Harrogate is a town in North Yorkshire that forms conurbation with Knaresborough. The two towns have a combined population of just over 85,000 people.
With a history documented back to the Roman era, and numerous historical sites and monuments, Harrogate’s history is one very good reason to visit. The spa wells that made the town famous in the sixteenth-century still exist today, and a museum has been set up to educate locals and visitors about the medicinal water that attracted has so much tourism over the last four and a half centuries. There are also castles, dungeons and historical battlegrounds in the town that many people travel significant distances for the chance to visit.
What to do in Harrogate?
If you are wondering what to do in Harrogate, you are spoilt for choice. Eating out in Harrogate is another popular pastime, with an incredible selection of fine dining restaurants, bistros and wine bars to choose from. Restaurants serving cuisines from around the world can be found within short walks of each other, and traditional and unusual cafés and restaurants can be found in the neighbouring villages. Harrogate is also home to the original, and famous, Betty’s Tearooms.
Shopping facilities are also plentiful in Harrogate. With a large town centre shopping mall, all the major department stores and high street retailers, numerous antiques dealers and craft stores, shopping in Harrogate is a day out in itself! The town is also ideally situated for access to the Lightwater Valley Shopping Village and Theme Park.
Harrogate’s nightlife is a lot more vibrant than the town’s reputation as a refined, historical town might suggest. Though most establishments seem to be aimed at the up-market, young professional crowd, there is still a selection of real ale pubs, blues clubs and old-fashioned alehouses to choose from. The town is also home to the first of the Ministry of Sound Minibars, providing an opportunity for the kind of night out very rarely experienced outside of the capital!
The sheer volume of tourism to the area has resulted in the development of four train stations – and with an abundance of top quality hotels and family-run Bed and Breakfasts in the town, weekend breaks in Harrogate are becoming more popular all the time.
The local history of the Harrogate area has been documented back to the Roman period, when farming hamlets were developed on the site. The area flourished and was primarily a centre of farming and textile manufacture by the twelfth-century when the villages of High and Low Harrogate were granted borough status.
In the sixteenth-century, a spring was discovered in the area that contained water possessing medicinal minerals. A second well was discovered in 1631, and the area begun developing a reputation as a spa town. Visitors came to see and drink from the spas, and locals bathed in and drank from them. Inns and boarding houses were built in the area, along with a grand theatre, and the area became a fashionable travel destination amongst the aristocracy.
During the nineteenth-century, the village’s population grew from 4000 to 25,000, and the area’s first train station was built.
In the centre of the town today is two hundred acres of public parkland, with the original well located at the centre. More of the town’s spa wells can be seen by visiting the Valley Gardens and the Royal Pump Room Museum. (Visits to the latter were prescribed on the NHS for health reasons as late as the mid-twentieth-century.)
Harrogate takes pride in its long and rich history, and has retained many of its important historical buildings and sites.
The Royal Pump Room Museum explores Harrogate’s history as a spa town, and is home to the strongest sulphur wells in Europe. Ancient shops, hotels and the town park have all been reproduced for visitors to experience life in the bygone era.
Knaresborough Castle is a medieval building and was once a stronghold of medieval kings. The castle is now a museum and visitors centre, with breathtaking exhibits and experiences on offer. The Courthouse Museum is located in the oldest part of the castle, and is home to a variety of court documents and exhibits, exploring the area’s criminal past! There is also an original Tudor courtroom and the ‘Life in a Castle’ exhibition. The King’s Tower was once where royal visitors were met and also the home of the dungeons, and today forms the most impressive part of the site. An underground tunnel, built for use during sieges, still exists today and tours take visitors down regularly throughout the day.
Also in Knaresborough is the cave once lived in by the medieval ‘holy man’, Saint Robert. The man in question lived as a hermit in the cave from the late twelfth-century to the early thirteenth-century, and was revered for his spirituality and wisdom. During his lifetime, many visitors travelled to the cave, and many more continue to do so today.
Other historical attractions include the fifteenth-century castle in Ripon and the three historic battlefields in Myton, Boroughbridge and Marston Moor.
The Royal Hall (originally the Kursaal) was built in 1903 as an entertainment venue for the rich and/or aristocratic visitors who were flocking to the town to drink from the famous spas. The hall was an architectural wonder, comprising innovative features such as a mechanical system for removing the seating and leaving the hall open for dances. Unfortunately, due to its age, serious structural problems have been discovered and the building is now in need of urgent renovation to prevent its terminal decline. Funding has so far been made available for the most urgent of the problems, and a charitable organisation has been set up to raise the further funds required. The Royal Hall is an impressive historical monument, and can be located on Ripon Road.
For a town, Harrogate is home to a surprisingly large number of art galleries and art exhibition spaces, showcasing a variety of mediums and styles.
Mercer Art Gallery, on Swan Road in the town centre, is home to more than two thousand art works, largely dating from the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries. The gallery comprises fine art, photography, sculpture and crafts, and is spread over two exhibition spaces: the Main Gallery and the North Gallery. Featured artists range from the internationally renowned to the local and unknown. Upcoming exhibitions include a presentation of the works of nineteenth-century British painter, William Powell Frith (1819-1909); admission £3 for adults and £1.50 for concessions.
Admission is free and the gallery is open six days a week between 10am and 5pm, and closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). For information about current and upcoming exhibitions, contact the gallery on 01423 556 188.
The Gascoigne Gallery is a private collection of contemporary art works, focussing on original landscape paintings. Items currently in the selection include works by Picasso, Hockney and Salvador Dali. The gallery also features a large collection of glass works: vases, plates, candleholders and abstract sculptures.
Exhibitions are changed every three weeks, and all works are for sale. (Purchases can be made in person, by telephone or online.) The gallery is located on Royal Parade, and can be contacted on 01423 525 000.
The SMART Gallery on Parliament Street in the town centre trades in a range of original art works, limited editions, sculptures and ceramics. There are various offers available, including an interest free credit scheme and a no-strings ‘Homeloan’ trial. The gallery also offers a framing service for any art purchased from the gallery. Call in or phone 0845 373 2380 for more information.
McTague Gallery on Cheltenham Mount is another private collectors’ gallery, this one trading in watercolours, oil paintings, twentieth-century prints, and genre and decorative prints. The gallery is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 10am until 5pm, or by appointment. To make an appointment, call 01423 567 086.
Harrogate is home to a large civic theatre and a number of temporary performance spaces, and is also the location of one of the most successful youth theatre groups in the country.
The Harrogate Theatre was opened in 1900, and its resident repertory company established in the 1930s. The Grade II listed building on Oxford Street is now used to base a broad selection of large-scale touring performances, one-night entertainments and five of its own in-house productions every year. The in-house productions are also taken around the country and performed in medium-scale venues. The theatre comprises two auditoria: a Victorian auditorium with proscenium arch and seating for five hundred people, and a studio space with a capacity of seventy.
The theatre is very successful, with an average of 72% attendance, a recognised youth theatre and a new writers’ programme in development. Recently, films have been shown at the venue on Monday evenings. For current listings and prices, call the theatre on 01423 502 710.
Harrogate International Centre is an office complex, conferencing facility, hotel, exhibition hall and theatre, based in the town centre on Kings Road. The venue hosts a range of events and entertainment, including concerts, drama and festivals. The main auditorium seats more than two thousand people, and is available to hire for staging of private events.
The box office can be contacted on 0845 130 8840, and is open Monday to Saturday, from 9:30am until 5pm.
Harrogate Youth Theatre is one of the most successful youth theatres in the country, and boasts 750 members between the ages of 3 and 19. Members attend drama workshops in one of nine venues around North Yorkshire, and take part in annual productions and performances. The youth theatre explores all aspects of theatre production, including writing, and the group aims to provide a fun and educational experience for its members. The Harrogate Youth Theatre has close links with the Harrogate Theatre, working with the theatre on workshops and performances.
Harrogate town centre is home to a wealth of shops and retailers, trading in everything from household appliances and antiques to clothes and food. There are also numerous neighbouring market towns and suburbs with traditional markets and small, independent shops.
The Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre in Harrogate is home to more than thirty stores over four levels. Retailers currently occupying the units include Bay Trading, La Senza and WHSmith, alongside a number of cafés and coffee bars, such as Caffe Latino and The Cornish Pasty Bakery. The shopping centre is based on Station Parade in the town centre; and is open seven days a week, from 8:30am until 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and 10:30am to 4:30pm on Sundays.
Bhs, Marks and Spencer and Dorothy Perkins can be found on Cambridge Street, along the side of the Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre, and Debenhams only a short walk away on Parliament Street. Parallel to Cambridge Street, on the opposite side of the shopping centre, is James Street and the place to find Evans, Gap, Laura Ashley, Monsoon and Next.
Harrogate town centre is the home of more than twenty antiques dealers, with many based around Montpellier Gardens, Montpellier Parade and Royal Parade. The dealers trade in a variety of antiques, including furniture, porcelain, clocks and paintings. The town is also the site of a number of antiques and collectables fairs; these occur sporadically and adverts are normally posted online at http://www.harrogateantiques.com/.
Knaresborough is a small market village, just a few miles outside the town centre. The village offers an array of retailers, markets and traditional cafés, including an eighteenth-century chemist, two antiques dealers and a special market that has been held on Wednesdays since 1310.
Ripon is home to a number of Georgian and medieval buildings, also a market and the town’s cathedral. Kirkgate is the main shopping street, and is lined with a variety of shops and shopping arcades.
Lightwater Valley Theme Park and Shopping Village are based in Ripon, and the latter is home to a restaurant and eight shops trading in clothes, gardening equipment and more. The Shopping Village is open six days a week.
Pubs and Bars
Harrogate town centre is home to a variety of pubs and bars but, being an affluent area, has a larger proportion of more up-market establishments than many other areas. There are also a number of franchises to be found; Flares, for example, and Montey’s Rock Café, Vodka Revolution, Wetherspoon, The Slug and Lettuce and Yate’s.
The Lounge is a part of the Carringtons bar/restaurant/nightclub complex, based in Harrogate town centre. The bar is stylish and up-market, but relaxed and comfortable, with a clientele mostly in the young professionals bracket. The bar has a late license to serve alcohol until 3am, and offers a selection of wines, cocktails and beers. There is occasionally live evening entertainment in the bar. The Lounge is based on Station Parade, next door to Carringtons nightclub.
The William and Victoria Restaurant and Wine Bar is located on Cold Bath Lane in the outskirts of the town centre. The bar is downstairs in the building, and a contemporary British restaurant upstairs. The establishment boasts an extensive wine list, and the restaurant comprises traditional, wood fixtures and fittings, creating a peaceful ambience. The wine bar is open from Monday until Saturday, and closes at 10pm.
Christie’s Bar, on Kings Road, is located below street-level, in a traditional public house building. The bar boasts sky television, numerous fruit machines and free wireless Internet.
Blues Bar, on Montpellier Parade, is a bar and live music venue showcasing a variety of blues bands and artists. Also on Montpellier Parade is Hedley’s Wine and Food Bar, Montpellier and The Slug and Lettuce.
Harrogate and Ripon CAMRA recommend numerous traditional and modern pubs and bars around the area for their international and/or locally brewed ‘real ale’ selections. Voted ‘Pub of the Season’ in Winter 2006 was The Spite Inn, in Otley. Knaresborough pubs, The Market Tavern and The Grove, also come highly recommended by the organisation, alongside The Empress in Church Square, Harrogate town centre.
Harrogate is a wise choice for a restaurant destination, boasting an incredible thirty-three restaurants recommended by Good Restaurant Guide, and almost a hundred others located around the town.
The Courtyard Restaurant is based in former livery stables on Montpellier Street, and was recently awarded an AA Rosette. The restaurant serves contemporary British cuisine, with a choice of indoor and outdoor seating and providing peaceful ambience and warm service. To reserve a table, contact the restaurant on 01423 530 708.
Sasso, in Princes Square, is a fine dining Italian restaurant, renowned for the high quality food and extensive wine list. The restaurant is quiet and intimate and the food produce is fresh and locally sourced. Reservations cannot be made, but contact the restaurant for opening times and menus on 01423 508 838.
Other recommended restaurants include La Bergerie, on Mount Parade, and Clocktower Restaurant in Rudding Park.
Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant is a seafood restaurant, based on Cheltenham Parade in the town centre. The restaurant boasts a heated veranda with spectacular views for alfresco dining, a marble-topped bar, leather sofas, mahogany tables and walls adorned with works of Modern Art. The menu comprises a range of classic and unusual hot and cold seafood dishes, as well as a specials board; and the wine list features red, white and rose wines and champagne, hand selected and bought directly from French and continental vineyards. To reserve a table, call 01423 533 070.
Wing Wah restaurant has branches in Coventry, Burton-on-Trent, Birmingham, Oldbury and Harrogate. The menu features an extensive selection of traditional Far East Asian food, and a choice of alcoholic beverages. The restaurant comprises two floors, with the ‘Modern Tranquil Room’ on the ground floor, with bright and contemporary décor, and the ‘Traditional Blossom Room’ upstairs, decorated in a more a traditionally oriental-influenced style.
The restaurant is open seven days a week, closing at 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 10:30pm during the rest of the week. To book a table, call 01423 858 828.
There are numerous other restaurants and takeaways, many of them Indian, located on Cheltenham Crescent in the town centre. These include Kinara Indian Restaurant, Ali Raj Tandoori and Ichiban.
Harrogate is home to four large leisure centres, numerous gyms, golf courses, riding schools, walking associations and a sailing club, providing plenty of options for visitors to the region. There are also numerous groups and organizations for those staying a little longer or living in the region.
The Hydro, on Jennyfield Drive, opened less than ten years ago and serves the area with three swimming pools, a fitness centre, a crèche and a café. The gym is located in a large room with state of the art equipment, including a low impact ‘Kinesis’ machine. The centre is open seven days a week, closing at 10pm Monday to Thursday, 7pm on Saturday and 8pm on Sunday. Membership offers vary, and a ‘pay as you go’ option is available. For more information, call 01423 556 767.
For those with children, Knaresborough Pool is always popular. The large leisure pool comprises a hot water bubble pool, water flume and large shallow section, along with an area for more experienced swimmers. There is also a café on-site, with a viewing gallery for those not wanting to swim. Contact the centre on 01423 860 011.
Starbeck Baths are based in a nineteenth-century spa on Spa Lane. The water is, on average, eighty-six degrees and consequently very popular with children and the elderly. Call in or contact the spa on 01423 883 155.
Other leisure and fitness centres in the town include Ripon Spa Baths (01765 603 383) and Nidderdale Pool and Leisure Centre (01423 711 442).
The National Centre for Combat Martial Arts is based in Valley House on Hornbeam Park Avenue, and is a martial arts training gym and teaching centre. Group and individual tuition is available in Kung Fu, kickboxing, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, combat and yoga. For non-members, a single session is £5 and a double £7.50. Contact the gym on 01423 530 168.
Harrogate might not be the destination that springs to mind when considering a sailing break, but Ripon Sailing Club formed in 1957, is based on a twenty-acre lake in Knaresborough and facilities are available seven days a week. There are races on Sundays, a ‘Young Opportunities Course’ for child sailors, and boats are available for private hire on the weekends. Call the Club on 01423 865 467.
Harrogate is home to a number of golf clubs, with courses ranging from the notoriously difficult to the gentle and leisurely. The Harrogate Golf Club is set into 6250-yards of parkland between Knaresborough and Harrogate town centre; mostly flat terrain, but with subtly placed bunkers and mature trees, suiting a more thoughtful style of play. The club was established in 1892 and the course designed by Alister MacKenzie, the same course architect responsible for a number of other courses around the world. Contact the club Secretary, Peter Banks, on 01423 862 999.
Oakdale course was also designed by Dr MacKenzie, and the club established in 1914. The course is 6456-yards, and set into the moorlands of Oakdale Glen.
Although Harrogate is not renowned for its nightlife, the young professional demographic is substantial and there are plenty of venues catering to this crowd. There are also the usual clubs, such as Flares and Po Na Na, found in most major towns and cities around the country.
Carringtons complex comprises a bar, restaurant and nightclub, and is based on Station Parade. The bar is specifically aimed at the young, affluent professionals in the region and presents 70s and 80s chart music from Wednesday nights through to Saturday nights. The club has a capacity of six hundred and is usually very busy.
Wednesday nights is ‘Heaven and Hell’, with chart music, karaoke and free entry; Thursday is ‘Old Skool Party’, also with free entry and drinks offers; Friday nights hosts ‘The Friday Frenzy’; and Saturday nights is ‘Let it Rip!’, entry is £3 but cocktails are two for the price of one.
On non-club nights, the venue is available to hire for private functions. To discuss hiring the venue, call 01423 525 551.
Also on Station Parade is Club XS (formerly Cardinal Sins), another branch of the indie/alternative music venue and nightclub also found in nearby Scarborough. Friday nights at Club XS is indie rock, Saturdays is ‘cheese’ and Sundays is metal, punk, rock and emo tunes. The venue is reasonably small, with a capacity of just over three hundred people.
Time Nightclub is based on Kings Road in the town centre. Formerly the extremely popular ‘Jimmy’s’, there is commercial dance in the club upstairs and a bar downstairs. Ticket prices tend to be quite high, but drinks are cheap. Call 01423 531 896 for more information.
Harrogate is also home to a branch of Ministry of Sound Minibar, a more intimate venue than the superclub from which it takes its name. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, from 9pm until 4am, Minibar is one of the most popular clubs in the region and is based in the heart of the town on Parliament Street. The venue is separated into four themed ‘zones’, with an imposing entrance and intimate bar in the first; a cocktail bar, VIP booth and multidimensional mirrored walls in the second; waiter service, touch-screen table-top ordering and private booths in the third; and a dance arena with a state of the art sound system delivering house and R’n’B.
Thursday night at Minibar is ‘Stereo Sushi’, with house music; Friday is ‘Housexy’; and Saturday is ‘upfront house’ approved by Ministry of Sound London.
If you are looking for more ideas of what to do in Harrogate please take a look at our other Harrogate guides.