Your complete guide to Whitby holiday cottages

Your complete guide to Whitby

Julie 27 April 2023

When you think of Whitby, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Is it scampi? Maybe the famous Whitby Abbey? Or dreams of traditional seaside holidays?

There’s so much more to the North Yorkshire town than meets the eye. When you begin to scratch the surface, you’ll discover a thriving town with a fascinating history and absolutely loads of things to do. Whether you’ve booked a holiday to Whitby, you’re thinking about visiting, or simply wondering what to do in the town – you’re in for a treat.

Your first port of call could be our office on Flowergate - we would love to see you and say hello. But we’re happy to be your virtual tour guide too – here’s why we love Whitby so much. Looking for places to stay? Browse our handpicked selection of self-catering holiday cottages in and around Whitby. 

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Uncover Whitby's rich seafaring heritage 

Lobster pots on the harbour at Whitby

On the North Yorkshire Heritage Coast and facing out towards the granite-coloured North Sea, it’s no surprise that Whitby’s fascinating history is centred around all things maritime.

Captain Cook

Most famously, Whitby was the town where Captain Cook – explorer of the then-uncharted Pacific Ocean – undertook a seaman’s apprentice. His lodging house during these formative years is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. There, you can discover more about the place where Captain Cook learnt the skills that led to his epic seafaring voyages.

Whitby Whale Bones

Whitby whale bones framing the famous abbey

Other places of interest evidencing Whitby’s maritime history are a little less known but equally as interesting. The Whitby Whale Bones on the West Cliff is an arch constructed of two 20ft jawbones. It frames the town and the Abbey ruins and stands as a memorial to Whitby’s once-thriving whaling industry.


The remains of the Admiral Von Trump shipwreck

Or you could visit the wreck of the MV Creteblock – a former WWI harbour tug made out of reinforced concrete which was taken to Whitby to be scrapped in the 1930s. It sank on a shallow platform just off the Whitby coast and has since been slowly broken apart by successive winter storms. The highly unusual wreck is accessible at low tide and is one of Whitby’s more unique attractions. A little further up the coast at Saltwick Bay, you can also see the remains of the Admiral Von Trump which mysteriously crashed in 1976.

Discover a different side to Whitby

Sign on Whitby Pier

It’s not just Whitby’s seafaring heritage that’s strong, but its community spirit is too, and its residents have never been ones to follow convention.

Whitby was a hotbed for smuggling for generations due to its miles of empty beaches, plenty of caves for hiding contraband, and a labyrinthine network of passageways. Today, you can still visit the appropriately named The Old Smuggler’s Cafe (known as the more discreet The Old Ship Launch Inn in its heyday) where smugglers once delivered their untaxed swag. You can also take a ghost tour around Whitby to learn about the darker side of this pretty Yorkshire seaside town. 

A daring sea rescue

A lifeboat heading out to sea at Whitby

Whitby’s residents also shirked convention during the sinking of the SS Rohilla in 1914. The WWI hospital ship ran aground just off the coast of Whitby in stormy seas and, due to the RNLI rowing boats being unable to reach the stricken vessel, many of the passengers swam for their lives. The people of Whitby formed a human chain in the crashing waves to try and reach the drifting swimmers. You can visit the Whitby Lifeboat Museum on Pier Road to find out more about this dramatic rescue, or pay your respects at the town’s memorial.

So much delicious food and drink

Fresh fish and chips with tartar sauce and mushy peas

You’ll be spoilt for choice of places to eat and drink in Whitby, whether you’re looking for cute cafes, fancy restaurants or anything in between.

Fortune's smokehouse in Whitby

With its coastal location, treats from the sea feature highly on many of the town’s menus. Your first port of call should be one of the oldest eateries in Whitby – Fortune’s Kippers. Founded in 1872, the traditional smokehouse is now run by the fifth generation of the Fortune family and is the last smokehouse standing in the town. You’ll probably smell the wood shavings, and the fish and bacon being smoked, before you see the shop itself!

Whitby fish and chips

No trip to the seaside is complete without fish and chips and Whitby is renowned for this tasty British classic. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to freshly battered fish options, ranging from cod and chips eaten straight from the paper, to tucking into your food in an upmarket restaurant. Locals and tourists alike agree that the best fish and chips in Whitby can be found at the black-and-white Magpie Café – so much so, that queues often form around the corner of the street!

Time for a tipple

Wine and beer served on a bar

If you’re feeling a little thirsty after your fish supper, head to The Black Horse – one of the town’s oldest buildings which has previously housed a funeral director, a spirit warehouse and even a brothel. The traditional pub serves a wide range of real ales and even a selection of snuff, plus a very un-traditional selection of tapas. Or visit Whitby Brewery, under the towering arches of Whitby Abbey, which aims to bring craft brewing back to the town. Take a tour of the brewery, sample some of the selection from the tap room or grab some bottles from the shop to enjoy at home.

Explore the North York Moors National Park

Situated where the North York Moors National Park meets the North Yorkshire Heritage Coast, it’s no wonder that Whitby offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the UK, let alone Yorkshire.

Catch an NYMR steam train to Goathland

NYMR steam train on its way to Whitby

If you want to explore some countryside vistas, take the North Yorkshire Moors Railway which runs from Whitby, across the stunning North York Moors to Pickering. One of the stops on this 24-mile pastoral journey is Goathland Station, which was the setting for the Hogwarts Express stop at Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter films.

Explore the scenic Esk Valley

Alternatively, catch a train or take a walk through the scenic Esk Valley which follows the path of the River Esk from high in the moors to where it flows into the sea at Whitby. The Moors Centre at Danby is a Dark Sky Discovery Site where you can see star formations and the Milky Way. Other villages along the route include Lealholm, Sleights, Egton Bridge and Ruswarp. 

Seek out a waterfall in Sneaton Forest

Falling Foss waterfall in Sneaton Forest

Another part of the North York Moors that’s very close to Whitby is Sneaton Forest where you’ll find Falling Foss Tea Garden. This idyllic spot features family-friendly woodland trails, a gentle beck with paddling spots for little ones, a bridge to play pooh sticks from and a tumbling waterfall. Once you have finished exploring, you can enjoy tea and cakes on picnic-style seating. 

Discover hidden treasure

Fossil found on the beach

From a precious stone that’s only found on the Yorkshire coast to ammonites and fossilised marine reptiles that date back millions of years, there is plenty of hidden treasure to hunt out on the beaches in and around Whitby.

Whitby jet

One of the lesser-known facts about Whitby is that it has its own semi-precious stone. The darkest-black Whitby jet (which coined the phrase ‘jet-black’) is made of the fossilised remains of monkey puzzle trees that are found in the cliffs around the town. You can find out about this unusual gem at the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre in Church Lane and there are many jewellers in the town who specialise in this alluring stone if you can’t find any on the beach.

Dinosaur fossils

Hand holding an ammonite

Forget Dorset’s Jurassic Coast – Whitby is one of the UK’s best locations for fossil hunting. As well as the famous jet, you can spot ammonites, reptiles and shells along the coast at low tide, especially at Saltwick Bay, a mile down the coast.

Dinosaur footprints are in abundance at Burniston Bay, near Scarborough, but they can be found all along the coastline between Scarborough and Whitby.

Whitby Museum

One of the best places to get up close to fascinating fossils and beautiful pieces of Whitby jet is at Whitby Museum which is located in the middle of the town’s Pannett Park and features ammonites, fossilised marine reptiles and a clockwork replica of a jet workshop. You can reach the museum via the Pannett Park Jurassic Garden which features fossil examples and a full-sized replica of a marine crocodile found in 1824 at Saltwick Bay near Whitby. 

Explore Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey on a sunny day

We can’t talk about Whitby without mentioning the iconic abbey. Standing atop the headland, Whitby Abbey was first constructed as a Christian monastery in the 7th century, destroyed in the 9th century by Danish invaders, and then stood proud once more until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. 

Explore the gothic ruins

Today, you can admire views out over the town as you wander amongst the sprawling gothic ruins which have inspired poets and writers throughout the years. The grounds are just right for a scenic picnic or a fun game of hide and seek, and there’s also an on-site museum where you can learn more about the history of Whitby Abbey 

Follow in Bram Stoker’s footsteps

199 steps leading from Whitby Abbey

But the abbey is perhaps most famous for inspiring Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. In the novel, Dracula climbs the 199 steps up to the abbey disguised as a dog and you can still climb the same steps (although you don’t need a disguise). When Stoker made his inspiration-piquing trip to Whitby, he sat on top of a hill and surveyed the town below him - a memorial bench has been constructed in that same spot, so you can sit where Stoker sat and perhaps be inspired by the very same view.

See Whitby Abbey in a different light

Whitby Abbey illuminated with red and green lights

There are plenty of fun family-friendly events that take place at Whitby Abbey each year including Easter egg trails, pirate-themed adventures, and Illuminated Abbey when the gothic ruins are magically lit up in a rainbow of colours. There’s also music and other entertainment to enjoy during the Illuminated Abbey event which typically happens around Halloween.

Attend one of the world’s premier goth events

Whitby graveyard at night

Whale bones and severed hands, a crumbling abbey that inspired one of the greatest vampire stories, and a jet-black gemstone – is it any wonder Whitby attracts goths the world over?

Whitby Goth Weekend

The Whitby Goth Weekend was founded in 1994 and has now become one of the world’s premier goth events. Thousands of people visit the town for the biannual alternative festival, which is usually held in spring and around Halloween (obviously). It also includes the Bizarre Bazaar Alternative Market, with over 100 indoor stalls.

In fact, goths contribute around £1.1 million a year to Whitby’s economy and account for 7% of overnight stays!

Whitby Steampunk Weekend

As well as the hugely popular goth festivals, Whitby also now plays host to one of the UK’s largest steampunk events with special weekends taking place around four times a year. Steampunk style mixes futuristic technology with Victorian-era industrialism and along with amazing outfits, you can enjoy music, entertainment and workshops at one of the wonderfully different Whitby Steampunk Weekends.      

Other Whitby events

Fireworks at Whitby Regatta

If the Whitby goth and steampunk weekends don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other festivals taking place around the popular seaside town each year. Music events include the Whitby Soul Weekender and Whitby 60s Festival. If you fancy embracing this Yorkshire coast town’s maritime history, we recommend heading to the Whitby Fish and Ships Festival which takes place in May and the Whitby Regatta which culminates in a fantastic firework display each August.        

Beautiful Whitby beaches

Aerial view of Whitby beaches

Whether you’re in the mood for building a sandcastle, trying out some water sports or getting some fresh sea air into your lungs during a stroll along the sand, Whitby has a great selection of beaches to choose from. 

Whitby Sands Beach

Whitby Sands Beach backed by colourful beach huts

Whitby Sands Beach (also known as West Cliff Beach) is Whitby’s largest stretch of sand and features colourful beach huts, deckchair hire and a paddling pool for little ones. It’s a popular option with families and during the summer months, there’s a lift to take you down to the beach making it accessible to all. Whitby Surf School is also based at Whitby Sands Beach if you fancy trying out some water sports.

Tate Hill Beach

Tate Hill Beach with the old town behind it

The smaller Tate Hill Beach is accessed close to the start of the 199 steps in Whitby Old Town, where you’ll find independent shops and tearooms selling Whitby jet, souvenirs and local Trillos ice cream. It’s kept sheltered from the wind by Whitby Harbour so is a great option for sea swimming and beach picnics. Tate Hill Beach is also dog friendly all year round, so is a perfect choice for a day out with four-legged friends.

Sandsend Beach

Sandsend Beach near Whitby

If it’s coastal views you’re after, take the walk along Whitby Sands from West Pier along the coast until you reach Sandsend, which is 2 miles away. Enjoy stunning views across the bay to Whitby Abbey from this cliff-backed beach route then spend time exploring the various rock pools that form part of Sandsend Beach. You can also follow the path of Sandsend Beck from the sea into the handsome village where kids and dogs can safely paddle in the gentle stream. 

Fun for the whole family

Child on Whitby beach

There’s plenty of fun to be had on a visit to Whitby, with attractions and fun seaside activities that are bound to keep even the toughest critics entertained. Here are some of our favourite family-friendly activities to try on a visit to Whitby.

Boat trips out to sea

Hop on boat trips at Whitby Harbour

Naturally formed by the estuary of the River Esk, the bustling Whitby Harbour is typically filled with colourful boats including traditional wooden fishing cobles and coastal cruisers that will whisk visitors out to sea. There are lots of 20 to 30-minute boat trips that are available to hop on during a visit to Whitby, including the distinctive yellow boats of Whitby Coastal Cruises, and the Bark Endeavour which is a replica of Captain Cook’s famous ship.  

Whitby West Cliff

Marked by the famous Whitby Whale Bones and a statue of Captain James Cook, West Cliff is home to the town’s Royal Crescent Gardens. This free-to-access green space has plenty of space for ball games and little ones to run around and there’s also a paddling pool, tennis courts and a skate park. You can also try your luck on the Arnold Palmer Putting Course and have some fun on the bumper boats and go-karts before heading down to the nearby Whitby Sands Beach. 

Traditional sweets and penny arcades

Traditional sticks of rock at the seaside

Marine Parade and Pier Road are the places to head to in Whitby for sweet shops, gift emporiums and amusement arcades. Stock up on traditional seaside rock at John Bulls, grab a bucket and spade at Whitby Gift Shop and then try your luck on the penny pusher machines at Pleasureland or Fun City Amusements. If you’re feeling brave, venture into the Dracula Experience on Marine Parade where special effects and live actors combine to terrifying effect.  

The best Whitby walks

The cliff top paths of the Cleveland Way

Whether you're looking for a scenic stroll or learning more about the history of this fascinating seaside town, there are a plethora of Whitby walks to try.

The Whitby Storyteller

Learn about the fascinating history of Whitby and the interesting characters who lived in the town by taking a guided walk with The Whitby Storyteller. The walk starts at the top of the 199 steps by St Mary’s Church and features supernatural tales, smuggling stories and legendary lifeboat rescues as you explore all the best bits of Whitby on foot.   

The Cinder Track

The Cinder Track is a 21-mile traffic-free trail that connects Whitby to Scarborough via an old railway line. The route takes you through North York Moors countryside and coastal coves, including the wooded valley of Hayburn Wyke where you’ll find a secret waterfall. For an easily manageable Cinder Track walk, we recommend the 6-mile circular from Whitby to nearby Hawsker which finishes at Whitby Abbey.

The Cleveland Way

The Cleveland Way at Whitby

The popular Cleveland Way walking trail takes in much of the North York Moors and Yorkshire coast, running for 109 miles between Helmsley and Filey. The coastal part of the Cleveland Way route takes in the cliff-top paths around Whitby with beautiful views out to sea, and we recommend taking a scenic walk to the nearby village of Robin Hood’s Bay where you’ll pass by Saltwick Bay and the Von Trump shipwreck that can be seen here during low tides. 

Wonderful places to stay

Whitby on a sunny day

With so much to see and do, you'll need to stay in Whitby to fully appreciate everything this unique town has to offer. Fortunately, you'll find a great choice of places to stay throughout Whitby and in the surrounding area.

Feeling inspired? Whether you want to visit as a couple, a family, or a large group, we have holiday cottages to suit everyone. Take a look at all of our dog-friendly holiday cottages in and around Whitby or browse the whole collection.

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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