors and you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
- The smallest pub in the North York Moors is Birch Hall Inn which is located in the small valley bottom village of Beck Hall, just a short walk from the Mallyan Spout waterfall. The pub itself consists of two little bars with a sweet shop in the middle and entering this charming building is like travelling back in time.
- The Horseshoe Inn Levisham is a quintessential dog-friendly English country pub that’s located in the peaceful village of Levisham and a top pick for walkers thanks to its proximity to the Hole of Horcum. Enjoy a plate of locally sourced home-cooked food in front of the roaring fire, all washed dine with a glass of good wine.
- With a prime position on Helmsley’s bustling market square, The Feathers is a great place to stop for refreshments before exploring the town's many pubs and attractions. As well as selling classic Yorkshire ales such as Black Sheep and Tetley you can enjoy craft beer, cocktails, or a freshly brewed latte with home-made cake at the on-site coffee house.
- The Golden Lion is a handsome 18th century stone inn that looks out over the market cross on Osmotherley’s small triangular village green. The gorgeously beamed bar is furnished with old pew benches, plump cushions and cosy wood burners. The candlelit tables are perfect for a romantic date night and the location between the rugged Cleveland Hills and the softer Hambleton Hills is as pretty as can be.
- One of our favourite coastal pubs is the Cod and Lobster which looks out to sea from its prime harbourside spot in Staithes. You can sit in front of the warming real fire and watch the fishermen bring in their daily catch. There’s lots of tasty fresh seafood on the menu as you would expect in a British seaside pub and a good choice of beers and wine to wash down your meal.
Where to eat in the North York Moors
From Michelin star restaurants to charming tea rooms, here are some of the places worth stopping at for refreshments in the North York Moors.
The Star Inn Harome
This beautiful 14th century thatched inn has been transformed into a seriously good restaurant by renowned Yorkshire chef Andrew Pern. The Star Inn Harome is located in the little hamlet of Harome near Helmsley and the modern Yorkshire food, available on both a la carte and tasting menus, is served in quirky atmospheric rooms that are brimming with this old building’s original character.
The Black Swan at Oldstead
Owned by the Banks family who have farmed around Oldstead for several generations, The Black Swan has been transformed in recent years by head chef Tommy Banks into a Michelin starred fine dining restaurant. The dishes on the tasting menu celebrate the wealth of produce that is grown on the land with many of the ingredients used either grown on the estate or foraged in the surrounding hedgerows and woodland.
The Magpie Cafe
There are great places along the North York Moors coastline where you can enjoy freshly caught fish, including The Magpie Cafe at Whitby. There’s often a queue to get in this well-loved Whitby restaurant where you can enjoy a seafood platter, numerous types of fish and chips or even a whole lobster. A takeaway window is also available if you fancy taking a seat by the harbour and enjoying your fish straight from the paper.
The Belted Bull Bar and Grill at Lordstones
Lordstones is a privately owned country park located high up in the North York Moors between Chop Gate and Stokesley. The site is close to the Cleveland Way Walking Trail and as well as stunning views and the Lordstones prehistoric standing stones, there’s also a rather good grill restaurant here too. Enjoy locally reared meat that’s cooked to perfection on the Josper grill at The Belted Bull and a selection of smaller sharing style deli dishes.
Graze on the Green
There is no shortage of tea rooms dotted around the North York Moors and you’ll typically find at least one such cafe in each village serving freshly brewed tea and home baked cake. Graze on the Green is the charming tea room in Rosedale Abbey, a village that’s a top pick for walkers as it’s located at the centre of five converging lanes. There’s a selection of sweet and savoury treats on the menu which you can enjoy while looking out over the village green.
Nestled near the beach in Robin Hood’s Bay, The Cove is a former chapel that has been converted into a stylish bar and bistro with views out to sea. Enjoy soups and sandwiches in the daytime, freshly made pizzas in the evening and a wide range of coffees, teas, and alcoholic drinks.
Things to do in the North York Moors
Whether you fancy exploring the grounds of a historic house or searching for stars in the dark skies of the North York Moors, here are some of the best things to do on your next short break or holiday.
Castles and abbeys
The North York Moors is filled with historic castles and abbeys with well-preserved medieval ruins and gorgeous grounds that are just right for exploring. Here are some of our favourites
This 900-year fortress is an English Heritage site that looks out over the handsome market town. Learn about the rich history of Helmsley Castle in a hands-on exhibition then head out to a picnic bench in the grounds for a scenic al fresco lunch.
There’s a lovely walk from Helmsley Castle to nearby Rievaulx Abbey, the sprawling ruins of what was once one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries. The walk marks the start of the Cleveland Way National Trail and alongside the abbey ruins are the beautiful Rievaulx Terrace landscaped gardens which include temples, giant games and picnic spots.
The remains of Pickering Castle are just right for exploring as you’ll find stairs to go up, a tower to climb and well-preserved stone rooms to go into. There’s a great view of the North York Moors countryside from the top of the tower and lots of information about the history of the castle, which dates back to William the Conqueror.
The gothic Whitby Abbey is perched high on a headland with stunning views over the popular seaside town. It’s reached by climbing 199 steps which were famously featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula after he spent time living in Whitby. A visitor centre tells the story of Whitby Abbey and the sprawling grounds are just right for a game of hide and seek with the family.
Soothe your soul by wandering through the flowers at these gorgeous gardens that are in and around the North York Moors:
Helmsley Walled Garden - this beautiful walled garden has a variety of different sections that range from calming white flowers to a riot of vibrant colours and was featured in the latest film version of The Secret Garden starring Julie Walters and Colin Firth.
Mount Grace Priory - there are 13 acres of newly restored arts and crafts gardens to explore in a peaceful setting at the foot of the Cleveland Hills. Flowers within the garden include bluebells, roses and snowdrops so there is something different to see during each season of the year.
Shandy Hall Gardens - this Coxwold garden includes both formally laid and wild areas and has a stunning collection of more than 100 roses and meadows that are a haven for local wildlife and are typically filled with the sound of birdsong.
Castle Howard - just outside the North York Moors in the beautiful Howardian Hills sits the grand Castle Howard estate which comprises a gorgeously preserved stately home and acres of formal gardens. Explore landscaped lawns with statues and lakes plus woodland and walled gardens.
The North York Moors may be famed for its moorland but there’s plenty of woodland to explore too. More than 20% of the National Park is covered with trees and there’s actually more woodland in the North York Moors than in the New Forest!
The largest area of woodland is Dalby Forest which covers 8,600 acres and is filled with walking and cycling trails for all ages and abilities. There’s also lots of family-friendly activities to try in the forest too with adventure play areas, Go Ape treetop adventures and nature trail activity packs. Lots of information and leaflets can be found at the Dalby Forest Visitor Centre so it’s a good place to start your visit.
If you fancy whistling through the North York Moors countryside on a beautifully restored period steam train, the NYMR is a heritage railway that operates between Pickering and Whitby. Places that you can stop at along the route include Grosmont which features a 1950s style station, Levisham which has a Victorian station and Goathland which was featured as Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter films.
There are special services that run at different times of year including luxurious Pullman Dining Trains, festive journeys with Santa and various food and drink trains where you can enjoy afternoon tea, cocktails or fish and chips during your ride through the moors.
You’ll also find a number of smaller seaside train rides in the North York Moors that are a perfect choice for little ones including the North Bay Railway in Scarborough and miniature railways at Ruswarp and Saltburn.
In 2020 the North York Moors National Park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve and the lack of light pollution here makes it an ideal spot for stargazing. The Milky Way is often seen shimmering in the clear night sky during autumn months and the Aurora Borealis can be seen out towards the coast. Read our guide to dark skies in the North York Moors.
There are three recognised Dark Skies Discovery Sites in the North York Moors; The Moors National Park Centre in Danby, Sutton Bank National Park Centre, and Dalby Forest which has two special stargazing observatories.
Things to look out for during the year include the Perseid meteor shower in August, the Orionids in October and the Geminid in December. Spring is the best time to look for planets, autumn is the best time to see the Milky Way and the starriest nights will always be when there is no moon.
There’s lots of fun to be had at the Yorkshire Coast with an array of seaside towns and villages to visit and miles and miles of sandy beaches to play on. Some of our favourite things to do at the Yorkshire coast include:
- Exploring the rockpools and hunting for fossils on beaches such as Robin Hood’s Bay, Saltburn or Boggle Hole
- Taking a boat trip from the harbour at Whitby or hiring a traditional wooden pleasure boat from nearby Ruswarp
- Travelling on the traditional funicular railway at Saltburn down to the beach below
- Visiting the traditional seaside shops and arcades at Scarborough where you’ll find buckets and spades, sticks of rock and classic push penny machines
- Catching a wave (or two) at Cayton Bay which is a top choice for surfing
Plan your visit to the North York Moors
If you have been inspired to visit the North York Moors you’ll find lots of lovely places to rest your head after fun-filled days of exploring. Here are just some suggestions of places to stay:
Webstone Cottage | Sleeps: 4 guests plus 2 dogs
This quintessential English country cottage dates back to the 17th century and is filled with characterful original features. It’s kept warm and cosy in the winter thanks to a roaring wood burner and there’s a lovely large garden that’s just right for summer.
Wykewood | Sleeps: 4 guests
This luxurious architect-designed holiday home has a magical woodland setting next to a babbling brook and a sumptuous Balinese-style hot tub in the garden. Both bedrooms at this five-star property come with en-suite bathrooms and super king-sized bed and the Yorkshire Coast is just a short walk away.
Browse our collections of romantic, dog-friendly and family-friendly Yorkshire properties to find the ideal base for your next short break or longer holiday or take a look at our full range of gorgeous Yorkshire cottages.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.