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An insider

An insider's guide to Harrogate

Julie Smith 26 February 2020

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

There’s something rather delightful about wandering around the leafy streets of Harrogate with hidden treasures of independent shops and pavement cafes tucked between the town’s historic buildings and acres of pretty parkland. Designer shops and stylish bars are nestled on the cusp of Nidderdale countryside, so whether you fancy shopping 'til you drop or taking a scenic walk through rural North Yorkshire, Harrogate makes a perfect destination for a short break or holiday. 

Harrogate guide

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๐Ÿ“Œ History

๐Ÿ“Œ Things to do

๐Ÿ“Œ Food

๐Ÿ“Œ Drink

๐Ÿ“Œ Events

๐Ÿ“Œ Towns and villages

๐Ÿ“Œ Walks

๐Ÿ“Œ Where to stay


The historic spa town of Harrogate

Harrogate Guide

In 1571, William Slingsby discovered Harrogate’s first mineral spring, the Tewit Well. By the end of the century, more water sources had been discovered and Harrogate was being touted as England’s spa town due to the medicinal properties of the spring water. From the mid-1600s, wealthy visitors flocked to Harrogate to drink and bathe in the water and a new holiday destination was born. Remnants of Harrogate’s spa heyday can still be seen around the town, including the original Tewit Well and Harrogate’s Turkish Baths where you can still enjoy relaxing and rejuvenating treatments to this day. 

The Stray

Harrogate Guide

Not many bustling towns have a 200-acre stretch of green parkland at their core, but The Stray in Harrogate is rather special. This huge park was once part of the forest of Knaresborough and in 1778 it was named as an open common for the people of Harrogate, protected by an act of parliament. The Stray has remained a wonderful green space in the town ever since and the park is popular for picnics, ball games, walking or simply taking a seat and watching the world go by.       

Royal Pump Museum

Harrogate Guide

The Grade II-listed Royal Pump Museum building was built in 1842 on the site of Europe’s strongest sulphur well and, at its peak, served up to 1,500 glasses of sulphur-rich water each day to Victorian visitors as part of a daily spa routine. The building is now a popular museum and you can see (and smell) the original well and browse interesting exhibits which tell the story of Harrogate through the years.    

A historic Harrogate mystery

Harrogate Guide

During the 1920s, famed detective fiction writer Agatha Christie was embroiled in a mystery of her own when she disappeared without a trace for 11 days. Eventually the Hercule Poirot creator was discovered at The Old Swan in Harrogate but had no idea of how she had got there. The mystery has never been solved and, once a year, Harrogate holds a Crime Writing Festival at The Old Swan in homage to Agatha Christie and her famous disappearance.     

Things to do in and around Harrogate

From historic shopping quarters and relaxing spas to beautiful gardens and family-friendly adventure parks, we have compiled some of our favourite things to see and do in and around Harrogate. There’s more than enough to fill any short break or holiday, whether you are travelling as a couple or with the whole family in tow

RHS Harlow Carr

One of the Royal Horticultural Society’s five public gardens, RHS Harlow Carr is a celebration of the Yorkshire countryside with wildflower meadows, colourful borders, and woodland walks. A highlight is the wonderful Streamside, a lush garden that follows the path of a meandering beck and runs right the way through RHS Harlow Carr. There are also kitchen gardens, alpine sections, an Edwardian garden, and the Queen Mother’s Lake which is a haven for local wildlife. Little ones can enjoy running around an adventure playground and meeting the prickly residents of Hedgehog Street.

Harrogate’s Turkish Baths

A Harrogate institution that dates back to 1897, the Turkish Baths have been fully restored to their Victorian heyday with original Italian floors, colourful tiles, intricate designs and Moorish arches. Start your journey by relaxing in the ornate Frigidarium before passing through various heat chambers to enjoy an authentic Turkish Bath experience. There are also lots of spa treatments available to enhance your visit further including massages, facials, and manicures. For a special romantic treat, you can even enjoy a side-by-side massage in the special couples’ treatment room.

Rudding Park Spa

Another Harrogate spa that is well worth visiting is Rudding Park which features an infinity pool and panoramic sauna as part of the UK’s first rooftop spa garden. Head inside to find everything you could need for a truly relaxing pamper session including an indoor pool, mud rasul and juniper log sauna.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden

Studley Royal Park was given World Heritage status in 1986 - one of the first UK sites to be awarded this prestigious UNESCO title. The majestic abbey ruins and large water garden have a countryside location that is just a short drive from Harrogate on the edge of Nidderdale.    

The grounds include riverside walks, tranquil ponds, romantic statues, and a deer park that is home to three different varieties of the majestic animals - red, fallow and sika deer. There is also a large play park to keep children entertained and lots of places within the grounds where you can stop for a picnic.

Stockeld Park

Stockeld Park is one of Harrogate’s most family-friendly attractions and has been designed as a wonderland for children. At the heart of the park is an enchanted forest that is filled with fairies, talking trees and adventure play areas. You will find plenty of things for children to climb up, slide down or generally clamber over and there’s also a boating lake and magical maze to be solved in the large woodland grounds of this Georgian country estate.  

Mother Shipton’s Cave

Just a few miles from Harrogate in the market town of Knaresborough sits Mother Shipton’s Cave, the birthplace of a famous Yorkshire prophetess and home to a petrifying well that turns everyday objects to stone. There are pretty parkland walks through the remains of Knaresborough Royal Forest, a wishing well that has reputedly made numerous dreams come true and an adventure playground for children to enjoy. 

Shopping

Indulge in a little bit of retail therapy on your next Harrogate getaway with a great range of independent stores and big-name brands. Here are some of our favourite places to shop ‘til we drop:

  • The Montpellier Quarter is one of Harrogate’s hidden gems and the pretty cobbled streets of this historic quarter are filled with pavement cafes, antique shops, and stylish boutiques.
  • Cold Bath Road is just outside the town centre and is known as Harrogate’s Notting Hill because of the cool and quirky shops that line the street.
  • Hoopers is Harrogate’s department store and stocks a range of designer brands, luxury accessories, and contemporary ladieswear.
  • Head to James Street for a range of shops including The White Company, L K Bennett, Mint Velvet, Hotel Chocolat, and The Yorkshire Soap Company.        

Harrogate food

Yorkshire is well-known for its range of local produce and there are lots of places in Harrogate where you can sample fresh seasonal food that’s full of Yorkshire provenance. Meet the local growers and makers at a couple of annual Harrogate food festivals, head to one of the region's many farm shops for fresh-from-the-fields produce or enjoy a sophisticated afternoon tea with all the trimmings at a traditional English tea room.   

Here are just some of our Harrogate foodie favourites:

The ubiquitous Bettys has been a beloved part of Harrogate since 1919 and you can either purchase the tempting cakes and pastries to take away or enjoy a classic afternoon tea in the surroundings of their elegant tea room.  

 

The Wild Plum is a stylish bar and eatery that’s part of the fashionable Snooty Frox boutique. The menu is full of local produce with lots of vegan options available and you’ll find contemporary twists on a selection of brunch and lunch classics. 

For fresh-from-the-farm food, we recommend heading to Fodder on the Great Yorkshire Showground. The large farm shop features butchers and deli counters filled with locally sourced meats and cheeses plus a range of local yoghurts, chutneys and baked goods that are just right for a picnic. There is also an on-site cafe that serves sandwiches, salads, and hot dishes throughout the day.

Another top pick for fresh local produce is Weetons Food Hall which is located just opposite The Stray on West Park. Picking up your food supplies here is so much nicer than going to the supermarket and you’ll find premium meats, locally grown vegetables and Weeton’s own home-made dinner dishes that you just need to heat up and serve. We recommend heading here for lunchtime supplies then eating them al fresco in The Stray when the weather is warm enough.   

Stuzzi is a cafe that is featured in the Michelin guide and serves a traditional variety of small Italian plates and delicious home-make cakes. Specialties of the house include grancho fritto, a Venetian-style soft shelled crab, and ravioli d’aragosta, giant saffron ravioli that are filled with lobster and sea bream. 

The Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant is located in an opulent Victorian building that was originally part of Harrogate’s spa and is directly across the road from the Turkish Baths. Choose from set menus that include a gourmet seafood dinner or go a la carte with a range of classic Chinese dishes.  

The Fat Badger is a dining pub on the edge of the Montpellier Quarter that serves classic British dishes paired with an extensive wine list.

For a Michelin-starred dining experience, head to the little village of Ramsgill-in-Nidderdale on the outskirts of Harrogate, which is home to The Yorke Arms restaurant. Head chef Frances Atkins was first awarded the coveted Michelin star in 2003 and uses the finest local produce in her exquisite tasting menus.

Tea or something stronger?

Harrogate is also to thank for some very popular drinks including Yorkshire Tea, which has been produced in the town since 1886, and the more contemporary Slingsby Gin, which was developed using the town’s famous spa water. 

Here are some of the places to call in for liquid refreshments:

  • The True Tea Company is a Harrogate shop where you can pick up both loose leaf and bagged tea in a range of different flavours.
  • You can start the day drinking tea and coffee at Starling Independent Bar Cafe Kitchen, then move onto craft beers and fine wines as the day draws into evening.
  • The Ginnel is a small Harrogate street with a trio of great pubs and bars to call in. Work your way through the cocktail menu at The Foundry Project, call at the quirky Major Tom’s Social for a craft beer and then head to The Ivory to sample a fine wine from their extensive collection.
  • The bar at West Park looks out over The Stray and serves a range of local gins, premium Yorkshire cordials and its own range of cocktails such as The Harrogate Garden.  
  • Take a tour of the Whittaker’s Gin distillery which is based a few miles from Harrogate in the Nidderdale village of Dacre Banks. End the visit by enjoying a full-size gin and tonic and you’ll also receive a voucher that can be used against any products bought on the day.  
  • Try a Slingsby Spirit of Gin experience at its shop on Montpellier Parade. You’ll learn more about how the gin is produced and can try four of its drinks during the two-hour session.
  • Call in for a cold beer at the Cold Bath Brewing Company, a small independent tap house that brews small batches of lager and pale ales above its bar on Cold Bath Street.

Harrogate events

Harrogate is one of Yorkshire’s main event hubs with major venues including the Harrogate Convention Centre and a packed calendar of shows and festivals throughout the year. 

The Great Yorkshire Show

The Great Yorkshire Show is one of the UK’s leading agricultural events and this three-day celebration of countryside pursuits, farming and the great outdoors takes place each July. The huge Great Yorkshire Showground is filled with shopping marquees, food stalls and Pimm's bars and highlights of the event include equestrian displays, live music and the giant 'Welcome to Yorkshire' ferris wheel.   

Countryside Live

Countryside Live is the much smaller cousin of the Great Yorkshire Show and this family-friendly autumn event includes farm animals, cooking workshops, shopping stalls along with a range of stage shows and hands-on activities to keep children entertained. 

Harrogate Flower Shows

There are two Harrogate Flower Shows per year and these colourful events take place in the gorgeous 25-acre grounds of Newby Hall and Gardens. Visitors can walk along an avenue of beautiful show gardens, admire spectacular floral installations, and pick up a range of gardening goods and home-made crafts from a range of specialist shopping stalls. There’s also live entertainment and the chance to explore Newby Hall’s own award-winning gardens.  

Harrogate Comedy Festival

Taking place each October, the Harrogate Comedy Festival features everything from up-and-coming talent to big-name comic stars. Shows take place at venues including Harrogate Theatre and the Royal Hall and previous festivals have featured Sarah Millican, Jimmy Carr, and John Bishop.  

Harrogate Christmas Market

The annual Harrogate Christmas Market takes place at the end of November in Harrogate’s Montpellier Quarter and features mince pies, mulled wine and around 200 shopping stalls full of hand-made gifts and pretty Christmas decorations to get you into the festive spirit. There are funfair rides, the Christmas light switch-on and festive music played by local buskers.    

Towns and villages near Harrogate

Harrogate has a prime location on the edge of the Nidderdale countryside and there are a number of nearby villages, market towns and even a small cathedral city that are well worth visiting during your short break or holiday.

Knaresborough

Knaresborough is an ancient market town that has an idyllic spot on the banks of the River Nidd, around 5 miles from Harrogate. Mooch around a maze of medieval streets, explore the dramatic ruins of Knaresborough Castle, then take a jaunt along the river in a traditional wooden rowing boat.

Ripon

Ripon is a small city on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales that has a historic market square and a cathedral that’s filled with wooden carvings that inspired some of the characters in Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s father was canon of the Ripon Cathedral during the author’s childhood and the wonderful carvings here include a rabbit escaping down a hole. The bustling marketplace is filled with interesting shops and is home to one of England’s oldest traditions. Each evening at 9pm, a horn is sounded at the Obelisk by the Ripon Hornblower - a custom that dates back more than 1,000 years.

Ripley

Ripley was completely redesigned during the 1830s to look like a French model estate village with cobbled streets and pretty buildings that lead up to the impressive Ripley Castle and Gardens. It’s one of Yorkshire’s most popular villages with an excellent dining pub called The Boar Arms, a couple of great gift shops and a village store that sells its own ‘World-famous Ripley Ice Cream’. Ripley also hosts a scarecrow festival each August with a fun trail of straw-filled characters to follow around the village.

Pateley Bridge

Set deep in the Nidderdale countryside, Pateley Bridge has a handsome high street that’s regularly decorated with colourful bunting, a great selection of dog-friendly pubs and cafes and a range of independent shops. It’s worth paying a visit to The Oldest Sweet Shop in England to stock up on a range of retro treats and seeking out the King Street Workshops in the Old Workhouse which are a hub for local artists, designers and craftspeople.

Harrogate walks

Whether you fancy a short stroll through Harrogate’s gardens or a ramble through the Nidderdale countryside, there are lots of scenic walking routes to try.

Valley Gardens walk

Take a short walk from Harrogate’s Valley Gardens to nearby RHS Harlow Carr following a pathway through the Pinewoods. This wooded area contains rowan, birch, Scots pine and sycamore and, as the route is just over a mile each way, it is perfect for little legs.   

The Stray

Another great town centre walking option is The Stray which comprises 200 acres of parkland with a selection of paths to follow. It’s a great dog-friendly option with open spaces where they can really stretch their legs and there are plenty of seating areas where you can stop for a rest.

Bewerley Tree Trail

If you are looking for a short walk through the Nidderdale countryside, the Bewerley Tree Trail is a circular route near the pretty village of Pateley Bridge that’s just over 1 mile long and follows a trail through Fishpond Wood. The pond dates back to monastic times and is surrounded by beautiful flora and fauna.

Nidderdale Greenway

For a longer walk, the Nidderdale Greenway is a 4-mile, traffic-free route along a disused railway line that connects Harrogate to nearby Ripley with stunning views over the Nidd Gorge viaduct to the valley below. Ripley is a lovely village and it’s worth exploring the historic Ripley Castle and Gardens before catching a bus back to Harrogate.      

Follifoot and Spofforth Castle

Another charming castle walk near Harrogate is a circular route past the majestic ruins of Spofforth Castle from the village of Follifoot. The 5-mile circuit takes in open fields, leafy bridleways, and a series of interesting grit stone outcrops as you walk alongside Crimple Beck on the return to Follifoot.  

Brimham Boundary walk

Harrogate Guide

Enjoy a walk around one of Yorkshire’s natural wonders with the National Trust’s 3.5-mile Brimham Boundary walk. The route includes a section of the Nidderdale Way before following a path through the wonderful stone shapes that make up Brimham Rocks. Keep an eye out for the Idol and Druid’s Writing desk stones which are both great places to stop for a photo.   

Harrogate Ringway

Harrogate Guide

If you fancy tackling a longer route, the Harrogate Ringway is a 20-mile waymarked trail that includes woodland paths, the Nidd Gorge ravine, and swathes of North Yorkshire countryside. There is lots of nature to spot along the route and, if you don’t fancy walking the full 20 miles, we recommend following a riverside section of the Harrogate Ringway to nearby Knaresborough and then catching the bus back.

Where to stay for your Harrogate getaway

Harrogate Guide

Have you been inspired to pay a visit to Harrogate? With everything from stylish apartments in the centre of town to characterful cottages in the Nidderdale countryside, you’ll find lots of places to rest your head after days spent exploring this beautiful part of Yorkshire.  



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