The best things to do in Harrogate holiday cottages

The best things to do in Harrogate

Julie 03 January 2024

Not only is Harrogate perfectly placed for exploring Nidderdale and the rest of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but you’ll never be short of something to do on a getaway to the popular spa town.

Whether you fancy relaxing in traditional Turkish baths, wandering around a pretty garden or having an adventure at a giant play park for kids, Harrogate has got you covered with a wide range of attractions for visitors of all ages.

Take a look at the best things to do in Harrogate and browse our range of holiday cottages to find your perfect base for exploring.    

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Harrogate attractions

Turkish Baths Harrogate

Beds in the Frigadarium in Harrogate's Turkish Baths
Image credit: Turkish Baths Harrogate

Dating back to the 19th century, the Turkish Baths have been fully restored to their original Victorian glory when rich bathers flocked to Harrogate to experience the town’s restorative spa water.  

The intricate Moorish design of Harrogate’s Turkish Baths is on full display in the Frigidarium where you’ll see Islamic arches and an Italian mosaic floor as you relax and start the traditional ritual heating, cooling and cleansing to soothe body and soul. 

Stockeld Park

Illuminated reindeer at Stockeld Park

This family-friendly attraction near Harrogate will be a big hit with kids thanks to a magical enchanted forest and a huge indoor playground. It’s all located in the grounds of a stately home and there are climbing nets, zip wires, sand pits and hidden adventures around every corner.

There are special activities for Easter, Halloween, Christmas and school holidays and highlights of Stockeld Park include an outdoor ice rink, a giant maze and a beautiful boating lake. There’s also go-karting, a farmyard-themed adventure playground and a special light trail for winter.  

Ripley Castle

Located just 3 miles from Harrogate is the imposing Ripley Castle, home to the Ingilby family for more than 700 years. The beautiful grounds and gardens are open daily throughout the year and there are a number of surrounding estate buildings which house various shops and cafes.

It’s well worth taking a walk around this Yorkshire castle’s ancient deer park and large ornamental lake where you’ll see a range of wonderful wildlife. Public guided tours of the castle take place between April and October with various activities such as archery and zorbing available to try in the grounds. 

RHS Harlow Carr

Bee on a red flower in RHS Harlow Carr

This stunning Harrogate garden covers around 58 acres and is a celebration of the Yorkshire countryside. It’s one of just five UK gardens that are managed by the Royal Horticultural Society and there are a variety of different landscapes and planting displays for visitors to explore.

Highlights include Streamside with pathways and plantings that follow a beck through the middle of RHS Harlow Carr, and the Sub-Tropicana Garden which brings a touch of the exotic to Harrogate. The Queen Mother’s Lake with wildlife and wildflower meadows is a wonderful spot for a picnic with a teaching garden providing hands-on experiences for little ones.

Quirky things to do in Harrogate

Royal Pump Room Museum

Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate

The site of the strongest sulphur wells in Europe, the Royal Pump Room was originally built as a place where wealthy Victorians could relax with a glass of sulphur-rich Harrogate water. At the height of its popularity in the early 20th century around 15,000 visitors flocked to the attraction every day.

Nowadays the building is a fascinating museum where you can learn about strange Victorian medical procedures and the spa history of the town. You can also take a tour down to the old well to get a whiff of the famous sulphur water that people once came here to drink.

Mother Shipton’s Cave

The petrifying well at Mother Shipton's Cave

Said to be England’s oldest visitor attraction, Mother Shipton’s Cave was the birthplace of a famous 15th-century prophetess and is home to a petrifying well that magically turns everyday objects to stone. There’s also a wishing well, adventure playground and on-site museum where you can learn more about Mother Shipton.

The cave is surrounded by pretty parkland with pathways that take you through ancient woodland and along the River Nidd. The attraction is dog-friendly so four-legged friends can join you at Mother Shipton’s Cave with special activities and trails for children during school holidays.     

Follow the Harrogate Street Art Trail

Welcome to Harrogate mural with green fields and a bluebird
Image credit: Mural Minded

This street art trail ticks the boxes of being free and something different to do with a bit of exercise thrown in to boot. There are ten different locations to seek out around the streets of Harrogate with a downloadable trail sheet giving instructions of where to find them all.

Specific pieces of street art to look out for include an intricately carved tree that commemorates when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire, a framed bench where you can create your own postcard from Harrogate and colourful murals created by local artist Sam Porter.

Free things to do in Harrogate

Explore Valley Gardens

Sculpture in the middle of Valley Gardens

Originally created at the end of the 19th century, this free-to-access public garden features beautifully restored historic buildings along with a boating lake and bandstand which hosts Sunday afternoon concerts during the summer months. 

Take a wander around the New Zealand and Japanese gardens to see a variety of different planting styles and follow a woodland pathway which will take you to nearby RHS Harlow Carr. There are also tennis courts at Valley Gardens and an artisan market on the first Sunday of every month in the Sun Colonnade. 

Play a ball game on The Stray

Cherry Blossom trees on The Stray

One of the nicest things about Harrogate is that it is so green and leafy with a huge 200-acre patch of grassy common that’s part of the town centre. The Stray was created from Knaresborough Forest back in 1778 and is protected by an act of parliament that says it must always be free for the people of Harrogate to enjoy.

It’s a popular place for ball games, kite flying or simply relaxing with a good book and there is plenty of space for everyone. The Stray is also home to swathes of flowers during spring and summer and is a perfect spot for a picnic - especially as you can pop over the road to Weetons and pick up supplies from the delicatessen.  

Follow the Nidderdale Greenway to Ripley

Nidderdale countryside with cycleway near Ripley

You can either walk or cycle along the Nidderdale Greenway to Ripley which is just 3 miles away. This stretch of disused railway has been transformed into a traffic-free trail that is suitable for wheelchair users, with wide pathways and gentle climbs through countryside.

A highlight of the route is passing over the Grade II-listed Nidd Viaduct where you can enjoy views out over the river. You can enjoy a drink at traditional coaching inn The Boars Head, get freshly made ice cream at the village store and take a wander around Ripley, which is styled on a French model village, before heading back to Harrogate.  

Other things to do in Harrogate

Row a boat along the River Nidd

Green and red wooden boats moored on River Nidd

Less than 5 miles from Harrogate is Knaresborough and regular buses and trains run between the two North Yorkshire towns. There’s a maze of medieval streets and a Tudor castle to explore but we think the best thing about Knaresborough is its spot on the River Nidd.

You can take a lovely waterside walk and hire a wooden rowing boat for a jaunt along the river. Blenkhorn’s Boats have been a Knaresborough institution for more than 100 years and their traditional red and green boats are an iconic sight on the River Nidd.  

Shopping in Harrogate

Street of shops in Harrogate with Hoopers and Jack Wills

If you fancy indulging in a little retail therapy during a weekend getaway with friends, you’ll find plenty of shopping options in Harrogate. Head to the Montpellier Quarter near Betty’s Tea Room for a cosmopolitan shopping experience with pavement cafes, antique shops and exclusive boutiques. 

You’ll find a selection of quirky and cool independent shops along Cold Bath Road and a range of leading brands at Hoopers, a stylish department store on James Street. Other shops in Harrogate town centre include Mint Velvet, Jo Malone, Whistles and The Yorkshire Soap Company

Sample the Spirit of Harrogate

Trio of balloon gin glasses with bottles of miniature gin.

Located on Montpellier Parade, Spirit of Harrogate is the distillery that produces Slingsby Gin in a number of different flavours. The gin is made using Harrogate spring water and a number of local botanicals and there are always free samples available to try before you purchase varieties such as blackberry, rhubarb and marmalade.

Gin experiences available at Spirit of Harrogate include cocktail masterclasses and master distiller sessions where you can choose your own botanicals and create your own unique bottle of gin to go home with.  

Harrogate places to eat

Bettys Tea Room

Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms in Harrogate

Bettys is the place to head to for a classic afternoon tea with dainty sandwiches and delicate patisserie items. Tea is served in individual silver pots with optional champagne available to make the whole experience even more special. 

You’ll be serenaded by a pianist if you pre-book the historic Imperial Room or you can join the queue to eat in the main tea room which looks out over the Montpellier Quarter. There’s a range of breakfast and lunch options on the menu along with Bettys’ famous Fat Rascal scone.

Weetons Food Hall

Poached eggs and avocado on toast

This premium Harrogate food hall has a farm shop-style feel about it and a location that looks out over The Stray. You can pick up a range of locally sourced items including cheeses, meats and chutneys with fresh sandwiches and pastries that you can purchase for a picnic.

There’s an on-site restaurant at Weetons that serves brunch classics such as Eggs Benedict along with a variety of lunch options until 3pm. 

The Fat Badger

Gravy poured on roast dinner at The Fat Badger
Image credit: The Fat Badger

This popular bar and restaurant is located on Cold Bath Road and comes with a quirky pub and separate formal dining room where you can enjoy dishes that range from sandwiches and fish and chips to crispy pork belly and chateaubriand for two.  

The Fat Badger does a particularly good Sunday roast where you’ll get massive Yorkshire Puddings and lashings of gravy followed by delicious desserts such as sticky toffee pudding.

Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant

Exterior of the Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant

This Chinese restaurant is located in a grand Victorian building that once housed Harrogate’s Royal Baths. The original opulent interiors have been beautifully restored to their former glory with golden pillars and intricate arches.

An extensive menu at Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant includes dim sum dumplings, set menus for sharing and a la carte options include Chinese classics and fancier options such as fillet steak and lobster tails.  

Plan your Harrogate getaway

Flowers framing Montpellier Quarter in Harrogate

If you have been inspired to visit this Yorkshire spa town and try some of these things for yourself, take a look at our range of Harrogate cottages to find your perfect holiday base. 

Whether you’re looking for a stylish apartment in the centre of Harrogate or a characterful cottage in the surrounding Nidderdale countryside, you’ll find a variety of options including romantic retreats and dog-friendly holiday homes.  

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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