Nestled along the Yorkshire Coast is the beautiful seaside town of Whitby. Straddling both sides of the River Esk, this small coastal resort is simply brimming with beautiful things to do and see.
Whitby is guaranteed to be among the most charming British seaside towns you will find in England. From the famous Whitby Abbey ruins to golden sand beaches, narrow cobbled streets, a bustling harbour, a cliff-top graveyard and spectacular coastal views, this idyllic former fishing town is just bursting with character. It’s no wonder it consistently ranks among the most popular destinations on the North East coast of England.
There’s something for everyone in this postcard-perfect town. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family holiday or a weekend with friends, you’ll find it in Whitby.
Map of all the best things to do in Whitby
When planning any trip, I love to pin all the places I want to visit on a map! So here’s our map of all the best things to do in Whitby with everything we’ve included in this blog post already pinned for you.
Click here to open the map in a new tab. Or click the image below.
Best Things to Do in Whitby
Visit Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey is perhaps the most famous attraction in Whitby. While the current ruins date back to the 13th century, the first Abbey was originally founded by the Saxon King of Northumbria in 657AD. Today, these Gothic ruins sit majestically atop the East Cliff, dominating the headland. They are the most iconic site to explore in Whitby.
The impressive medieval site is also renowned for being the inspiration of one of the most famous vampire stories. It was here that the author Bram Stoker derived inspiration for his novel Dracula, published in 1897.
Whitby Abbey is now managed by English Heritage and tickets cost £10 for an adult. Entrance is free to English Heritage members. All tickets currently need to be pre-booked online via the English Heritage website. However, you can also take in many incredible views of the Abbey from all over town free of charge.
Climb the 199 Steps
No visit to Whitby would be complete without climbing the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church (if you’re physically able). This challenging climb offers spectacular views over the town.
If you’re not able to manage the climb, don’t worry, you can drive round to St Mary’s Church to allow you to still take in the views.
The first record of the 199 steps date back to 1340, however, it is believed they are even older still! The original steps were made from wood and weren’t replaced with stone until 1774. It is believed that the 199 steps were a test of faith for those who worshipped at St Mary’s Church.
You’ll notice several benches on your way up which provide a nice place to sit and catch your breath while admiring the views. However, these were originally built to provide pallbearers a place to rest coffins being brought up to be buried at the church.
Photograph the night skies at St Mary’s Church
While it is worth exploring this church at any time of day, it is truly something spectacular at night. Both the Abbey and the St Mary’s Church graveyard are lit up and make for some spooky images. We were lucky enough to be there on a full moon to add the final touches to the shot!
At night it’s easy to see how Bram Stoker found inspiration for Dracula here!
The church of St Mary’s was founded around 1110 and although many restorations and additions have occurred over the years, some parts of the church still date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
Take a stroll around Whitby Harbour
With a longstanding history as a fishing town, the busy harbour is the heart of the town. The harbour was in fact the primary access point to Whitby up until 1764 when the first turnpike road was built, making access easier from the North York Moors. It was also an important trade point for centuries.
Nowadays, the quaint harbour provides the perfect location for an evening stroll. It has a magical feeling to it as the sunlight fades and the streetlights come on. It’s also the perfect place to enjoy some traditional fish and chips.
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Wander along the Whitby Piers
Whitby has two piers at the mouth of the River Esk; an east pier and a west pier, both of which have lighthouses. These piers have existed since the 1500s, first built from oak and later replaced with stone.
Only the west lighthouse is open to the public, and only on limited days. When it is open, you can climb to the top for a unique view over Whitby and the coast.
The west pier also has a lower tier which as accessible by a ladder at the end of the pier. You’ll often find fisherman on this part of the pier as fishing is only permitted from the lower tier. It also make for some interesting photographs.
Admire the view from Whale Bone Arch
The 20ft whale bone arch has become one of the most iconic landmarks in Whitby. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the whaling industry thrived in Whitby. Whaling was incredibly dangerous and so upon return, successful whalers would tie a whale’s jawbone to the ship’s mast as a signal that they had survived, and their trip had been successful.
In 1853, the whale jaw bone arch was erected in recognition of Whitby’s whaling tradition. Since then, the original bones have been replaced twice. The current replacement was donated by Alaska in 2003 and is the bone of a Bowhead whale killed legally by native Inuit.
Get lost amongst Whitby’s jumble of cobbled streets
One of my favourite things to do in Whitby was to just meander through its labyrinth of narrow streets. The streets are lined with cute cottages, boutique shops and restaurants. As you walk along the main cobbled streets, you’ll come across lots of little alleyways and passageways leading off from them just beckoning to be explored.
Go for a swim at Whitby Sands Beach
If you’re brave enough, Whitby Beach offers Blue Flag waters for those who fancy a dip! The internationally recognised Blue Flag award is considered the gold standard for beaches.
The beach is also lined with colourful beach huts (or chalets) that are available to rent on a weekly or daily basis. Check the Scarborough Council website for more information on renting a beach hut.
For the more active, you can walk all the way along the coast to Sandsend Beach and the picturesque village of Sandsend.
Watch the sunrise
While I am not a morning person, I am a sunrise person – particularly in cities and towns. There’s something magical about the tranquillity of the early morning in places that are usually buzzing with people. Whitby is no exception.
Plus, one of the wonderful things about Whitby is that it faces due north. Therefore, during summer months it is one of the few places in the UK where you can watch the sun rise and set over the sea!
There are many beautiful vantage points for watching the sunrise in Whitby. Our favourites were at Whitby Abbey, along East Terraces looking back over the town, and on the beach looking back towards the piers.
Photograph at least one sunset!
If you can’t quite bring yourself to get up for sunrise, then you definitely shouldn’t miss photographing or just watching the sunset in Whitby!
From 199 steps you are facing west and have the best chance of catching sunset colours. This composition allows you to use the steps as leading lines and capture the vibrant sunset colours over town, the harbour and the North Sea. As you move down the steps, you will be offered further compositions to include the lampposts, or the lighthouses as you continue.
We were fortunate to have spectacular colours fill the entire sky during sunset on our visit to Whitby. The view from East Terrace allows you to photograph golden hour and sunset over the swing bridge and harbour, as well as back towards Whitby Abbey and St Mary’s Church.
Go on a boat ride
With such strong ties to the water, Whitby makes for a wonderful place to go on a boat ride. There are a number of boating trips on offer either out onto the North Sea or along the River Esk. From whale watching excursions to sunset cruises, fishing trips or gentle row boats, there’s a boat trip for everyone!
Enjoy a craft beer at Whitby Brewery
Being beer lovers, we were excited to be staying within a very short walk from the Whitby Brewery, a local, microbrewery. Unfortunately, the brewery was closed when we visited Whitby. We’ll definitely be stopping in for a pint on our next trip as it came highly recommended by several locals!
Feast on some freshly caught seafood
With its roots as a fishing town, it’s no surprise that you can find some superb seafood in Whitby. The fish that’s caught locally changes with the season but you can find many local restaurants serving up freshly caught seafood.
Personally, I’m not a fan of seafood (we opted for an incredible Thai meal at Kam Thai). However, the Fisherman’s Wife and the Marine Restaurant both came highly recommended. The exterior of the Marine Restaurant is also extremely pretty!
Delve deeper into the past at Whitby’s Museums
Immerse yourself in Whitby’s rich history at one of its museums. A great option for a rainy day or if you’re visiting Whitby with kids.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum
The Captain Cook Memorial Museum explores the life and times of the famous Royal Navy captain James Cook. The museum is housed in the 17th-century building where the young James Cook served as an apprentice.
Entrances costs £7 for adults and under 16s go free.
Whitby Museum is tucked away in Pannett Park and is home to a variety of collections and artefacts. You can discover local fossils, natural history, model ships, carved jet, toys, costumes and social history.
Entrance costs £6 for adults and under 18s go free.
RNLI Whitby Lifeboat Museum
The RNLI Whitby Lifeboat Museum is housed in a Victorian double boathouse which was once the RNLI lifeboat station. The museum contains a treasure trove of paintings, medals, photographs, models, kits and mementos from wrecks and famous rescues.
In case you’re wondering, RNLI stands for Royal National Lifeboat Institute. They are a charity that has been saving lives at sea for nearly 200 years.
Whitby Goth Weekend
I would be remiss to exclude the Whitby Goth Weekend from this list! Having taken place since 1994, it has become one of the biggest events in Whitby and one of the leading Gothic events in the world.
The alternative music festival takes place twice a year, usually in April and November. During this time, you can expect to see many weird and wonderful costumes as goths from all over the country, and beyond, flock to Whitby to celebrate this subculture.
Best Things to Do near Whitby
While you’ll find plenty of things to do in Whitby, nearby are some of the prettiest villages in England and most spectacular areas of the coast. Visit them either as part of a bigger Yorkshire road trip or as day trips from Whitby.
Heading north from Whitby, you can combine Runswick Bay, Staithes and Saltburn for a wonderful day trip full of seaside towns. Alternatively, head south to visit the charming Robin Hood’s Bay, Scarborough and the spectacular coast around Flamborough Head. From here, you can continue further afield to explore the stunning city of York.
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Runswick Bay is a picturesque village nestled against the surrounding cliffs. It’s sweeping sandy beach, brightly coloured fishing boats and charming red-roofed houses make it one of the most scenic destinations on the Yorkshire coast. It’s a popular spot for rock pooling, fossil hunting and coastal walks.
Staithes has a unique charm with its huddle of cottages clinging to the steep coastal hillside. Once one of the largest fishing ports in the North East, you can still see remnants of its past. Take time to wind through its jumble of cobbled streets or explore its clifftop paths for some spectacular views.
Saltburn by the Sea became a popular seaside resort during the Victorian era and still offers an authentic seaside experience. Much of its Victorian charm remains and the town still features its pier, Italian Gardens, and impressively steep cliff lift, which is the oldest of its kind in Britain.
It is a popular spot for water sports, including surfing, and it also boasts an award-winning Blue Flag beach comprised of over 1 mile of golden sands.
Robin Hoods Bay
As far as English villages go, Robin Hood’s Bay is easily one of the prettiest in the country. You will need a reasonable degree of fitness and mobility to explore this fascinating village. Parking is available at the cliff top, from which you can descend down through its steep cobbled streets and explore this quaint village.
Once a thriving fishing village, Robin Hood’s Bay was also a notorious smuggling route. In the 18th century, smugglers slipped through its network of winding passageways with goods such as tea, silk and tobacco.
It is also known as one of the best spots for fossil hunting in the UK. Stop by the visitor centre at the Old Coastguard Station for more information on your way in.
There is plenty to see and do at this bustling seaside resort. Scarborough is considered Britain’s first seaside resort, having been a popular holiday destination for hundreds of years. As well as two beautiful sandy beaches, Scarborough is also home to the 12th century Scarborough castle and a host of other attractions.
With its impressive white cliffs, Flamborough Head is home to one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in England. In addition to the remarkable scenery, it is also home to a bevy of seals, countless bird species, and most notably, it is a seasonal nesting location for puffins!
The Flamborough Cliffs were one of our favorite places to photograph along this stretch of coastline. Be sure to check out our photography guide below if your itinerary includes this incredible destination!
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North York Moors National Park
The North York Moors National Park covers an enormous 1,436 km², spanning beyond Staithes in the north, Scarborough in the south and inland to Helmsley, Osmotherley and Kilburn. This spectacular national park contains one of the largest areas of heather moorland in the UK and an abundance of local wildlife.
As well as heather moorland, the national park encompasses many of the beautiful seaside villages, dramatic coastlines, woodland forests, and rolling countryside. It is a nature lover’s dream with so many outdoor activities available.
Cleveland Way National Trail
For the truly adventurous, consider walking the Cleveland Way trail (or at least part of it). This 109-mile (175km) trail takes you through a variety of ever-changing, breathtaking landscapes. From Filey, it passes through all the places mentioned above (including Whitby) up along the coast to Saltburn, then through the North York Moors National Park to Helmsley!
York is England’s oldest city, founded by the Romans in 71AD. With nearly 2000 years of history, you will discover a plethora of things to do in this charming city. From its ancient city walls to Roman ruins, Viking villages, medieval streets and gothic structures you won’t be bored in this exciting city. All this combined with chocolate tasting, afternoon teas and cosy pubs – what more could you want?
It is one of our favourite city’s in England and we’ve visited twice recently. For more inspiration and a guide to this historical city, queue up our best things to do in York post 🙂
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How to Get to Whitby
While it is easiest to get to Whitby by car, and this provides the best opportunity to explore the local coastline, it is also reasonably well connected by public transport.
By Public Transport
There are direct trains to Whitby from Middlesborough, Newcastle and Sunderland. Additionally, there is a bus service from Scarborough.
For a more unique experience, it is also possible to reach Whitby by steam train. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs from Pickering to Whitby with the journey taking 2 hours 45 minutes. Feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you take in the beautiful scenery of the North York Moors National Park from the vintage train. Stop along the way at some beautiful villages and explore Goathland station – famous for being Hogsmeade Station in the first Harry Potter movie.
If you prefer to have things taken care of for you then you can also visit Whitby as part of an organised tour from York. There are some great day trip options available, all of which have excellent reviews and start at around £49 for a full day:
- North York Moors and Whitby Tour
- Steam Train, Whitby, and North Yorkshire Moors Tour
- Moors, Whitby, and the Yorkshire Steam Railway Tour
- Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby & North York Moors Tour
Where to Stay in Whitby
As we only stayed in Whitby for one night, we chose to stay at YHA Whitby Abbey as it was the most affordable option. We also planned our trip quite last minute during the end of the summer so our options were limited. I’d recommend booking in advance for better prices and options.
For one night, we were happy with our stay at YHA Whitby Abbe. However, had we been staying longer then we would have looked for something a little more comfortable. Unlike other hostels, they rent each room out privately so you won’t have to share a room unless specified. The rooms were basic but were clean and the location was absolutely perfect, literally next door to Whitby Abbey!
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Whitby
I hope you’ve found this guide to the best things to do in Whitby helpful and inspiring. It is truly one of our favourite places in England and we found it far more impressive than we ever expected.
As always, leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts or if we’ve missed anything from this guide!
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