With a heritage of thermal spa waters and posh tea rooms, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in Harrogate.
Harrogate is one of the UK’s prettiest and most affluent towns. Although often visited as a day trip from Leeds or York, the town is an excellent base in its own right for a special weekend away.
There are dozens of wonderful places to eat and tons of relaxing and adventurous Harrogate tourist attractions to keep you on your toes.
This guide is here to inspire you on how to see the best of Harrogate.
Where is Harrogate?
Harrogate is a town in the county of North Yorkshire. It’s located 15 miles north of Leeds and 20 miles northwest of York, two of the larger Yorkshire cities.
Harrogate is situated close to the Yorkshire Dales. Visiting the national park is one of the best things to do near Harrogate if your schedule permits.
How to get to Harrogate
Access to Harrogate is easy via private vehicle and public transport.
If you are getting around the UK by car, leave the A1 motorway at Wetherby and follow the A661 straight into the town.
The scenic number 36 bus by TransDev connects Leeds and Harrogate in around 1 hour.
Harrogate Train Station is served by LNER and Northern trains. Direct trains take 30 minutes from either Leeds or York and run frequently throughout the day. You can check train schedules and fares at TheTrainline.
Leeds Bradford is Harrogate’s closest airport. Flyer buses operated by TransDev connect the airport and town in around 30 minutes. However, Manchester International Airport is a better option if you’re travelling from overseas. You can travel to Harrogate from Manchester via train.
Getting around Harrogate
Once in Harrogate, you can get around easily on foot or by bicycle. The town is small and walkable.
In terms of things to do around Harrogate, having a rental car is a bonus. But, there are excellent bus and rail links if you’d rather use public transport.
Best time to visit Harrogate
Harrogate is a year-round destination with incredible green spaces to enjoy during the warmer months. But as you’ll see, there are tempting indoor activities for a cosy winter visit or romantic getaway in the UK.
Be mindful that the town gets busier during the peak summer months when the British schools are closed.
Harrogate is a thriving hub for events and festivals. For example, the Great Yorkshire Show takes place in July and the Literature Festival runs in October. At these times, accommodation gets booked up quickly and so you’ll need to plan ahead.
Keep an eye on what’s coming up via the Harrogate International Festivals event calendar.
Where to Stay in Harrogate
There are so many wonderful places to stay in Harrogate depending on your budget.
- Budget: Dragon House Guest Accommodation comes in at under €50 a night for two people. It’s clean, well-located, and very quiet. The price is unbeatable in Harrogate. Book a stay at the Dragon House here.
- Midrange: The West Park Hotel is a gorgeous boutique hotel that feels far more luxurious than its €150 a night pricetag. Rooms are stylish and the cafe and lobby are lovely. Book a stay at the West Park Hotel here.
- Luxury: Hotel Du Vin is true luxury in Harrogate. The onsite restaurant of the same name has been awarded a two-AA Rosette rating. The rooms, beds, and showers at this place will make you feel like a king or queen and if you opt for a room with a tub, you’ll really be relaxing. Rooms start at €215. Book a stay at the Hotel du Vin here.
Best Things to Do in Harrogate
Now over to the best bit!
Here are the top things to see in Harrogate and awesome activities to add to your wishlist.
1. Recharge at the Turkish Baths Harrogate
The ornate Turkish Baths Harrogate is an emblem of the town’s status as a spa and wellness retreat.
Dating back to the 19th-century, the Turkish Baths are exquisitely designed in Moorish style with Islamic arches, arabesque glazed ceilings, and terrazzo floors. The bathing ritual heats, cools, and cleanses the body and provides the perfect place to unplug from hectic modern lives!
The bathhouse operates single-sex and mixed-sex sessions, each lasting 2-3 hours. During the experience, you will journey through the frigidarium, steam rooms, heated chambers, and an ice-cold plunge pool.
If you want an even more intensive pampering session then you can add massages, facials, and holistic therapies.
Avoid disappointment by booking your bathhouse visit in advance. As one of the most famous Harrogate tourist attractions, spaces do sell out fast, especially during peak times.
2. Savour a brew at Bettys Café Tea Rooms
Bettys Café Tea Rooms is as much an institution as the baths while visiting this Yorkshire spa town. The historic tea room was founded in Harrogate in 1919 by the Swiss baker and orphan, Fritz Bützer. Since then, additional outlets have emerged in York and Ilkley.
Menus consist of seasonal breakfasts and brunches, main dishes that fuse British and Swiss cuisine, and scrumptious sandwiches. Betty’s also offers a selection of Afternoon Teas which lets you sample the current selection of freshly baked cakes, scones, and pastries.
However, the highlight of Betty’s is a traditional fruit tea cake slathered in butter and washed down with a pot of tea. Simple, but beyond delicious!
Dining at Betty’s Tea Rooms is one of the most popular things to do in Harrogate. Avoid the lengthy queues by securing your table in advance.
3. Picnic in the Valley Gardens Harrogate
The Valley Gardens Harrogate consist of 17 acres of English Heritage Grade II listed parkland, gardens, and heritage monuments. Walking trails thread through the space and enable you to easily tick off all the major highlights.
Visit the Old and New Magnesia Well Pump Rooms, which were originally used to serve the mineral waters gushing below the streets of Harrogate. There is a Japanese Garden and New Zealand Garden to wander through in addition to floral displays of British blooms.
Centrally located, the gardens are open year-round. Free to visit, they’re one of the best budget-friendly things to do in Harrogate.
4. Brush up on spa history at the Royal Pump Room Museum
Originally built in 1842, the purpose of the Harrogate Pump Room was to serve mineral waters to town residents. In fact, wealthy people would travel from even further afield in order to treat such conditions as scurvy, epilepsy, and skin complaints.
After the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, the spa waters fell out of fashion. Now converted into an exhibition space, the Royal Pump Room Museum sheds light on the history of Harrogate’s springs and how the water treated ailments.
It takes around an hour to explore the displays at the museum. Besides being one of the most historical things to see in Harrogate, you will have the chance to sample the thermal waters for yourself! Remember to bring a bottle if you want to take some back to your hotel.
5. Explore the RHS Garden Harlow Carr
Curated by the Royal Horticultural Society, RHS Garden Harlow Carr is an incredible garden that recreates the full glory of the Yorkshire landscape.
The gardens consist of a woodland zone, an alpine house, and a scented garden teeming with roses, lavender, and lilies. Meanwhile, a kitchen garden presents the scrumptious flavours of Yorkshire’s agriculture. But there’s so much more to explore and you can easily spend an entire day roaming the gardens.
Exhibits and displays at the RHS Garden Harlow Carr change to reflect the seasons. This is one of the top Harrogate attractions for nature lovers and families.
You can book your tickets in advance or purchase them at the attraction. There is a Bettys Cafe Tea Room on the premises in case you’re hankering for another teacake.
The X6a bus connects Harrogate Bus Station with the gardens. Alternatively, you can walk or cycle via the Valley Gardens and Pine Woods.
6. Tour Ripley Castle
If you fancy taking a short trip out of town, Ripley Castle is one of the best places to visit near Harrogate. The attraction consists of the 14th-century castle and the surrounding grounds.
This private castle residence is open to the public on a tour basis. However, at the time of writing, only the gardens and grounds are open to the public. Watch this space – tours are expected to resume shortly.
Meanwhile, the gardens are worthy of a visit. The Walled Garden contains a vast collection of hyacinth, tropical plants, ferns, cacti, and a kitchen plot. The wooded grounds and lakeside are the habitat of wildlife including deer, rabbits, and birdlife.
Take a stroll around the small town of Ripley where you can pick up ice cream or enjoy a drink at the Boar’s Head.
Access to Ripley via public bus is the number 36 which takes 20 minutes.
7. Spend a day in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Harrogate sits right outside the perimeters of the Yorkshire Dales. If you are planning on spending a couple of days in town, the Dales is one of the best outdoor things to do near Harrogate.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park features phenomenal landscapes of moorlands, waterfalls, mountains, caves, and beautiful towns and villages. You can choose to explore as part of a road trip, a cycling excursion, or by hiking the numerous walks in the Yorkshire Dales.
There are enough things to do in the Yorkshire Dales to warrant a longer stay. However, you can at least scratch the surface during your time in Harrogate if time allows a day trip.
8. Join Harry’s Free Walking Tour
Free Walking Tour Harrogate operates tips-based walking tours around town.
Your guide is “Harry”, a Harrogate local. Harry will take you to all the major Harrogate attractions and reveal the history and any secrets behind them. There’s plenty of time to ask questions and if you’re a fan of walking tours while travelling to new places, this is the perfect activity for you.
These walking tours run on select days and times each week and there’s no need to book. Once you have your dates, simply check the website for the latest schedule. Tours are more frequent during the summer season (April to October) but they do run all year.
Additionally, Harry runs a Boozy Tour of Harrogate. This is an evening tour spent connecting with the cultural institution of the traditional English pub. If you’ve ever wondered why we clink our glasses when we say “cheers” – or why we even say cheers in the first place – then this tour will feed your curiosity.
9. Take a day trip to Knaresborough
Knaresborough sits alongside Harrogate as one of the most beautiful towns in North Yorkshire. As it’s a mere 15-minute train ride away, you can effortlessly visit Knaresborough from your Harrogate base!
Highlights of this picturesque market town include its towering 19th-century viaduct and 14th-century hilltop fortress. The town is also where you’ll find the oldest tourist attraction in England – Mother Shipton’s Cave. This is the former home of a healer and witch with a knack for predicting the future.
Knaresborough is one of the best places to visit near Harrogate during spring and summer. You can rent a boat and row yourself along the River Nidd and enjoy a lazy picnic with a view from the Bebra Gardens.
10. Clamber around Brimham Rocks
Visiting this National Trust site is one of the coolest things to do around Harrogate. Brimham Rocks is a moorland spectacle of giant rock formations that were sculpted by centuries of extreme weather and erosion.
Once at the attraction, you can explore the moors, rocks, and viewpoints on foot. A well-marked path weaves you through the landscape and is suitable for most levels of walking ability and younger children.
With a little imagination, many of the boulders resemble animals. You can have a lot of fun trying to interpret what you see while exploring the site!
Brimham Rocks is located within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The number 24 bus departs from Harrogate Bus Station and takes a little over an hour. By car, you’ll be there in 25 minutes.
11. Catch a performance at Harrogate Theatre
In terms of things to do in Harrogate at night, it’s highly recommended to check out what’s on at the theatre. The theatre is a favourite pastime in the UK and it’s far more affordable once you’re outside of London.
Harrogate Theatre was built in 1900. The beautiful interior consists of a traditional Victorian-style proscenium theatre with velvet seats as well as a studio venue for smaller-scale events.
The theatre hosts drama, dance, music, and comedy performances throughout the year. As there is a family-friendly offering – such as amateur children’s productions and festive pantomimes – this is an activity that suits all visitors in town.
Check out what’s on at the box office once you have your dates.