While most visitors to England only make it as far as London, much of the country’s beauty and history rests in the smaller towns and villages that dot the lush countryside.
A three hour train ride north of London is the upmarket town of Harrogate. The gorgeous spa town located in the rolling hills of North Yorkshire was voted the happiest place to live in England from 2013-2015 and the second happiest place in 2019. A 2016 winner of Great Britain’s “Britain In Bloom”, Harrogate offers a seductive mix of breathtaking scenery, locally-sourced food and luxurious high street shopping.
London is a must-see on any trip to the UK, but you owe it to yourself to explore the north of England and see why locals call it “God’s Own Country”. Here are the best places to stay, sites to see and places to eat in one of the UK’s happiest towns.
How to Get to Harrogate from London
It may seem imposing to travel to Northern England from London, but it’s actually no sweat. The English rail system is a great way to travel and it takes out all the hassle and worry of driving a car on the opposite side of the road!
You can get to Harrogate either direct or with 1-stop from Kings Cross Station in Central London in just over 3 hours. Tickets can be found and purchased on Trainline for as low as 20 pounds and downloaded directly to your phone.
The high-speed train will drop you off right in the center of Harrogate where you can find The Harrogate Tap – one of the best pubs in all of North Yorkshire (more on that below!)
Where to Stay
West Park Hotel
Harrogate offers plenty of small to mid-size hotels for short stays, but if you are traveling for a weekend the centrally-located West Park Hotel is the top choice.
Part of the award-winning Provenance Inn group of hotels, the West Park Hotel is a chic 25-room gem that overlooks 200-acres of pristine parkland known as the “Stray”. Transformed from an old Victorian Coach House, the West Park has the right mix of English history and contemporary luxury that will make you feel right at home.
To accompant the stylish and comfortable rooms, the West Park has an exciting restaurant with seasonal produce sourced from local farmers around the North of England. If you are traveling with a larger group the West Park offers fun and festive gin tasting evenings – where for about 25 pounds per person you can sample some of the best local gins in the region.
Where to Eat
Betty’s Tea Room
First opened in 1919, the 101-year old Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate is one of the most beloved tea rooms in the United Kingdom. With white-glove service and an air of English properness that’s more warm than stuffy, Betty’s is the ultimate British dining experience.
When at Betty’s make sure to try their famous “Fat Rascal”. A cross between a bun and a scone Betty’s Fat Rascals are packed full of fruit and contain whole blanched almonds and glacé cherries on top. Try it with a pot of specialty tea for the quintessential English experience.
If you plan on dining at Betty’s, plan to arrive early. Betty’s has a no reservation policy and after 10AM you may see hundreds of people waiting in line in the wet weather to get a seat. Our suggestion is to arrive within an hour of opening for the most enjoyable dining experience.
It may seem a bit odd to recommend Pan-Asian food in Northern England, but The Orchid located in the Studley Royal Hotel is a can’t-miss spot. For over 20 years, the team of creative restaurateurs Bokmun Chan and Kenneth Poon have brought incredible South-East Asian food to delighted Harrgoate residents.
While the food at The Orchid is outrageous (be sure to try the Crispy Prawns and the Weeping Tiger Steak), the attentive service is top-notch. English restaurants are not particularly known for their customer service, but you will feel like a 5-star guest at this top-notch dining establishment.
Where to Grab a Pint
Located in the only remaining part of the original 1862 Harrogate Train Station, the Harrogate Tap is one of the first stops to make when you arrive into town.
A beer-lovers dream, you won’t find TVs or loud music blaring at this traditional town center pub. Harrogate Tap offers 12 traditional cask handpulls and 15 more keg taps of both local and national beers to sample from.
With a dog-friendly policy and easy-going bartenders, the Harrogate Tap is a must stop for a pint!
Coach and Horses
Overlooking the west end of the beautiful Harrogate Stray, Coach and Horses is a beloved no-nonsense British pub serving local beers and delicious pub lunches. With an extensive list of ales along with a selection of over 80 whiskies, this traditional watering hole has everything you look for in traditional British pub experience.
The best part? The Coach and Horses proudly touts its strict etiquette policy (No tvs! No music! No kids! No darts!) If you are serious about your beverages and don’t want the modern day distractions that are found in noisy pubs – this is your place.
What to Do
The Royal Baths
In the 1800’s Harrogate was known as “the English Spa” and was a preferred destination for European high society. In fact, the baths were popular with members of Royal families from around the world and a particular favourite of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters.
Today, Harrogate’s Royal Baths are one of only three in the UK that date back to the 19th century. Elaborately decorated with Islamic arches and screens, walls of glazed brickwork along with arabesque painted ceilings, visitors can enjoy contemporary spa treatments inside the vibrant historical building.
The Baths offer a ritual of heating, cooling and cleansing as you begin in the heat chambers and end by cooling in the Plunge Room or the Frigidarium. Once you move through the Baths, you can relax further with a manicure, massage or full body scrubs – whatever you are in the mood for, the Royal Baths have something for everyone.
An English Heritage Gade II listed gardens, Valley Gardens is a park with breathtaking beauty and unbelievable amenities for both children and adults alike. Open all year round, the 17-acre Valley Gardens is home to a massive kids playground along with other outdoor games such as tennis courts, putt-putt golf and a full skate park.
You can spend hours strolling around colorful gardens exploring the different species of plant and animal life or just relax and throw out a picnic blanket for a quiet lunch. In the center of Valley Gardens is the Magnesia Well Cafe serving delicious coffee as well as fresh local ice cream.