Wish you were here…
Deck chairs, Dracula and dinosaur footprints – a holiday spent exploring the seaside towns of North Yorkshire is a coastal break like no other. Travel editor Tristan Parker tours this well-loved area
For many people, the quintessential image of Yorkshire will be one of rolling hills and green meadows but head to the county’s north-eastern edge and you’ll find idyllic beaches with golden sands, and nostalgic seaside scenes.
The towns and villages that hug the area nicknamed the ‘Dinosaur Coast’ (due to its abundance of Jurassic and Cretaceous remains) provide plenty of activities and attractions for a packed holiday or ample opportunities for relaxation. Scarborough and Whitby are the best known (and largest).
Scarborough lays claim to being ‘Britain’s first seaside resort’ after natural mineral springs were discovered there in the 17th century, leading to an influx of visitors.
Robin Hood’s Bay six miles south of Whitby, is a small but picturesque fishing village whose cobbled streets, eateries and culture have given it huge kudos. Similarly tempting are foodie-focused Saltburn, art-obsessed Staithes, and Filey, which boasts a stunning beach.
Alternatively, hop on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. This popular heritage route runs 24 miles between Whitby and the pretty market town of Pickering, passing through the North York Moors National Park and stopping at wonderful spots, including gorgeous Goathland, whose station played a spellbinding turn as Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter films.
But don’t plan on staying inland for too long, as you’ll soon be pining for that fresh coastal air, improved only by the smell of salt and vinegar coating your obligatory chips. Here are our top picks for making the most of a Yorkshire coastal jaunt.
With a history dating back to 657 AD, Whitby Abbey certainly has stories to tell. Initially built as a Christian monastery, it became a Benedictine abbey in 1078 before falling foul of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. It’s been a royal burial ground, the site of the meeting that decided the date of Easter and the inspiration for writers and artists, including one Bram Stoker, who featured the ruins in Dracula. Perched on a clifftop overlooking the sea, it still looks striking and romantic, particularly if you climb the famous 199 steps leading up from the town below.
Scarborough market hall
This grand building, opened in 1852, had a £2.7 million refurb in 2016 and has since grown into a favourite spot for locals and tourists to fill their bellies and shopping bags. There are a variety of market stalls selling a range of goods, plus cute cafes, independent craft and design stores, including woodcraft from Alwyn Welburn, jewellery at Luckenbooth and quirky bits and bobs at Authentique.
As one of the first purpose-built museums in the world, opened in 1829, it’s fitting that Scarborough’s much-loved Rotunda Museum deals with historical matters – ancient history, in fact, as you’ll be going back in time to learn about the Yorkshire coast’s geological riches. This means dinosaur footprints, fossils and even a Bronze Age human skeleton. The building itself is an impressive feat thanks to its domed roof and soaring tower, which holds a curving Georgian gallery. Entry is free to under-18s and just £3 for adults, which buys you a year-long pass to both the Rotunda and Scarborough Art Gallery.
You could spend months researching (and walking) hikes around Yorkshire’s coast. Save yourself time and simply dip in and out of this well-trodden, 109-mile route (the second recognised National Trail in England and Wales) to experience the region’s best scenery. Tracing the long arc of coastline leading from Filey all the way up to Saltburn-by-the-Sea, the trail then veers inland (great for catching stunning sweeps of heather moorland in North York Moors National Park between late August and early September), ending at the market town of Helmsley. The coastal section traverses big-hitters like Scarborough and Whitby, as well as smaller, atmospheric villages like Skinningrove, and is the ultimate coastal hiking experience in this part of the UK – and a well-signposted one, at that.
Beautiful Yorkshire beaches
The long and sandy West Cliff Beach is just minutes from Whitby town centre and has a traditional atmosphere, complete with colourful beach huts and deck chairs. The quieter Tate Hill Beach is near the harbour entrance, on the east side of the River Esk, and is a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming. Quieter still is Upgang Beach, found at the westerly end of West Cliff Beach – a perfect peaceful beach experience, boasting wonderful sea views.
Directly accessible from the town is South Bay, a hub of activity and popular with families. Its proximity to the town means that cafes, restaurants and old-fashioned seaside amusements line the sands. Watersports are also available, including sea kayaking and surfing. North Bay Beach is more relaxed and scenic, backed by rolling green hills and with a coveted Blue Flag award to its name. Beach huts can be hired, including two-storey options.
Cornelian Bay and Cayton Bay are a few miles south of Scarborough and take a bit of work to get to, but you’ll be rewarded with serenity and a rugged coast. Filey has five miles of beach, plus a seafront sculpture trail. The beach at Robin Hood’s Bay is small but gorgeous and has a wild feel thanks to the surrounding cliffs.
Where to stay: Accommodation is plentiful and varied, but remember that even the bigger towns aren’t huge and do get booked up quickly in summer, so plan ahead. There are some gorgeous period properties lining the seafronts, from hotels to Airbnbs, if you’re keen for an ocean view.
Getting there: Scarborough is the biggest transport hub if arriving from the south. Trains from London take three hours and there are direct services from Leeds, York and Sheffield. If you’re north of Yorkshire, heading to Middlesbrough allows you to pick up a service to Whitby.
Getting around: Travel between Scarborough and Whitby by train or bus is simple, but if you’re planning to go further, a car will help. You can move between some nearby towns with a bit of coastal hiking.