Top Things to Do in Whitby, Yorkshire

Top Things to Do in Whitby

Whitby, Yorkshire. A small town cut in two by the river Esk, dominated by an eastern cliff where an old abbey, tormented by the winds, sits enthroned. She inspired Bram Stoker for his novel Dracula.

Facing the North Sea, Whitby fascinates with its charm of an English village on a human scale, with its legends and with its silent confrontation with the waves of the North Sea.

Whitby Goth Weekend

Before visiting Whitby, we decide to drive around the town to soak up the atmosphere. We quickly realize that the city seems immersed in a parallel world. That weekend, Whitby saw its 46th “Whitby Goth Weekend”, a fascinating Gothic festival!

The whole town seems to have changed over time. The festival attracts hundreds or even thousands of curious and passionate people, who display very different visions of Gothic from one another.

one thing to do in Whitby

The Whitby Goth Weekend does not only concern a young population and that is what is striking when you arrive on site: you meet both retirees and teenagers! The very fascinating side of the event is that most people didn’t seem to be in disguise. They were living their perfectly normal lives… but in period costume. We came across a couple devouring a fish & chips to their heart’s content in an outfit from another century. Pretty amusing !

Whitby has a very particular history with this universe because the city deeply inspired the writer Bram Stoker when he wrote his mythical novel Dracula.

For a very long time, the city was a cradle of literature. Cædmon, considered the first Anglo-Saxon poet, was a monk within the order which occupied Whitby Abbey.

one thing to do in Whitby

It was therefore quite natural that comedian Henry Irving recommended the city to Bram Stoker, his business manager, who had just accompanied him on an exhausting tour of Scotland. Irving had run a circus in Whitby in the past, and he suggested Stoker settle down there for a while…

Bram Stoker therefore arrived in Whitby in July 1890 and took up residence at 6 Royal Crescent, in a bed and breakfast. Every morning, the owner cleans his room and he takes the opportunity to escape to town.

Opposite him, just a few paces from his lodgings, is Whitby Abbey, an 11th-century building, in ruins, whose tortured silhouette adjoins that of a small church, St. Mary’s Parish. The church is surrounded by a disorderly graveyard, where the graves seem to spring from the ground as if endowed with a will of their own…

one thing to do in Whitby

Bram Stoker, who then began writing a new novel, was inspired by this strange and seductive setting.

In the cemetery, he gleans a few names from the tombstones – which he will reuse in Dracula, like “Swales”, Dracula’s first victim. In the local library, he discovers the story of the prince of Wallachia Vlad Tepes the Impaler, nicknamed “Dracula”… and writes down the name.

In the small streets of Whitby, he hears about an episode which shook the town a few years earlier: a boat from Narva (formerly in Russia, now in Estonia), the Dmitry, carrying fine sand, wanted to dock at Whitby in a terrible storm… After reaching the port, the boat ended up being broken by the waves when it wanted to leave and ran aground near the eastern cliff of Whitby.

In Draculathe Dmitry became the “Demeter” … originating no longer from “Narva” but from “Varna”… and it was this ship that carried Dracula across Europe to Whitby in a coffin filled with earth.

one thing to do in Whitby

Jonathan Harker, held prisoner by Count Dracula, also discovers in his correspondence letters exchanged with a certain “Samuel F. Bellington, No. 7, The Crescent, Whitby”, the house next to the one where Bram Stoker lived during his stay in the Yorkshire.

It is impossible today for Whitby to break away from this unique literary and historical heritage. The city’s hills also happen to be rich in jet, the famous black stone that often inspires the image of “jet hair” in novels. When Prince-Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha died, his wife Queen Victoria chose Whitby jetstone for her mourning jewellery… and as the Queen was very popular at the time, it sparked a real enthusiasm.

Reading all these adventures, one might think that Whitby is a disturbing town, where one fears at every street corner to encounter a creature that is not quite human… It is not so. If Whitby has managed to retain a part of mystery, it is also a very pretty and very attractive town.

Whitby Abbey and the 199 Steps

When you arrive in Whitby, you are invariably drawn to the abbey which dominates the town, perched on the eastern cliff facing the North Sea. It was precisely during my stay in Yorkshire that I felt the power of confrontation with these black and wild waters…

one thing to do in Whitby

It was around the year 657 that a princess founded a monastery on top of the cliff (which was probably much larger than today, after centuries of being eaten away by the sea!). On its ruins, the Abbey of Whitby was built in the 11th century… and in the 12th century, a stone’s throw away, the Church of Saint Mary.

The interior of the church was closed to the public during our visit but you can sometimes enter it: it is organized like most old churches in England, with private “boxes” where everyone could attend mass in complete safety. privacy.

Like all old churches, this one was surrounded by a cemetery that still exists today. It was at this iconic location that we began our tour of the town… and it is impossible to visit Whitby without hearing the chilling stories if told to you in the dark…

one thing to do in Whitby

In 2012 a landslide washed away part of the cemetery and a shower of bones fell below the cliff… The rector of St Mary’s Church had to reassure the people of Whitby that the cemetery is not was more active and therefore “just bones”. It’s true that said like that, it’s reassuring ^^.

If these stories can freeze the blood of the less daring, they should not make us forget that Whitby offers a magical face: the cliff which flows into the sea, the view which overlooks the port with its two lighthouses and its channel in the middle…

one thing to do in Whitby

You can visit the abbey, which does not present much interest to me, you can nevertheless consult the opening hours and prices online. If you have trouble walking, you can park right next to it in a car park, but the building is also accessible by a legendary staircase of 199 steps.

Initially, they were made of wood but were renovated and replaced by stone a few centuries ago. You will come across some landings there. They were thought to help the men who carried the coffins to the top of the cliff, to allow them to take breaks in their ascent.

one thing to do in Whitby

When you go down the steps, the atmosphere changes: you quickly plunge into the seductive animation of a very popular little fishing port.

Whitby, a town intimately linked to the sea

Whitby has always had a special connection with the sea. In the 18th century, the town even housed the third largest shipyard in England, after London and Newcastle. This is where the famous Captain Cook trained…

In the 19th century, the creation of the railway between Whitby and Pickering – which can still be taken today on board an authentic steam train, which I did! – also allowed the city to gain popularity.

Today, when one decides to visit Whitby, there are not a thousand things to do there but most of them are related to the sea.

First of all, there are several (very small!) museums: the Lifeboat Museum, devoted to rescue at sea, which retraces the stories of shipwrecks and famous rescues (free, find the timetables on the website ); the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, dedicated to the famous explorer (paying, timetables and prices on the official website of the museum ); further out, the Robin Hood’s Bay Museum which evokes all the region’s links with the North Sea, both from the angle of fishing and rescue, not to mention smuggling (free museum, timetables on the website ).

In Whitby, you can also take boat trips on the North Sea and most of the companies that offer them are trustworthy: Whitby Fishing Trips or Mistress Sea Angling to learn about fishing for a few hours; Whitby Coastal Cruises for boat trips on the North Sea or on the River Esk which crosses the town (we recognize this company by its yellow boats)…

one thing to do in Whitby

You should know that several travel agencies now offer excursions to Whitby. As tourists are only there for a fairly short period of time, boat companies have adapted and for example, Whitby Coastal Cruises offers sea trips lasting only 20 to 25 minutes, ideal for visitors who only stay in Whitby for 2 -3 hours ! Same for Whitby Old Lifeboat.

You can book this kind of excursion from York through a site like GetYourGuide.

For mini-cruises, no need to book in advance, just approach one of the piers when you arrive in Whitby.

At certain times of the year (summer I think) it is possible to visit the lighthouse for a few pounds. You can also, for a slightly more “folkloric” experience, embark on a short sea trip aboard a replica of a James Cook boat.

one thing to do in Whitby

Facing the east cliff, on the other side of the city, is the “Whalebone Arch”, a tribute to whalers. I admit that it disappointed me a little because I expected it to represent whalebones in a more realistic way (we get this impression on the photos)… except that in real life, it was more like a large piece of damaged concrete.

one thing to do in Whitby

I told you at the beginning of the article, Whitby is cut in two by the River Esk. To reach the western part of the city, you take a bridge that opens from time to time to let the boats pass, a real spectacle for all passing visitors!

To know in advance when it will open, you have to consult the tide times… because this “Swing Bridge” opens at exactly the hour and half past for 2 hours around the hour of high tide.

one thing to do in Whitby

Eat in Whitby

On the banks of the Esk river, there are many restaurants and cafes and an atmosphere very typical of small fishing ports.

Whitby is THE city of fish & chips par excellence (who says fishing says fish!). Everyone rushes to the same place: the Magpie Café! In concrete terms, an English friend who knows Whitby well told me that the fish & chips were very good in many restaurants in the town… but if the Magpie is also known, it is because it occupies a historic building in the town. town, facing the port, which was a merchants’ house when it was built in 1750.

It then served as a place of “command” to manage the entry of boats into the port, before becoming a café-restaurant. This long history, added to the beautiful location occupied by the Magpie, makes it a very popular (and quality!) address.

But there are many other good addresses: Royal Fisheries, Silver Street Fisheries for example.

one thing to do in Whitby

Peter, who was serving as our guide that day, shared a tip from a regular: in Whitby, avoid eating take-out fish & chips. The gulls on the port are particularly clever… and fish & chip lovers. I hadn’t really taken the threat seriously because we had decided to have our meals in a restaurant anyway… but I saw that Peter was right: we were taking pictures of the river when a seagull popped up behind a little girl who was pecking at her fish & chips outside.

The technique is well established: the bird passes over the shoulder so quickly that the “victim” is afraid and drops its meal. It is then the feast for the birds which rush on the fish! Besides, I noticed that quite a few English towns were obliged to display large signs warning visitors about these gull attacks.

Really take advantage of your visit to Whitby to eat fish, whether in the form of fish & chips or in a more “elaborate” form (in restaurants like Trenchers or The Marine)… and if you are staying there, I recommend even go buy some! There is indeed a fairly legendary store, “Fortune’s Kippers”. Its name is a play on words because the term “Fortune Keeper” (spelled with two Es) designates a lucky charm. Which is pronounced almost like “Kipper”, the herring 🙂

one thing to do in Whitby

Fortune’s Kippers has been preparing herring for almost a century and a half and as soon as you enter the street where the shop is located, you smell a delicious smell of smoke… They also sell bacon. The welcome is not ultra-warm (there is this gruff reserve of the “people from the North”!) but the address is legendary!

On site, we also took a break at Beckett’s, a kind of tea room that serves gourmet drinks, homemade cakes and a few simple dishes. It was really very good and the welcome was charming. People can come and have lunch on site with their dog, there are glass jars in the café that contain treats “for four-legged” so everyone can help themselves to please their doggie. It creates a very friendly atmosphere!

I absolutely loved this tour of Whitby. It’s a city where you can spend a few hours or two full days depending on what you want to do there: the coast around the city is very wild, with splendid beaches and coves… It’s not a place rich in hotels but there are some famous bed & breakfasts to enjoy your stay on site.

Whitby is a good hour’s drive from York … and so close to the North York Moors National Park that you can combine the visit with an exploration of the park in question. If you don’t have a car, you can also get there by bus via line 840 which leaves from Leeds and goes to Whitby via York and Pickering!

I advise you to add the city to your program if you go to Yorkshire!

Check hotel prices in Whitby

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Camille L.

Passionate about foreign languages, cooking and writing. I wish to share with you the places, the meetings and the gastronomic discoveries which gave relief to my travels.

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