The best things to do in Yorkshire holiday cottages

The best things to do in Yorkshire

Julie Smith 27 January 2023

Whether you fancy going exploring in the great outdoors, visiting a National Trust site with beautiful gardens or having a fun-filled family day out, there are endless options of things to do in Yorkshire. 

So to help you make the most of your time in God’s Own Country, we have compiled some of the best things to do on your next short break or holiday to Yorkshire. 

Read on for lots of holiday inspiration and browse our collection of Yorkshire cottages to find your perfect base for exploring.

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Uncover the history of York

York City Walls leading to York Minster

Not only is York one of the UK’s most vibrant places to visit, but you’ll also be immersed in a rich and fascinating history as you wander through the city. You can still walk along the Roman walls that have surrounded York since the 13th century and go shopping in The Shambles, a narrow medieval cobbled street that has been beautifully preserved through time. 

The majestic York Minster towers over the city and it’s well worth exploring the intricate stone carvings in this huge Gothic cathedral before heading to Dean’s Park where you’ll get one of the best views of the building. Children will love a visit to Jorvik where they will learn all about Viking life with genuine ancient artefacts and time capsules that will transport them around a recreated Viking village. Discover more reasons to visit York

Other things to do in York:

  • Learn about the history of chocolate-making in York (and sample some delicious, sweet treats) with a visit to York’s Chocolate Story
  • Shop ‘til you drop in York’s many independent boutiques and unique stores before trying a cocktail or two in quirky bars such as The Evil Eye
  • Take a sightseeing cruise along the River Ouse which runs through the city or hire a self-drive boat to admire the view as you travel under your own steam  

Spend the day at Whitby

Colourful cottages in Whitby Old Town

Whitby is a perennially popular seaside town that’s part of the North York Moors heritage coastline and has lots of things to see and do. You can climb 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey to explore this English Heritage site that’s perched on a headland high above the town then take a trip out to sea on one of the many boat trips that depart regularly from the picturesque harbour. Read our comprehensive Whitby guide for more holiday inspiration. 

Head into Whitby Old Town for cobbled streets, traditional cottages and independent shops then stock up on everything you need for a day at the seaside on vibrant Pier Road which also houses an assortment of amusement arcades. There are plenty of places where you can get fresh fish and chips for lunch including The Magpie Cafe and Trenchers but if you fancy something a little different, it’s worth seeking out Fortune’s Kippers and trying out this smoked Whitby delicacy. 

Other things to do in Whitby:

  • Visit one of the several beaches in and around Whitby where you can search for fossils, build sandcastles and explore rock pools. Tate Hill Beach is best for dogs, West Cliff Beach is best for water sports and nearby Sandsend is best for long beach walks
  • Explore some of the free-to-access green spaces in and around the town such as Pannett Park which features a fascinating fossil trail and Falling Foss which is home to a tumbling waterfall and magical tea garden
  • Uncover the history of Dracula in Whitby with a visit to the fascinating visitor centre that’s part of Whitby Abbey

Spend time exploring Fountains Abbey

Close up of the remains of Fountains Abbey

One of the most beautiful places to visit in Yorkshire is Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s managed by the National Trust. At the heart of the attraction are the remains of Fountains Abbey which still feature the vaulted ceilings and large tower that once made this one of the UK’s grandest Cistercian monasteries. 

The large grounds are home to both a medieval deer park and the landscaped Studley Royal Water Park which was designed by John and William Aislabie in the 17th century. Visitors can take a walk around serene ornamental lakes and colourful wildflower meadows to seek out cascading falls, classical statues and secret follies.   

Other Yorkshire National Trust sites: 

  • Mount Grace Priory near Osmotherley features a medieval manor house and the ruins of a Carthusian priory with 13 acres of gardens to explore
  • Nunnington Hall is nestled near the River Wye in North Yorkshire with beautifully preserved period rooms and colourful flower-filled meadows that are home to some resident peacocks
  • Hardcastle Crags is located in the heart of Bronte Country between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Peak District with 15 miles of footpaths to help visitors explore the 400 acres of countryside

Splash around in Scarborough

Boats in Scarborough harbour

Scarborough is the UK’s oldest seaside resort and the town has managed to stay popular with holidaymakers through the years thanks to a wide range of attractions and a pair of excellent beaches. The family-friendly beach at South Bay is the more bustling of the two, surrounded by amusement arcades and ice cream parlours. 

However, if you fancy splashing around in Scarborough we recommend heading to North Bay where you’ll find a historic water chute, a beautiful boating lake at Peasholm Park and Alpamare, an alpine-style waterpark with four fantastic slides to ride and a peaceful pool garden to relax in. There’s also a miniature railway with handsome red and green steam trains so that you can travel around North Bay in style. 

Other things to do in Scarborough:

  • Enjoy the view from the grounds of Scarborough Castle which stands on a rocky promenade that’s in between the North and South Bays
  • Relax on a deckchair on the sun court at Scarborough Spa before catching the original Victorian cliff lift down to South Bay Beach below
  • Take a boat trip out to sea from Scarborough Harbour – popular options include the Hispaniola pirate ship and the Regal Lady Pleasure Steamer

Tuck into some Wensleydale Cheese in Hawes

Montage showing the Wensleydale creamery, a truckle of cheese and Wensleydale cheese with cranberries

Yorkshire has long been a popular destination for foodies and one of the most famous regional delicacies has got to be Wallace and Gromit’s favourite: Wensleydale Cheese. This Yorkshire food classic is produced at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes using traditional recipes and milk from local farms.

The town of Hawes is actually the highest market town in England and its location in the Yorkshire Dales National Park means you’ll be surrounded by stunning scenery while tucking into your Wensleydale Cheese. There’s also an on-site visitor centre where you can find out more about the 1,000-year history of cheesemaking in Yorkshire and watch the tasty product being made. 

Other things to do in Hawes:

  • Catch a special Little White Bus from Hawes to nearby Snaizeholme where you can follow a 2-mile woodland trail to watch red squirrels from a special viewing platform
  • Cycle (or drive) along the Buttertubs Pass which crosses through high moorland between Hawes and Thwaite with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and valleys
  • Learn how the Yorkshire Dales National Park has changed through the years at the Dales Countryside Museum which is located at the old Victorian station in Hawes with carriages of a restored locomotive steam train to climb aboard

Take a walk along the Cleveland Way

Cleveland Way sign on walking route

Scenic countryside and a beautiful coastline make Yorkshire a top pick for walking and there are several National Trails to try including the Dales Way, the Nidderdale Way and the Yorkshire Wolds Way. One Yorkshire walking route that takes in both countryside and coast is the Cleveland Way National Trail which starts off in the popular market town of Helmsley before winding its way through the North York Moors National Park to Saltburn-on-Sea.  

The route then follows the coastal path down to Filey Brigg, a narrow peninsula that’s a local nature reserve where you can spot seals and sea birds. Other towns and villages that are close to the Cleveland Way include Osmotherley, Whitby, Scarborough and Robin Hoods Bay.

Things to do on the Cleveland Way:

  • Explore Helmsley Castle and follow in the footsteps of Cistercian monks by walking the 3 miles to Rievaulx Abbey and then enjoying the view and landscaped gardens at nearby Rievaulx Terrace
  • Walk from Whitby Abbey to the pretty village of Robin Hood’s Bay where you can follow a higgledy-piggledy maze of streets from the cliffs above to the beach below
  • Head to the Sutton Bank Visitor Centre where you can enjoy a wonderful view over Gormire Lake and visit their stargazing and nature hubs before walking to the pretty village of Osmotherley

Enjoy time at the spa in Harrogate

Inside the Turkish Baths at Harrogate

Harrogate is one of the UK’s original spa towns after the restorative properties of its springs were discovered by William Slingsby in the 16th century. The town became particularly popular in Victorian times when the Turkish Baths were built so that wealthy and royal visitors could bathe in Harrogate’s magical waters.

Today, the Turkish Baths of Harrogate retain many original features and are now accessible to everyone. The grand building features elaborate Moorish designs, beautiful, painted ceilings, intricate Italian terrazzo floors and sweeping Islamic arches. Treatments available include salt massages and mud wraps or you could go for the traditional Turkish Baths option and journey through various heat, steam and water chambers.    

Other Yorkshire spa options:

  • Also located in Harrogate is Rudding Park where you can enjoy a rooftop spa experience with steam rooms, a hydrotherapy infinity pool and a sauna with panoramic views of the surrounding area
  • Located on a 20,000-acre estate near Masham, the Swinton Park spa features an 18-metre indoor pool and an outdoor spa garden with a natural pool and steam rooms
  • The spa at Raithwaite Sandsend looks out over beautifully landscaped gardens and comes with a heated pool, sauna, steam room and a range of treatments

Have a magical adventure at Forbidden Corner

A statue pointing the way at Forbidden Corner in Yorkshire

Yorkshire is filled with family-friendly attractions where kids of all ages can have a fun day out. One of our favourite places to visit is Forbidden Corner near Middleham which is a unique mixture of beautiful gardens and hidden surprises. Originally built as a private folly, Forbidden Corner has grown and evolved over the years with a labyrinth of tunnels to explore, statues to spot and adventures to be had around every corner. 

You’re never told exactly what is there and where to go at Forbidden Corner, but a sheet with hints will help you along the way. It’s well worth taking time to explore nearby Middleham too. It is surrounded by Wensleydale countryside and home to a number of top racing stables so you can regularly see horses being walked through the pretty village on their way to the gallops.   

Other family-friendly Yorkshire attractions to visit:

  • Flamingo Land is a theme park and zoo near Malton with thrilling roller coasters for adults and older children and gentle rides for little ones. There are also lions, tigers, penguins and hippos in the zoo
  • Stockeld Park is a world of adventures for children which is all located on the grounds of a Grade I-listed stately home. Highlights include an enchanted forest with fairies, an ice skating rink and a magical maze
  • At Mother Shipton’s Cave, you can see everyday objects that have been turned to stone in the mysterious petrifying well. It’s England’s oldest tourist attraction and is located in historic woodland that’s part of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough

Spot seabirds at Bempton Cliffs

Seabirds circling Bempton Cliffs

The towering cliffs of the Yorkshire coast are a haven for seabirds and Bempton Cliffs near Flamborough is one of the best places to see them. Around half a million gannets, guillemots, puffins and other seabirds gather on the chalk-white cliffs to breed between March and October. It’s the UK’s largest seabird colony and a spectacular place to watch them circling overhead and plunging into the swirling waters of the North Sea.

There are self-guided trails to follow around the RSPB nature reserve (including a special dog-friendly option) and a visitor centre with lots of information and views out over the cliffs. It’s also well worth walking from Bempton Cliffs to nearby Flamborough Head where you’ll find another colony of seabirds and an old lighthouse which you can climb to the top for wonderful views of the area.

Other Yorkshire nature and wildlife experiences:

  • There are around 300 seals that live on the rocky beach at Ravenscar near Robin Hood’s Bay. Although you shouldn’t get too close to them, there are plenty of vantage points where you can watch the seals bathing with their pups
  • A variety of sea mammals including whales, dolphins and seals can regularly be seen in the North Sea during a boat trip from Whitby Harbour
  • Spurn Point is a 3-mile peninsula that’s home to a vast array of wildlife and seabirds along with grazing Hebridean cattle and longhorn sheep. Walking trails are available to help you explore or you can take a Spurn safari in a converted military vehicle

Have a dog-friendly adventure at Bolton Abbey

Stepping stones at Bolton Abbey

The big and beautiful Bolton Abbey estate is located towards the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park near Skipton and a visit here is one of Yorkshire’s most popular dog-friendly days out. There are various walks and trails to help you explore the grounds and no visit is complete without having a picnic and a paddle in the river from a small beach area. Highlights of the grounds include Strid Wood, The Strid waterfall and a trio of money trees that are mysteriously laden with coins.

One of the most photographed parts of Bolton Abbey is the site of the famous 60 stepping stones that you can cross to get to the ruins of Bolton Priory. After exploring the estate, it’s also well worth catching one of the dog-friendly Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway trains that will whisk you through the surrounding Yorkshire Dales countryside.   

Other dog-friendly things to do in Yorkshire:

  • Ride the NYMR steam train that runs from Pickering to Whitby and calls at pretty villages such as Grosmont and Goathland. It’s well worth getting out at Goathland Station which became Hogsmeade for the first Harry Potter film
  • Head back to the past by visiting the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole. This open-air museum has around 20 historical buildings to explore including an Iron Age roundhouse, a Tudor thatched longhouse and a 1950s village store
  • Hide amongst and clambering over the collection of strangely shaped rock formations that make up Brimham Rocks near Pateley Bridge

Go mountain biking at Dalby Forest

A bike rider comes round a corner on a forest trail

The 8,000-acre Dalby Forest lies on the southern slopes of the North York Moors National Park and is a perfect place for an outdoor adventure that adults, children and four-legged friends will love. There are fun activity trails for children to follow, Go Ape tree top courses to swing across, adventure play areas and a selection of woodland walking routes that range from easy access to more challenging.

Dalby Forest is also one of the best places in Yorkshire for mountain biking with nine different trails available, along with cycle hire and a skills test area where you can determine your current level and the colour-coded route (green, red or blue) that’s suitable for you. Expert riders can test their mettle on the World Cup MTB Trail which is a black-grade route that features the steepest climbs and toughest challenges in the forest.

Other Yorkshire cycling options:

  • The Swale Trail is a valley-bottom 12-mile route that runs between Reeth and Keld in Swaledale and is an ideal option for families and people who are new to mountain biking
  • The Cinder Track is a 21-mile traffic-free cycle trail that uses a former railway line between Whitby and Scarborough with calling points that include a secret waterfall at Hayburn Wyke
  • The Beryl Burton Cycle Way is a traffic-free trail that you can follow from Knaresborough and Harrogate before connecting to the Nidderdale Greenway, a disused railway that you can use to cycle to the pretty village of Ripley

Enjoy the view from Richmond Castle

Richmond Castle looking over the River Swale

Yorkshire has more than its fair share of historic castles where you can learn fascinating stories from the past during a visit. Many of these are found in North Yorkshire and come with sprawling grounds that are perfect for a game of hide and seek and a picnic. One such Norman fortress is Richmond Castle which is located atop a hill called Riche-Mont that gave this Yorkshire Dales town its name.  

The elevated location of the castle means you get a wonderful view of both Richmond and the surrounding countryside and there is plenty of space for little ones to run around and let off some steam. There’s a secret garden that lies just outside the castle walls and is perfect for relaxing in, and a tower that you can climb to the top of if you have a good head for heights.   

Other Yorkshire castles:

  • The well-preserved Bolton Castle was once used to imprison Mary Queen of Scots and you can peep into her old bedroom during a visit. Large gardens include a maze and bowling green with falconry experiences also available
  • Middleham Castle was the childhood home of the possibly villainous Richard III and features the largest castle keep in the north of England along with an on-site museum
  • Skipton Castle is one of the best preserved medieval castles in England with fully intact rooms that date back 900 years and dungeons where prisoners were once kept

Wander amongst the plants and flowers at Newby Hall

Newby Hall gardens on a blue sky day

Newby Hall is a grand stately home near Ripon which was originally built by Christopher Wren in the 1680s before being extended and remodelled by Robert Adam to become one of the UK’s finest examples of 18th-century design. Visitors can wander through the grand entrance hall and take a look into various ornate rooms before exploring beautiful gardens which include one of the longest double herbaceous borders in the country.

The double borders can be followed all the way from the house to the River Ure where you can take a relaxing 25-minute boat trip along the water. There are lots of smaller garden rooms to look around on your way to the river including the Water Garden, Rose Garden and Robin’s Walk. Children will also love playing on an adventure playground that includes swings, climbing frames, pedalo boats and water jets.  

Other Yorkshire gardens to visit:

  • Helmsley Walled Garden, a garden that was featured in the 2020 film adaptation of The Secret Garden and features colourful borders, peaceful flower patches and a picnic lawn, all nestled under Helmsley Castle
  • RHS Harlow Carr is a Royal Horticultural Society garden in Harrogate with 58 acres of tranquil landscapes including the Woodland, the Arboretum, Queen Mother’s Lake and Streamside which follows the path of a winding beck
  • Thorp Perrow Arboretum is a 100-acre Bedale estate that’s home to beautiful woodland gardens and one of the UK’s largest collections of trees with various trails to help you explore

Visit a beautiful Wensleydale waterfall

Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale

If you’re looking for spectacular scenery during your Yorkshire getaway, it’s hard to beat the sweeping valleys, high peaks and cascading waterfalls of Wensleydale. This part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to pretty towns and villages such as Hawes, Askrigg, Middleham and East Witton with lots of lovely waterfalls to seek out.  

One of the most famous Wensleydale waterfalls is Aysgarth Falls which was featured in the 90s classic film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and includes a triple flight of falls which can be paddled in with care. Nearby Hardraw Force is, at 100 feet tall, England’s largest single-drop waterfall and is located on the grounds of this historic Green Dragon Inn. Extensive paths are available so you can get up close and see this wonderful natural phenomenon at its best.

Other Yorkshire waterfalls:

  • The waters of Janet’s Foss tumble into a pool that’s perfect for wild swimming. It’s surrounded by magical woodland that was said to be home to the queen of the fairies
  • Mallyan Spout is the tallest waterfall in the North York Moors with waters that gush down a wooded valley near Goathland
  • Follow the Ingleton Waterfall Trail to see a series of six different falls including Thornton Force, a 14-metre cascade over a limestone cliff which is 300 million years old

Tackle the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge

A walker in a red coat at Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales

If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, there are plenty of Yorkshire hills and mountains to climb including a trio of peaks that lie close to each other on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Tackling them together is known as the Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge and the peaks are typically climbed as part of a 24-mile route that’s completed in 12 hours.

Pen-y-Ghent is the only hill of the trio and one of the most popular Yorkshire peaks to climb. It starts in the small village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale and follows the Pennine Way to the summit for a wonderful view of the other two mountains, Ingleborough and Whernside. The top of Whernside marks the highest point in the whole of North Yorkshire and looks out over the Ribblehead Viaduct while Ingleborough is known for both its distinctive plateau and a series of caves that lie beneath the surface. 

Other Yorkshire peaks to climb:

  • Roseberry Topping is a well-loved hill in the North York Moors that’s surrounded by bluebell fields and shaped like a witches hat
  • Great Shunner Fell is a Wensleydale peak that’s located on the Pennine Way and is the fifth-highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
  • Buckden Pike lies at the head of Wharfedale and comes with a series of pretty waterfalls underneath. There’s also a great pub nearby, The Buck Inn, where you can call in for refreshments after your climb

Treat yourself to a sumptuous afternoon tea at Bettys

Bettys Tea Rooms in Harrogate

Afternoon tea is a classic English treat and we think that indulging in a selection of miniature cakes and finger sandwiches is the perfect thing to do during a staycation. Bettys is a beloved Yorkshire institution and is our top choice for a sumptuous afternoon tea. Their first tea room was launched in Harrogate in 1919 and they also have cafes in York, Northallerton and Ilkley where you can indulge in beautifully delicate cakes in elegant surroundings. 

A special blend of Bettys tea is served in a silver teapot and if you’re feeling particularly fancy, you can add a glass of prosecco or pink champagne to the afternoon tea. Other Bettys classic sweet treats that are worth trying, either in the cafe or at home, are Fat Rascals and Yorkshire Curd Tarts.     

Other great places to eat:

  • The Black Swan at Oldstead is one of Yorkshire's Michelin-star restaurants and features a tasting menu full of produce grown on their own farm
  • The Blue Lion at East Witton is a gastro pub that’s housed in an 18th-century stone building in the middle of a pretty Wensleydale village
  • The Talbot Hotel serves afternoon tea and seasonal dishes in the market town of Malton which is known for its monthly food market and artisan producers

Plan your Yorkshire getaway

A view of the North York Moors National Park with the moorland and the sea under a blue sky

If you have been inspired to visit Yorkshire to try some of these things for yourself, you’ll find lots of holiday cottages throughout the Dales, moors and coast where you can rest your head after exploring.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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