27 Best things to do in Whitby, England
I spent several months exploring North Yorkshire and one of my favourite places to visit is Whitby a beautiful seaside town and fishing village on the Yorkshire coast. I’d always wanted to visit because of its connections with Bram Stoker and his famous Dracula tale. When I got there I discovered there are so many things to do in Whitby I was spoiled for choice.
Whitby is a charming town, situated right on the coast on Whitby Bay it has a long maritime history and a distinct air of mystery thanks to the presence of the Whitby Abbey ruins looming over the town from the windswept heights of the headland on East Cliff. There is a lovely sandy beach that stretches from Whitby to the village of Sandsend.
Whitby has beaches on both sides of the River Esk. On the east side is the smaller Tate Hill, a sheltered sandy beach that allows dogs all year round. On the other side of West Pier is West Cliff, a larger sandy beach with colourful beach huts, deckchair and windbreak hire, a children’s paddling pool and donkey rides.
I initially went to Whitby to explore the famous Abbey but soon learned that Whitby has a lot more to offer than just the Abbey. Whitby attractions include great beaches, a strong maritime history and so much more. I found over 27 things to do in Whitby that you can experience with or without kids.
- 27 Best things to do in Whitby, England
- How to get to Whitby
- About Whitby
- Fun things to do in Whitby
- Ruins of Whitby Abbey and Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- Whitby Goth Weekend
- Bram Stoker, Dracula and Whitby
- Whitby and Captain Cook
- 199 Steps to St. Mary's Church
- What's in Whitby to see
- The Whitby Museum
- Whitby Jet
- Where to Stay in Whitby
- Where to eat in Whitby
How to get to Whitby
Starting with the basics – where is Whitby?
From London, the drive to Whitby is around 4 hours. I would recommend you take the train up to York or even better Scarborough and then pick up a rental car there so you can enjoy all the delights of the North Yorkshire area. York is a place everyone should visit once in a lifetime so you can see the oldest medieval street in England (the Shambles) and enjoy learning all about the Viking history of this ancient city.
If you plan to stay in York (which I highly recommend) then pick up a rental car on the outskirts of the city so you don’t have to put up with York traffic as it can be a real hassle.
Trains are running to and from Whitby but be aware you might have to make a change or two depending on where you’re coming from.
York to Whitby – A regular service is available but choose your times carefully as a journey from York can take between 2.5 – 3.5 hours (with a change in Middlesbrough). York – Whitby.
Getting Around Whitby
Whitby is a pretty small town and you can easily get to most Whitby attractions by walking. Whitby Abbey is a bit of a climb up but it can be done if you take your time. There’s also a great hop-on hop-off bus where you can see all the major sites.
The bus’s local guides will take you on an informative trip around Whitby – you can hop on and off the sightseeing tour as many times as you like – whilst you enjoy magnificent seascapes and experience Whitby’s narrow winding streets as the open-top bus climbs steeply up to the impressive ruins and visitor facilities of Whitby Abbey.
Whitby is a lovely small town on the North Yorkshire coast it makes for the perfect staycation or if coming from North America Whitby is a place to experience Britain’s fishing, whaling and maritime heritage. From its smuggling past when rum and brandy arrived by sea and were smuggled past the watch and taxman into Whitby’s secret tunnels.
An equally important part of Whitby’s history was the whaling industry. Between 1750 and 1840 many of Whitby’s inhabitants became rich from this massive trade. Captain James Cook studied for his seamen’s apprenticeship in Whitby and became one of the world’s most famous explorers.
Whitby was founded in around 656 when the Christian King of Northumbria founded the first monastery under the abbess Hilda. Known as a fishing port in the middle ages as it was home to the earliest English poet Caedmon who lived up in Whitby Abbey which was then known as Streanaeshealth where he looked after the animals for the Abbess Hilda.
This monastery was destroyed by the Vikings and it wasn’t until 1078 that another was founded. It was around this time that Whitby got its name which came from “white settlement” in old Norse.
Tourism and fishing are now the biggest money-makers in modern-day Whitby. It may be best known for its connection to Dracula, but it has much more to offer visitors. Whitby Jet is another famous product in the area. The bronze age craftsmen used jet as it was easy to carve and finds of the Whitby jet date back 4000 years.
Fun things to do in Whitby
Ruins of Whitby Abbey and Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bram Stoker was visiting from his home in Ireland and was so taken with his visit to Whitby Abbey it became the inspiration for his eponymous work Dracula.
The novel was shaped by the ruins which included a stone coffin – empty of course – the 199 steps down to the town itself and the Church and graveyard that stands just down from the Abbey.
When Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 he fell in love with the town and used several stunning settings in his novel Dracula. St. Mary’s Churchyard and the 199 steps that go down to the town from Whitby Abbey, and of course Whitby Abbey itself all feature in the novel.
Whitby now celebrates Stoker and his horror story with several events and festivals held in town. Tickets for Whitby Abbey cost £10.00 per adult and £6.00 for children 5 to 17 years.
Can you see Whitby Abbey without paying? You can see the Abbey from a distance or by climbing the 199 steps but you can’t wander the grounds of the ruins or access the visitor centre for free.
Whitby Goth Weekend
Each year goths from all over the world gather for a biannual celebration of gothic culture, music and camaraderie at Whitby Goth Weekend which is the world’s premier goth festival, attracting thousands to the town each spring and autumn.
Famous bands such as The Damned and artists including Toyah have graced the festival stages over the years. Fields of Nephilim and The Sisters of Mercy have become more recent favourites.
Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival
One of the more unusual things to do in Whitby is to attend the two Goth festivals in Whitby Tomorrow’s Ghosts and Whitby Goth Weekend. These festivals run at the beginning and at the end of the summer months.
These festivals feature goth bands, goth merchandise, goth art and the goth subculture. There is nothing evil or malevolent about the goths – it’s simply a music and fashion subculture.
The Bizarre Bazaar
The Bizarre Bazaar is one of the highlights of the Whitby Goth Weekend. It is one of the UK’s most well-established and longest-running alternative markets and has been a longstanding supporter of the Whitby Goth Weekend. If you are looking for something unusual to take home with you this market is a must-do.
Bram Stoker, Dracula and Whitby
The Dracula Experience
A brilliant tour through Whitby that uses live actors and some pretty cool special effects to tell the story of Dracula and Whitby. Enter if you dare…learn more about The Dracula Experience here
Bram Stoker’s arrival in Whitby
In July of 1890, Bram Stoker arrived in Whitby for a rest after finishing a theatrical tour of Scotland. Stoker had booked to stay at Mrs Veazey’s guesthouse at 6 Royal Crescent. You can still see the house today but it is a private residence so viewings only from the outside.
Stoker at this time had written two novels set in Ireland and was working on a new story set in Austria with the main character called Count Wampyr.
While walking the streets of Whitby it became obvious to Stoker that the dramatic vistas from Whitby Abbey, the windswept headlands, the church and gravestones and the Jet jewellery favoured by the Victorians for mourning jewellery were all grist for the author’s talents.
One day Stoker walked down to the end of Whitby Quay and entered the public library. Here he discovered a book that detailed the experiences of William Wilkinson and his time in Wallachia and Moldavia (now in Romania). Wilkinson’s book talked about the legend of Vlad Tepes a 15th-century prince called Vlad Tepes who was said to have impaled his enemies on wooden stakes. He was known as Dracula – the ‘son of the dragon’. There was a dramatic footnote in the book that said:
Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians at that time … used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning.
Whitby Ghost Walks
If you enjoy a darker history of Whitby then you will definitely enjoy a ghost walk around the town.
Rose Rylands is a locally born storyteller who shares intimate knowledge of the coast and surroundings, along with local folklore, history, mysteries and legends. She runs a variety of guided walks, including Guided Walking Tours of Whitby and Ghost walks in Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby.
Whitby ghost walk Market Square
Dr Crank’s Whitby Ghost and Dracula Walks take you on a tour of some of Whitby’s most infamous sites and hauntings. From the Burning Girl to the haunted lighthouse Dr Crank’s tour – get ready to be terrified.
Whitby and Captain Cook
Whitby is also famous for being the place where Capitain James Cook did his apprenticeship. Captain Cook is the man famous for being the first point of contact Europeans had with Australia and Hawaii and of course the first circumnavigation of New Zealand. Captain Cook also created detailed maps of the coast of Newfoundland in Canada.
Whitby is also the place where Cook’s ships were built and sailed from. There are several attractions in Whitby featuring Captain Cook including the Captain Cook Memorial, Captain Cook Memorial Museum, and the Captain Cook Experience
Captain Cook Experience
The Captain Cook Experience is an authentic replica of HMS Endeavour which is a barque. A barque is a sailing ship, typically with three masts, in which the foremast and mainmast are square-rigged and the mizzenmast is rigged fore and aft. The replica is 40% of the size of Captain Cook’s – which was sailed by him during his scientific expedition of 1768.
The Captain Cook Experience is a 25-minute boat ride on the Barque Endeavour Whitby around Whitby Harbor and along the coast to Sandsend. A trip on the Bark Endeavour allows you to take in some fantastic views of North Yorkshire’s Jurassic coast where you can spot a rich variety of wildlife and seabirds. With a bit of luck, you may see some dolphins and seals at play.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum
The Museum is in a historic building on the harbourside and is the oldest surviving building in Whitby that has a direct connection to Cook. Beautifully restored the house shows what it was like to live in that time. The colours are all original and the house is based on Quaker principles of simple, comfortable living.
The gardens are planted with specimens dating from the 18th century and you can see the kitchens and orientation room on the ground floor. These ground-floor rooms are furnished with pieces that were counted on an inventory done in the 18th century. On the upper floors, the rooms follow Cook’s life and career spanning the globe.
Captain Cook Memorial
The bronze statue of Captain Cook was presented to the town of Whitby in 1912 and stands in the People’s Park in the Crescent Gardens. The statue stands on a stone plinth and overlooks the harbour and the North Sea. On the front of the plinth is a carving of Cook’s coat of arms and on the back is a carving of his ship Resolution.
Whitby Whale watching
Whitby was, of course, a major whaling town in the early 19th century and around 55 whaling ships were operating out of the town but the industry came to a close in 1837.
Whale watching from Whitby harbour usually runs through September which is peak season and a boat trip makes a great day out. The last week of September through to the first week of October is more suited to dedicated wildlife enthusiasts wishing to maybe see the last of the whales as they migrate south or to catch glimpses of migrating birds such as various warblers and songbirds, various shearwaters & skuas, honey buzzards, short-eared owls. The tours are unsuitable for children under 12.
Whale Bone Arch
At the east end of Whitby Beach on West Cliff, you will find the Whale Bone Arch. These are real bones that were a gift in 2003 from Whitby’s sister town Anchorage Alaska and were donated by the Inuit of Alaska.
199 Steps to St. Mary’s Church
How many steps up to Whitby Abbey? If you start your visit to Whitby at the Abbey you can climb down the 199 steps beside St. Mary’s Church or up the steps to Whitby Abbey whatever you feel capable of. You can also drive or take a bus to the small parking lots at Whitby Abbey if you can’t do the steps.
The first steps were built in 1320 out of wood and were replaced in 1774 with stone ones. This is the route that pallbearers would have to take when carrying coffins up to St. Mary’s Church. The church was closed to more burials in the 19th century.
Visit St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church and graveyard sits at the top of the 199 steps and was the graveyard where Stoker found names for his characters. The Church is older than the Abbey above and was built around 1100. You won’t find gothic splendour here the north and south transepts were added in the C13th and C14th. The battlements around the top of the tower and church are C16th.
There was a major extension at the start of the 19th century when the north aisle was extended and the galleries built. The inside of the church surprisingly can fit up to 3000 parishioners – this is due to the box pews that are tucked into every available space.
A visit to Whitby Abbey is a must do it’s one of the iconic sites in the UK perched on the headland the great 11th-century Whitby Abbey ruins loom over Whitby. You can certainly see where Stoker got his inspiration from. There is a small museum on-site and a coffee shop.
The entry fee to Whitby Abbey is £8.90 for adults and the Abbey can be accessed via the 199 steps or there is a bus from the town that runs to the Abbey every half hour in season. You could also stop by the Abbey on the hop on hop off bus or take your car to the pay and display parking lot that sits behind the Abbey.
Whitby Abbey is an English Heritage Site, so if you are a member or have an overseas visitor pass entry is free with the pass. If you are a UK citizen why not buy an English Heritage pass and for those of you from overseas grab yourself an Overseas Visitor pass – you can save quite a bit on entry fees.
The Whitby Brewery, is a local, microbrewery in the shadow of Whitby Abbey where you can stop for a refreshing brew and a pizza after your time at the Abbey.
You can also take a 45 minute tour of the Brewery. You’ll find out about the brewing process, the ingredients, tools and technology they use as well as the history and plans for the future. Afterwards you’ll can welcome to sample 3 ales in the bar.
What’s in Whitby to see
If you’re visiting Whitby take time to head down to the seafront and take a stroll on Whitby Beach, the only Blue Flag beach in Yorkshire. I love the colourful beach huts that line the boardwalk. Beware that the water can be cold if you fancy a swim.
Go crabbing in Whitby Harbour
Walking the boardwalk at Whitby you will spot many youngsters and oldsters dipping a string into the water. This is crabbing an activity enjoyed by young and old for years in Whitby and known as doggering. You can’t eat the crabs so they do get put back and you can pick up a crabbing kit for around a fiver at most of the local shops.
The Whitby Museum
The Whitby Museum is home to an extensive collection of artefacts from as far back as the Jurassic era, particularly focussing on finds from in and around the town. The most unique and interesting attraction is the Hand of Glory – a mummified human hand, which legend says was used by burglars to help put their victims to sleep.
The two Whitby lighthouses stand on grade II listed east and west piers. The west lighthouse is often open to the public for a modest fee. You can climb up to the top and get a unique view over the town and coastline in a tower that has existed since the 1800s.
The West Lighthouse is open to the public and is operated by Trinity House, a charity dedicated to the safeguarding of seafarers. The entry fee for adults is a mere £1.50 but the view from the top is worth millions.
Whitby Lifeboat Museum
The Whitby Lifeboat Museum is based on the site of the old operational lifeboat station, which was in use from 1895–to 1957. This museum is run entirely by volunteers, and it offers visitors the chance to see a variety of beautiful paintings, photographs, medals, and various objects from famous shipwrecks and rescues throughout history. Admission is free of charge but donations are greatly appreciated.
Pannett Park is a haven of peace and tranquillity close to the centre of Whitby. Beautifully maintained, it has stunning views, and a state-of-the-art play area and offers a variety of planting schemes for all seasons. The park is home to Whitby Museum and Pannett Art Gallery.
Pannett Park Museum and Art Gallery
The Whitby Museum was first established back in the early 1800s to display the incredible fossils that were brought to Whitby by the Captains of sailing ships.
The beautiful and authentic Victorian aesthetic of this museum has been meticulously maintained and the new wing – which is more modern – displays travelling exhibitions of historical artefacts and artwork.
Whitby Jet is a natural gemstone that you will find in all shapes and forms and in most shops in Whitby. Jet was treasured during the Victorian era when Queen Victoria wore it as her mourning jewellery. Form formed from the compressed wood of the prehistoric Monkey Puzzle tree which is found along the two-mile stretch of coastline between Robin Hood’s Bay and Boulbya.
Museum of Whitby Jet
After long years of painstaking restoration, the Museum of Whitby Jet opened its doors in the summer of 2019. The comprehensive display has been curated by Whitby Jet expert, Rebecca Tucker, and is host to some of the finest examples in the world, including the world’s largest piece of Whitby Jet ever found.
This fantastic collection chronicles the history of jet in the town and shares the story of the rise in popularity thanks to Queen Victoria. Enjoy a delightful afternoon admiring this superbly executed restoration of an iconic Whitby landmark from the comfort of Alberts Eatery, the delicious on-site restaurant. Free to visit.
The Swing Bridge
The Swing Bridge as it is known is a pedestrian and car bridge over the River Esk that connects the east and west sides of the town. It gets its name because it swings open to allow large ships to go by. The current bridge was built in 1908 and spans 75 feet.
Ride the North Yorkshire Moors Railway
One of my favourite things to do near Whitby is to ride the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a popular heritage steam train that runs from Whitby to Pickering daily from the beginning of April to the end of October and on weekends and selected holidays during the winter (with no service from 24–27 December).
Travel across the North York Moors National Park on steam or vintage diesel train and visit some charming station stops along the way, including the famous Goathland – this was the original Hogsmeade Station in the first Harry Potter movie, as well as Aidensfield in the 90s drama Heartbeat.
Where to Stay in Whitby
If you’re staying in Whitby and decide to spend a weekend here, there is a wide range of accommodations available. At the top end of the scale, there is the Raithwaite Estate, which is located just outside the town but there are many more lovely places to stay right in Whitby itself.
Raithwaite Sandsend Estate
Fancy a bit of luxury for your stay in Whitby? Then the Raithwaite is just the excuse you’ve been looking for. The 80-acre estate with its landscaped grounds is located in the coastal North Yorkshire countryside only 5 minutes from Whitby. They have an indoor pool, spa and sauna and some rooms are allocated as pet friendly. Local, seasonal produce is used in The Brasserie, specialising in Whitby’s famous fresh produce from both land and sea.
The Angel Hotel
The Angel Hotel is situated 10 minutes walk from the main beach, The Angel Hotel offers accommodation in historic Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. The hotel has a terrace and views of the sea, and guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar. Guests will also benefit from a 24-hour front desk. Free WiFi is available throughout.
Where to eat in Whitby
There are many attractions in Whitby but one of the things I like the most is the variety of restaurants and cafes for us foodies. Well, it wouldn’t be a British seaside town unless there were dozens of fish and chip restaurants to choose from, would it? Not only that but you need to have icecream by the sea and hit up a few pubs.
Whitby Lemon Buns
The lemon bun is a famous iced bun that you have to try when in Whitby. Made by Botham’s since 1865. It is composed of a lightish bread dough, sweetened, with sultanas worked in. The top of the bun is given a thick layer of lemon glace icing once cool enough.
There is no known reason for lemon buns to have been made especially in Whitby: no tales of a shipwreck dumping tons of citrus fruit on the shore in past times; no link to the Mediterranean lemon trade for the old port there. There is a Whitby way to eat a lemon bun and that is to split the bun itself and turn the bottom half over the top with the icing and enjoy without getting into a sticky mess.
The Magpie Café
A visit to The Magpie Café is a ‘really must do’ when visiting Whitby. throughout Yorkshire (and beyond) to be one of the finest fish restaurants the area has to offer.
Located on Pier Road, overlooking Whitby Harbour and housed in a distinctive black and white building, you can enjoy fabulous views of Whitby whilst tucking into the finest of fresh fish and much more. Specialities include a great selection of dishes that include prime, fresh Whitby fish and a great range of other seafood too.
Quayside is located on Pier Road in one of Whitby’s most historic buildings; it dates back to the 1820s and was originally the town’s bathhouse, used by local fishermen after they had delivered their catch. It later became the town’s library and is said to be where Bram Stoker collected his research for the famous novel, Dracula.
Quayside restaurant is famous today for its award-winning, sustainable fish and chips, as well as a selection of delicious fish straight from the grill. The menu also offers gluten-free fish and chips, a range of homemade salads and for dessert, the Fusco Brothers also make their own, homemade gelato.
Beacon Farm Ice Cream Parlour & Tea Rooms
For traditional and ‘real’ dairy ice cream (made on the farm), a visit to Beacon Farm Ice Cream Parlour & Tea Rooms is a “must do” when visiting Whitby. You will find the tearoom in Sneaton, overlooking the beautiful harbour of Whitby. Pure Yorkshire indulgence you’ll be experiencing – by good old Yorkshire know-how and by qualified ice-cream makers. No artificial colours or preservatives are used, but real fruit pastes to gain that tangy, fresh and authentic fruit taste.
Black Horse Inn
Located on Whitby’s historic Church Street (situated very close to the famous 199 Steps and Whitby Abbey) The Black Horse, a traditional Inn that dates back to the 16thCentury, features what is understood to be one of the oldest public-serving bars in Europe and has been declared a building of Special Architectural and Historical Interest.
The Black Horse holds Cask Marque accreditation and CAMRA recognition due to the fabulous selection and quality of its real ales, serving up to 5 real ales, comprising 3 regulars including Whitby’s Black Dog Rhatas, Taylor’s Landlord and Adnams Bitter, along with 2 rapidly changing guest ales.
Albert’s Eatery – Whitby Jet Museum
Recently opened and restored located in the old Wesley Hall on Church Street, Albert’s Eatery provides a fabulously unique and luxurious dining experience to Whitby. Surrounded by the characteristics of Wesley’s main Hall, whilst dining you can enjoy a fine meal whilst embracing the history of Whitby Jet and admiring the antique jewellery collections which are on display in the restaurant.
Albert’s Eatery uses only the finest of fresh ingredients. You’ll find plenty to choose from with an extensive evening dining menu, the speciality being mouthwateringly good seafood. From prosecco breakfasts, Sunday roasts, light lunches and evening dinners, dishes suitable for all palates are available throughout the day – all cooked to order via our specially trained chefs.
The beautiful seaside town of Whitby the quintessential English seaside resort it has a fascinating history and plenty of things to see and do – trust me you won’t get bored.
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