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Whitby

Whitby Regatta Fireworks by Colin CarterWhitby Regatta Fireworks by Colin Carter

Visitors flock year-round to the most atmospheric town along the Yorkshire coast. The famous abbey ruins on the clifftop, and cobbled Georgian old town below, form a beautiful backdrop to days on the sandy beach or strolls around the vibrant harbour.

Captain Cook learned his trade here in the 18th century, while in the 19th century Whitby expanded with the arrival of the railway. Steam trains still serve the town, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway from Pickering and Grosmont, while the Esk Valley Railway offers a scenic trip through the heart of the beautiful Esk Valley.

Things to see and do

Whitby Abbey – founded in the 7th century AD – has a significant place in England's religious history, for it was here that the date of Easter was agreed between the Celtic and Roman churches. The magnificent ruins and museum shouldn't be missed.

To reach the abbey, take a walk up the famous 199 Steps from the old town, passing historic St Mary's Church. 

Captain Cook is remembered in the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, housed in the harbour-front building where Cook lodged as an apprentice seaman. All Cook's ships of exploration were built in Whitby - Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery.

Meanwhile, wonderful Whitby Museum covers the the town's whaling, shipping and geological history, including giant marine fossils and curiosities bought back by roving sea captains. 

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs heritage steam and diesel services from Whitby to Pickering, via the rail village of Grosmont with its engine sheds and station tearoom. Trains on the Esk Valley Railway also call at Grosmont on their way to Middlesbrough from Whitby. 

The coast off Whitby and the National Park is the source of jet, the fossiled remains of the ancient monkey-puzzle tree. It's been used as jewellery for thousands of years, and was popularised in Victorian times by Queen Victoria, and several shops in town still continue the tradition, including W. Hamond, the town's oldest surviving jet shop. You can also visit the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre to see the last remaining example of an authentic Victorian jet workshop.

From here head round the corner to Tate Hill where the Russian ship ‘Demeter’ ran aground, with the only apparent survivor a mysterious dog that disappeared up the 199 steps. At least that's how Bram Stoker's novel Dracula starts, inspired by his holiday to Whitby in 1890, when he also enjoyed walks to Kettleness and Mulgrave Woods, both now in the National Park. 

Walks and cycle rides

Clifftop walks along the Cleveland Way National Trail run north to Staithes and south to Robin Hood's Bay. 

Whitby also marks the end of the 37-mile Esk Valley Walk, which follows the River Esk from its source high on the moors to the North Sea. For a great half-day's walk, take the train to Grosmont and walk back to Whitby, following the 'leaping salmon' trail signs.

Hire a bike from Trailways at Hawsker and follow part of the traffic-free Cinder Track, the old Railway line, for four miles of spectacular coastal views. You'll also get to pedal over the impressive 13 arches of Larpool Viaduct on the outskirts of Whitby.

Activities

Harbour trips and fishing trips depart from various points along the harbour – check the noticeboards for the latest departures.  

From July to October whale watching trips leave regularly from Whitby harbour with Whitby Whale Watching. If you’re lucky you may spot minke, northern and humpbacks whales as well as seals, dolphins and porpoises.

Whitby Leisure Centre on West Cliff has a pool with public swim sessions and swimming lessons. Call 01947 604640 for further information.

Valley Adventures based just outside Whitby put together tailormade activity programmes for groups and families, from bushcraft and archery to surfing and orienteering.

Eating and drinking

Whitby is well-known for its fish and chips, including famous venues like The Magpie Café and Quayside, 2014 winner at the National Fish and Chip Awards. Michelin-starred chef and local lad Andrew Pern's latest venture The Star Inn The Harbour features plenty of fish and game from the moors too. There are lots of cafés, pubs and restaurants in town. 

Head to the old town to seek out Fortune's Smokehouse for the best traditional smoked kippers in England.

Festivals and events

Whitby Goth Weekend (usually April and again at Halloween weekend) brings thousands to town, to celebrate Whitby's Dracula connections with gigs, events and a Goth market. There's more music in June and September at the Whitby 60s' Festival, featuring some of the biggest names of the 1960s.

Two more don't-miss music events are the venerable Whitby Folk Week every August, with traditional music and dance, workshops and street entertainment; and October's Musicport Festival, the UK's biggest indoor world music festival.

Whitby Regatta (August) takes a different tack, showcasing four days of yacht racing, rowing races and entertainment, finishing with a spectacular harbourside firework display.


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