Whitby attractions

Top Whitby sights

If there’s one essential stop on the North Yorkshire coast it’s Whitby, with its historical associations, atmospheric ruins, harbour and intrinsic charm.

  1. Enter the Captain Cook Memorial Museum
  2. Discover the Church of St Mary
  3. Explore the ruins of Whitby Abbey
  4. Wander through the fascinating Whitby Museum
  5. Discover more about the story of Dracula
  6. Head to Runswick Bay
  7. Enjoy a day-trip to Robin Hood’s Bay

Walking around Whitby is one of its great pleasures. Divided by the River Esk, the town splits into two halves joined by a swing bridge: the cobbled old town to the east, and the newer (mostly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) town across the bridge, generally known as West Cliff.

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Rough Guides

1. Enter the Captain Cook Memorial Museum

Whitby, understandably, likes to make a fuss of Captain Cook, who served an apprenticeship here from 1746-49 under John Walker, a Quaker shipowner. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum, housed in Walker’s rickety old house, contains an impressive amount of memorabilia, including ships’ models, letters and paintings by artists seconded to Cook’s voyages.

Best for: Captain Cook fans

While you’re there: After all that exploring, make sure to try the ice cream in Whitby, there are plenty of vans about town!

2. Discover the Church of St Mary

At the north end of Church Street, you climb the famous 199 steps of the Church Stairs - now paved, but originally a wide wooden staircase built for pall-bearers carrying coffins to the Church of St Mary. This is an architectural amalgam dating back to 1110, boasting a Norman chancel arch, a profusion of eighteenth-century panelling, box pews unequalled in England and a triple-decker pulpit - note the built-in ear trumpets, added for the benefit of a nineteenth-century rector’s deaf wife.

Best for: Church

While you’re there: Take a visit to the Whitby Lighthouse, a lovely sandstone structure while you walk along the west pier.

3. Explore the ruins of Whitby Abbey

The cliff top ruins of Whitby Abbey are some of the most evocative in England. Its monastery was founded in 657 by St Hilda of Hartlepool, daughter of King Oswy of Northumberland, and by 664 had become important enough to host the Synod of Whitby, an event of seminal importance in the development of English Christianity. It settled once and for all the question of determining the date of Easter, and adopted the rites and authority of the Roman rather than the Celtic Church. You’ll discover all this and more in the visitor centre, which is housed in the shell of the adjacent mansion, built after the Dissolution using material from the plundered abbey.

Best for: History

While you’re there: Make sure to take a look at Whitby Harbour too, there are some lovely places to eat fish and chips around there!

4. Wander through the fascinating Whitby Museum

The gloriously eclectic Whitby Museum features more Cook memorabilia, including various objects and stuffed animals brought back as souvenirs by his crew, as well as casefuls of exhibits devoted to Whitby’s seafaring tradition, its whaling industry in particular. Some of the best and largest fossils of Jurassic period reptiles unearthed on the east coast are also preserved here.

Best for: Museum

While you’re there: For another interesting museum, head to the Museum of Victorian Science. Here you can take a virtual look at Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.

5. Discover more about the story of Dracula

The story of Dracula is well known, but it’s the exact attention to the geographical detail of Whitby - little changed since Bram Stoker first wrote the words - which has proved a huge attraction to visitors. Using first-hand observation of a town he knew well - he stayed at a house on the West Cliff, now marked by a plaque - Stoker built a story which mixed real locations, legend and historical fact: the grounding of Count Dracula’s ship on Tate Hill Sands was based on an actual event reported in the local papers. It’s hardly surprising that the town has cashed in on its Dracula Trail. The various sites - Tate Hill Sands, the abbey, church and steps, the graveyard, Stoker’s house - can all be visited, while down on the harbourside the Dracula Experience attempts to pull in punters to its horror-show antics. Keen interest has also been sparked among the Goth fraternity, who now come to town en masse a couple of times a year (in late spring and around Halloween) for a vampire’s ball, concerts and readings. If you’re looking for Whitby hotels to learn more about Dracula, take a look at our outstanding selection of choices!

Best for: Dracula fans

While you’re there: Some people believe that the character of Dracula is buried in the St Mary’s churchyard in Whitby.

6. Head to Runswick Bay

To the north of Whitby, steep roads lead down to Runswick Bay, a self-consciously pretty assortment of fishermen’s cottages, and Staithes, where the young Cook was briefly and unhappily apprenticed to a grocer. To the south, seekers after solitude can divert from the coastal road to find Ravenscar - “the resort that never was”. It has fine walks, but never developed economically beyond one rather imposing cliff top hotel.

Best for: A lovely walk in Whitby

While you’re there: Don’t forget to take a walk on Whitby Beach, kids will love taking a donkey ride here!

7. Enjoy a day-trip to Robin Hood’s Bay

Robin Hood’s Bay , a popular resort close by, once offered sanctuary to the benign outlaw and was a haunt of smugglers. Off its main street run the snickets (narrow lanes) that, together with the diminutive dock, give Robin Hood’s Bay its Toytown character. Time should be spent exploring the intimate network, full of odd corners and sunny squares.

Best for: An enjoyable day-trip from Whitby

While you’re there: Another great day-trip from Whitby is Scarborough which is home to a majestic castle.

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