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Whitby Yorkshire, UK - guide for visitors to Whitby and Whitby Abbey

As you approach Whitby over the North Yorkshire Moors, the silhouette of the abbey is visible from miles away, making an outstanding landmark. Unless you have a good reason not to, it's a good idea to follow the signs and park at the abbey as it has a huge car park and parking in the middle of Whitby is near impossible in high season.

Whitby abbey and parish church from the townBefore you is the ruined 7th century abbey towering over the town.  

The abbey was one of the most important early christian sites in the North, but what's left now is mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries. The abbey isn't alone on the top of East cliff, there's also the parish church with a most interesting graveyard, the youth hostel (that's the long red roofed building in the top right of the picture) and the newly restored Cholmley House which is now the abbey museum. I don't have a lot of time for English Heritage, but they have done a fine job on the abbey and the museum. While Whitby town gets very crowded indeed, the grounds of the abbey are always tranquil, probably because most people are plugged into audio tours.

If you've parked elsewhere then you have to take the more traditional route of climbing the 199 steps up to the abbey from the old town.

Crowded street in Whitby

Coming down the steps from the abbey you reach the narrow streets of the old town.In recent years the shops in these narrow streets have come on in leaps and bounds, and there's now a wealth of interesting shops - galleries, antique shops, Jewellers working Jet, book shops, cafes, bistros, a very nice deli, outdoor gear shops and more.

Whitby Jet became extremely popular in the Victorian era, as Victoria wore it in her mourning period following Albert's death. If you're going to buy some, then Whitby is the place, because there's all kinds of rubbish on the market, but in Whitby you're more likely to get the genuine article. Whitby museum is also worth a mention as it has a great collection of Jet, and planty of the sort of ephemera you don't see in too many museums nowadays.

 The old town is really interesing, but the problem is that the streets are narrow and more and more people visit each year. That can make for a less than great experience. I once made the mistake of visiting Whitby on a Bank Holiday. That's not an experience I'll ever repeat. If you can get there at a quieter time, it's a great place to play in the shops.

Whitby harbour

It's also an absolute  mecca for anyone who wants to buy Goth tat. That's because of Dracula. Bram Stoker set much of the book in Whitby, and he was a regular visitor. Whitby has made much of this connection. There's a Dracula "experience" on the harbour side, Dracula walking tours round the town, a Dracula trail and the aforementioned Goth tat and new age junk. If you have a teenage Goth in the family this is the place to bring them. In fact, it's such a draw, that there are now two Goth weekend festivals every year, one in April and one in October. If you're looking for accommodation in Whitby, don't clash with these weekends as the whole town gets fully booked.

And don't clash with the Folk Week either (late August). That's an incredible week if you like folk music, but probably a vision of hell if you don't. All the pubs get packed out, there's clog dancers on every corner, and people singing everywhere. Personally speaking I love it, though I've never been for the full week. And while I'm on the subject, there's no shortage of top-notch real ale pubs in Whitby.

As you move out of the old town you come to the Esk which splits the town in two. There's an amazing swing bridge over the river which broke in the Summer of 2010 but is now repaired. Whilst it was broken, three sets of rival boatmen ferried people across the river at a pound a time. The old lifeboat was one of them, and hopefully they'll have made enough money out of it to do some refurb work it. It's a beautiful boat and I'd love to see it back in pristine condition again. Certainly made everyone in Whitby appreciate how important the bridge is.

Crossing the bridge to the West Cliff, you come to the harbourside, and walking down here towards the sea brings the usual clutter of amusement arcades, cafes, rock shops, ice cream purveyors and fish and chip shops. I have to say that the fish and chip shops just here are unsurpassed anywhere in the UK, and it's traditional to sit on the pier indulging in this gastronomic treat.

Foodies have always raved about "The Magpie" seafood restaurant which is situated just here, but I've never tried it as there always seems to be a queue, and the queues are even worse since Rick Stien plugged it on his TV show. The Magpie has opened a takeaway now, and even that has a queue! When I tried the takeaway I have to say it was good, but no better than the others on the harbour front. The secret of good fish and chips is throughput, and the quantity these places go through, you're guaranteed excellence whichever one you choose.

Whitby harbour

At the end of the harbour is the pier and a way down to the beach. The pier is always interesting to wander along, and the tower at the end of it is now open to the public and you can climb up for fantastic views. There's plenty of activity on the harbour side as this is still a busy commercial port. There's fishing trips and quite a variety of  pleasure craft to sail round the harbour on, ranging from the old lifeboat to a fake pirate ship and the usual assortment of small launches. Occasionally the town gets visited by replica tall ships. The Grand Turk and the Endeavour are a couple of more famous visitors.

Statue of Captain Cook at Whitby Mention of the Endeavour brings us neatly to yet another major historical connection with Whitby. It was here that James Cook served his apprenticeship, before going on to become the most famous navigator Britain has ever produced, making three trips to map Australasia, New Zealand, Antarctica and the South Seas. The Whitby connection is bolstered by the fact that the ships he took were Whitby Colliers, narrow of draught and broad of beam. Ideally suited to exploring where you didn't know how shallow the water was going to be.

There's a large statue of Cook on top of the West Cliff and a Captain Cook museum on the harbourside, plus when the Endeavour visits that's definitely worth a look. And of course, Whitby Museum has plenty to look at.

The West Cliff is an entirely different part of the town, having been largely laid out and built in the 19th Century for the seaside trade. Along the front  of the cliff are formal gardens and entertainments like Crazy Golf and a boating lake.

If you want to get down to the beach from West Cliff it's a long walk down a zig-zag path, or you can take the 1930's cliff lift. Unlike most cliff lifts which are funiculars, this one is a "proper" vertical lift going through the cliff to a pedestrian tunnel at the bottom. It used to have two cars, but since Scarborough council renovated it there's only one, and that's a horrid shiny modern thing instead of the original. Just one more reason (in a very long list) why Filey and Whitby should have their own councils.

The main beach itself is good and clean, but always suffers in comparison with Filey and Brid. But then again, what beach in the UK doesn't suffer in comparison with those two. It does get busy but is never packed, and in high season there are lifeguards on duty and plenty of food for sale. Donkey and pony rides too.

Behind West Cliff are street upon street of hotels, B&B's and holiday flats, but even with this amount of accommodation available it can be hard to find anywhere to stay if you don't book in advance. Whitby is a popular place and it draws visitors from both West Yorkshire and the North East, so either book in advance or get down to the tourist information office.


Visitor Attractions Near Whitby

Wow - this is going to be one long list. Whitby is on the edge of the North York Moors, so all those attractions are nearby. Anyway, here's a few thoughts:

  • Visit Sandsend (just North) - you can walk in the Mulgrave Estate woodlands on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Mondays except in May. Can be closed for commercial purposes so probably best to check first.
  • Goathland is nearby. A very pretty vilage in a very pretty area, but over-run with visitors since it was Aidensfield in the "Heartbeat" TV series. Most visitors don't stray more than 200 yards from the village centre, so great for walking. In fact, most visitors don't even get to Mallyan Spout which is only round the corner
  • Robin Hood's Bay Utterly picturesque seaside village just down the coast. Steep doesn't begin to describe it, so if you're not good on your feet forget it. Most famous nowadays as the end of Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk.
  • Ruswarp and the Esk Valley - very pretty walking country. Ruswarp is under two miles from Whitby and has boating and canoes on the river and a miniature railway.
  • The Cleveland Way - runs down the cost, so you can walk up or down. The walk over the cliffs to Robin Hood's Bay is very dramatic, and you can  get a bus back. Buses are pretty frequent, but such things always change so check here
  • Whitby to Scarborough cycle trail. You can hire bikes from Trailways between Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay. They also carry common spares, so can be useful if you break down.
  • Staithes - dramatic fishing village to the North.
  • Hole of Horcum - interesting geological feature on the Whitby - Pickering road. You can go and peer at it, but it's more fun to walk round.
  • Drive to Pickering - using the road from Egton Bridge via Stape. One of the most beautiful roads in North Yorkshire and a great way to get to Pickering.
  • Cropton Forest - get to it using the aforementioned road. Great for walking and cycling.
  • Badger Watching - if you're at all into wildlife this is an amazing experience. I won't spoil it by describing it, but trust me on this one. The one mistake I made was not to take a camera. Badger's don't see electronic flash, so you can get some great pictures. Currently under threat from the cutbacks (2010). Let's hope it survives. 
  • Ironstone Museum - not been myself, but includes a chance to go underground.
  • Rosedale - great walking on a track round the dale. Can mountain bike it too.
  • North Yorkshire Moors Railway - best steam railway in Britain. Trains now run from Whitby to Pickering.
  • 4x4 Driving - with all the forests round here, that just had to be an option. A great fun day out.


Whitby and the surrounding area is packed with holiday cottages. A Google search will pull up plenty of individual ones, but here's some of the big players:

Pictures of Whitby

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Comments (5)
99 steps? I think that should read 199!
posted by Jeffers 07/07/2009 14:31:35
ah yes, well spotted. Will be corrected at the next release.
posted by Mick 07/07/2009 23:27:22
Feels more like 999 to me !!!!
posted by Josie 07/08/2010 09:24:31
dracula experience - scary - not!
posted by Hols 08/08/2010 09:54:20
Your link to the Mulgrave estate has died. Here is a new one http://www.mulgrave-estate.co.uk/?page_id=35 Thanks for a very interesting site
posted by Rob 18/08/2011 19:31:59
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