Quintessentially English, Whitby has absolutely everything you would want from a Northern seaside town: quality beaches, fish and chips, and ice creams aplenty. But dig a little deeper, and Whitby holds many secrets down its quaint cobbled streets, bursting with history, mystery, culture, and an abundance of places to explore.
2022 is a big year for Whitby, as it celebrates the 125th anniversary of the publication of Dracula, a novel that’s synonymous with the North Yorkshire town. There will be plenty of events to celebrate, culminating in the popular lighting up of the abbey for 11 nights, ending on 31 October.
Things to See and Do in Whitby
1. Whitby Abbey
Whitby’s most imposing and iconic landmark, Whitby Abbey still stands proud atop the town’s East Cliff. In the 7th Century, the first monastery was built on the site under the Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon kingdom. In 664, one of the most important events in the history of the Church of England took place at the monastery: The Synod of Whitby. This would be to decide whether the Northumbrian Church would follow Roman or Celtic Christianity. Roman traditions were chosen, influencing how priests and monks should dress, and, most importantly, how the date of Easter was set.
After the monastery was abandoned in the 9th Century, the church was completely rebuilt in the Gothic-style in the 13th Century, before time, weather, and war reduced the church into the ruins that we still see today. Popularised by Bram Stoker’s 1987 novel Dracula, Whitby Abbey has once again become a favourite attraction and important landmark in the region.
Under the care of English Heritage, the site is fully accessible, allowing visitors to explore the Gothic ruins and learn about the history of the site.
2. St. Mary’s Church
Whilst visiting Whitby Abbey, it’s also worth visiting the neighbouring St. Mary’s Church. Also noted in Stoker’s novel, the church dates back to the early 12th Century, though it has undergone many additions and developments over the years. The graveyard of St. Mary’s Church overlooks the town from the cliff, and also contains gravestones naming ships or locals that have been lost at sea.
3. East and West Piers
Sheltering the town from the ferocious bite of the North Sea, Whitby has had a pier in place since the 16th Century. From the early 14th Century, merchants were sailing from Northern Europe to trade with Whitby and the wealthy abbey, with the natural harbour providing one of the only respites along over 100 miles of the East Coast. Originally of a timber construction, the stone-built West Pier was commissioned in 1632, and by the early 18th Century, all coal-carrying ships had to pay taxes towards its upkeep.
With the construction of the East Pier, several alterations and a lengthenings, and the additions of lighthouses, the two piers are now accessible and used daily by tourists and locals alike. In 2020, nearly 20 years after it had been removed, the £300,000 replacement footbridge was added to the East Pier, meaning that once again the whole length of the pier could be accessed.
Take a walk down both piers to appreciate the beauty of the coastline, the grandeur of the abbey, and the bluster of the North Sea.
4. Whitby Whalebone Arch
Framing the town into the perfect postcard picture, Whitby’s whalebone arch celebrates the dangerous whaling industry of the seafarers of the town’s past. When the whaling crews returned from the seas off Greenland in the 18th and 19th centuries, they would display whale’s jaws on the ship’s mast to celebrate and show that they had killed the whales, rather than falling victim themselves. The whalebone arch is the third set that has stood on the site since the original in 1853, with the most recent being from a Bowhead whale donated in 2003.
5. 199 Steps
Heading up to Whitby Abbey usually means tackling the famous 199 stone steps. Originally made of wood and thought to be built prior to their first record in 1340, the steps were replaced with stone from nearby Sneaton in 1774. Legend has it that the steps were used as a test of faith for those looking to worship at St. Mary’s Church. When the churchyard of St. Mary’s Church was open for burials in the 19th Century, coffins were carried up the 199 steps by pallbearers, only resting on wooden planks where the benches are located today. Dracula also ran up the 199 steps to the church in the shape of a black dog in the famous novel when his ship, The Demeter, ran aground at Tate Hill Sands.
6. Captain Cook Statue and Memorial Museum
Neighbouring Whitby’s whalebones atop the West Cliff, a statue of Captain Cook proudly stands looking out to sea. Famous for multiple round-the-world voyages in the Pacific, South Atlantic, and Arctic oceans, Cook mapped areas such as New Zealand, Hawaii, and Australia, which were previously unmapped by Western explorers.
Cook was born in Marton, before moving to Staithes and later Whitby where he was taken on as a merchant navy apprentice by prominent ship owners John and Henry Walker. Cook lodged at Walker’s house on the harbour when not at sea, which has now been transformed into the Captain Cook Memorial Museum.
At the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, you can appreciate what life was like for the 17-year-old Cook, as well as learn about his life from a collection of original letters, voyage artwork, and other collections.
7. Whitby Beach
Quintessentially English, Whitby Beach is a huge stretch of sand stretching west towards Sandsend from the West Pier. With coloured beach huts, ice cream stalls, and even a surf school, Whitby Beach is a great way to spend a couple of hours with the family, or why not enjoy the two-mile walk to sandsend along the beach when the tide is safely out.
8. Whitby Brewery
In an enviable location by Whitby Abbey, Whitby Brewery launched in 2013 and their beers can be found in pubs, bars, and restaurants around the town. Hopefully starting back up in 2022, their brewery tours can showcase how favourites such as Abbey Blonde, Whitby Wailer, and Smuggler’s Gold are brewed, and the £10 tickets also include three ⅓ tasters. Found a beer you love? Bottles and boxes of beer, alongside Whitby Brewery merch, can all be found in their online shop.
9. Whitby Gin Distillery
2022 is set to be a big year for Whitby Gin Distillery, as they aim to move into their stunning new premises in converted barns by Whitby Abbey. With foundations based on sustainability, innovation, and community, Whitby Gin Distillery chose botanical to ‘champion’ elements of the North Yorkshire coastline: locally-foraged heather from nearby moors, sugar kelp, and local honey. You can find their gins and gift sets in their online store, or in stores around the UK.
10. Tate Hill Sands
Alternatively to the large stretch of Whitby Beach is the much smaller and sheltered Tate Hill Sands, landing place of Dracula, is another firm favourite beach. Located between the East Pier and Tate Hill Pier, which is one of Whitby’s oldest structures dating back to the early 12th Century, Tate Hill Sands can be accessed via the end of Church Street underneath the fabulous Duke of York pub.
11. Dracula Experience
Located on Marine Parade on the east side of town, the Dracula Experience is a spooky attraction not for the faint-hearted. For over 15 years, the Dracula Experience has been telling the story of Stoker’s famous novel through a series of interactive scenes designed to educate and immerse visitors in this scary world. Enter at your own peril…
12. North Yorkshire Moors Steam Train
No trip to Whitby is complete without a trip on the North Yorkshire Moors steam train. Operating between Pickering and Whitby, the steam trains are a perfect family day out and allows you to explore more of the towns around the wonderful and wild North Yorkshire Moors. Between Pickering and Whitby, the train makes stops at Grosmont; Goathland, which served as the original Hogsmeade station in Harry Potter and Aidensfield in Heartbeat; Newtondale-Holt; and Levisham, a 1912-themed station.
13. Ruswarp Pleasure Boats
Located along the River Esk by Ruswarp Riverside Café and Miniature Steam Railway is Ruswarp Pleasure Boats. Offering the opportunity to hire rowing boats, kayaks, double-kayaks, and even SUPs, visitors can spend a serene afternoon exploring the idyllic River Esk from on the water. Once you’ve moored back up, head to the neighbouring miniature railway for a journey around beautiful 4-acre grounds, before finishing with a coffee and a cake at the Riverside Café.
Moored in Whitby Harbour is a full-sized, unmissable replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour. Visitors can learn about the history of the ship, its famous voyage, and what life was like on board through a number of exciting exhibits. Afterwards, why not dine in the Orlop Deck Bar and Grill located aboard the famous ship
15. Whitby’s Old Lifeboat
Since 1989, Whitby’s 80-year-old lifeboat has been offering trips for visitors and residents alike along the River Esk. For £3 per person, the 30-minute trip takes you out to sea, letting those on board see Whitby from a different angle. And if you’re lucky, you may even see a pod of dolphins along the way!
16. Crab Fishing
On the west side of Whitby’s iconic red swing bridge is a lowered section of the harbour which is perfect for a spot of crab fishing. During the summer months and school holidays, you’ll find lots of families lining up along the railings with crab lines and fishing rods dropped into the sea, competing to catch the biggest crab.
17. Arnold Palmer Mini Golf
Whether you class it as a bit of family-fun or an incredibly competitive game, you won’t find many better locations to play crazy golf than the Arnold Palmer Mini Golf, situated atop the West Cliff overlooking Whitby Beach and the North Sea. Compete with friends and family across the first 9 holes, and hit a hole-in-one on the 10th hole to get a free ticket for your next visit!
18. Whitby Town FC
Whitby Town FC are a semi-professional team playing in the seventh tier of English Football, in the Northern Premier League. One of the oldest clubs in the North Riding of Yorkshire, Whitby Town were founded as Streaneshalch Football Club, undergoing name changes and team amalgamations before settling on their current name. The Turnbull Ground is Whitby Town’s home ground, with a capacity of 3,500, and tickets can be purchased from their website.
19. Whitby Ghost Walks
To learn more about Whitby’s strange and supernatural side, join Dr Crank for ghost walks around the town, starting from the Whalebone arches. The 75-minute tour offers a unique way to explore the famously spooky town, learning about local tales of murder, mystery and suspense…
Food and Drink in Whitby
20. Magpie Café
A Whitby icon, the Magpie Café is undoubtedly Whitby’s most famous chippy. Considered as much of an experience as a gastronomic offering, you’ll likely see people queuing down the street for a table who believe it’s absolutely worth the wait! Housed in a former Merchant’s house with an iconic black and white facade, the Magpie Café dining room overlooks the harbour with views up to Whitby Abbey. For those in a rush, Magpie Café also offer a traditional take-away service.
21. Duke of York
If you’ve spent any time exploring the town, you’ll likely have passed the Duke of York, ideally located at the foot of the 199 steps. Fuel up here on their pub menu before tackling the climb, or celebrate with a well-deserved drink on your way back down. For unbeatable views of Tate Hill Sands, the two piers, and out to sea, try to get a window seat in the far end of the pub
22. Abbey Wharf
Just a stone’s throw away from the Duke of York is the modern and spacious bar and restaurant Abbey Wharf. The huge main space, split between bar and restaurant, is complemented by an overflow mezzanine level and an enviable balcony overlooking Whitby harbour. The restaurant has a modern menu, with local classics including Whitby Kippers and locally caught fish, whilst the bar has a really good range of beers, wines, and spirits to enjoy.
23. The Black Horse
Also located on Church Street is the traditional and historic Black Horse. Said to date back to the 16th Century, the Black Horse professes to have one of Europe’s oldest public serving bars, having been installed just after their invention in America in the late 19th Century. Whatever accolades it can claim, the small inn offers a good range of local ales, a wide selection of spirits, and even has four guest rooms. The crowning glory of the Black Horse though has to be its ‘yapas’ – Yorkshire Tapas – featuring local cheeses, kipper pate, pies, soups, bread and oil and more.
Voted Tripadvisor’s #1 restaurant in Whitby, Ditto is a small, family-run establishment offering seasonal menus focusing on local produce. Perfect for a special occasion, the restaurant is located on Skinner Street, but be sure to make a reservation as the small space gets booked up quickly when the town is busy.
25. White Horse and Griffin
Similarly, Church Street’s White Horse and Griffin is one of Whitby’s favourite restaurants. Split into two sections, the top floor is great for celebrating a special occasion whilst the downstairs offers a more relaxed bistro-style atmosphere bursting with British classics.
26. Macy Brown’s
Macy Brown’s is one of Whitby’s newest offerings, following similar openings by the group across the North East. Primarily a cocktail bar, Macy Brown’s is situated on the harbour overlooking the Endeavour ship. Boasting a wide range of signature and classic cocktails, Macy Brown’s also offers sharing platters, British-style tapas, burgers, and paninis, alongside breakfast and brunch menus.
The Magpie Café is certainly not Whitby’s only chippy with a claim to fame. Trencher’s, also offering a restaurant and take-away service, was officially voted the UK’s Best Fish & Chip Restaurant 2019 in the national Fish and Chip Awards. One of our firm favourites, grab a takeaway and sit on the harbour when the weather is good to enjoy some of the finest local fish.
28. Silver Street Fisheries
Of course everyone has their favourite chippy in Whitby, and each one certainly has its merits, so I will only recommend one more, and it’s my absolute favourite. Silver Street Fisheries is tucked away, surprisingly, on Silver Street, and serves up some of the tastiest fish and chips around. Though only small inside, there are a couple of picnic benches in the yard in front of the takeaway, or you can make the short walk back to the harbour to enjoy.
29. Rusty Shears and The Coach House
Another Silver Street favourite, you’d be forgiven for completely missing Rusty Shears, but it’s without a doubt worth finding. Accessed by the small courtyard just off Silver Street, you’ll find the most perfect tea shop and self-proclaimed ‘house of gin’. Rusty Shears have also recently expanded into the neighbouring property, with ‘The Coach House’ now home to their bar serving up gins and craft beers. Grab a cake, grab some breakfast or lunch, and, if you can, grab a table in the perfectly sheltered Mediterranean-style courtyard for the cosiest afternoon you’ll likely have in the town.
30. Sandside Cafe
When the tide is out, you can’t beat taking an afternoon walk along Whitby Beach to Sandsend. The two-mile walk, naturally, ends at the Sandside Café, where they have been serving hungry visitors for over a century. The café has been featured in local favourite TV show Heartbeat, and has continued to grow in size and popularity, from the small cabin it started in to the completely rebuilt, modern establishment that you’ll find today.
31. Botham’s of Whitby
Established in 1865 by Elizabeth Botham, Botham’s of Whitby is a renowned bakery and café in the town. Elizabeth began the business by selling bread and cakes before buying their store on Skinner Street. 150 years and 5 generations later, the Botham family still proudly carry on the family tradition, and have become famous for their local Whitby Lemon Buns, something Botham’s have been baking for over a century!
Shopping in Whitby
32. Whitby Jet
Echoing its Gothic roots, the midnight black Whitby Jet is sold in jewellers across the town. Made from fossilised wood formed around 181 million years ago, the deposit can also be found throughout the North Yorkshire Moors. There are plenty of stores around Whitby to pick up necklaces, earrings, and other jewellery featuring Whitby Jet, but W Hamond at the foot of the 199 steps is one of the leading jewellers, and well worth popping inside for a special memento from your visit.
33. Whitby Lucky Duck
In 1958, Peter Rantell left Scotland looking for a seaside town to set up a new glassware business along England’s East Coast. Finally settling on Whitby, the shop has served customers of the town ever since. After making friends with some local actors, Peter developed Whitby Lucky Ducks which became a popular keepsake for those on stage. Since then, Whitby Lucky Ducks have been a firm favourite memento for those visiting the town, and are available in 12 colours, each representing a month of your birth.
34. Justin’s Chocolatier
For the ultimate chocolate and fudge treats, look no further than Justin’s Chocolatier, taking up a tiny shop at the very end of Church Street. With classic homemade fudges alongside local classics such as Captain Cook’s Cannon Balls and Dracula’s Coffin, you’re sure to find the perfect treat here.
35. Whitby Bookshop
For the bibliophiles out there, Whitby Bookshop is my absolute favourite bookshop in the area. Spread over two small floors connected by a lovely spiral staircase, the shop definitely makes the most of the available space. There is a great selection of classics and new releases as well as a children’s section and some lovely gifts. Best of all is the local interest section featuring work from lots of local writers, stories about Whitby and North Yorkshire, as well as multiple versions of Dracula.
36. Fortune’s Kippers
If you’re heading over the lovely Henrietta Street to access the East Pier, you’re likely to smell the incredible Fortune’s Kippers before you crest the small hill and see it. Established in 1872 by William Fortune, the traditional smokehouse is for me one of Whitby’s most iconic establishments. Take a peek inside to see rows and rows of hanging kippers, and make sure you purchase some to take home to enjoy that authentic Whitby taste.
37. Spiders Clothing
Whitby isn’t all about flat caps and waterproofs. If you’re after some smart-wear, you should definitely head to Spiders Clothing on the steep curving Golden Lion Bank. Featuring a range of fashion brands including wax Barbour jackets and clothing, Fred Perry, French Connection and more, you’re sure to find something you love here.
For those who prefer the somewhat more relaxed Vans and Levis to Barbour and Fred Perry, head further up Flowergate to Witness. This small shop sells a range of clothing, beanies and accessories from a number of outlets. Growing up in the days of MTV, Tony Hawk, and Avril Lavigne, Witness was without doubt a nostalgic heaven for me!
39. The Green Dragon Ale House
Grape Lane is one of my favourite little streets in Whitby. The short, curving street connects Bridge Street and Church Street, with quirky shops either side vying for attention. Halfway along is The Green Dragon Ale House, a craft beer shop and tap room offering a great range of local and worldwide beers. Why not try something new in their tap room featuring plenty of new and unusual beers to try, and then purchase your favourites to take home. Whisky fan? Don’t miss out on their regular whisky tasting events!
Local Towns and Villages
40. Robin Hood’s Bay
One of Whitby’s most famous neighbours, Robin Hood’s Bay is certainly worth a trip out. You can take the wonderful Cinder Track from Whitby and walk 6.5 miles along the disused railway line that’s been turned into a fabulous walking and cycling track connecting Whitby to Scarborough via Robin Hood’s Bay, Ravenscar, Scalby and more. Otherwise, there are regular buses connecting the two locations.
Robin Hood’s Bay is a small, steep fishing village well-known for being the ending point of England’s wonderful coast to coast walk. The maze of narrow streets now host a number of shops, pubs, and cafés that keep the many visitors busy.
On the steep descent from the North Yorkshire Moors lies the village of Sleights. Home to The Horticultural & Industrial Society since 1880, the quaint village is home to a lovely pub, The Plough, as well as another fantastic Botham’s of Whitby bakery.
Dominated by its popular railway station, Grosmont is one of my favourite villages near Whitby. Every year as a family we walk from the cottages we stay at in Aislaby through the local farmland to Grosmont come rain or shine. With a few shops, a gallery, cafés and a pub, there are certainly options to while away a couple of hours in the village. At Grosmont, the steam trains that run along the North Yorkshire Moors Railway are stored and maintained, so you have a great chance of seeing them in action. And for the best experience, take the steam train back from Grosmont into Whitby!
Ruswarp, located just 3km from Whitby, is another local village that’s easily accessible from the popular town. The Bridge Inn is the local pub, whilst I can also absolutely recommend getting a breakfast sandwich and coffee from Jackson’s butchers. From Ruswarp, you can take a nice walk back into Whitby, or alternatively head to the 120-foot Larpool viaduct, built to carry the Scarborough to Whitby train line, and now home to the Cinder track that connects the two. Bungee jumping events are even organised for the daring visitors to the viaduct that stretches across the River Esk, which without doubt makes for a thrilling watch. You can also visit the fantastic Ruswarp Riverside Cafe, Miniature Steam Railway, and Ruswarp Pleasure Boats, all located along the River Esk.
Home to the 100 year old Horse and Agricultural Show, Egton is one of Whitby’s quaint local villages. The annual show that takes place in August is a highlight of the local calendar, featuring family-friendly entertainment, trade stands, agriculture exhibitions and much more. Whilst in the village, don’t miss a visit to the wonderful Wheatsheaf Inn, offering fantastic local seasonal food and ales, as well as guest rooms for those staying the night.
Located at the opposite end of Whitby Beach, Sandsend has plenty to offer for a day out from Whitby. Walk the two-mile stretch along the beach from Whitby to Sandsend when the tide makes it safe to do so, and stop at the ever-expanding Sandside Café for a coffee and some cake.
From Sandside Café you can take the Sandsend Trail, one of my favourite Whitby Walks. From the main car park, take the steep steps up the cliffside. From here you can follow the trail past scenery that resembles the moon, a smuggler-like roped path down to the sea where you can hunt for fossils in the rocks, and an old deserted train line and tunnel that once connected Sandsend to Kettleness and beyond.
46. Runswick Bay
Travelling slightly further North along the East coast, you will find the quietly charming village of Runswick Bay. Its frankly perfect beach was voted The Times’ Beach of the Year for 2020, thanks to its ‘pods of bottlenose dolphins often spotted on the horizon plus fossil‑hunting and rock‑pooling on the seemingly endless sands’. I recently had a November swim in the sea at Runswick Bay, and can certainly confirm that the North Sea is cold at the time of the year…
In the village, you can appreciate the quiet way of life, with its single pub, café and bakery, serving the local residents, those staying in the few guest houses, and the regular visitors.
Events in Whitby
47. Goth Weekend
A true staple of Whitby’s calendar, and one of the busiest weekends in the town, is the biannual Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW). First founded in 1994, WGW takes place in April and October each year, and features live music, regular meetups, and fringe events from the Friday to Monday of each event.
Both events now draw a large number of tourists to the town, significantly contributing to the local economy. The October event, which takes place around Halloween, has now expanded to many other subcultures, and it’s not unusual to see sci-fi fans, rockers, punks, and steampunks frequenting the town.
48. Boxing Day Dip
Organised by the Whitby District Lions Club, the annual Boxing Day dip in the North Sea tradition has been running for almost 50 years. Brave locals and those from further afield turn up on Boxing Day morning to raise money, and perhaps clear a foggy head and full belly from Christmas day, by running into the North Sea by the West Pier. In 2019, a record number of ‘dippers’ and spectators took part, with over 200 taking part and 1000 watching the local event.
49. Steampunk Weekend
Though the genre has slightly mixed in with Whitby Goth Weekend, the town also hosts its own biannual Steampunk Weekend, where arguably the best dressed visitors to Whitby descend into the town. In February and July, Steampunk visitors can enjoy live music and entertainment from the likes of Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq., the writer of the fantastic and viral ‘I’ve no more f**** to give’, alongside retail, presentations, and workshops.
50. Whitby Regatta
With a history dating back over 180 years, the Whitby Regatta takes place in August and offers aquatic sports such as rowing and yacht racing, plenty of family-friendly entertainment, and all culminating in a spectacular firework display. With humble beginnings as a competition between fishermen noted as far back as 1847 as ‘The Whitby Challenge Cup’, the Whitby Regatta has developed into one of the town’s favourite weekends.
51. Whitby Folk Week
Lovers of folk can delight in Whitby’s annual Folk Festival, celebrating traditional music, dance, and song. Over 100 concerts will take place across the town, including Whitby’s Pavilion, alongside workshops, sessions, presentations, and storytelling in August.
Bonus: Where to Stay in Whitby
As an immensely popular tourist destination, there are no shortage of places to stay in Whitby. To be in the centre of the action, Discovery Accommodation offer a number of locations throughout the town, with my personal favourite being Starfish House. Located on Silver Street, the accommodation offers 6 beautiful, spacious, and modern apartments as a perfect base for exploring the town. You can also stay in two of my favourite pubs in the whole of Whitby; The Black Horse Inn and The Duke of York, both located on the popular cobbled Church Street.
If you are staying a little longer or want to escape the hustle of the town, the neighbouring villages of Egton and Aislaby offer a tranquil change from the busy centre. Aislaby Lodge Cottages are perfectly placed for the silence of the countryside with spectacular views, as well as Cooper’s Cottage, located just down a quiet winding road where you are as likely to see deer, rabbit and pheasants as you are other people. If you do choose Cooper’s Barn, be sure to say hello to the friendly farmhouse cat ‘Boo’ from us!