Last updated: 7th January 2022
We decided on a long weekend in Whitby, a small but perfectly sized traditional British seaside resort in North Yorkshire, England. In this post we’ll show you what to do in Whitby over 2 days. Use our Whitby map to find our top 10 best things to do in Whitby – the must see sights & attractions and where to buy the best fish and chips in Whitby.
Table of Contents
Whitby is a picturesque historic fishing port on the North East coast of England. It’s unspoilt and has bags of character making it popular holiday resort attracting Brits from all over the UK. Split in two by the River Esk and connected by a swing bridge. The East side is steeped in history and the West is more modern. It’s also very dog friendly, there’s even an ice cream shop for dogs.
Whitby is famous for the ‘world’s best fish and chips’, ancient jet gemstone jewellery and its connection to British explorer Captain James Cook. However it’s Bram Stoker’s horror story Dracula which Whitby is really famous for.
Irish author Bram Stoker stayed in Whitby between 1890-1896 and he was inspired by Whitby to write his classic novel Dracula. He also used Whitby as the setting for Count Dracula’s arrival to England in the guise of a black dog. The first few chapters are set in Whitby and various places around the town like the 199 Steps and the gothic Abbey feature in the story. All this horror makes Whitby a place of pilgrimage for Goths twice a year when thousands descend in April and October for the Whitby’s Goth Weekend festival.
Top 10 Attractions of Whitby
1. Whitby’s Fishing Harbour
For over 1,000 years it has been a busy fishing port and it still is. The harbour is best place to wander around and soak up the sights and sounds of the soaring seagulls. From here you can catch one of the easily available boat cruises that go through the harbour and out to sea. We took a cruise on The Yellow Boats, it was fun but didn’t last long, just 20 minutes and cost £4. Longer sunset and twilight cruises are available plus cruising on a small scale replica of Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour and even a pirate ship. Fishing boat trips are also available with 1/2 and full day options.
Whitby harbour is lined with some nice cafes, restaurants, sweet and souvenir shops, bars plus some traditional amusement arcades if you fancy trying your luck on the slot machines. There’s even a small beach at the end of the harbour. If you plan to eat some fish and chips outside on a bench be careful of the seagulls. They are very tame, not scared of people and very greedy and will steal your chips, you’ve been warned!
By far the most popular activity in Whitby Harbour is ‘crabbing’ – a classic seaside pastime especially for families. You basically dangle a line with a bit of bait into the harbour water and wait for a crab to bite. We were surprised at how many crabs many of the kids had caught and how just clear the water is. The harbour crabs are pretty small and are not edible, so families return them back to the water. If you want to have a go, crabbing kits are easily available to buy from souvenir shops. Top tip – use bacon for bait.
2. Whitby Piers
Whitby has 2 piers – built to protect the town from flooding. They are popular with fishermen and photographers and the perfect place to walk off our chippy lunches. There’s a lighthouse at each end of the piers which make for cool photos painted in red and green for ship navigation. There’s actually 4 lighthouses, but only 2 are operational. The North Sea breeze was nice on the days we visited.
Make sure you buy an ice cream from the Trillo’s kiosk at the start of the West Pier. Trillo’s is a Whitby institution and sells award winning ice cream. Garth tried their ‘Whitby Gothic’ made from liquorice and blackcurrants. They also have another kiosk next to the lido on the West Cliff and an ice-cream van at the Whale Bone Arch.
3. 199 Steps
We climbed the 199 twisting and steep steps to the medieval St Mary’s Church which leads on to the towering Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey. The steps date back to 1340 when they were originally wooden, replaced with stone in 1774. Every 10 steps has a roman numeral, apparently it’s traditional to count the steps as you walk up, we lost count after a few steps! There’s a few plank benches on the way up for you to catch your breath. These were designed for pallbearers to place coffins on their way up to St Mary’s Church whilst they took a rest. The steps feature in Bram Stoker’s novel, where Count Dracula bounds up these steps in the guise of a black dog. When you get to the top photograph the striking views across Whitby and the North Sea.
Then wander around St Mary’s graveyard which also features in the Dracula story (where doesn’t in Whitby!) and wander around the hundreds of weathered gravestones, some which date back to the 1700s. Bram Stoker also used some names on the graves as characters for Dracula’s victims. Look out for the skull and crossbones on a couple of tombstones near the entrance.
4. Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey is the must see attraction of Whitby, founded in 657 as a small monastery by St. Hilda who was a Christian saint. After 200 years it was wrecked by the Vikings and left in ruins for another 200 years. In 1078 century it was completely rebuilt as a Benedictine monastery, the remains are what you see today. King Henry VIII closed the Abbey in 1539 along with many others in England. Valuable fixtures and fittings and lead were stripped and removed and the abbey was left in ruins. The west wall was later destroyed in 1914 from shelling by the German Navy during World War One.
The gothic ruins are very dramatic and so atmospheric, they create an eerie silhouette against the sky and must be scary to visit at night. We could easily see why these haunting ruins were the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s frightening novel. Walking around reminded us a bit of visiting Angkor Wat, because being the same age about 900 years old, it’s amazing that most of it still stands and you can freely touch and in some places climb the ruins. It costs £11 to enter the Abbey or you can view it from the road outside over the wall for free. We enjoyed the audio tour included in the ticket price and spent over 2 hours here.
Whitby Abbey regularly hosts Dracula plays in the summer season. We timed our visit so we could watch the legendary tale performed live. It’s a really good promenade production by the Time Will Tell that lasts about an hour and a half and family friendly too. It just needs some bats. 🦇🦇
5. Whitby Beach
You’re at the British seaside so go buy some rock, candy floss or an ice cream and take it with you to the beach. Whitby Beach is on the West side and there’s paths down plus a lift if you are making your way down from the top. You can hire a deckchair right on the beach or a even a colourful beach hut from the council, but you have to book these months in advance online. When the tide is out you can walk to the neighbouring pretty village of Sandsend which takes 75 minutes each way. Garth loved the promenade with the rows of beach huts, so many great photo opportunities!
6. Eat Whitby’s Award Winning Fish & Chips
Along with many other Brits we can confirm the best fish and chips really is served in Whitby, locals say it’s the best in the world! Garth loves his layered in salt and vinegar, whilst Phil hates vinegar. For fun we taste tested the top 3 award winning chippys in Whitby – Magpie’s, Trenchers and Hadley’s. Everywhere offers small, medium and large cod or haddock, so you don’t have to have huge portions. Worth noting if you order haddock the skin is left on for added flavour.
At the top of our list for the best fish and chips in Whitby is Trenchers. The cod and haddock are fresh and really flaky whilst their chips are fluffy and taste of potato and not fat. Trenchers also has a nice ambience and the staff are really attentive, that’s why we voted it number 1. In a close 2nd place is Hadley’s, the batter is really crispy and bubbly whilst the chips are more melt in your mouth. In 3rd place is The Magpie Cafe, a controversial choice because Magpie’s is considered to be the best for fish and chips in Whitby. We thought the fish and chips were just ok and their homemade tartare sauce was disappointing. The ambience inside isn’t as nice as the others partly because of the office style lighting. HOWEVER do go to Magpie’s for their other dishes which are outstanding. The fish pie and fish medley are absolutely delicious. Make sure you book well in advance for Magpie’s too!
Summary Of The Best Fish and Chip Shops In Whitby
If you don’t fancy fish and chips try the Humble Pie ’N’ Mash cafe for their great value homemade pies and mashed potato. Our other recommendation for a nice romantic meal out is at Albert’s Eatery, the middle tables have an exhibit of the world’s largest piece of Whitby Jet. Then for afters head to the harbour for a lemon-top ice cream – it’s basically a 99 cone topped with a swirl of lemon sorbet which is a signature of Yorkshire, although Phil thinks lemon tops are more associated for him with Scarborough.
7. Fortunes Kippers
The perfect breakfast in Whitby is more seafood! We bought some oak smoked kippers for breakfast from the tiny Fortunes Kippers shop which is found near the 199 Steps on Henrietta Street (just follow the smell and the smoke!). It’s the only smokehouse left in Whitby and has been here since 1872. It opens in the mornings and closes at lunchtime once they’ve sold everything. They rub salt and other spices in to the kippers before drying them in smoke. In addition to their famous oak smoked kippers, Fortune’s also sell smoked haddock, herrings, salmon and bacon. We loved this shop because it’s like stepping back in time. Oh and the kippers were delicious, really moist, has some fine bones and the smokey taste will linger in your mouth for a while!
8. Go Shopping For Whitby Jet
In the old town (on the East side) you’ll find lots of independent shops selling Whitby’s glossy black jet jewellery. Whitby Jet is a unique gemstone – a fossil formed over millions of years from the resin of trees of the Jurassic period. It washes up on the beaches, and can also be found in cliffs. To view the best examples of Whitby jet fossils visit the free W. Hamond Museum of Whitby Jet next to Albert’s Eatery.
Also look out for plenty of horror and gothic inspired gifts – from skulls, spiders, bats and crystals for sale. There’s also some delicious sweet shops and clothes shops selling thick fishermen’s jumpers called ganseys.
9. Whalebone Arch & Captain Cook
Whitby used to be a whaling port between 1750 and 1840 when ships sailed to Arctic Seas just off Greenland to hunt for whales. They were killed mainly for their oil to fuel oil lamps. It was a risky business and many ships never returned back to Whitby. Thankfully those days have long gone. To commemorate Whitby’s maritime heritage the Whalebone Arch was erected in 1853 and has become a bit of a landmark. The arch is made from 2 whale jawbones which get replaced over time once they are too weathered.
Next to the Whalebone Arch is a memorial statue to the famous explorer Captain James Cook. He was born nearby and served his apprenticeship in Whitby. His ship HMS Endeavour was built here. Statues of Captain Cook are becoming more controversial because of his links to colonialism and slavery.
Not far from the Whalebone Arch is the ‘Bram Stoker Memorial Bench’ check out the location on our map below. We took in the same view of Whitby from this spot on the hill that inspired Bram Stoker to write scenes for his famous creation, Dracula.
10. Ghost Walk
We love a small group tour, so decided to learn more about the legend of Count Dracula on a fun 90 minute ghost walk. We met our guide Dr Crank who you can’t miss, dressed in long black coat. The tour is really good fun, we walked around the West Cliff whilst Dr Crank told us ghoulish tales and made us laugh. He’s an excellent story teller and passionate about history. We even learnt some oddities like Whitby has biggest bottle window in the world. Sometimes Dr Crank was drowned out by the sound of the seagulls! We loved all the stories of ghosts and witches and of course, Dracula. There’s no need to book just turn up at the Whale Bone Arch at 7.30pm, it costs £7 per adult. Dr Crank also does another walk In Search Of Dracula, check out the walks website for dates and details.
Other Whitby Attractions & Things To Do
- Captain Cook Memorial Museum – Building where Cook lodged as an apprentice.
- Whitby Museum – Eclectic treasure trove of artefacts – including taxidermy and creepy antique dolls.
- Whale Watching Cruises – Along the North Sea coast.
- Whitby Town Tour – Open top bus sightseeing tour.
- Dracula Experience – Recreation of the novel with live actors walking through 8 scenes.
- Robin Hood’s Bay – Take a day trip to this scenic little fishing village 15 minutes away.
- North Yorkshire Moors Railway – Ride a steam train to Goathland Station which doubled up as Hogsmeade station in the first Harry Potter movie.
Whitby Practical Information & Useful Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Whitby Tips
- Tip #1: Never feed seagulls as they vicious and can attack!
- Tip #2: If you’re a light sleeper take ear plugs, as you’ll be woken up at 6am by the sound of seagulls.
- Tip #3: Check out the tide times to avoid been stuck on the beach.
- Tip #4: Take a bag of 2ps with you for the amusement arcade pushers.
- Tip #5: Book restaurants well ahead! some we tried were booked up 3 months ahead. Restaurants will have some tables allocated for walk-ins, but they have wait times around an hour and a half.
Google Map of Whitby Attractions
- What is the nearest airport for Whitby? MME – Durham Airport is the nearest airport to Whitby, 33 miles away.
- What time zone is Whitby? GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
- What currency is used in Whitby? Pound Sterling (symbol: £)
- What language is spoken in Whitby? English.
- What is the population of Whitby? 128,377.
- What number should I call in an emergency? Call 999 for police, ambulance and fire brigade.
- What electricity plug type is used in Whitby? Plug Type G. Voltage is 230V / 60Hz.
- When is the best time to visit Whitby? May to October. August is the best month and usually the busiest.
- When is the worst time to visit Whitby? November to February is cold and damp. November is Whitby’s wettest month.
- What is Whitby famous for? Dracula, Fish & Chips, Whitby Jet Jewellery and Captain Cook.
- What’s the history of Whitby? Whitby developed as a fishing port during the Middle Ages. Captain Cook learned his seamanship here in 1746.
- What are the 5 must see sights of Whitby? Whitby Abbey, Harbour, 199 Steps, Beach and the Whalebone Arch.
- What local food dish should I eat? Fresh cod and chips.
- What’s the best way to get around Whitby? Whitby is small enough to walk everywhere.
- What’s a fun fact about Whitby? Dinosaurs fossils can be found on the beach after a heavy storm when fragments fall from the cliffs.
- What movies have been filmed in Whitby? Filming location for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and Dracula (2020).
- Where is the best photo spot in Whitby? From the St Marys Church overlooking the harbour.
- What’s a hidden gem of Whitby? ‘Ghauts’ are narrow alleys that lead down to the waters edge.
- What is the best souvenir to buy in Whitby? Whitby Jet jewellery or a stick of Whitby rock.
- What’s the official Whitby tourism website? VisitWhitby.com.
How We Did It
- We visited Whitby in mid August, the weather was 21oC, mild with sunny spells.
- Our accommodation in Whitby was on the east side for 3 nights at the Birds Nest – a small self catering apartment. We also looked at the Bram’s Lair and Bram’s View accommodation in the historic building where Bram Stoker stayed between 1890-1896.