We spent a day in Whitby while we were on holiday in North Yorkshire last month. It was the beginning of April when we stayed in a cottage in Pickering, ideally placed to visit our friends in York as well as the coastal towns of Whitby, Scarborough or even Filey a little further away.
The weather was pretty overcast but we were lucky to avoid the rain and get out and explore every day we were there.
It had been a few years since I’d visited Whitby – ok maybe 10 – so I was looking forward to going for a look round with Sam and Florence. As we live on the opposite coastline in Wirral, we are used to hanging out in seaside towns but this one really is a gem for young families.
Getting to Whitby was easy; it was only about a half-hour drive from our cottage but it was a pretty spectacular one. Driving over the moors was a bit like – in my son’s words – driving across the moon, with its wide open but desolate-looking space, a long, undulating open road across the moorland that eventually wound us down past several villages before ending at the coast.
If the moon were covered in bracken, perhaps it would look a little bit like the road to Whitby!
As we dropped down into the town, we managed to get lucky and drive straight through to the harbour to find a parking space in the pay and display there. It was a perfectly central base for our little adventure and coast us about £7 for the full day.
Five things we love about Whitby
We started our day walking round the harbour, looking at the fishing boats and the nets piled high to one side. Even on this cloudy April day there were lots of people milling about and no shortage of places to grab a coffee and people watch a little. There were a few street entertainers for the kids to watch, like the man in the photograph who rode his bike every time you gave him some coins. Old hat to us maybe, but enchanting for the little ones.
There are boat trips which you can do and if we had had more time I think we would have taken one, but as we only had the one day we made our way around the back of the harbour to the cobbled streets taking us all the way up to the abbey.
The 199 steps
The famous 199 steps in Whitby lead up from the cobbles to the Church of Saint Mary, perched on the east cliff overlooking the harbour and the town. It looks like a long way up but it’s an easy climb, and thankfully the kids got new life when they reached the steps and I had to race to keep up with them. You get such a great view from the top of the cliff, you can’t really visit Whitby and not do the steps.
At the top, you’ll find the church graveyard which was the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a book which he wrote after staying in the town back in 1890. Which leads me on to the next thing we loved about Whitby – its spooky, gothic, alternative feel.
The spooky vibe
The seaside town’s ties with Dracula are a pull for thousands of people each year, and you don’t have to go far to see signs of what is one of Whitby’s most famous attractions, the Whitby Goth Weekend.
In fact it’s over two weekends a year, in April and October, when the best-dressed goths and so-called steampunks fill the town for a celebration of music and fashion. The look I would say is a kind of Victorian England meets vampire, meets science fiction. It’s a style which crops up in many of the shops around the town, and which made my halloween-obsessed son’s eyes pop.
Some of the goth shop owners we saw caught Flo’s eye too, one who with his rather suspect dentistry, top hat and tails made my little girl stare. Thankfully, he saw the funny side too.
For older children there is a Dracula experience down near the arcades, where you walk into a kind of haunted house with actors trying to scare you as you go through. Although Sam was desperate to go in, a quick look inside the door was enough to send shivers down all our spines and luckily he agreed it was probably a bit too scary for him just now. Maybe we’ll wait a few years before repeating that one.
Going back to the top of the cliff, Whitby Abbey is well worth a visit. We walked up to have a look behind St Mary’s Church but to be honest, I didn’t think Sam and Flo would have much time for walking round the ruins of the abbey. How wrong I was. We only went into the ticket office to ask where the nearest baby change was (always fun when you need to change a nappy on top of a hill, no?) but we ended up paying to go in and have a look around too.
Both children absolutely loved running around the grounds, Sam pretending he was a great explorer and Flo stamping her feet and singing ‘Let It Go!’ like it was the sole purpose of her day.
We spent almost an hour walking around the ruins; I mean it isn’t really all that big, but we were just having such a good time up there and for me on my own with two kids, it was a break to have this wide open, safe space where there weren’t too many people or opportunities to get lost.
The promise of an ice cream got us back down the steps, and we still had time to walk round to Funland for a quick half-hour on the penny slot machines before heading home. After our stay in Filey last summer, Sam and Flo are both pretty pro at the 2p machines, and let’s face it spending a coupe of pounds on them brings them a whole lot of joy, so it’s a winner all round!
Things we didn’t have time for…
If we had more time in Whitby, we would have spent some time in Pannett Park, a central park just uphill from the harbour with its own art gallery, museum and play area.
Had we not had fish and chips the night before, we would have sought them out for lunch, as you know, when in Rome and all that.
We also might have taken a boat trip around the harbour. We saw a pirate boat all ready to set sail for a cruise which I think was the replica HMS Endeavour. On board this trip you can hear stories of Captain Cook and sing along with sea shanties, it looks like so much fun for the kids. You can also take a trip on the old lifeboat, a fishing trip or a speedboat ride.
If you stay in Whitby there are loads of places to visit nearby, such as Robin Hood’s Bay, Scarborough or the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Take a look at our last post on Pickering and Dalby Forest for some more ideas.