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Time lapse Dark skies above Dalby Forest - Credit Classlane MediaTime lapse Dark skies above Dalby Forest - Credit Classlane Media

What to do in winter

Winter in the North York Moors stretches from December through to February. It's a season that can bring snow to the uplands, leading to sunny, crisp, winter days that really highlight our big sky views. We recommend warm clothing, shorter walks and finding a cosy spot in one of the North York Moors many traditional pubs and coffee shops, with hearty food, beer, or a steaming mug of hot chocolate and often a roaring fire.

It may be winter, but it's still worth finding out what wildlife is around with our nature calendar, full of tips, seasonal walks and ideas on the best places to spot birds and animals at this time of year.

Winter openings

Please check individual attractions' websites for the most up-to-date opening times.

Come the New Year, you'll find a number of attractions open for rainy day alternatives. There's daily openings for Castle Howard (grounds and Stable Courtyard), Dalby Forest, Scarborough SEA LIFE Sanctuary and Ampleforth Abbey while Whitby Museum, Scarborough Art Gallery and Rotunda Museum are open every day except Mondays. 

Eden Camp opens mid-January daily after a short break over Christmas while the National Centre for Birds of Prey reopens its doors towards the end of January.

There are weekend openings throughout January for Rievaulx AbbeyWhitby AbbeyByland Abbey, Scarborough Castle, Mount Grace Priory, House and Gardens and our two National Park Centres at Sutton Bank and Danby. Elsewhere Helmsley Castle is open Fridays as well as the weekend.

The area's theatres generally take a well-earned break during January although Helmsley Arts Centre will sometimes offer live screenings plus a few other performances. 

Most other attractions kick off their year around February half-term, including Ryedale Folk Museum and Captain Cook Memorial MuseumGo Ape! opens daily during half-term, then weekends only until Easter. Daily train services return briefly to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for half-term, before daily services resume later in March. Check individual websites for the most up-to-date details.

And don't forget, Yorkshire Gliding Club is open every day of the year except Christmas Day, for one day trial lessons if you'd like to have a bird's eye view of the National Park!

Top 5 winter experiences

1. Getting outdoors for winter walks and bike rides, then cosy up by a pub fire

It’s true that the moorland weather in winter can be forbidding. No one particularly likes walking with their hood up in driving rain and icy winds. But here’s something that might surprise you: the North York Moors is one of Britain’s driest National Parks. Away from the coast, about two days out of every three are dry. February has a lower average rainfall than August! So if you set out for a walk in winter, there’s a better than average chance that it will stay fair.

There's all weather walking on the Cleveland Way National Trail and on our many forest tracks. Combine a bracing walk over Levisham Moor, including the famous Hole of Horcum, with a gentle meander through the woods around the villages of Levisham and Lockton.

Bike-fiends can tackle the mountain bike trails and fire roads in Dalby Forest (only closing when the snow gets really bad) or take to quiet country roads.

The disused railway tracks from Scarborough to Whitby (the Cinder Track) and from Blakey Bank (near The Lion Inn), around the head of Farndale over Bloworth Crossing all the way to Incline Top (part of the former Rosedale Ironstone Railway), are all-weather tracks, whether you're on foot or bike. Both provide some of the best views in the North York Moors too. They're part of the Moor to Sea Cycle Network, just download the Easby to Rosedale Abbey or Scarborough to Ravenscar/Whitby to Ravenscar sections.

The North York Moors coast is spectacular at any time of the year, but in winter you can expect to find milder temperatures than inland and fewer people. Enjoy longs walks on the beach and explore the nooks and crannies of these higgledy-piggledy fishing villages - minus the summer crowds. Follow the coastal stretch of the Cleveland Way National Trail with a great chance to enjoy the power of the North Sea as it batters the shore.

And we can guarantee you won't be far from an open pub wherever the outdoors takes you!

2. Stargazing and Dark Skies Festival (14 February - 1 March 2020)

With short days and long nights, winter is the best time to look to the sky. On a clear night countless stars splash light across the deep, dark North York Moors sky. This is one of the best places in the country to see stars, because of the low light pollution levels and clear horizons. 

Dalby Forest is one of three Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the North York Moors, Milky Way class, which means it has some of the darkest sites in the country and the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye. Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society holds stargazing events in Dalby Forest on the first Friday in February and March (8-9.30pm). Find more ideas on where to go stargazing on the coast.

We also team up with our friends at the Yorkshire Dales National Park to hold a Dark Skies Festival during February half-term – stargazing, games and activities, from Hawes to the Moors and shores!

3. Castle Howard 

Bar Christmas Day itself, Castle Howard is open all year round. It's a fantastic place to be whatever the time of year but it's particularly magical over the festive period. Outside, the drive leading to the house is Christmas tree-lined, while inside, discover breathtaking interiors lit by candle and firelight, and dressed with magnificent trees. A Christmas market, festive food and gifts, meeting Father Christmas and live music will keep everyone happy. 

4. Winter services on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Nothing beats travelling through the heart of the North York Moors on a steam train and it's even better when you're joined by Santa and his special helpers. Santa Specials run every weekend in December. Mince pie anyone? North Yorkshire Moors Railway also runs daily winter services during the Christmas holidays, check the website for dates and times.

5. Time for a bit of pampering and relaxation

We're well-known for our fantastic walking, but our tranquil surroundings also makes the North York Moors a hot spot for retreats and rejuvenating breaks good for your mind, body and soul, all offering their own little havens of peace.

The Verbena Spa in the chic Feversham Arms Hotel in Helmsley, is probably the most well-known, with a Top 5 spa listing in Tatler magazine. Outdoor hot tubs and heated pool only add to the charm. You'll also find luxurious spa treatments at the boutique hotels, Gisborough Hall and The Hotel at Raithwaite. The Amber Rooms at The Spa Hotel in Saltburn is one of the area's newest opening while the romantic ‘Pamper Break’ package from The Pheasant Hotel in Harome is hard to resist, think candle-lit swim, champagne and holistic therapy treatments.

It's all about down-to-earth relaxation at The Tree in Rosedale Abbey, from Indian head massages, a bit of yoga if you fancy, spa treatments, along with moorland strolls plus tea and cake by an open fire, a recipe for the perfect remedy. Like The Sycamores, also in Rosedale, The Tree makes the most of those endless North York Moors views with covered outdoor hot tubs, alongside other treatments. The Little Yoga Company offers simple yoga retreats while Raw Horizons offers exclusive Women only well-being retreats.

Or simply kick back with a short break in a Forest Holiday treehouse in Keldy Forest or a log cabin at Cropton, where you can enjoy an in-cabin spa treatment before chilling out in the outdoor hot tub with the sounds of the night forest around you.