York is perfectly situated for a range of day trips in North Yorkshire, from Knaresborough to the Vale of Pickering, and from Whitby to Bridlington. Here are forty of the many places you can visit in a day from York. All of these will take an hour or less to drive to (unless bad traffic), except Whitby which is 1 hour 10 from York by car. Sites owned by National Trust or English Heritage are noted for those with passes.
Obviously availability of indoor attractions is varying like a yoyo in 2021, but this article is written to be timeless for the future so do check the relevant attraction’s website if your heart is set on going inside something.
Harrogate and Knaresborough Area:
To the west of York lies Harrogate, famed as a Victorian spa. It’s not a very touristy town anymore but neighbouring Knaresborough and environs are simply packed with amazing and unique things to do if you’re looking for a North Yorkshire day trip.
Mother Shipton’s Cave: Mother Shipton was a famous witch (or “prophetess”) in the area. The cave is beside the Petrifying Well, which is a mineral-rich water source that turns things into stone.
Knaresborough Castle: A 14th century ruined castle with stunning views. Car parking is available. There is a beautiful walk from the castle down to the river.
Aldborough Roman Site: This is the remains of a Roman town in the village of Aldborough, just outside Boroughbridge. The Roman site is complete with mosaics, the original town wall, along with a museum, all sited within a Victorian arboretum which was created around the town’s remains. English Heritage.
Spofforth Castle, Spofforth: A 13th century ruined castle in Spofforth, between Wetherby and Harrogate. It’s the sort of ancient ruin you can take a picnic and explore with the whole family, very exciting for children. Open 24/7. English Heritage.
RHS Garden Harlow Carr: A Royal Horticultural Society gardens offering the chance to see rare and local plants cultivated in a scenic environment. They have a garden centre where you can get RHS seeds and gardening stuff. There’s also a Betty’s cafe.
Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, Knaresborough: A stunning and uniquely-designed 15th Century Catholic chapel that is carved into the cliff-face.
Stockeld Park: A fab play park and farm where children can play. There’s also a maze and an enchanted forest.
Nidd Gorge: A verdant forest in the valley beside a river with walks and wildlife. There are also traces of Iron Age occupation in the area. Can be visited by itself or incorporated into the longer Knaresborough to Ripley Castle walk. Maintained by the Woodland Trust. Parking available. Free entry.
Nidd Gorge Viaduct: Further North West of Nidd Gorge is the Nidd Gorge Viaduct, a feat of engineering that’s part of the route to Ripley Castle.
Ripley Castle: A privately-owned castle with a long and fascinating history. It makes a fab end point for a walk from Knaresborough (approximately 6.5 miles one way). Adult and children’s tours available as well as grounds/gardens to explore.
Knaresborough Viaduct: An easier to find viaduct can be found in Knaresborough town near the train station, and with the railway line now running across it.
Knaresborough Blenkhorn’s Boat Hire: Hire wooden boats with long oars and enjoy punting down the river at a relaxed pace.
Little Pasture Pony Trekking Knaresborough: Would you like to go pony trekking through the scenic North Yorkshire countryside with an experienced instructor? This is the place to go. Full days or two-hour hacks available, tailored to your experience and ability.
Venturing north-east from York, you will come to Scarborough, North Yorkshire. A day trip to this seaside town offers an incredible range of things to do and you could easily spend a week here!
Scarborough castle: An English Heritage-owned castle dating to the 12th century, built on a site that has been occupied since 1000BC. The castle is now a ruin because it was the site of a bitter siege during the 1645 English Civil War, which saw half the tower destroyed. I visited on a very foggy day which only added to the mystique. English Heritage.
Sea Life Scarborough: An aquarium with various sea creatures, situated to the north-west of the town. Children will especially enjoy visiting.
Alpamare water park: Waterslides and other water park fun along with parking and a cafe. Ideal for families.
Scarborough beach: A long sandy beach where you can swim or splash in the sea, or just sit on the shore and build a sandcastle. Gets very busy in summer.
Anne Brontë’s grave (St. Mary’s church): When people think of the Brontë sisters, they usually know only Charlotte and Emily, the authors of Jane Eyre (and more) and Wuthering Heights, respectively. The third sister (of five, but only the three lived to adulthood with their brother) was Anne, who wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall before dying at only 29. Her grave is in this churchyard, if you wish to pay your respects.
The Secret Garden, Scarborough: This is a beautiful garden tucked away from the main streets. There are flowers, a graveyard, and wild, natural plants which give it an uncultivated feel.
Oliver’s Mount War Memorial and Viewing Point: This high point has a memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I and II, and also presents stunning views of the town and across the bay.
Shuttleworth Gardens: This Victorian garden has a sensory garden, originally intended for the blind, but will also appeal to other visitors such as young babies, people with learning disabilities etc who can experience the garden without the need to process visual information.
Playdale Farm Park: A fun day out for children, the Playdale Farm Park has farm animals to see and little rides for tiny people.
Burton Riggs Nature Reserve: A big open space with a lake and wetlands where water birds frequently visit. There are also foxes and badgers (do not approach these). Floods regularly. Take wellies unless there’s a current hosepipe ban in force in the area.
West Ayton Castle: A derelict ruin almost lost to time, this was once a 15th century castle. Constructed in 1410 by Sir Ralph Eure, the design is based on a pele tower, a type of defensive fortification. No one knows why he built it like this although it was built right in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War between the houses Plantagenet and Lancaster, who were vying for control of England amongst their other goals.
Scarborough Fair Collection Vintage Transport Museum: This is a beautiful private collection of Victoriana with a fairground and vintage rides.
Due North from York, Whitby hardly needs much introduction. It was featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a fact the town is hugely proud of and which inspired the annual Whitby Goth Festival. The town is fun to free-explore without a plan.
Nowadays, Whitby is famous for having the best fish and chips in Britain, and there is plenty of choice when looking for a chip shop. It’s also famous for Whitby Jet, a fossilised wood polished by the sea, which is used locally in jewellery. You can pick up a Whitby jet souvenir at several different shops. Here are some of the many day trips in the Whitby area:
Whitby Abbey: Originally a seventh century monastery, it later became a Benedictine abbey. It became a ruin due to the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s. This huge site is still impressive as a ruin and it still has lots of architectural details from the Gothic style as the remains you see today were built in the 1220s. English Heritage.
199 Steps: This is a pathway to Whitby Abbey which goes upwards from a bit above sea level all the way to the striking height of the hill where the abbey is sited. Stunning views, and an interesting graveyard and church near the top. Free and well worth the mild exertion.
Captain Cook Memorial Museum: An unusual museum to find in the North of England, this small museum is set in the house where Cook was apprenticed. It covers famous explorer Captain Cook’s life and his voyages to the South Pacific. A must-see.
Whitby Museum: A big museum covering history of the local area. Particularly good if you’re interested in fossils or Whitby Jet (a type of petrified wood which is locally made into jewellery).
Whitby beach: A beach which includes two lighthouses at the mouth of the river Esk. Don’t miss the Captain Cook memorial on the North Beach.
Robin Hood’s Bay: A fascinating cove town 6 miles below Whitby with a history of smuggling (not great for the mobility impaired) with a very long, steep walk to the sea. Town also has a museum. It’s the end of the Coast-to-Coast walk (one of Wainwright’s).
Bridlington is just over the border in East Riding of Yorkshire, and there are several day trips you can make to this neck of the woods.
Flamborough Head: A stunning and beautiful beach at the split between two cliffs. At low tide, there are caves you can explore. Usually not as busy as other areas of the coast.
RSPB Bempton: Do you love puffins? Have you ever wanted to see them in the wild? This is the place to go to see puffins! Take some good binoculars and a coat, standing at the cliff-top, it can get quite chilly from the wind.
Sewerby Hall: A lovely example of a Georgian country house and gardens, this is especially worth visiting for its small zoo which has Humboldt Penguins among other animals. The house has interactive displays where children can get involved by dressing up as servants or householders, and there’s even an Edwardian playroom they can play in.
Burton Agnes Hall: A grand Tudor house with a walled garden and a vast art collection. The garden is quite visually striking and children love it. Nice cafe with local produce.
Rudston Monolith: A prehistoric megalith that stands in the churchyard of All Saints Church. This is the tallest standing stone in Britain (7.1m or 25 feet) and dates to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age period. The source for the stone is 10 miles (16km) away in Cornelian Bay. Free entry but be respectful of the fact it’s in a churchyard.
The Vale of Pickering and surrounding area is known for tiny villages each with its own unique charm. There are also a range of day trips. Some of these are quite out of the way and most of these would need about 5-6 hours, which would equate to a full day on my itinerary as I don’t like over-packing activities until they become box-ticking exercises.
Eden Camp Modern History Museum: Eden Camp was formerly a POW camp for foreign prisoners of war during World War II. Now it’s a modern history museum. There’s a play area for children.
Flamingoland: My favourite attraction in North Yorkshire is Flamingoland (I reviewed it here). This is a zoo with a theme park. This zoo has giraffes, bactrian camels, penguins, zebras, and of course, lots of flamingos.
Dalby Forest: This is an 8,000-acre forest. You can hike, picnic, climb trees or even follow one of the mountain bike trails.
Pickering Castle: The grounds of this thirteenth-century ruined castle are huge. The castle itself is impressive with stunning views of the local countryside. Well worth a visit. English Heritage.
Nunnington Hall: A Yorkshire manor house developed from a Tudor hall with organic gardens. National Trust.
Castle Howard and Yorkshire Arboretum: A ginormous country estate with endless gardens and a big house. The arboretum (120 acres of trees) is part of the estate but they are run as separate attractions.
Kirkham Priory: Founded in 1120, this Augustinian priory is now a stunning ruin. Another one that was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. English Heritage.
Helmsley Castle: This dates to the 1100s but later was the site of a Tudor house. It has an impressive sculpture garden. English Heritage.
Rievaulx Abbey: The remains of a Cistercian abbey. Annoyingly it has been split so Rievaulx Abbey is English Heritage but…
Rievaulx Terrace: An eighteenth-century garden with a folly and views of the abbey. There’s no joint Rievaulx ticket because the terrace is National Trust and the two heritage organizations have to be subscribed to and paid for separately. No other country in the world does this with their national monuments.
The Selby area is noticeably different from the rest of North Yorkshire. There are fewer things to see and do in this area than North or East of York. Having said that, Selby is a pleasant old market town to visit.
Selby Abbey: A medieval abbey that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries intact but was half was ruined in the English Civil War. In 1906 it was badly damaged in a fire and this was used as an opportunity to completely reconstruct the abbey. A lot of what you see today is reconstruction rather than original, but it’s very convincing.
ROC Cawood: A Royal Observer Corps outpost. These are underground listening posts that were used during the Cold War between 1955-1991, although many of these were still manned throughout the 90s and into the 2000s. It was abandoned due to flooding. You obviously can’t get inside but there are some traces above ground.
Drax Power Station: A fully-functioning power station with huge cooling towers, mostly fuelled by biomass. You can go on guided tours and also visit their nature reserve. Not great for autism/anyone who cannot abide extremely loud noises as some areas are very loud. You do get ear protection but it’s still difficult for the non-NT.
Under 30 min drive from York:
Outside the walls of the city centre, these mini-adventures should take less than 30 minutes to drive to, traffic permitting. The traffic management in York city centre is notoriously abysmal however, so the actual journey time may vary, especially during peak times.
Yorkshire Air Museum: A former RAF bomber command station from WWII. Now a museum with 60 different military aircraft. Also has a wildlife walk.
Piglets Adventure Farm: A fun kids attraction with goats, baby chicks, bunnies and newborn piglets. There are also fun activities, a farmyard trail, a beach, crazy golf, and rides on farm-type vehicles and go-karts.
Beningbrough Hall: A Georgian stately home featuring gardens and artwork on long-term loan from the National Portrait Gallery. National Trust.
York Cold War Bunker: Situated in Holgate, this underground nuclear bunker is a fascinating trip back in time. The fixtures are all original and the guides extremely knowledgable. English Heritage, but not too commercialised (as of my last visit).
Holgate Windmill: Near the Cold War bunker you will find this 18th century windmill. You can only go inside on specific dates as it is still producing flour today.
So that’s my list of 54 things you can do in a day trip to North Yorkshire, starting from York. I haven’t included anything from West Yorkshire because I want to write a separate article on that at some point. Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!
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