15 Best Places to Visit in North Yorkshire (England)

Written by Alex Bird
Updated on
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As England’s largest county, North Yorkshire has a dizzying array of towns and natural environments, from barely-charted cave systems to sweeping sandy beaches, and from stately spa towns to remote upland hamlets.

To say there’s something for everyone in North Yorkshire doesn’t begin to sum it up.

Still, anybody coming to this neck of the woods should be directed to York, which is ancient and beautiful, as well as the Victorian resorts on the coast like Scarborough and Saltburn, which possess a dignity and elegance you don’t often see in English coastal towns.

For nature there are two massive national parks, while history abounds in the shape of haunting abbeys, heritage steam railways and Norman castles.

Lets explore the best places to visit in North Yorkshire:

1. York

York, EnglandSource: flickr
York, England

When it comes to heritage, historical appeal and plain good looks, York is practically unmatched in England.

The city can be traced back to the 1st century, and during medieval times was England’s second city after London.

York was held in such high esteem by the Georgians it was safeguarded from the chimneystacks of the Industrial Revolution.

And so you’re left with an unspoiled warren of cobblestone streets, corbelled timber houses and 18th-century flat-fronted townhouses.

York Minster is one of Northern Europe’s largest gothic cathedrals and an enduring masterwork of medieval art.

When the railways arrived in York the city became an integral transport hub between London and Edinburgh, and you can dip into this history at the peerless National Railway Museum.

2. Whitby

WhitbySource: flickr

Penned to the coast by the North York Moors, Whitby is a town around a former whaling harbour lodged in the River Esk estuary.

The older east bank of the river is all fishing cottages, cobblestone lanes and maritime inns, with a listed building every few steps.

Looking down on that east bank are the spectral ruins of Whitby Abbey, claimed to have inspired Bram Stoker to make the town his point of arrival for Dracula.

The town has cinematic beaches, historic churches, loads of fragments of its old whaling industry and a museum for Captain James Cook, the first western explorer to reach Australia, New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands.

This attraction is in the former home of the Walker Brothers, ship-owners who employed Cook while he was in Whitby.

3. Scarborough

ScarboroughSource: flickr

Packed onto rocky limestone terrain, Scarborough could well be the cream of England’s seaside resorts and has been attracting tourists since the 1500s.

It was the Victorians who made an industry of tourism in Scarborough, engineering promenades between the North and South Bay and atop the South Cliff.

The Regency and Victorian architecture in these areas of the old spa resort is appropriately rich.

On the seafront next to the fine sandy beach are English seaside essentials like fish and chip shops, ice cream parlours, stands selling cockles and winkles, and the marvellous 19th-century spa complex, now a regal entertainment venue.

4. Harrogate

HarrogateSource: flickr

In the middle of rural North Yorkshire, Harrogate’s 88 springs became all the rage in the 17th century, and an exclusive spa town was soon born.

Harrogate has lost none of that historic lustre, and is replete with dignified Georgian houses, hotels and old pump rooms on cobblestone lanes and grand avenues.

Now the name is a synonym for luxury, as illustrated by Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms, possibly the finest place for afternoon tea in England and frequented by the Queen when she’s in town.

5. Ripon

Ripon CathedralSource: flickr
Ripon Cathedral

England’s third-smallest city is also the oldest in the country, having been founded more than 1,350 years ago.

There are sights in Ripon that will leave you speechless.

And this certainly applies to the Studley Royal Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This 18th century country garden in the romantic style was designed to complement the atmospheric ruins of Fountains Abbey, which was built in the 12th century and then abandoned in the 1500s.

Ripon Cathedral is the other indispensable attraction, designed mostly in the early English gothic style.

Look out for the 35 “misericords” , carvings on the underside of the choir seats, commissioned in the early-1490s.

6. Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire DalesSource: flickr
Yorkshire Dales

Taking up massive swathes of the northwestern side of the county, the Yorkshire Dales are hills and river valleys on a limestone bed.

This geology grants the park majestic cave systems that, like Goyden, Stump Cross, Ingleborough and White Scar, are open as show caves for tours.

Many others are the preserve of experienced cavers and potholers, and if this interests you there are lots of guides waiting to take you on subterranean adventures.

For everyone else the Dales mean hikes in one of the most secluded areas in England where your friends and loved ones, and herds of Swaledale sheep, may be your only company.

7. North York Moors

North York MoorsSource: flickr
North York Moors

Those who crave the outdoors are spoiled in North Yorkshire, as the county also has the North York Moors National Park.

This is 1,430 square kilometres of heather moorland and forest to the east of the county, continuing right to the North Sea coast where it yields to cliffs and magical sandy beaches.

The uplands, with hills rising above 400 metres is dramatic heather moor, while this falls away to deep dales with seams of ancient woodland.

There are more mature trees on the North York Moors than any other place in Northern England.

Only a few thousand people live on the North York Moors, so settlements are limited to hamlets and villages with pubs that will be a welcome sight for hungry or weary walkers and cyclists.

8. Malham

Malham CoveSource: flickr
Malham Cove

No settlement in the Yorkshire Dales are blessed with as much limestone formations as the village of Malham.

On treks around Malham you’ll reach a host of minor natural wonders in a matter of minutes.

Most photographed is Malham Cove, a sheer wall, 80 metres high and shaped by an ice age river.

Climbers love to scale the cliffs, while cave divers explore the maze-like cave system and the base, which is at least 1.6 kilometres long.

There’s an awe-inspiring raving at Gordale Scar, painted by Turner and eulogised by the poet William Wordsworth.

Then there’s Malham Tarn, England’s highest lake and a National Trust site for its unusual alkaline waters and biology.

9. Helmsley

Helmsley CastleSource: wikipedia
Helmsley Castle

This market town straddles the boundary of the North York Moors National Park and is the trailhead for the long-distance Cleveland Way, which curls through the park and along the coast down to Filey more than 110 metres away.

If there’s one monument you must see in Helmsley it’s the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey.

The ruins are managed by English Heritage and are some of the most complete of any abandoned abbey in the country.

This was once one of England’s wealthiest Cistercian monasteries until it was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1500s.

There’s much more to the town than this though, as Helmsley features a castle brewery a centre for birds of prey and an exquisite walled garden from 1759.

10. Knaresborough

KnaresboroughSource: flickr

People travel  a long way to Knaresborough just for the sight of the town teetering on the steep gorge on the east bank of the River Nidd.

And what sets the view off is the lovely Knaresborough Viaduct crossing through the gorge carrying trains into the town.

Knaresborough’s sharp gradient only makes it prettier, as you clamber up the cobblestone streets and staircases that rise from the riverside.

On the west bank is a spring with such high mineral content that objects left hanging here take on a stony appearance after a few years.

This is also Mother Shipton’s cave, where the notorious 15th-century prognosticator was supposedly born.

11. Grassington

GrassingtonSource: flickr

In the Yorkshire Dales the smart market town of Grassington has a village-like feel and is one of the best places to stay if you’re thinking of a hiking holiday in the park.

There’ a park authority information centre to clue you in everything you can track down in the wilderness close by, and a cute little folk museum depicting traditional costume and trades.

The picturesque village of Linton close by has the Linton Falls, a man-made weir with a high volume of water crashing on the rocks below.

These waters were channelled to power old textile mills, and a hydroelectric plant here that had been defunct since the 40s was restored in 2012 and now produces power for the village a century after it was installed.

12. Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Saltburn-by-the-SeaSource: flickr

Up to the mid-1800s there wasn’t much in Saltburn bar an inn  and a few cottages.

That was until the railways arrived, and with them the Pease Family of industrialists from Darlington.

The story goes that Henry Pease, a Quaker, had a heavenly vision of a city here resembling Jerusalem in 1858 and ventured to bring it to life.

Notice the “Jewel Streets” , a series of parallel roads with sea views, named after precious stones (Amber, Pearl, Diamond) and claimed to be inspired by that original vision.

The resort had a whole load of innovations, like the water-powered “Cliff-Lift” funicular, which still rattles from the pier to the cliff-top.

The Zetland Hotel, now apartments,  was remarkable for being one of the first hotels with its own private train platform.

13. Hawes

HawesSource: flickr

Like many places towards the North of England Hawes has an Old Norse name, which means “mountain pass”. This comes from the Buttertubs Pass, an upland road that now links Hawes with the villages of Muker and Thwaite to the north.

And as for the name “Buttertubs”, these are the 20-metre limestone potholes on the way, where market traders would store their butter on hot days.

Hawes market has been trading since the early-1300s and got its official charter in 1699. Now it takes place on Tuesdays, and the must-buy is Wensleydale cheese, which is produced in Hawes at the Wensleydale Creamery.

Inquisitive cheese-lovers can stop by to see how George Orwell’s second-favourite cheese is made, and try it for themselves afterwards.

14. Pickering

PickeringSource: flickr

On the southern verge of the North York Moors, Pickering is the town that many travellers choose as their accommodation for their excursions into the park.

It’s a given that the moors are a big draw in Pickering, but there’s also a weekend’s worth of interesting things to see in and near the town.

Take St Peter and St Paul’s Church, which has a captivating set of frescos on the walls of the nave, with images like St George slaying the dragon, painted around 1450. Also here are the spectacular ruins of Pickering Castle, with a 13th-century ruin with a chapel and much of the outer walls and towers remaining.

Finally, the Beck Isle Museum is a celebrations of all things Victorian, and recreates life in a Market Town in the 1800s.

15. Robin Hood’s Bay

Robin Hood's BaySource: flickr
Robin Hood’s Bay

The achingly pretty Robin Hood’s Bay is a seafront village with cliffs, beaches and a little nest of alleys and lanes to explore.

You’re also on Yorkshire’s Dinosaur Coast, where it’s not too difficult to find fossils in the local shale rock, and dinosaur footprints have even been identified.

The village rests in a gap in the cliffs and has no more than a few streets of red brick fishing cottages.

The beach is below, and at low-tide seems to never end.

You can step inside the old Coastguard Station, which is a National Trust property commanding wonderful coastal views, or walk to the Georgian St Stephen’s Church in Fylingdales, which has a 200-year-old Georgian interior that has hardly been touched.

15 Best Places to Visit in North Yorkshire (England):

  • York
  • Whitby
  • Scarborough
  • Harrogate
  • Ripon
  • Yorkshire Dales
  • North York Moors
  • Malham
  • Helmsley
  • Knaresborough
  • Grassington
  • Saltburn-by-the-Sea
  • Hawes
  • Pickering
  • Robin Hood's Bay