Scarborough is where the tradition of English seaside holidays began – and it began earlier than you might think. It was in the 1660s that a book promoting the medicinal properties of a local spring (now the site of Scarborough Spa) pulled in the first flood of visitors. A belief in the health-giving effects of sea bathing saw wheeled bathing carriages appear on the beach in the 1730s, and with the arrival of the railway in 1845 Scarborough’s fate was sealed. By the time the 20th century rolled in, it was all donkey rides, fish and chips, and boat trips round the bay, with saucy postcards, beauty contests and slot-machine arcades only a decade or two away.
Like all British seaside towns, Scarborough suffered a downturn in recent decades as people jetted off to the Costa Blanca on newly affordable foreign holidays, but things are looking up again. The town retains all the trappings of the classic seaside resort, but is in the process of reinventing itself as a centre for the creative arts and digital industries. The Victorian spa has been redeveloped as a conference and entertainment centre, a former museum has been converted into studio space for artists, and there’s free, open-access wi-fi along the promenade beside the harbour – an area being promoted as the town’s bar, cafe and restaurant quarter.
As well as the usual seaside attractions, Scarborough offers excellent coastal walking, a geology museum, one of Yorkshire’s most impressively sited castles, and a renowned theatre that is the home base for popular playwright Alan Ayckbourn, whose plays always premiere here.
Top Things to See in Scarborough
The Rotunda Museum is dedicated to the coastal geology of northeast Yorkshire, which has yielded many of Britain’s most important dinosaur fossils. The strata in the local cliffs were also important in deciphering England’s geological history. Founded by William Smith, ‘the father of English geology’, who lived in Scarborough in the 1820s, the museum has original Victorian exhibits as well as a hands-on gallery for kids.
The massive medieval keep of Scarborough Castle occupies a commanding position atop its headland. Legend has it that Richard I loved the views from here so much that his ghost just keeps coming back. Take a walk out to the edge of the cliffs, where you can see the 2000-year-old remains of a Roman signal station; clearly the Romans appreciated this viewpoint, too.
Set back from North Bay, Scarborough’s beautiful Edwardian pleasure gardens are famous for their summer sessions of Naval Warfare, when large model ships re-enact famous naval battles on the boating lake (check the website for dates).
St. Mary’s Church
This church dates from the 12th to the 15th centuries (boards inside explain its history), but it is most notable for the little cemetery across the lane that contains the grave of Anne Brontë.