I really like Whitby, it’s a fantastic place, dog-friendly nearly everywhere, and with lots of things to see and do. Whatever time of year you visit, Whitby is always busy. Unlike a lot of seaside resorts, there is no end of season in Whitby. The former fishing town is very photogenic and has a dramatic coastline, long stretches of sandy beach and a quaint harbour. The town splits into two distinct halves, bisected by the tidal River Esk. The swing bridge in the centre of town connects the two halves.
The eastern half, the old town, is full of quirky charm. The main attractions in this half of town are the Abbey, St. Mary’s Church and the 199 steps. In total contrast, the western half is a classic Victorian seaside resort. Up on the top of the West Cliff are hotels and guest houses. Situated below on the quayside, fish and chip shops, amusement arcades, stalls and souvenir shops.
Whitby East – Old Town
Just over the swing bridge explore Grape Lane which is home to some interesting shops and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. The museum sits inside a harbourside house where James Cook once lodged as an apprentice before becoming the world-famous explorer.
Sandgate, Church Street, Tate Hill and Market Square
The old town is full of independent shops selling a wide variety of things you won’t find on your everyday high street. There are traditional gift shops, a fantastic bookstore, hippy New Age emporiums, tearooms, clothes and accessories stores. Of course there are also a few shops selling the famous Whitby Jet jewellery. Jet is a minor gemstone found nearby, and made famous by Queen Victoria who used it as part of her mourning dress. Enjoy shopping along Sandgate, Church Street and Tate Hill. The original Town Hall overlooks the small Market Square where there are usually a few traditional market stalls. Whilst you are in the Market Square visit the Studio of John Freeman. Have a look at the large collection of local images, with original watercolours, limited editions and prints.
If you want to find out more about Jet visit the Whitby Heritage Jet Centre. You’ll find this through a crooked doorway off Church Street (opposite the Duke of York). The Museum has the last remaining example of a Victorian Jet Workshop.
Tate Hill Beach
There are many yards and alleyways in the old town. Make a little time to explore the yards and step back in time. Some have hardly changed since the Middle Ages. If you are on Church Street find the alleyway leading down to the hidden Tate Hill beach. This is a little gem of a sandy beach within the harbour itself, with easy access to the East Pier. The beach is dog friendly, although during summer time theydogs must be on a lead.
East Pier and Henrietta Street
The other route to the East Pier is via Henrietta Street. Turn off Church Street before The 199 Steps. Along the street you’ll often smell the gorgeous aroma of Fortune’s Kippers long before you pass it. The tiny, ramshackle shop was established in 1872 and is largely unchanged. Be sure to have a look at the smokehouse if it is open. Inside the charred interior are lots of lines of hanging fish. Just before walking onto the East Pier, it’s possible to drop down to the right onto the East Cliff beach (low tide only). Walk along a bit and enjoy spectacular views from the beach back to the East Pier and over to Saltwick Nab.
The 199 Steps and St Mary’s Church
Of course you have to climb the 199 steps from Church Street to the top of East Cliff. Occupying a commanding position at the top is the 12th century St Mary’s Church. The large stone cross in the graveyard is Caedmon’s Cross, commemorating the father of the modern hymn. The church is usually open, inside you’ll find box pews, and other features dating back to 17th and 18th century. Pay a visit close to Christmas and you’ll find the inside has been filled with lots of decorated Christmas trees. Before you leave, walk around the graveyard and enjoy the stunning views over the town and harbour.
Behind St Mary’s is Whitby Abbey a 13th-century ruin that looms over Whitby from its spot high above the town. The Abbey is cared for by English Heritage. If you have an English Heritage card you can enter the Abbey for free, or pay the small entrance fee. The Abbey was one of the first to be built in England. It is also one of the abbeys that was ransacked during Henry VIII’s reign. The Abbey ruins are spectacular and a great adventure for families.
A couple of times during the year English Heritage floodlight the Abbey. Whitby Abbey Illuminated is a fantastic event with ghost stories, shops and food vans and the Abbey looks even more amazing.
Head back over the swing bridge which takes you to the promenade. This is usually the busiest part of Whitby. As you walk along the harbour side, you’ll find a row of shops selling a mixture of gifts, sweets and rock, clothing and ice-cream. There are also arcades, food stalls and a number of excellent Fish and Chips shops, including the famous Magpie Cafe. I usually go to Russels Fish and Chip Takeaway, where they serve excellent Fish and Chips at affordable prices.
After the shops find the Lifeboat Museum which sits at the bottom of West Cliff. One of the most powerful images of 19th Century bravery is a photograph of Henry Freeman in the then-new cork flotation jacket. He was the only crew member of the Whitby lifeboat wearing one when the vessel sank in a storm just outside the harbour in 1861, and the sole survivor. The lifeboat Robert and Ellen Robson is on display inside. After you’ve had a look round the Museum, continue to walk out onto the Western Pier.
As you walk out onto the pier look left. In the distance is the picturesque village of Sandsend. Its possible to walk all the way to Sandsend and back along the beach if the tide is out. The walk is described in my post “Exploring the Yorkshire Coast – Whitby to Sandsend”.
If the lighthouse is open, be sure to climb its 81 tiny steps for an unusual overhead view of the piers and harbour.
Past the lighthouse walk out onto the outer wooden, pier extensions which take you to the end of the pier. This is not a place to take your dog though due to the gaps in the sleepers which make up the decking. The end of the pier is a great place to be, especially if the sea is rough. Quite often you can have this part of the pier to yourself, and actually at this point you feel like you are quite far out to sea. Look across at the east pier and you’ll often see a group of Cormorants sat on top of the railings.
Retrace your steps and climb up to the top of West Cliff to the iconic Whitby Whalebone Arch. Two hundred years ago Whitby was best known as the thriving hub of the UK whaling industry. This arch, made from two huge whale jaw bones, was first erected in 1853. It’s been replaced twice over the years, most recently in 2003 by bones from a Bowhead whale killed legally by Alaskan Inuits. The arch stands next to the statue of the great explorer James Cook, who began his seafaring life here.
If you like steam trains (who doesn’t?) the North York Moors Railway runs steam trains into Whitby station several times a day in summer. The railway journeys through the North York Moors National Park from Whitby to the ancient market town of Pickering. A trip to Pickering through Grosmont, Goathland and Levisham and back probably merits a full day out.
Pannett Park, with its well maintained gardens and children’s play area is a short walk away from the centre of Whitby. This is well worth a visit, although dogs are not allowed. Whilst you’re there, visit the Whitby Museum and Pannett Art 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. In the same building, the Whitby Museum houses collections ranging from jet and fossils to whaling paraphernalia and bird specimens. On one of its walls is a giant ichthyosaur skeleton.
There are an equal number of independent shops to be found in the west side of Whitby. Flowergate and Skinner Street are home to an eclectic bunch of shops selling a wide variety of goods. From the swing bridge climb up to Flowergate via Golden Lion Bank. You’ll find Skinner Street on the right hand side, as you walk uphill. If you want to treat your dog, be sure to check out the Fuzzy Dog Bakery.
Whitby hosts a variety of festivals. As well as the famous Goth and Steampunk weekends, there is the International Bram Stoker Film Festival, Whitby Folk Week and Musicport both have loyal followings. Additionally, there are regular music weekends covering everything from rock and soul to jazz and 60s music at the Whitby Pavilion. If you love sailing, there’s the annual Whitby Regatta. This is the oldest sea regatta on the North East Coast. Finally there are several sea angling festivals throughout the year, drawing keen fishermen to the town. Definitely worth checking what’s on if you are planning a visit.