9 unmissable stops on the Yorkshire coast

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Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton

Forget the south coast. This summer, if you're looking for some of the UK's most beautiful beaches with big sea views, accessible wildlife and vivid history, pack your bags for the Yorkshire coast. This affordable, often overlooked, corner of northeast England has it all.

Unmissable stops on the Yorkshire coast © Sean Pavone Photo - Adobe Stock Image
Unmissable stops on the Yorkshire coast © Sean Pavone Photo - Adobe Stock Image

What's more, much of the coast is part of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, not to mention a Heritage Coast. Whether you're camping, glamping or staying in a B&B, there are so many activities to choose from such as walking the Cleveland Way, taking boat trips, trying watersports and visiting historic ruins, elegant houses and gardens.

Whitby

Whitby is one of Yorkshire's most well-known seaside towns. It's an incredibly pretty place, spread across two cliffs divided by the River Esk with ample shops, restaurants, cafés and places to stay.

From the busy harbour adorned with lobster pots and colourful boats bobbing in the water, cross the bridge over the river to wander the cobbled lanes crammed with quirky independent gift shops.

Call by the Captain Cook Memorial Museum before climbing the famous 199 steps towards the gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey*, said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula.

View from the 199 'Church Stairs' in Whitby © Helen Hotson - Adobe Stock Image
View from the 199 'Church Stairs' in Whitby © Helen Hotson - Adobe Stock Image

Meanwhile, back across the river, you'll find West Cliff Beach, the town's sandy superstar attraction on a warm, sunny day. Take buckets, spades and nets for rock pooling on this arc of sand backed by colourful beach huts and the Cleveland Way walking route.

Be sure to look for black Whitby jet and fossils, which are often found along this part of the coast. If they prove elusive, the Whitby Museum has a mighty fine collection of locally found fossils.

Filey

The fishing village of Filey has evolved into a seriously sought-after seaside resort. It's a laidback place away from the hustle of bigger resorts such as Scarborough and Bridlington.

There's an air of prosperity in Filey from the smart white terraced houses and small town centre that give way to a number of well-manicured public gardens before dipping down to the seafront.

Beautiful Filey Bay looking towards the town © Michael Shannon - Adobe Stock Image
Beautiful Filey Bay looking towards the town © Michael Shannon - Adobe Stock Image

The soft sand of Filey Beach is one of a number of named beaches that make up the five-mile-long curve of Filey Bay. The promenade, which lines much of Filey Beach, has a paddling pool, mini-golf course and a sculpture trail woven between ice cream stands and snack bars.

To the north of the town lies the narrow peninsula of Filey Brigg, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and local nature reserve. It's also where those in the know take their colourful nets for a bit of rock pooling while keeping eyes open for fossils, too. Walkers will note that this is the eastern start and/or end point of the Cleveland Way walking route as well.

Bridlington

Known as the 'Lobster Capital of Europe' for the sheer volume of shellfish that's landed at its harbour each year, this working seaside town is a mix of bustling fishing boats, scenic old townhouses, retro amusement arcades and sand-castle-building beach-lovers.

Much like Scarborough, Bridlington has a north and a south beach with the town and harbour resting neatly between the two.

North Beach is an award-winning two-mile stretch of sand and shingle backed by a busy promenade while South Beach is a one-mile scoop of sand looking out across the bay that is also well-stocked with amenities along its promenade, including a paddling pool for kids.

You can hire deck chairs and beach huts on both beaches to help you make the most of your seaside staycation.

Scarborough

When the sun shines, Scarborough, said to be the original Victorian seaside resort, is the place to be. This much-loved beach destination has every traditional and modern amenity you could want. Divided in two by a high rocky headland, you can choose between North Bay and South Bay when it comes to picking your beach.

South Beach, Scarborough with hilltop castle © R44flyer - Flickr Creative Commons
South Beach, Scarborough with hilltop castle beyond © R44flyer - Flickr Creative Commons

North Bay is a little quieter with donkey rides, beach huts and lots of rock pools at low tide. Oriental-themed Peasholm Park sits just behind the beach and is where you can hop aboard the heritage miniature North Bay Railway.

Meanwhile, lively South Bay is lined with fish and chip shops, arcades, rides and snack bars all within easy reach. Up the hill from the beach, you'll find the main part of the town including the fabulous Rotunda Museum with its exquisite Georgian gallery.

Keep climbing and you'll reach the headland where the looming ruins of Scarborough Castle* keep watch over both bays and the narrow, cobbled streets feel distinctly medieval.

Planning days out across England? Check out the latest membership offers from English Heritage and the National Trust to add historic sites, ruins, houses and gardens to your trip.

Robin Hood's Bay

Robin Hood's Bay is as satisfyingly delightful as its name suggests. Whether you're arriving by car or from the clifftop Cleveland Way above, you'll be drawn down into the town past immaculate tiny cottage gardens, cafés and shops.

Robin Hood's Bay on a fine summer's day © Alan Barr - Adobe Stock Image
Robin Hood's Bay on a fine summer's day © Alan Barr - Adobe Stock Image

Winding your way through its cobbled streets, it's easy to see how, in the 18th century, this rural fishing community became a hotbed of smugglers. Tucked neatly back from the sheltered bay, it's naturally well-protected and its warren of narrow streets lend themselves to devious goings-on.

Things are a little more easy-going today, however, with the small beach a haven for paddling, rock pooling and fossil hunting. Be sure to call by The Bay Hotel whose beer garden above the beach is a prime spot to enjoy a cold drink or two.

Bempton Cliffs

Pack your binoculars and a long-lens camera for a trip to the unforgettable viewing platforms of RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Overlooking Filey Bay to the north and Flamborough Head to the south, the chalky rock face of Bempton Cliffs is where you'll find England's largest population of seabirds between April and October.

Gannets nesting on the cliffs at Bempton © Kognos - Wikimedia Commons
Gannets nesting on the cliffs at Bempton © Kognos - Wikimedia Commons

Expect to see guillemots, razorbills, gannets and, everyone's favourite, puffins swoop and swirl on and off their perches along the cliff as they feed and breed throughout spring, summer and autumn.

Puffin on Bempton Cliffs © Julia Bevan
Puffin on Bempton Cliffs © Julia Bevan

As well as whiling away the hours watching these incredible sea birds, you're guaranteed some pretty special clifftop sea views, as well. Keep your eyes peeled for owls, kestrels and ground-nesting birds that can be seen across the clifftop grasslands throughout the year.

Ravenscar

Ravenscar is a little different to the other places featured in our list. Although grand plans were made in the Victorian period to turn it into a thriving seaside resort, they never came to fruition so this particular bay has been left relatively untouched.

It's far wilder than any of the above, the open beach backed by high cliffs and flanked by rocky shoreline whipped by the waves of the North Sea. People come here to hike, cycle and breathe the fresh sea air deeply into their lungs while enjoying the splendid views from the beach and up on the cliffs.

The geology of this Jurassic coastline is certainly a draw here and you're sure to see expectant fossil hunters scouring the beach. There's also man-made history waiting in the wings: the cliffs hosted a fifth-century Roman signal station as well as the Peak Alum Works*.

Alum was widely used from the 16th century to help fix dyes in textiles and Peak Alum Works was the last to close along the Yorkshire coast in 1871. Wander among its ruins and you'll soon have a sense of the industry that once thrived there.

Staithes

The steep winding streets of scenic Staithes have featured on countless 'top' lists for decades. Once one of Yorkshire's busiest fishing villages, today, it's reliant on tourism although you will likely still spy a few cobles (traditional fishing vessels) around the harbour.

Seeming to tumble down the creek of Staithes Beck, the village is extraordinarily pretty with 18th-century cottages lining the cobbled streets that lead to its harbour. Just beyond, there's a small sandy beach where rockpooling and fossil hunting are encouraged and an ice cream van is often seen doing a roaring trade.

The pretty town of Staithes, North Yorkshire © Stuart Hodgson EyeEm - Adobe Stock Image
The pretty town of Staithes, North Yorkshire © Stuart Hodgson EyeEm - Adobe Stock Image

In the town, you can visit Captain Cook & Staithes Heritage Museum, dedicated to the maritime history of the village around 1745 when Captain Cook lived here and had his first encounter with the sea. There are numerous artisan gift shops and galleries not to mention cafés and a pub or two dishing up the freshest seafood.

Squeeze a little more from your visit by booking a boat trip with Real Staithes to see seabirds and marine life such as dolphins, porpoises and maybe even a whale, which are occasionally spied off the coast here between August and October.

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head is a wonderfully wild place to settle by the sea for a day out. It can easily be reached by walking along the cliffs from Bempton or by car.

On your way, you'll pass the original chalk lighthouse tower, now Grade II listed, which was completed in 1674 although never used. The more modern lighthouse, completed in 1806, still flashes away today warning passing vessels of the rocky shore below.

Clifftops at Flamborough Head © Ian - Adobe Stock Image
Clifftops at Flamborough Head © Ian - Adobe Stock Image

Whether you're walking along the clifftop paths, setting up camp on the chalk and sand beaches of North Landing or South Landing, trying sea kayaking, rock pooling or exploring the various caves, there's ample room for everyone to make the most of this beautifully rugged coastal spot.

A continuation of Bempton Cliffs, Flamborough also has its own colony of breeding seabirds which can be seen flying over the water with the naked eye. For an up-close view, take the RSPB's three-hour Seabird Cruise from Bridlington, which brings you right up to the busy seabirds along these white cliffs.

Weather along the Yorkshire coast

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

Please note: the above guide shows the weather in Scarborough. You can find out more about the weather in other destinations across North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales in our detailed weather guides.

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Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Friday 2nd July 2021 in: Beach Europe Excursions Summer

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