The beautiful spa town of Harrogate owes its landscaped appearance and early prosperity to the discovery of the Tewit Well in 1571. This was the first of more than 80 ferrous and sulphurous springs that, by the 19th century, were to turn the town into one of the country’s leading spas.
Today, Harrogate is a bustling cosmopolitan destination which boasts everything from museums, galleries, theatre, shopping and restaurants, to romantic walks on the famous Stray, picnics in the Valley Gardens and relaxing spas. No wonder it’s been voted numerous times as the happiest place to live in the UK!
Harrogate is just a stone’s throw away from our holiday parks, so here’s our guide to Harrogate giving some suggestions of top things to do to help you explore one of the best spa towns in the country.
First opened in 1897 and now restored to their late Victorian finery, you can experience the beautiful Moorish-style interior during a session at the Turkish Baths.
Although Turkish Baths were common in Victorian times, only seven remain which date back to the 19th century. None is as historically complete and in full working order as Harrogate’s.
Just along Crescent Road from the Royal Baths stands the Royal Pump Room, built in 1842 over the sulphur well that feeds the baths. Today the Grade II listed building houses the town’s museum.
The Valley Gardens and The Stray
The Valley Gardens comprises around 17 acres of park, woodland and floral displays. The blooms are spectacular and include a magnificent dahlia garden and seasonal bedding displays that are re-planted throughout the year. You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to picking the perfect lunch spot – there’s even a café selling the famous Ripley ice cream.
Or head to The Stray for a relaxing stroll, picnic, kite-flying or to let the kids have a run-around. The 200 acres of open grassland surrounds most of the town and was officially set aside for public use in 1778. Its use is now determined by an act of Parliament called The Stray Act, which was created in 1985 to protect and preserve the land. Traditionally used for parades and civic events, The Stray now also serves as the venue for big public events such as a fan park during the Tour de France in 2014.
The botanical gardens at Harlow Carr is the northern showpiece of the Royal Horticultural Society. These lie 1.5 miles from the centre of Harrogate, on the town’s western edge, and can be easily accessed by car or bus, although the nicest approach is to walk there through the Valley Gardens and Pinewoods. As well as the stunning gardens, it’s a real family-friendly place, with lots of activities and parks for the kids to enjoy.
Harrogate’s shops and boutiques are perfect for a leisurely browse. The spa town boasts some impressive big names including Whistles, Cath Kidston, Sweaty Betty, Farrow & Ball, Jo Malone and Jo Jo Maman Bebe. There are the usual high street favourites such as Next, M&S, Primark and Debenhams, alongside some great independent stores.
Head to Cold Bath Road and the Montpellier Quarter for some fantastic indies, including Fit, Bias, Still Gorgeous, Covet and Montpellier Mews Antique Market.
When it comes to food and drink, this is a town that has you covered. Independents and chains offer everything your tastebuds could dream of – the most difficult part is deciding where to visit.
Bars with some decent food offerings include Banyan, The Foundry Project, Major Tom’s Social and Porco Rosso. If you like rum and a bit of Latin spirit, try Revolución de Cuba.
If you’re feeling fancy you could splash out on a candlelit dinner at the famous Betty’s tearooms or sip cocktails at The Ivy Harrogate. You could even head to Visit England’s Hotel of the Year Rudding Park for a spot of contemporary fine dining at Horto – it has an award-winning spa too!
And it would be a shame not to take advantage of some of Harrogate’s top independent restaurants including La Feria, The Orchid, William and Victoria’s, and The Drum and Monkey.
Alongside Harrogate’s wealth of bars, restaurants and clubs, the town also has a thriving arts and entertainment scene. With two cinemas, a theatre, a conference centre and the stunning Royal Hall concert venue, there is always something taking place on an evening to keep you entertained.
The town is also home to Harrogate International Festivals, an arts organisation that delivers a range of cultural festivals all year round, including the renowned Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and the Harrogate Music Festival.
No trip to Harrogate would be complete without a visit to Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, which was founded in the town in 1919 and is famous for providing Swiss confectionery and Yorkshire hospitality in a sophisticated environment.
There’s a real sense of occasion and tradition at Bettys. The afternoon tea experience is not to be missed, with a freshly filled teapot and a gleaming silver cake stand brought to your table, laden with sandwiches, exquisite handmade cakes and freshly baked scones, along with fruity preserves and thick Yorkshire clotted cream.
Bettys has two branches in Harrogate, one in the town centre and one at RHS Harlow Carr.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at our visitor’s guide to York.