Whitby is the centre of Yorkshire’s maritime history and culture. If you want a classic Yorkshire seaside experience, look no further. The city has that fish and chips and cobbled street vibe, with plenty of stories to tell. Whether you are interested in Captain Cook, Dracula, or the many pirates that passed Whitby’s shores, the city is full of stories of travel, voyages, and adventures – fictional and real.
I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Whitby. This guide will cover everything from maritime history and adventure to Harry Potter filming locations and fossil hunting. So, without further ado, these are the nine best things to do in Whitby.
Whitby Abbey is the symbol of Whitby. Sat imposingly on the hill above the town, the abbey ruins tell stories way back to the 7th century – when the abbey was first constructed.
Whitby Abbey started as a Christian monastery before being shifted to a Benedictine abbey. Since then, the abbey has inspired literature such as Dracula, and visiting it has been one of the best things to do in Whitby for some centuries. You can learn more about Whitby Abbey’s history here, but I’d recommend experiencing the abbey in person.
Allow an hour or two to explore the ruins slowly. You’ll be able to admire the early English architecture and also the views over Whitby, as Whitby Abbey is a great vantage point thanks to its hill location. You can book tickets in advance online or on the day.
Take the train to Goathland
Harry Potter fans, listen up. Goathland is just a 20-minute drive from Whitby and was used as the Hogsmeade film set in the Harry Potter films.
Eagle-eyed fans will recognise Goathland train station as Hogsmeade station from the early movies. It is most prominently featured at the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, where Harry says goodbye to Hagrid for the summer.
Visitors can watch the trains come and go, take snapshots for free around the station, and purchase souvenirs in the station gift shop. There is also a viewpoint that you can quickly hike to that has pretty views over the station.
Don’t drive? Or not planning on bringing a car? That’s okay. You can catch the traditional train to and from Whitby. I mean, what better way to reach Hogsmeade than by taking the Hogwarts Express? A visit to Goathland is one of the best things to do in Whitby for Harry Potter fans and movie enthusiasts. Allow at least an hour to make the most out of your excursion.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum
For those wondering where Captain Cook comes into this, he worked as an apprentice for Captain John Walker in 1746. During this time, he lived by the harbour on Grape Lane. Nowadays, this house is a museum – commemorating Cook’s legend and educating visitors on the sailor’s early life.
You’ll access original letters, maps, and drawings. The displays showcase real documentation of Cook’s voyages. The house itself is an attraction to walk around, with original 17th-century features that Cook would have interacted with himself.
Like the other things to do in Whitby, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum takes an hour or two to appreciate. If you get a drizzly day in Whitby, the museum also makes a fantastic rainy day activity.
St Mary’s Church
Religious or not, it is worth paying a visit to St Mary’s Church in Whitby. The church is scenically located on East Cliff and has great views over Whitby and up at Whitby Abbey.
The church itself was founded in AD 1100, although its architecture has been revamped continuously over the centuries. The church has had some famous visitors, including Captain Cook, who worshiped here while living in Whitby on an apprenticeship. Visitors can admire many preserved furnishings and the traditional interior design – St Mary’s Church still relies on candlelight after dark.
Be prepared for a workout to reach the church, with 199 steps to master to reach the top. However, there will be enough to keep you entertained for at least an hour once you do. There are also historical artefacts dotted around the church, which provide some interesting insight into Whitby’s previous years.
Despite being written at the turn of the 20th century, Dracula still has society in a chokehold. Halloween rarely passes without you seeing at least one Dracula costume, and many schools and universities still include Bram Stoker’s novella on their teaching syllabus.
Those who have read the book may already know that Stoker references Whitby. Whitby Abbey is referenced specifically very early in the story, and the coastal town is at the heart of the action as the horror unfolds.
After visiting Whitby Abbey, you should definitely book to watch a Dracula Experience performance. This performance uses live actors and brings the Dracula story to life, enacting the full story, which is (admittedly) slightly more engaging and easier to take in than the novel, which is full of archaic language.
If you want to experience Dracula in as real life as possible, the Dracula Experience is a must.
Go whale watching
Did you know that you can go whale watching in Whitby? Whitby Coastal Cruises run cruises throughout most of the year. However, if you are visiting Whitby in whale season (June to October), I’d highly recommend a boat tour as one of the best things to do in Whitby.
You could spot minke, fin, sei, and even humpback whales along Whitby’s coast. If you’ve never seen a whale before, it really is an experience that you’ll never forget. Even if you don’t spot a whale, you could see wildlife like seals or dolphins – it is hardly a high-risk gamble, especially since tours last for two hours and adult tickets cost under £20 per person.
You can read my detailed guide to the best places to go whale watching in the UK here.
Whitby ghost tour
Needless to say, Whitby has quite a spooky past. From the story of Dracula to all the pirates and unsavoury characters that passed its streets, Whitby has lots to discover on a ghost tour.
Whitby Ghost Walk is one of the best things to do in the Whitby in the evening, especially if you like getting a fright. On a seventy-five-minute walk, you’ll discover tales of a headless horseman, the Whitby witches, and (of course) Dracula. For a creepy activity to do in the dark, I’d recommend treating yourself to a ghost tour.
Want something even more frightening? The Dracula Experience company also runs a ‘Paranormal Night’ on the first Saturday of every month. You’ll get the chance to interact with a real ghost, which experts believe to be a young girl who died of TB in the 1800s. This experience is best for those with nerves of steel and/or a genuine interest in the supernatural. But, if your visit includes the first Saturday of the month, consider it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Taking a step back from the supernatural and focusing on the geological again, fossil hunting is another of the best things to do in Whitby.
You can book a fossil hunting tour or head out on your own. I suggest taking a trip alone first, as finding fossils in Whitby is common and relatively straightforward. The best places to look are at the base of the cliffs and along the beach, although you should obviously take care walking under the cliffs and stay mindful of the tide.
Fossil hunting is a fantastic family activity or makes a cute date idea. If the weather is nice, pack a picnic to enjoy on the beach. And, if you don’t find any fossils, you can always head up to the gemstone shops. These shops always have a fossil or two that you can purchase as a souvenir.
Surfing in Whitby might not be the first idea that springs to your mind, but you should seriously consider it. While popular surfing destinations like Cornwall have plenty of amazing beaches for surfing, you won’t be competing with the crowds in Whitby.
Whitby Surf School offers private and group lessons. If you are a beginner, rusty, or just want to improve your skills, getting a surfing lesson is one of the most fun things to do in Whitby.
Of course, you can always rent a board or bring your own to surf. There is plenty of room for guest surfers on Whitby Beach.
Whitby is one of the best places to visit in Yorkshire – if not England as a whole. For a relatively small place, there is heaps to do and see. Its influence stretches into literature, the film industry, British maritime history, and geology.
Whether you want to surf, spot whales, go fossil hunting, or tour Dracula’s abbey, Whitby has got you covered. Northern English beach getaways don’t get much better.