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The Bark Endeavour ship in Whitby, Yorkshire
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 18 best things to do in Whitby

Goth weekends, fish n' chips and the cosiest pubs you've ever laid eyes on? Welcome to Whitby

Daniel Dylan Wray
Written by
Alexandra Sims
Daniel Dylan Wray

Whitby is and always has been the perfect seaside getaway. This idyllic former fishing town on the North Yorkshire coast has maintained all of its best traditions (hello, Whitby Goth Weekend), and won’t change for no one. Spend a day or a weekend here to discover fantastic seafood, old cosy pubs, and a hell of a lot of very quirky charm. 

From its spooky abbeys and its cliff-top graveyard to its cobbled streets and whale bone monuments, visiting Whitby is sort of like stepping into a gothic novel, but a really, really fun one. Stroll along the Blue Flag beach in the summer, dip into independent shops in town, and sink your teeth into a healthy portion of fish and chips. And if you’ve got the kids in tow, even better – the exhibitions and activities here are endless. Here are the best things to do in Whitby right now. 

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Best things to do in Whitby

Whitby Abbey
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/happymillerman

1. Whitby Abbey

What is it? A gorgeously spectral 13th-century ruin that looms over Whitby from its spot high above the town on the East Cliff.

Why go? Bram Stoker was so taken by the Gothic pile it inspired him to write ‘Dracula’ and, more recently, it’s previously been named Britain’s Most Romantic Ruin. Visitors can walk among the crumbled church and even touch the old stones. Admire the stunning panoramas across the harbour (most beautiful at sunset) and don’t miss the visitors’ centre housed in a nearby 17th-century mansion to explore the Abbey’s full history.

Whitby Sands
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jack Cousin

2. Whitby Sands

What is it? A picturesque stretch of caramel sand unfolding from the West Pier for two miles along the coast to the sweet little fishing village of Sandsend.

Why go? Lined by grass-tufted cliffs and multi-coloured beach huts, it’s the perfect spot for a windswept walk or an ice-cream lunch. There’s plenty of sandcastle potential. Arrive shore-side in style with a trip down the cliff lift.

Whitby Heritage Jet Centre
Whitby Heritage Jet Centre

3. Whitby Heritage Jet Centre

What is it? Jet is a gemstone made from fossilised wood, and Whitby Jet is unique due to the intensity of its blackness. Through a crooked doorway off cobbled Church Street you’ll find this little shop specialising in the stuff.

Why go? There’s a handful of lovely jet shops scattered around the town, but here you’ll find the last remaining example of a Victorian Jet Workshop. Ask one of the friendly jewellers to show you around.

The 199 Steps
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Paul Stephenson

4. The 199 Steps

What is it? Make like Dracula, who ran up this iconic set of stone steps disguised as a black hound in Stoker’s novel, and try to climb the formidable flight yourself. This is one of Whitby’s most picturesque spots and it is tradition to count each step as you climb up from Church Street to the top of East Cliff.

Why go? It’s worth breaking a sweat for the stunning views over the town and harbour. You’ll also find the fabulously unique St Mary’s Church at the top with its maze of box pews and splendid pulpit. See if you can spot ‘Humpty Dumpty’s tomb’ in the grave yard.  

The Captain Cook Experience
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. The Captain Cook Experience

What is it? A boat trip on an authentic replica of HMS Endeavour. This ship was sailed by Captain James Cook during his scientific expedition of 1768. 

Why Go? A fun activity for all the family – dogs welcome on board too – and a different way to see and explore Whitby.

The Magpie Café
The Magpie Café

6. The Magpie Café

What is it? Whitby has a stellar reputation when it comes to fish and chips. (It’s a town filled with dripping that’s as thick as the air!) Ask any local where you’ll find the best and they’re sure to say Magpie.

Why go? The battered cod served here is so good that long queues snake down the pavement for a piece. (There are contenders to its crown, so if you’re after some scraps without a hefty wait head to Quayside or Trenchers.)

The North York Moors Railway
Graham Staples

7. The North York Moors Railway

What is it? If you fancy venturing further into God’s Own Country book a seat on this heritage steam train. It trundles past the North York Moors National Park from Whitby to the ancient market town of Pickering.

Why go? You’ll pass stunning views of the Yorkshire landscape, which are filled with eye-popping patches of purple heather in the summer. For a special treat, book into their dining carriage to enjoy a slap-up meal while you travel.


What is it? Just when you thought Whitby couldn’t offer any more stairs, there’s another 81 to climb up: the tiny, spiral staircase in this gorgeous lighthouse. It’s one of two at the harbour entrance, but the tower on the West Pier is the taller of the duo.

Why go? In the lamp room you can get another great aerial perspective of the town and watch the boats coming in and out of the harbour. Visit when it’s stormy to really see the difference between the churning sea waves and placid harbour waters.  

Whitby Whalebone Arch
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Matthew Hartley

9. Whitby Whalebone Arch

What is it? Two hundred years ago Whitby was best known as a thriving hub of the UK whaling industry. This arc, made from two huge whale jaw bones, was first erected 1853. It’s been replaced twice over the years, most recently in 2003 by bones from a Bowhead whale killed legally by Alaskan Inuits.

Why go? Nowadays the arch makes for a nice Insta op, with the two huge bones framing a pretty view of the town’s red-roofed cottages and the Abbey ruins. If you fancy trying to spot some real Whales, take a voyage on a Whitby Whale Watching boat tour.

Whitby Brewery
Whitby Brewery

10. Whitby Brewery

What is it? Keep your eyes peeled for this little microbrewery and tap room. It sits right beneath the towering arches of Whitby Abbey. Set in a converted barn, there’s a small bar serving five cask beers and a selection of bottles all produced onsite, with knowledgeable and friendly staff pulling the pints.

Why go? It’s the perfect spot to refuel after trekking up the 199 steps. Sit on one of the beer barrel stools and sink a pint of Whitby Whaler right next to one of the tanks it was made in.

The Whitby Goth Weekend
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. The Whitby Goth Weekend

What is it? An alternative music festival founded in 1994 that has grown to become one of the world’s premier goth events.

Why go? As an opportunity to unleash your inner dark side, dress up to the nines and join in a celebration of goth culture in the home of Dracula. Or, simply, be a bystander and enjoy the music and the fashion efforts of others.

Nearby coastal towns
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Nearby coastal towns

What is it? A series of nearby towns to visit when you’re in Whitby to make your trip to the coast that extra bit special. If you drop down the coast you can take in the beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay, Filey and Scarborough. Or, a little further up the coast, there are the picturesque small seaside towns of Staithes and Runswick Bay. 

Why go? To witness some of the most beautiful coastline the UK has to offer. Plus, experience some of the cosiest and cutest seaside towns you’ll ever walk around. 


13. Museum of Victorian Science

What is it? A journey of real science through 19th century physics.

Why go? To get an insight into the evolution of science through some fun hands-on activities. Featuring strange glowing bulbs, the Jacob's Ladder, crackling sparks, electric flames, the telegraph system, early x-ray tubes and literally hundreds of early electrical instruments.

Fortune’s Kippers
Sander's Yard Bistro

14. Fortune’s Kippers

What is it? If you don’t think you’re a fan of kippers, you will be by the time you’ve left Fortune’s. This tiny, ramshackle shop is largely unchanged since it was established in 1872 and you’ll see old photos on the wall of the six generations of family that have worked here.

Why go? You’ll smell its smokehouse long-before you reach it and its charred black walls filled with lines of hanging fish are a sight to behold. They also smoke bacon, if you really can’t be swayed to kippers.  

Captain Cook Memorial Museum
Captain Cook Memorial Museum

15. Captain Cook Memorial Museum

What is it? A handsome harbourside house where the young James Cook lodged as a humble apprentice before becoming the world-famous explorer.

Why go? It’s packed with all the information you could ever want on the Yorkshire seafarer, as well as original paintings, maps, letters and ship models. Those not of a nautical persuasion will appreciate the beautifully restored rooms, especially the recreation of a tiny 17th-century kitchen.   


Whitby Museum & Pannett Art Gallery
Whitby Museum

16. Whitby Museum & Pannett Art Gallery

What is it? If you want to know what Whitby looked like back in the day (which isn’t too far off what you’ll see now), head to Pannett Gallery. Watercolours of the town in all its Victorian splendour hang on the walls, alongside two small permanent collections of work by The Staithes group and the Weatherill Family. Whitby Museum shares the same building and is packed with collections ranging from jet and fossils to whaling paraphernalia and bird specimens.

Why go? The museum’s fossil collection really is something to see, especially its giant ichthyosaur skeleton. There’s also some delectable cakes to be scoffed in its kitsch little tea room.

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