Facing two curves of beach on either side of a 300ft-high promontory topped by castle ruins, Scarborough has a coil of heritage to unspool, Yorkshire pride and the title of Britain’s first seaside resort.
This claim dates to the 17th century. In 1626, a local woman named Elizabeth Farrer discovered acidic water containing iron running down to the sea; 34 years later, Dr Robert Wittie published a book titled Scarborough Spaw (sic) with which he promoted the town’s mineral water and sparked its first tourist rush.
A seafront building of turrets and columns named Scarborough Spa hosts comedy, music and conventions. In summer, you might catch an orchestra on the bandstand.
Seasonal concerts are held at Scarborough Open Air Theatre – Olly Murs is the last of this year’s programme (23 August). September brings the annual Scarborough Goldwing Light Parade, during which motorcycles souped-up in fluorescent lights drive through the town, and Scarborough Pride. For more, visit discoveryorkshirecoast.com
How to get there and around
Scarborough Railway Station is operated by TransPennine Express, with links to Hull and York. From York, LNER runs services to Leeds, north towards Newcastle and Scotland and south to London King’s Cross. First class tickets on LNER include complimentary meals and drinks and access to first class lounges at railway stations.
In a town of cliffs and two beaches, Scarborough’s Central Tramway Company, Cliff Lift and North Bay (miniature) Railway make it easier to travel between attractions.
Where to stay
Crown Spa Hotel, a cliff-top building painted white and fronted by columns, is the oldest purpose-built hotel in Scarborough. Some rooms look out to the sea and the property is a 10-minute walk to the train station or beach, doubles from £86.
Up with the sun
Oliver’s on the Mount has the best morning view (it’s the town’s highest point), but comes with a bus ride, and 30-minute walk from South Bay Beach. Reward your efforts with a full breakfast (meat-eater’s £12.50; veggie £10.95). Otherwise, take a seat at dog-friendly Scarborough Spa’s Farrer’s Bar & Restaurant (breakfast items from £4.80).
Next, make your way towards Scarborough Castle (£10 adults, £5.90 for children. The centrepiece is a 12th-century tower. Pre-historic, Roman and Viking stories have been excavated within its bounds. There is a macabre feel when the wind whips over the castle grounds with a stone marking Christian deaths at the hands of Roman invaders.
The eeriness continues a five-minute walk away in front of St Mary’s Church. Here lies the grave of Anne Brontë, who came to Scarborough to weather the final stages of her fatal tuberculosis.
Start underground at Scarborough Market Hall and Vaults. Once a Victorian bonded warehouse (where taxable goods were held), now they hold a maze of independent sellers with hauls of vintage jewellery and clothing, toys, records and homeware, from antique sewing machines to an almost-life-sized wooden Beefeater. Reiki and tarot readings are also on offer. Above, in the market, is more of the same, as well as cafés, a fruit and veg stall and a butcher.
Situated on The Crescent, a remnant of the Regency era, Scarborough Art Gallery features fine art and a seaside exhibition of 18th-century paintings and memorabilia such as early incarnations of arcade games.
The Rotunda, its coastal heritage and geology sister museum, meanwhile, focuses on natural history. Highlights include dinosaur footprints from the North Yorkshire coast (£3 for a combined annual pass, under-18s free, scarboroughmuseumsandgalleries.org.uk).
Come evening, try the Art Deco-style Stephen Joseph Theatre (built in 1996) for a play in the round. The theatre, if not the building, dates to the 50s, when an amateur dramatic community helped the eponymous stage director set it up.
Time for a sundowner
Stroll to the northern end of South Bay beach and find a spot at The Rooftop, a terrace overlooking the harbour. Take in the last of the summer evenings while sipping a cocktail, glass of champagne or draft beer.
An unexpected find on a road of pubs, convenience shops and fast-food takeaways, Embers Restaurant tends to be booked up weeks ahead. Its seasonal menus use locally sourced ingredients and are devised by head chef and local lad Dan Hargreaves. Salt and pepper Whitby scampi (£8.50) is a small-plate highlight while silky spinach and mascarpone gnocchi topped with chunky pine nuts is a satisfying main. There is no skimping on the extras, either – from a trio of vegan ice creams to a smoking sidecar cocktail.
Hit the beach
Two distinct slices of golden sandy beach pose a choice: which to visit at sunrise, and which at sunset. The southern option is backed by arcades and fish and chip shops; North Bay Beach has Blue Flag status and is less commercialised. The latter has an esplanade and a clutch of primary-coloured beach huts. North is linked to south by Marine Parade and buses.
From North Bay Beach, hop on the North Bay Heritage Railway to Peasholm Park. There is a boating lake on which you can take a pedalo around the central island, which is decorated with waterfalls, bridges and a pagoda (£6.50 for two to three people).
Tuck into plates of Lindisfarne oysters and Alex’s special chowder (haddock, prawns and smoked salmon poached in a homemade chowder sauce) or “Sailor style” Shetland mussels (£14.95 for a generous portion, served with sourdough) at Lookout on the Pier. The café is raised on stilts, with views of working fishing boats on the harbour or out to South Bay Beach. Steak, burgers and plant-based options are available, as are children’s meals. Service is friendly and swift.
Time to relax
On Scarborough’s North Bay, facing the sea, Alpamare is a water park and spa. In the park, there are two pools – an indoor option with a wave machine and an outdoor, heated infinity version (peak admission £19 adults, £15 children aged six to 15). There is also a splash play area and (most importantly) four slides.
A three-hour slot at the spa is £39, rising to £44 at weekends (over-16s only). There are also packages and treatments available. One of the saunas comes with a sea view.
A final treat
For a dose of Americana, created by the Italian Alonzi family, try The Harbour Bar. In this 50s-style confection, yellow-overalled wait staff serve candy-coloured sundaes, shakes, waffles and soda floats. Pull up a stall at the central bar and tuck in for a sugar spike.
Three things you might not know about… Scarborough
1) The site of a Roman signal station – built for military observation – sits by the cliff edge behind the castle.
2) In 1988, 100 school children helped to transform a section of South Bay Beach into a giant front page of The Beano, setting a then-record for the world’s largest comic strip.
3) It is the hometown of Jonathon Fletcher, inventor of the first web-crawling search engine, JumpStation.