Harrogate is one of Britain’s most famous historic spa towns situated on the edge of Nidderdale, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Turkish Baths have been in the town for over 100 years and are a real step back in time with a modern twist. The discovery of the sulphur waters in 1571 revolutionised the town and by 1596 Harrogate had earned the name ‘The English Spa. By the 17th Century visitors were coming from far and wide to take the waters.
Much of the beautiful architecture you see today dates from the Victorian period onwards including the iconic Royal Baths opened in 1897. In the 20th Century the novelty of the spa lessened after the First World War, but alternative attractions replaced it like the endearing Betty’s tearooms which opened its doors in Harrogate in 1919.
The beautiful Royal Hall Theatre is a Grade II Listed Edwardian gem and there are some truly classic heritage hotels like the grand Majestic first opened in 1900. The centrally situated Valley Gardens covering 17 acres is also Grade II Listed with magical historic colonnades and the Sun Pavilion.
How to Get to Harrogate
By Road/ Getting Around
Harrogate is very easy to reach via the nearby A1/A59 from the east and the M6/A59 from the west. The spa town is a prime Yorkshire touring base within easy reach of Leeds, York, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
Harrogate station has fast and frequent links via The Harrogate Line to Leeds and York, which have links to wider rail networks serving Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle and London. Travelling by rail in the area is particularly popular as The Harrogate Line is dotted with tunnels and viaducts, and pushes through stunning landscapes on the edge of the Dales.
Several airports are within easy reach of Harrogate including the nearest – Leeds Bradford Airport only 12 miles from Harrogate centre. A new station is planned for the Harrogate Line which will connect the town directly with Leeds Bradford Airport – good news for international and wider UK visitors!
Areas of Interest in Harrogate
Although quite tightly packed, Harrogate has distinct quarters with their own unique themes. Explore parks and gardens or tour the array of historic Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the town centre.
Independent shops are plentiful in the centre, particularly in the Montpelier Quarter. On the periphery sits major events centre – The Great Yorkshire Showground.
Harrogate’s Claim to Fame
The town is still celebrated as a spa town centre today, with its real claim to fame being the discovery of the first spring by William Slingsby in 1571 in an area known today as High Harrogate. The water from the spring was found to have medicinal benefits, and by the end of the 1600s other springs including the sulphur spring in Low Harrogate had been discovered. These precious waters come from an age old geological sea located way below the earth’s surface which rise up through faults in Carboniferous rock.
Things to Do in Harrogate
Parks and gardens feature strongly with centrepiece Valley Gardens brimming with family fun activities including a boating pool and paddling pool, a skate park, a children’s playground and a cafe. Friends of Valley Gardens now offer great tours of this historic park.
Indulge in an exquisite spa or shopping experience in the town centre and visit the historic Turkish Baths and Health Spa with a huge choice of packages and treatments. A tour of the unique independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants dotted around the Montpelier Quarter facing the famous Stray is not to be missed, and Betty’s Tea Rooms is only a short stroll down Montpellier Hill.
Mercer Art Gallery has a reputation as one of Yorkshire’s most celebrated art galleries amassing a fine collection featuring names such as Atkinson Grimshaw and William Powell Frith. To discover more on Harrogate’s spa town history visit the Royal Pump Room where you can sample what Charles Dickens thought was the strongest sulphur water in Europe. Learn about the treatment baths, machinery and take a trip down the sulphur well!
The Great Yorkshire Showground on the edge of the town is a miniature showground world of year round events. The highlight is the annual Great Yorkshire Show in July. Harrogate is one of the county’s top spots for events and festivals ranging from flower shows and Music Festivals to the popular Christmas Market.
Harrogate Food & Drink
World cuisine and independent restaurant excellence is on the menu. There is a fantastic choice of restaurants, inns, wine bars, cafes and tea rooms clustered in the town centre. No trip to Harrogate is complete without a trip to Betty’s Tea rooms serving their legendary afternoon tea. Enjoy the finest Yorkshire real ales from Black Sheep to Timothy Taylors in one of the many lively pubs and bars. Local independent breweries and microbreweries supply the town’s bars and inns.
There are some truly amazing cafes like cosy Palm Court on Montpellier Hill and Caffe Marconi which serves freshly brewed coffee as well as delicious thin based pizzas everyday from noon!
Harrogate’s dining scene caters well for the town’s many visitors and for business guests attending events at the Convention Centre. Popular big names like Las Iguanas and Yo Sushi mingle with award-winning authentic Thai restaurants like Sukhothai Harrogate and authentic Italian restaurants like Sasso Harrogate on Princes Square.
Where to Stay
An eclectic mix of accommodation is available in and around Harrogate. Opt to stay in one of the town’s beautiful historic guest houses and B&Bs. Luxury interiors blend period features with modern comforts including free WiFi. For more flexibility choose a stylish serviced apartment, ideal for conference guests, couples or families. If a classic hotel is more your thing, you’ll find no shortage of these in Harrogate with an array of large and small historic hotels. Several super indulgent spa hotels are also available. Push out into surrounding countryside and nearby Nidderdale for charming self-catering cottage accommodation.
Michelle is an experienced travel writer with iknow and has travelled extensively across the UK, Spain, Portugal and the USA. When she’s not busy writing for iknow she enjoys spending time touring museums and art galleries and seeking out the best independent shops in Manchester and Leeds.
Travel tips and tourist information
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