The wild and windswept North York Moors is one of the most dramatically beautiful parts of the country, so if you’re looking to explore the great outdoors and recharge your batteries, then why not think about heading here for a staycation? With a landscape that includes vast open moors and lush green valleys, as well as charming villages and bustling coastal towns, the North York Moors have something to offer everyone – whatever type of holiday you’re looking for.
From hiking across heather-covered moors to uncovering ancient history and relaxing in traditional seaside resorts, here are seven of the best places to visit in the North York Moors.
1. Sutton Bank
Crisscrossed with countless footpaths and pretty villages, the North York Moors National Park is ideal for hiking, so if you enjoy doing plenty of walking on holiday you’ll be spoiled for choice. However, one of the most beautiful places to explore by foot is Sutton Bank, an inland cliff that encapsulates over 60 million years of history.
The top of the bank was formed during the Upper Jurassic period, though Sutton Bank’s inexplicable verticality occurred 20,000 years ago, in the Ice Age, when a sheet of ice cut away the underlying rocks, causing them to crumble away. Cliffs this dramatic are usually only seen on the coast, and the subsequent 140-metre drop is one of the most dramatic in the UK. Today, the view from the top of the Sutton Bank escarpment over the Vale of Mowbray, Hood Hill, Gormire Lake, and the Vale of York has been described as the “finest in England”. A walk along the top of the bank will certainly blow the cobwebs away!
It’s best to begin your walk from the wide flat bank at the top of the cliff, where you can admire the incredible views – and after you’ve completed the loop, you might want to trek down to the Kilburn White Horse.
Also at Sutton Bank is one of the main National Park Centres, with facilities including a car park, bike shop, and bike hire, cafe, toilets, picnic area, gift shop, and dozens of walking routes and cycle trails, so you may want to park here for the day and use it as a base to explore the area.
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2. Rievaulx Abbey
Tucked away in a tranquil valley of the River Rye are the magnificent ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, a beautiful Cistercian abbey that’s set in the most spectacularly idyllic location. This spot was chosen way back in 1132 by Cistercian monks, who decided to make Rievaulx Abbey (pronounced “ree-voh”) one of their northern bases for their missionary activities.
The abbey’s setting was famously described by one of the original abbots as “everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world”. Though the abbey was unfortunately damaged during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII, its beauty is still breathtaking today – and located between quiet fields and peaceful woodland, it’s a great spot to come and get away from it all.
Onsite there’s a lovely cafe with an outdoor terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can admire the ruins over a meal or drink if you like. There’s also a new museum where you can learn all about the community of monks who once lived here, as well as the complete history of the abbey.
If you fancy stretching your legs, then there’s a scenic walking trail from the market town of Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey. If you walk there and back it’s seven miles, but you certainly won’t be short of places to relax and refuel in when you return to Helmsley.
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Scarborough is one of the oldest seaside resorts in the UK, first becoming popular with tourists over 400 years ago – though its full history stretches much further back. In medieval times, Scarborough was a busy fishing village, and its impressive headland castle was one of the homes of Richard I (who, according to local legend, loved the views here so much that his ghost keeps coming back!). Today, the castle might be in ruins, but the cheery holiday atmosphere remains, and if you’re looking to enjoy a traditional day at the seaside, it’s hard to think of a better spot.
There’s a lot to see and do in Scarborough: at Scarborough Castle you can unwind 3,000 years of history as you learn about the various inhabitants of this area, as well as admire the 2,000-year-old remains of a Roman signal station that’s perched upon the cliff edge.
If you’re interested in geology, you might want to visit the Rotunda Museum, where you can view the Gristhorpe Man, a bronze age skeleton that was found buried in a tree trunk – as well as plenty of dinosaur fossils.
Alternatively, why not pay a visit to Peasholm Park, a beautiful oriental-themed park where you can take a boat out on the lake, and stroll over intricate bridges and underneath Japanese pagodas? And of course, any visit to Scarborough isn’t complete without visiting the beach and the traditional South Bay promenade, which is lined with arcades and fish and chip shops. If it’s nice weather, you might even want to take a dip in the sea – or at least, cool off with an ice-cream on the beach!
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4. North York Moors Railway
If you want to admire the unique landscape of the North York Moors but don’t fancy doing it all on foot, then why not climb aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and enjoy a relaxing train ride through the heather-clad countryside? These lovingly restored steam and heritage diesel trains will transport you to a bygone era – though, from the moment you arrive at the 1930s-style station at Pickering, it will seem as though you’ve somehow stepped back in time.
At the visitor centre in Pickering you can learn all about the history of the railway before you settle into one of the wooden booths of the period carriages. The complete journey takes you from Pickering all the way to Whitby, though there are many lovely stops along the way where you can choose to end your journey. If you fancy walking through the woods and spotting wildlife, ask to stop at Newtondale Halt, or if you want to admire gorgeous valley views, hop off at Skelton Tower. Alternatively, if you just want to enjoy a peaceful scenic walk, jump off at the 1912-themed Levisham station.
Fans of Harry Potter will probably want to visit the village of Goathland, which doubled up as Hogsmeade Station in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and was also the setting for the TV series Heartbeat. Packed with vintage charm, these old-fashioned trains are a great way to admire the beauty of the North York National Park and explore many of its most charming villages – and if you fancy visiting Whitby, it’s a far more memorable way to get there than by car.
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Whether you choose to get here by train, car, or any other means, a visit to the popular coastal town of Whitby should definitely be on your North York Moors to-do list. This atmospheric fishing port is like nowhere else in the UK. If you’re interested in history, you can learn about Whitby’s connection to Captain Cook and uncover its rich shipping history. And if you’re interested in ghosts and witches – or anything weird and wonderful – you’ll also find plenty to keep you occupied.
Whitby served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and if you’re familiar with the book you’ll probably recognise the 199 steps that lead up from the old town to the East Cliff. The ruins of the magnificent 7th century gothic abbey dominate the Whitby skyline, and if you’re looking for a spot to take some photos, you won’t find a more dramatic location. From the clifftop, the Georgian old town unfolds beneath you, and the historic St Mary’s Church is just a short walk away.
The Captain Cook Memorial Museum is also well worth a visit. Located in the house where Cook began his maritime adventures, here you can read Cook’s letters, view his etchings and maps, and explore the attic where he lived as a young apprentice.
Aside from its fascinatingly unique history, Whitby’s narrow streets and alleys are packed with unusual shops and quirky cafes. And just like Scarborough, it’s also a wonderfully traditional seaside resort, complete with retro gift shops, amusement arcades, and dozens of fish and chip shops.
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6. Moor to Sea Cycle
If you enjoy cycling, then why not think about exploring the North York Moors by bike? The Moor to Sea Cycle Network connects Scarborough, Whitby, Dalby Forest, Pickering, and Great Ayton in a gorgeous series of trails. There are around 150 miles of cycle paths to explore, and while cycling the whole network takes around five or six days, the route is split into 11 different sections, making it easy to spend a day, or even just a few hours, uncovering the beauty of this region by bike.
Taking you through desolate moorland and over woodland tracks and quiet coastal bridleways, the route takes you right through the heart of the North York Moors National Park and some of its most popular attractions. If you enjoy off-road cycling, you’ll probably want to cycle along the Dalby Forest trail. Dalby Forest is one of Yorkshire’s best locations for off-road cycling, and if you want to put your cycling skills to the test, you can cycle along the specially constructed trails that are graded in the style of ski slopes.
You don’t need to be an expert cyclist to make the most of the Moor to Sea route, though you’ll need a reasonable level of fitness and basic cycling skills. The route mostly uses forest tracks, ‘green lanes’, and minor roads, though some sections cross more challenging terrain, and at times the route passes through the remote countryside where there’s no shelter or facilities. To find out more about cycling the Moor to Sea network and see the different sections of the route, head over to the official site.
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7. Ryedale Folk Museum
Head to the pretty village of Hutton le Hole to explore one of the North York Moors’ best attractions: Ryedale Folk Museum. This mostly open-air museum is a continually expanding collection of local buildings from different eras, and spending the day here is a wonderful way to discover 4,000 years worth of history, and gain a fascinating insight into what life was once like in the North York Moors.
Step back in time as you visit a typical Iron Age roundhouse, a medieval crofter’s cottage, a thatched Elizabethan manor house, an 18th Century thatched cottage with rare wooden witch post, and a Victorian thatched cottage, washhouse, and dairy. You can also explore traditional workshops belonging to cobblers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tinsmiths, and saddlers, as well as an Edwardian photographic studio, which just so happens to be the oldest in the UK.
There’s also plenty of vintage farming equipment on display, as well as a selection of horse-drawn vehicles including a hearse, fire engine, and plough, and there are always plenty of demonstrations and displays going on, too. If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s even a row of nostalgic 1930s village shops to explore, a treasure trove of curiosities to admire in the Harrison Collection, and even a small wetland area where you can enjoy some bird spotting. A lovely place to spend the day as you learn about this region’s unique history.
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The North York Moors might be most famous for its wild and desolate landscape, but this stunning region has so much more to offer than just natural beauty. Packed with magnificent abbeys, pretty villages, fascinating museums and characterful coastal towns, you could spend months here and still barely scratch the surface.
Whether you want to enjoy an energetic break hiking or cycling through the countryside, or would prefer a more leisurely trip that’s chock full of culture, this part of the country ticks all the boxes. From blustery moors to shady forests and dramatic coastal cliffs, the North York Moors is simply the perfect place for a staycation.
Are you planning on visiting the North York Moors this year? Or do you have any of your own North York tips to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your travel plans! Leave us a comment below or join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum.