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16 best things to do in Harrogate

From cream teas to Turkish baths, landscaped gardens and antique shops, these are the best things to do in Harrogate right now.

Daniel Dylan Wray
Written by
Kasia Delgado
&
Daniel Dylan Wray
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Famous for its cream teas and Turkish baths, Harrogate is England's classic spa town with quaint streets, historic houses, landscaped gardens and so many fun things to do. In Harrogate, life is slow-paced and serene—you can see why famous crime writer Agatha Christie hunkered down here incognito in 1926 after her marriage broke down. Alongside the genteel prettiness and relaxing waters, the town is full of great independent shops, glorious antique stores and top-class cosy pubs serving excellent beer, all surrounded by rolling green hills. Just 40 minutes from Leeds and York, or two hours and 45 minutes from London, follow in Christie’s footsteps and explore this North Yorkshire haven. 

 

Best things to do in Harrogate

What is it? A National Trust site of strange 30-foot high rock formations balancing on top of each other. The boulders have alluring names like The Sphinx, The Watchdog, The Camel, The Turtle and The Dancing Bear.

Why go? Formed 320 million years ago, the boulders will leave you gawping at the brilliance of nature.

Don’t miss: There are plenty of walks to do, including a route from the village of Pateley Bridge which involves passing the oldest sweetshop in the world – as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Get your green fix at RHS Garden Harlow Carr

What is it? A gorgeous 58-acre garden and woodland at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales.

Why go? If you’re after tranquility – and some stellar photo opportunities – Harlow Carr’s your place. It’s full of incredible colourful plants and flowers from around the world – and it smells better than any perfume.

Don’t miss: Have a good stroll and then stop off at the garden’s smaller branch of Betty’s tea room...

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What is it? A Retro and vintage clothing, furniture and records market-style shop over two floors, with a cafe. Or as it says, ‘1,500 sq/ft of vintage and retro loveliness’. 

Why go? To find a bargain that you simply couldn’t pick up in high street stores, be it women’s and men’s vintage clothing, mid-century furniture, vintage watches, jewellery, music, books or retro homewares. It’s also below Tom’s Social, so you can have a pizza and beer break mid-rummage. 

Don’t miss: The mid-century furniture. There’s some really beautiful and unique bits to pick up. 

Stroll down Cold Bath Road
Bias

4. Stroll down Cold Bath Road

What is it? A long row of interesting independent shops, pubs and cafes in a bohemian, Notting Hill-style part of town.

Why go? It’s a fun street to explore. One of Cold Bath Road’s highlights is Bias, a boutique full of great British and Scandinavian labels, homeware and presents. Or, pick up exquisite vintage wear at Catherine Smith’s Vintage Boutique. Refuel with a drink at The Last Post. 

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Get steamy at the Turkish Baths

What is it? A beautifully designed steam room, plunge pool and spa with Moorish mosaics and terrazzo floors.

Why go? The baths are what put Harrogate on the map in Victorian times and by the nineteenth century had made the town one of Europe’s leading spas. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s the ideal place to get a massage and steam yourself into serenity…  

Don’t miss: Group sessions are the most affordable way to experience the steam, or if you want the luxe option you can combine your visit with various massage and facial packages.  

Learn about the Dales’ history at the Nidderdale Museum

What is it? A few miles out of Harrogate in picturesque market town Pateley Bridge you’ll find this quaint community-run museum in an old work-house telling the story of the local people and history of the Yorkshire Dales.

Why go? Despite containing some fairly disturbing wax figures, this place is adorable, genuinely interesting and the volunteers who run it are lovely and passionate. Different rooms show how life used to be, including an old Cobblers shop, school room and Victorian Parlour, and lots of quirky, fun facts to tell your friends – all for a £2 entry fee.

Don’t miss: Round the corner, you’ll find King Street Workshops, a thriving group of artist studios where independent designer-makers make everything from glassware to jewellery. 

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What is it? A café that offers you the finest in Yorkshire-sourced ingredients but with a Scandinavian twist, for a taste of the Nordic in Harrogate. It also has a bakery on the outskirts of town. 

Why go? An amazing lunch and brunch spot that serves up some of the freshest, tastiest grub in town. Not to mention some of the best coffee around. 

Don’t Miss: The Pølse. A 100 percent Yorkshire smoked pork frankfurter with pickled cucumber, crispy onions, maple mustard, ketchup and remoulade. Served in a Bakeri Baltzersen brioche roll. Vegan option available too.

Eat a Fat Rascal at Bettys

What is it? Bettys is a Yorkshire institution, an elegant, traditional café opened nearly a century ago by a Swiss confectioner. Don’t be deterred by the huge queue to get in, it’s worth the wait. 

Why go? The best place for afternoon tea. Think silver cake stands, staff in period costume, tea galore and a view of the pretty Montpelier Gardens.

Don’t miss: Make sure you have a Fat Rascal (a Yorkshire scone) to really feel like you’re in Gods Own Country.

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Get a dose of modern fine art at Mercer Art Gallery

What is it? A well-curated collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century art featuring artists William Powell Frith, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Dame Laura Knight and Alan Davie.

Why go? As well as getting a dose of modern fine art, there are intriguing temporary exhibitions. And visiting the Mercer is a chance to see inside a 200-year old Harrogate gem, built in 1805 as one of the town’s first purpose-built spa rooms.

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Nurse a pint at Hales Bar

What is it? The oldest pub in Harrogate, built around 1827 and known then as the Promenade Inn.

Why go? Want to forget the twenty-first century and feel like a Victorian? Hales bar feels genuinely historic, with gas lighting making for a cosy atmosphere. Turn off your phone and settle in for the night. The staff are chatty and warm, if you fancy an IRL conversation. 

Sink a drink at Major Tom’s Social

What is it? An independent café and bar tucked down a Harrogate street selling craft beer, real ale and stone-baked pizza.

Why go? There’s a youth club feeling to this place – it smacks of a time before responsibility, when you could hang out all day in the summer holidays, ‘Friends’-style.  There are board games, newspapers and comfy sofas and delicious pizza and beer.

Don‘t miss: Look out for the odd gig and record fair here, too. 

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What is it? A beautiful and luxurious spa set amid 300 acres of picturesque grounds 

Why go? To absolutely treat yourself in every way possible, from the rooftop spa to the infinity pool, and from the luxury steam room to the panoramic sauna. 

Don’t miss: An equally luxurious lunch or dinner at the Horto Cafe. 

What is it? The only dedicated second-hand bookshop in Harrogate.

Why go? Floor-to-ceiling books that are well priced and thoughtfully selected, meaning you’re always likely to find a gem. 

Don’t miss: It sells vinyl, CDs and DVDs too.

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What is it? An award-winning 17-acre English Heritage Grade II listed park, filled with themed gardens, floral displays and historic buildings. 

Why go? It really does tick all boxes for all people. There are multiple gardens, such as the Japanese garden and sensory garden, a cafe, tennis courts, paddling pool, boating pond, skate park and spectacular floral displays.   

Don’t miss: There’s a lovely walk that goes through the valley gardens, then onto the pine woods and comes out at Harlow Carr.

What is it? A friendly, buzzy café with quality live music every night.

Why go? By day it’s a top-class café for lunch and tea and by night it’s an intimate speakeasy-style spot with good jazz and blues bands playing seven nights a week. Locals love it, and fill it up most evenings.

 

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