Discovering Whitby: Maritime History, Dracula Legends and Culinary Delights in this Coastal Getaway

  • Post category:England
  • Post last modified:September 8, 2023
  • Reading time:12 mins read

Whitby is full of maritime heritage, boasting of an ancient abbey and links to Dracula, also famous for its fish and chips and jet jewellery. Read on to discover this interesting and diverse gem on the North Yorkshire Coast.

Why Visit Whitby

Where to start? How to start? There’s so much to say.

People visit Whitby from all over the world for many reasons. Its fishing industry, still thriving today, its history of whaling, its connection to Captain Cook, its jet (a black semi-precious stone), its ruined clifftop abbey with the famous 199 steps, its annual Goth Festival Weekend, its Bram Stoker film festival, its award-winning fish and chips and last but not least – Dracula! So, let’s metaphorically explore some of the above.


Fishing, Whaling and Food

The fishing industry, still alive and well, started centuries ago and is a major source of income for the local inhabitants. This leads to a plethora of fish and chip shops, some of them award winning – eat in, take out, dog friendly – what more could you want, a traditional British lunch or supper, perched on a bench overlooking the sea, watching the world go by? And while mentioning the sea, choose from an array of boat trips, from harbour tours and sea fishing to coastal and sunset cruises. Whitby also has a history of the whaling industry – expeditions to Greenland in the 18th and 19th centuries surprisingly returned seals and polar bears, as well as whales, however, pardon the pun, this industry is now “dead in the water”.


Captain James Cook from Whitby

A Yorkshire born man, he lived in Whitby as a young adult, starting out as an apprentice then joining the Royal Navy in 1755. When he reached Captain status, his first two ships, HMS Endeavour and HMS Resolution were both built in Whitby by local men. Visit the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, sited in the building where he served his apprenticeship (Grape Lane YO22 4BA – open February to November but check exact dates) to learn more about this extraordinary and exciting explorer. You can also see Captain James Cook’s connection to Staithes, a nearby Yorkshire Coast village, in our article here: Exploring Staithes: A Cliffside Village, Cobblestone Lanes, Quaint Cottages and North Yorkshire Coastal Serenity.


Whitby Jet and the East Side

Whitby jet is a black, semi-precious stone which is only found along a particular seven mile stretch of coastline surrounding Whitby. There are several expert craftspeople that create outstandingly beautiful pieces of jewellery, after having foraged for the jet along the beaches. Many of these pieces are showcased in the jeweller’s shops, mainly on the East side of town (reached by crossing over the bridge – funnily enough, called Bridge Street)!


Whilst wandering through the East side, along various narrow passageways and cobbled streets (the latter are further along, towards the abbey) searching out jewellers, bear in mind that this is the oldest part of Whitby and houses a centuries old market place (dated 1640) and Town Hall (dated 1788). It is also home to many quirky little shops and cafes, well worth a couple of hours of slow strolling. Meandering this way brings you to the Abbey, with its notorious and challenging 199 steps.


Beyond the steps is Henrietta Street, circa 1761, with its picturesque little fishermen’s cottages (some are now holiday lets). Descend the steep steps through one of the passages by the cottages to arrive on the beach, or walk towards the pier where you could easily spot a seal basking itself where the ground meets the sea. Pass Fortune’s Kippers on the way, the only traditional smokehouse in Whitby, smoking bacon, as well as the obvious kippers. Or be adventurous and do both! The time is yours.

Whitby Abbey

Built on a headland, hence the 199 steps, Whitby Abbey, originally a Christian Monastery, is now a Gothic ruin. The building of it started as far back as 657AD and at the time, it was surrounded by a small settlement, however, there is barely anything left of this in the present day. It is open daily, although there is an entrance fee, a visit is worth every penny, especially if you are lucky enough to catch an open-air performance of Dracula (weekends – July and August, check exact dates and times). Roam through the vast open-air grounds and take in the spectacular views over the coast. Visit the museum and fill your heads with tales of saints, poets, Saxons and Viking raids. Just a brief note about the steps – although challenging, they do provide rest stops and seats at various intervals for you to catch your breath – extremely helpful! 


Bram Stoker, Dracula and Whitby

In 1890, Bram Stoker visited, and stayed in Whitby whilst he worked on his new novel. Wandering daily around the town, taking in the sights, along with hearing a tale of a local shipwreck and visits to the public library, all inspired him to craft the acclaimed, world famous gothic horror novel, Dracula. The opening sequence, the disappearance of a whole ship’s crew on a voyage to Whitby, the captain, alone, and tied to the ship’s wheel, the running aground of the ship below East cliff and the vision of a large black dog bounding up the 199 steps to the Abbey – Hello Vampire. 

Twice yearly, (April and October) thousands of Goths, in full vampire and similar costume, visit Whitby for an alternative festival celebrating Goth culture, music and fashion. Look out for the markets pitched throughout the town selling the unusual and wonderful. It is easy to understand why Whitby has evolved as the centre of Goth culture – count the Draculas!!!

The Bram Stoker International Film Festival started eight years ago (held around Halloween, not surprisingly) and has built the reputation of being one of the largest and most unique genre festivals in the UK. It showcases music, literature, art and film, all with a dark, sinister and even macabre influence. That’s Autumn in Whitby sorted!!

The North Yorkshire Coast and Inland

Whitby has several quieter neighbouring villages along the coast – Robin Hood’s Bay, Staithes and Runswick Bay for example, all cascading down clifftops, all within easy reach by car and all worth a visit. Indeed, it would be a terrible shame to visit this part of the world and not spare them some time. Inland, there is the gorgeous Egton Bridge – take a picnic to this lovely beauty spot – and the pretty village of Grosmont, home of a vintage steam train that runs to Pickering, a bustling market town 18 miles away. There is also Goathland, the setting for Aidensfield (Heartbeat, ITV), complete with television props dotted around the village. And it would be remiss not to ride The Esk Valley Railway, a 35 mile journey which starts at Whitby, and travels through glorious countryside until reaching the town of Middlesbrough, with many stops along the way for you to alight wherever takes your fancy.

Busy, bustling Whitby is an ideal destination for a few days break, a week or even longer, particularly if tied in with a few nights stay at one of the quieter seaside villages mentioned above. Its beach is glorious and if you are up to a three mile walk along golden sands, you will end up in Sandsend, a tiny fishing village. Dogs are not allowed on certain parts of the beach at specific times of the year so this is worth checking beforehand.

How to Get to Whitby

How to Get to Whitby by Car

The A171 is the main road into Whitby and leads onto a number of well positioned car parks. Here are just a few of the main options.

Church Street car park – Church Street, YO22 4AS, Whitby – Just a 5 minute walk away from the town centre, parking charges apply from 9am-7pm daily, all year.

Abbey Headland car park, Whitby – Abbey Lane, YO22 4JT – The main car park for Whitby Abbey, charges apply.

Marina Back car park, Whitby – Langbourne Road, YO21 1YN – A popular spot near the marina.

Getting to Whitby by Train

Whitby station, a Northern Railway stop, is just a 2 minute walk away from the town centre and 10 minute walk away from the beach. Whitby Station and journey planner links for National Rail can be found here.

Getting to Whitby by Bus

The Coastliner Bus has regular services to and from Whitby. YOu can follow this link for the journey planner and timetable here.

Final thoughts on Whitby

So, if you are a fan of history or horror, or a fan of neither, but just want a break by the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast, Whitby is your go to. There is something for everybody, take your pick from the seaside, harbour, amusements, parks, museums and art galleries. Shopping, eating, walking, playing, relaxing, discovering – yes, this is definitely the place for you.

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