Which is better, Whitby or Scarborough?

Which is better, Whitby or Scarborough? On the surface, they seem pretty equal, and both towns make fantastic beach holidays. Whitby and Scarborough are just 19 miles apart – just a 40-minute drive. Both towns are in North Yorkshire and sit along England’s Northeast coastline.

For such similar, neighbouring destinations, how do you choose between them? Well, there are some key differences that will help to settle the Whitby or Scarborough debate. This guide will compare both towns, considering beach quality and the number of things to do (amongst much, much more). Whitby or Scarborough? Let’s get into it.

Whitby or Scarborough: Beaches

Whitby Beach via Unsplash.

Comparing Whitby and Scarborough based on beaches is a tough one.

Whitby has the longest beach, and it stretches all the way from the centre of Whitby to Sandsend. The beach is split into several different sections, including Whitby Beach, Upgang Beach, and Sandsend Beach. However, you wouldn’t notice that you’ve passed between them; essentially, it is just one long beach.

Whitby Beach is great for surfing and is home to Whitby Surf School. On the Southeast end of the beach, you get fantastic views of Whitby, too – with Whitby Abbey towering above the colourful row of weathered houses. If you want to snap some photogenic pictures, Whitby has excellent beaches.

Scarborough has three main beaches: South Bay, North Bay, and Scarborough Beach. The benefit of having smaller, spread-out beaches is that Scarborough has different conditions on each beach.

North Bay Beach is split from the other two beaches by a major headland. Depending on wind direction, you can find different water and beach conditions in each spot. On a windy day, Scarborough might give you more options for a warmer experience (if you play your cards right). Or, if you are an avid surfer, Scarborough provides different waves and currents to pick and choose from. North Bay Beach also has a surf shop – so you won’t miss out.

So, which one?

If you want pictures and an aesthetic beach, choose Whitby. If you want to surf or take a safer gamble with the weather, choose Scarborough.

Whitby or Scarborough: Things to do

Scarborough via Unsplash.

Whitby and Scarborough both have tons of things to do. You can read my complete guide on things to do in Whitby here.

Whitby is definitely associated with gothic literature and spookiness. Whitby Abbey inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. Visitors can climb the 199 steps to tour the Abbey ruins, take ghost tours, or attend the Dracula experience. Whitby is also home to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum and more gemstone shops than you can count.

Scarborough has pockets of history and culture, too, don’t get me wrong. There’s Scarborough Castle, the Rotunda Museum, and Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre. However, Scarborough is best for light-hearted and fun things to do. You can laugh through the rides at Luna Park, spend a day at Alphamare Waterpark, and even relax at the cat café Steampuss Cat Lounge. Scarborough is also bigger than Whitby, so it has a few more major chain shops and hospitality venues.

So, which one?

Whitby is the best choice if you want to museum hop and take spooky tours after a beach day. Whitby is more of a cultural, atmospheric destination with lots of history behind its streets. It is my personal recommendation, as I feel it offers more character and original attractions. You can check out Viator’s best attractions in Whitby here.

If you want a fun beach holiday to just let your hair down, Scarborough is the most classic seaside destination. It is less culture and more fast-paced entertainment. Theme Park and Water Park lovers will definitely enjoy a visit to Scarborough.

Whitby or Scarborough: Price

Hostel via Unsplash.

Whitby and Scarborough are on a par with most things price-wise. This table shows estimates of everyday expenses you’ll have on a visit to Scarborough or Whitby:

Restaurant meal for two Pint of beer Transport ticket Bread City centre apartment (monthly rent)
Price estimate (£) 50.00 2.50 3.00 1.50 800

As you can see, transport is cheap and cheerful whether you decide to stay in Scarborough or Whitby. Whitby is slightly more walkable since it’s smaller, which may be something to consider when budgeting transport costs. Scarborough has more restaurant choices, so you’ve got a better chance of finding a meal for good value for money.

In terms of accommodation, Whitby and Scarborough have options to suit all budgets. You can find hotels, Airbnbs, campsites, B&Bs, and hostels. Scarborough has three hostels, including the Boat Shed Hostel, where you can get a room for £12 per night. Whitby only has one hostel, the Whitby YHA, where rooms start at £15 per night.

So, which one?

It is close, but overall, Scarborough should be a little cheaper for restaurants and accommodation. The town is bigger, so it has more deals available and more hostel choices.

Whitby is more walkable. However, you shouldn’t find walking around Scarborough too challenging. Public transport is so cheap that you can always budget for a bus ride or two.

Whitby or Scarborough: Atmosphere

Whitby via Unsplash.

Atmosphere is an important thing to consider when choosing a seaside destination. Do you want cheesy seaside amusement? Do you want commercialised promenades? Or do you want cobbled streets and traditional shops that look like you might still spot a pirate duck under the low beamed door?

Whitby and Scarborough are both pretty destinations and both more quaint than Blackpool or Brighton. However, Scarborough is definitely the more commercialised of the two.

Scarborough has a busy, entertainment-focused atmosphere. You can zip down water slides, catch rollercoasters, or ride on the promenade’s ferris wheel. Whitby has none of that. Instead, you’ll find narrow shopping streets and a gothic, historic atmosphere.

Families may wish to consider Scarborough as there is more entertainment for young children. Adults and young couples should consider Whitby, as the town has more depth and a memorable, unique atmosphere.

So, which one?

Whitby is best if you want a historical atmosphere. You’ll feel like you are walking right back into the days of sailor pubs and piracy. Scarborough is better for an amusement park atmosphere and a traditional promenade experience.

Whitby or Scarborough: Getting there

Train via Unsplash.

Scarborough is the most accessible destination of the two. The town has its own train station and is well connected to major cities like Leeds, York, and London. You can reach Scarborough in just over three hours from London, swapping from the LNER to the Transpennine Express.

Whitby is still accessible, but the journey will take much longer. The closest train stations to Whitby are Scarborough, Middlesborough, and Darlington. You’ll have to get the train to one of these larger towns before catching a bus to Whitby for the final leg of the journey.

From London, the journey can take anything from four and a half hours to over ten hours. Make sure you book tickets in advance to avoid getting stuck on a bad route!

Of course, if you are driving, you have nothing to worry about. There is barely any difference in driving to Whitby or Scarborough since the towns are only 40 minutes apart.

So, where is best, Whitby or Scarborough?

Scarborough is much easier to reach if you are using public transport. If you are using public transport and are only visiting for a day trip or a long weekend, choose Scarborough over Whitby.

Whitby is better if you have longer or are visiting by car. Whitby has an amazing historical atmosphere with lots of attractions.

Scarborough or Whitby? Which will you choose? Hopefully, this guide has directed you to your ideal match. 

For more inspiration about visiting Yorkshire, you can visit the website’s Yorkshire archive here. Don’t forget to check out all the other enjoyable ocean-related activities like UK cruise holidays and whale watching tours

Visited Whitby or Scarborough before? Drop your suggestions for other readers in the comments below.

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