Whitby, meaning ‘white’ village or town named after its white stone houses has a rich history as a fishing village and shipbuilding centre. The 13th Century gothic Abbey ruins perched high on the East Cliff headland is the town’s most iconic feature. Whitby has long been a safe harbour sheltered between two cliffs, and in the past has made its living from the sea. Captain James Cook cut his maritime teeth here, and the ship Endeavour’ in which he circumnavigated the world came from Whitby. Shipbuilding really took off in the town from about 1620, and by 1702 Whitby owned one of the largest fleets of colliers plying between London and Newcastle.
In the Victorian era other themes came to the fore including the deep black mineral Whitby Jet used for the increasingly popular mourning jewellery. Jet workshops and jewellery shops are plentiful in the town today. The coming of the railway from 1844 saw Whitby grow as a resort initially for the gentry and cultured. Lewis Carroll is said to have been inspired by Whitby beach to write his ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’, and a violent storm and ship wreck in Whitby gave Bram Stoker his inspiration for Dracula.
How to Get to Whitby
By Road/ Parking
Visitors travelling by car from York on the A64 should take the A169 north east to Whitby. For travellers coming from Scarborough take the A171 north to Whitby. From the north and Teesside take the A171 east to Whitby.
A Park and Ride service is available from Easter to the end of October along the A171 situated on the western side of the town after the junction with the A169. A choice of car parks are also available around the town centre.
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway offers a steam train service between Pickering and Whitby. The Esk Valley branch line also runs from the west and Middlesbrough to Whitby Station.
By Air & Sea
The nearest airports are Newcastle, Leeds Bradford and Durham and Tees Valley.
Hull ferry services from the Netherlands,and Newcastle/ North Shields ferry services from Norway are both within easy reach.
Areas of Interest in Whitby
East Cliff with the Abbey ruins and West Cliff with its many fine guest houses and B&Bs frame Whitby town centre and harbour. The River Esk flows through the town effectively creating two halves. Beaches are situated either side of the river. Push inland on the West Cliff side for the pretty Pannett Park area, home to Whitby Museum. Many of Whitby’s great tours, including its spooky ghost tours, begin at the Whalebone Arch on West Cliff. The town’s main entertainment centre – The Spa – is also situated on West Cliff.
On the river bank around the town centre sit Whitby’s fabulous selection of independent shops, inns and attractions including The Dracula Experience and Captain Cook Memorial Museum.
Whitby’s Claim to Fame
The town’s starring role in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula remains Whitby’s most well know claim to fame. It’s left a legacy today with ghost tours and very popular Goth Weekend held twice a year.
Things to Do in Whitby
The many attractions and things to do see huge numbers of visitors coming to Whitby each year. Climb the 199 steps up to the ancient ruins of Whitby Abbey past St Mary’s Church.
Explore the town’s maritime history and links to Captain Cook at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum located within the harbourside building Cook actually lodged in as an apprentice seaman.
Head over to Pannett Park and the Whitby Museum to discover more on the town’s shipbuilding, whaling and geological history. The museum holds a fantastic collection of the black mineral jet and jet jewellery, and even has a Jet model of Whitby Abbey!
Find a selection of fine Jet jewellery shops in the town centre and The Whitby Jet Heritage Centre is on Church Street.
Spectacular coastal walks surround the town south towards Robin Hood’s Bay and north towards Runswick Bay and Staithes. Keen walkers can join the Cleveland Way National Trail from West or East Cliff, and Whitby is also the end point of the 37 mile long Esk Valley Walk which follows the route of the River Esk across the moors.
Pick up boat trips and fishing excursions from the harbour or stay during one of the year round festivals and events including Whitby Goth Weekend in April and October, and Whitby Folk Week in October. The town also hosts a popular Regatta in August which ends with a stunning harbourside firework display. The Spa entertainment centre on West Cliff is the central focus during many of Whitby’s top events.
The North York Moors National Park is just on your doorstep and one of the best ways to see it is to hop aboard a steam train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway running between Whitby and Pickering. Hop off at popular destinations in the National Park such as Goathland.
Whitby Food & Drink
Many a visitor to Whitby has sung the praises of the town’s delicious fish and chips. Popular venues include The Magpie Cafe with a reputation as one of the finest fish restaurants in Yorkshire. Their fish and chips and seafood chowder are legendary. Fortune’s Smokehouse in the old town on the east side is another famous attraction. You’ll know when you’re getting close when you smell the delicious aroma of oakwood smoke. They’ve been smoking kippers here for over 139 years.
Alongside famous fish restaurants sit character inns serving fine Yorkshire ales and hearty fayre. Many retain historic features like the White Horse & Griffin with a reputation for great food served in a relaxed atmosphere. Chill out in one of Whitby’s cafe bars like Coast or 1940s themed Blitz Cafe. Down on the quayside you’ll find a selection of restaurants and takeaways serving up the best quality seafood.
Where to Stay
There is a wide variety of accommodation catering for the huge crowds attracted to town throughout the year. Stay in quality B&B accommodation on West Cliff. Many of the character guest houses here date from the Victorian and Edwardian periods and have been stylishly modernised. These are perfect for visitors attending events and festivals at the nearby Spa entertainment complex.
Several fine inns offer rooms and there are some lovely former fisherman’s cottages available around the centre for those looking for historic character and flexibility. Luxury apartments are also numerous around the harbour area, and flanking the River Esk.
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.