Welcome to Britain’s oldest seaside resort.
Folks have been holidaying on the East Yorkshire coast since the 1700s, when the bourgeois flocked to bathe in its healing spa waters, and reminders of the town’s opulent heyday can be seen in its grand crescents, architecture, parks and concert spaces.
The best things to do in Scarborough are certainly a jump in the past; but nowadays, you’ll find water parks, arcades and clinquant trappings peppered in-between.
In short, it’s the perfect seaside spot, where donkey rides and ice cream sundaes meet quirky markets, craft beer and cutting-edge theatre.
The Scarborough Fair Collection
For a great British seaside nostalgia trip, take a whirl on a merry-go-round that looks ripped from a scene in ‘Mary Poppins’, ride the dodgems, try your luck in the penny arcade and ogle at the old-school cars and buses, some of which date back to the 1920’s. Don’t miss out on afternoon tea in the ballroom to the sounds of a Wurlitzer organ, for the cherry on top of this wonderfully twee cake.
As well as the remains of a 12th century fortification developed by Henry II and King John, you’ll find Iron Age settlements, a Roman signal station, medieval chapel and stunning views of the town’s north and south bays on this cliff top fortress, where you can look around the Master Gunner’s House, which is full of fascinating prehistoric artefacts.
You’ll find all the amusements you could ask of a former Victorian pleasure beach on the South Bay. Take a donkey ride, hit up the amusement arcades, stroll down the promenade and watch the boats coming in and out of the harbour. Head to the wilder, rockier North Bay to beat the crowds, explore rock pools and take pictures of the colourful beach huts. Arrive on the stands in style in the Cliff Lift, the oldest funicular railway in the country.
This gorgeous space is packed full of natural history. Check out the Speeton Plesiosaur skeleton – a marine reptile from the lower Cretaceous period, dinosaur footprints found on East Yorkshire’s dino coast and the gnarly skeleton of the bronze-age Gristhorpe man.
Scarborough Market Hall and Vaults
Pick up weird and wonderful curios in the Vault’s Authentique antique shop, get your mitts on beautiful handmade glassware in Gekoglass, stock up on jars of locally-sourced raw honey at The Honeycomb Shop, stop for a flat white at the Scarborough Coffee Company and keep an eye on their programme of events and live music.
St Mary’s Church and Anne Bronte’s Grave
There’s a steep climb to the church’s hilly spot overlooking the old town, but it’s worth it for a snoop around the picturesque interior filled with beautiful stained glass. Get an eyeful of some fantastic sea views from the church yard and see if you can find the grave of Anne Bronte, the youngest of the famous literary clan. The Bronte sisters are practically royalty around these parts, so don’t miss the chance to pay your respects to the only one of the three sisters buried outside of their hometown of Howarth.
Seeing The Spa Orchestra play in this magical spot is real treat. At 106 years old, they are the last surviving professional seaside orchestra. Their repertoire of classical ditties, Viennese waltzes, operettas and popular Victorian songs is totally unique, as well as being set to the lulling accompaniment of breaking waves.
Head to one of the regular beer festivals to guzzle down tasty pints, including their Citrusy golden ale Sealord and refreshingly fruity pale session beer Trident, while listening to live music on the brewery floor. Look out for brewery tours to really get to know the place.
Scarborough Art Gallery
Check out Leeds artist John Atkinson Grimshaw’s beautiful seascapes, works by Frederic Lord Leighton and Frank Brangwyn and the gallery’s brilliant contemporary print works from the Printmakers Council’s permanent archive. Look out for super-informative temporary exhibitions, which have ranged from explorations of Scarborough’s Victorian pleasure beach past to displays on women in WWII.
Stephen Joseph Theatre
This intimate space will forever be tied to Alan Ayckbourn, one of Britain’s most-loved playwrights, who began working for Joseph in 1957 and was artistic director here from 1972 to 2009. Bask in the glory of this lovely little place’s history and revel in its cutting-edge programme filled with fresh writing and steeped in local pride.
Owner Giulian Alonzi, who was born and raised in the flat above the shop, churns 500 litres of ice cream an hour – and it’s some of the tastiest in Yorkshire. Tuck into a pastel-coloured ‘99 or a huge cream-filled wafer-topped Knickerbocker Glory. Or during the winter months, opt for a hot chocolate and bacon sarnie.
Full of streams and gurgling waterfalls, this is a charming oasis away from the bustle of the seaside. Glide along the calm lakes on dragon-shaped pedalos, take a ride on the miniature railway and look out for the famous miniature naval sea battles acted out in the lake in over the summer.
Prices are on the dearer side, but worth it for the hours of fun you can pack in here. Whizz down the Black Hole, the longest waterslides in the UK, plunging thrill-seekers down an 11m drop at 30mph, take a soak in the heated outdoor pool with gorgeous views stretching across the beach and visit the Alpine-style wellness centre for saunas, steam baths and treatments.