Things to do in the North York Moors National Park
Unmissable Experiences in the North York Moors National Park
Nestled in the heart of Northern England, the North York Moors National Park is a tapestry of rolling heather-clad moors, ancient woodlands, and rugged coastlines. A sanctuary for both nature enthusiasts and history buffs, this national gem offers a myriad of activities and attractions. Whether you're keen on trekking scenic trails, delving into rich history, or simply soaking in the tranquil beauty, the North York Moors promises an unforgettable experience.
Dive in and discover the myriad things to do in this captivating landscape!
People have been walking for thousands of years along Ryedale’s greenways - in fact, the North York Moors is famous for its ancient footpaths! There are more surviving ‘trods’ (flagged pathways) here than anywhere else, and they’re something of a mystery - no-one knows who built them, just that they’re very old. For century upon century, people’s footsteps have made their mark on this land: medieval saints and pilgrims, Roman soldiers and Celtic warriors, and before them – for 6,000 years and more – farmers. Today, the region is a welcome retreat for walkers – home to 1,400 miles of walking routes, and national trails that are amongst the oldest, least-discovered and most artistic in the country.
- For epic walkers who like to go the distance: along the Cleveland Way National Trail you can leave the traffic and your cares far behind for a 109-mile hike through the spectacular North York Moors National Park, from Helmsley to the Yorkshire Coast. It’s one of the most rich and varied landscapes of any national trail, and also one of the most historic – not only the second national trail to open, but populated by ruined castles and abbeys, ancient monuments, and smugglers’ coves.
- Lazy amble, or fun for families: take a happy history tour of Helmsley on this walk that’s also ideal if your party includes pushchairs and wheelchairs. You’ll pass by the pretty beck, the imposing castle, the magnificent walled gardens and of course, wander through the picturesque marketplace, charmingly bedecked for Christmas and famous for its fascinating and friendly independent stores, eateries and galleries. Find route details here.
For walkers who like to go off the beaten track: sometimes lazy, sometimes adventurous, these walks will take you right into the heart of the beautiful countryside where you can experience the awe and wonder of nature, but not be too far from a friendly tea-room or pub for a well-earned treat:
- These places are gateways into much wider walking terrain with a network of pathways from their doorsteps, so you can either ‘follow your nose’ for a free-flow amble, or download a walking route to explore in more detail: Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, Terrington, Slingsby, Hovingham, Nunnington, Welburn, Appleton-le-Moors, Lastingham, Low Mill in Farndale (famous for its daffodils), Rosedale Abbey, and Hutton-le-Hole. All of these locations also have top-notch tea-rooms or pubs for walker-friendly refreshments (but make sure you check opening times before you set out!)
- Dalby Forest and Sutton Bank outdoor centres also have a huge network of walking trails, alongside additional facilities like tea-rooms, shops, car parking, and play areas.
The North York Moors is home to some of Britain’s best and most varied biking. Whether on or off-road, the region’s gloriously diverse landscape makes it a pedalling paradise perfect for any mood, ability or bike, so whether you prefer gentle escapism, family freewheeling or epic adventures, there’s a place and a pace for you here.
The region also boasts one of the driest winter climates in Britain, with less rainfall than most other outdoor destinations! Even better, you can find ‘weather-proof’ trails year-round on the North York Moors, thanks to the forest trails and specially-prepared cycling surfaces of these Top Three cycling hubs – the starting points for the greatest rides in the North York Moors!:
Dalby Forest is one of Britain’s best and largest mountain biking centres, featuring over 45 miles of cycling across an epic 8,000 acres, and home to an international UCI World Cup Trail and a dedicated skills Bike Park with its chance for airtime adventures. There are routes perfect for beginners and families, and also an impressive range of facilities including expert tuition and guiding, shops, cafes and bike hire (as well as Go Ape Treetop adventures, forest segways and woodland play areas).
Over recent years, Sutton Bank has become the flagship cycling centre for the North York Moors National Park, with the development of its ‘top of the world’ WildRide network making it one of the best destinations in the country for traffic-free riding. From the Bank itself, you’ll enjoy the finest view in England, and all of the 40+ miles of signposted cycling trails (all different ability levels) take advantage of this stunning ‘sky-high’ location. There’s also a skills area for young novices, a pump track for mountain-bikers, and - as a gateway to the North York Moors - Sutton Bank is a great base for those wanting to experience classic moorland rides – both on and off-road. To help everything go smoothly, the visitor centre has an impressive range of facilities, from expert tuition and guiding, to shops, cafes and bike hire (and also play area and walking trails).
If you love a forest trail, then head for Cropton and Keldy where you can also stay in Forest Holiday’s luxury eco-lodges with bike hire and hot tubs. Or you can support Newbridge Park in Pickering, where local volunteers have turned a disused woodland quarry into a mini-bike park with MTB trails and skills area, with proceeds helping to fund wildlife conservation.
The North York Moor’s crowning glory, however, is its giant ‘wild’ playground, where off-roaders can experience some of Britain’s best single-track, ridgeway, and top-of-the-world trails or the new North York Moors Cycleway, a ‘figure of eight’ off-road cycling trail through 200 miles of some of the UK’s most amazing scenery, with plenty of cycling-friendly accommodation, cafes and tea rooms along the way. Meanwhile, dedicated roadies can enjoy classic rides which attract cyclists from far and wide, from the glorious Bransdale or Dalby Forest Loops to the rather more comfortable Spaunton Manor circuit around Appleton-le-Moors.
Year-round cycling facilities
Want to get the most out of your cycling? Then make the most of local experts: get insider tips on terrain and trails, learn new skills, and get advice on where to hire or buy the best bikes or kit with the region’s highly-qualified coaches and guides. Ask for details at Big Bear Bikes (Pickering), Dalby Cycle Hub (Dalby Forest), Dalby Bike Barn (Thornton-le-Dale), or Sutton Bank Bikes (near Helmsley). Having a guide is really valuable if you’d like to explore the off-road ‘wild’ trails across the North York Moors.
For more info on their cycling routes visit the North York Moors National Park website.
“Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.”
You don’t need to climb a Himalayan mountain to find true peace. The words above were written by one of the greatest spiritual writers of the Middles Ages, Aelred, about his own retreat in the North York Moors, Rievaulx Abbey. 900 years later they still hold true.
- Did you know..?: the North York Moors is one of the very few places in England where tranquillity and solitude is so valued, so uniquely part of its nature that it’s being protected by legislation; celebrated as a precious natural resource essential to our well-being.
While ideas about mindfulness and wellbeing seem very modern, the North York Moors has been a haven, a retreat, for a very long time - the original sanctuary. 400 years ago, healing spring water was discovered along the Yorkshire Coast, and the seaside holiday was born as people escaped to the first-ever seaside spa. Ever since, the coastline of the North York Moors has become a place where we can cast off our everyday cares - rediscover our smiles, restore our sense of self, find healing.
The area’s relationship with health, happiness and harmony is much older, however. For nearly 1500 years, from the time of the earliest saints, the region’s hills have been alive with the sound of bells and prayers, as monks and nuns made their mark on the landscape, in mile upon mile of sacred sanctuaries – more than anywhere else in Britain.
Today, the North York Moors is the perfect place to seek sanctuary, and restore the mind, body and soul:
- Engage with nature, seeking harmony: marvel at wide open spaces with far-distant horizons, and not a car in sight; spectacular scenery, a rich, colourful and musical tapestry of land and sea, providing a haven for some of Britain’s most precious wildlife – and for us. Space to take a breath, hear your heartbeat, feel alive.
- Take time for ourselves: far from madding crowds, traffic and human intrusion. This is one of the least-crowded places in the country, with some of the UK’s lowest levels of light pollution - earning it much-prized ‘Dark Skies’ status, and the chance to lose yourself in Britain’s starriest skies.
- A spiritual quality: even best-selling writers have struggled to find words to describe the unique ambience of the North York Moors, something that touches the soul and has inspired both supernatural and saintly expression, for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is a place where history merges into myth, creating a sense that anything is possible, giving us a space for our imaginations to run free.
See Rievaulx Abbey, Dalby Forest, Dark Skies
Other mindful places
Helmsley Walled Garden, (designated a local sustainable tourism champion), has been designed as a place of peace and tranquillity, in balance with nature and the natural world with its ‘green’ gardening practices. The award-winning visitor attraction is celebrating this relationship in a series of events exploring the ancient healing power of herbal remedies.
Not far from the Walled Garden is the National Bird of Prey Centre with the North’s largest collection of birds-of-prey – who you can meet face-to-face during their astonishing daily flight displays. As Christmas approaches, the winter owls take magical flights through a torch and candle-lit woodland fairyland; and each spring, the handlers nurture chicks as part of their conservation programme to protect internationally-endangered species, with last year’s new broods including Spectacled Owls, Bald Eagles, Ural Owls and Grey Buzzard Eagles and Steller's Sea Eagles (one of the world’s largest birds).
As a working abbey in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Ampleforth Abbey is a special place of peace, which warmly welcomes visitors into its glorious grounds to seek sanctuary and inspiration. They are most famous, however, for their tasty tipples: with some of the largest traditional orchards in the North of England, Ampleforth Abbey’s monks handmake their celebrated cider and brandy to a centuries-old recipe – and autumn is the best time to take an orchard tour, as over 50 varieties of apple are harvested and hand-pressed in the abbey’s cider-mill.
In its idyllic spot by the river, Danby Lodge National Park Centre is a peaceful place to wile away time amongst nature, or gaze at the starry night-skies (like Sutton Bank, this is an official Dark Skies Discovery Site – the others being Dalby Forest and Sutton Bank). It’s also home to the national park’s flagship art gallery, Inspired By…, which champions local artists and makers, many of whom are UK leaders in the contemporary art scene. As well as art and crafts workshops and hands-on events for budding artists, there are regular ‘Meet the Artist’ events, where you can often see the makers in action!
- Enjoy YogandSpice near Whitby (Guardian Top 10 spa and wellness break), offering woodland yoga retreats spiced with Ayurvedic cookery and foraging.
- Retreat to your own luxurious country estate at Raithwaite in Sandsend, where its extensive spa has pamper packages not just for people, but also for guest pooches!
- Timeout in nature with Adventures for the Soul, exploring the North York Moors with wild walks or mindful mini-adventures that include Dark Skies Meanders, wild camping, forest yoga and woodland bathing
- The Tree Relaxation Retreat in Rosedale Abbey (Guardian & Times’ Top 25 world’s best yoga retreat) makes the most of its spectacular surroundings with moorland strolls included on the ‘spa menu’
Relaxation & Indulgence
Showstopping Baking In The Capital Of Cake
Take a break in Britain’s ‘Capital of Cake’. Yes, there are so many divine desserts the region’s been dubbed the ‘Capital of Cake’, and here are a few heavenly hot spots:
The Champions of Cake: each year, the North York Moors challenges local tea-rooms and bakeries to compete for the much-coveted title, ‘Capital of Cake’. Recent champions include the Willow Cake Shop in Loftus with its signature cupcakes, and Yorkshire Cycle Hub near Danby with their multi-layered weekend whoppers. Traditional homebakes with sensational views were also winning recipes for beach-side Sandside Cafe in Sandsend (also one of the Telegraph’s top 8 best beach cafes), the Hornblower Tea Garden (a former lighthouse station in Whitby), and Graze on the Green in walkers’ paradise, Rosedale Abbey.
Time Travelling Teacakes: world-famous Bothams of Whitby has been a family-run craft bakery since 1865, and is still serving their time-honoured recipes – parkin and brack, ginger and plum breads - all freshly baked from the finest ingredients by the great grandchildren of the original bakers.
What a view! The ‘top-of-the-world’ Hornblower Tea Garden is perched on top of the highest spot in Whitby, in the old lighthouse and foghorn station, with stunning sea views. It’s a walker’s secret, only accessible via the Cleveland Way National Trail – so after indulging in the scrumptious homemade cakes, scones and sandwiches you can walk to make room for more…
Local specialities: the only place you can taste the Staithes Coble - a traditional spiced apricot, apple, cinnamon and walnut cake - is the harbourside Seadrift Café in Staithes. And if you fancy a Moggy or a Yorkshire Courting Cake, you’ll need to hike to Dale Head Farm Tea-room, an ‘oasis on the moors’ above Rosedale Abbey.
For a toe-tapping tea-room, you can’t beat the Tea, Toast & Post in Robin Hood’s Bay – not only celebrated for its extraordinary food & drink (all toast temptations, from ‘Doorstep’ Egg & Bacon Toast to Fish Finger Toast Platters), but one of the coast’s top live music venues, where you’ll often stumble upon some of the country’s top acoustic musicians in a ‘secret’ gig!
Afternoon Tea for connoisseurs: at the magnificent Raithwaite Sandsend near Whitby, set on its own country estate, the Indulgent Afternoon Tea is labour of love for foodies. A celebration of local produce, it includes Slow Roast Yorkshire Ham and Whitby Fortune’s Kipper Pate with Rhubarb Chutney; and Yorkshire Curd Tart and Earl Grey Cake with Icing made with Heather Honey from the North York Moors. Meanwhile, the decadent Afternoon Tea at the Feversham Arms changes with the seasons. Their chef’s top-class speciality is a unique savoury afternoon tea, with cheese and herb-infused scones, freshly baked pastries (including venison sausage rolls and goats cheese tartlets) as well as a classic selection of sandwiches.
For the most historic Afternoon Tea, seek out award-winning Bothams Tea Rooms in Whitby. This world-famous craft bakery has been making the same, beloved family recipes since 1865 from the finest of ingredients, and the Afternoon Tea is an unforgettable experience, with a traditional atmosphere and scrumptious hand-baking of classic Yorkshire recipes, all served on an elegant handcrafted tiered stand.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Take an enchanting journey aboard the iconic steam trains of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, one of the world’s greatest railway experiences – and also movie star, beloved for its role as Hogsmeade in Harry Potter, and more recently featuring in the latest Mission Impossible and Raiders of the Lost Ark blockbusters. The railway also organises its own blockbuster events, from the magical Santa Specials to October illuminations.
The vintage trains wind their way between Pickering and Whitby across 26 miles of stunning moorland landscape, but the railway is much more than a nostalgic attraction. With stops at Levisham, Grosmont and Goathland, it’s also a novel and practical way of connecting walkers and cyclists up to a network of routes across the national park.
Note that the main timetable ends on 5 November, resuming for the Easter holidays.
With old-world charm and vibrant market towns, the North York Moors will rekindle the most humbug of Christmas spirits – the perfect place for a gentle winter escape.
For centuries, the picturesque market towns of the North York Moors – Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, and Pickering – have been the heart and soul of the region, and that’s especially true at Christmas. Just a few miles away from each other (and only a short hop from York), they form an extraordinary 13-mile corridor sparkling with yuletide tradition, and unique in the UK.
- Make merry in market squares dressed to impress Santa himself, with farmers’ shops heaped high with local foodie treats, and music and theatre spilling onto the streets.
- You’re in one of Britain’s best foodie destinations, so stock up your Xmas hamper with a bounty of prize-winning local produce or indulge in winter feasting in award-winning eateries.
- Revel in the joy of gifting, browsing the galleries and workshops for a unique local masterpiece by Britain’s leading makers, or hunting for antiques.
- Make magical memories: don’t miss Castle Howard’s winter wonderland, Santa’s steam trains at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, or candlelit winter owls dancing at the National Bird of Prey Centre.
And if you find that one day just isn’t enough, stay a little longer in luxury hotels, cottages or B&Bs.
Christmas Event Highlights
Details TBC at the moment on these events, but I have a mass of content on all of these from previous years!
- Fridays & Saturdays during October – December, Winter Owl Evenings at the National Bird of Prey Centre (Helmsley)
- 18 – 20 November Whitby Christmas Market & Festival (in the past this has had an seaside ice-skating rink)
- 25 November – 5 January 2024 Stepping into a Story Wonderland, Sutton Bank and Danby Lodge National Park Centres
- Weekends from 25 November to 24 December, Santa Specials at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (from Pickering and Grosmont)
- 2 – 3 December Robin Hood's Bay Victorian Weekend, Robin Hood's Bay: the whole town turns back the clock to the 19th century, with costumes, games, carols and street entertainment
- 2023 dates TBC Castle Howard at Christmas: experience this magnificent house decked out
- 2023 dates tbc Helmsley Christmas Festival (including the much-loved Tree Festival in the church, panto spilling onto the street, carols and lighting displays, Christmas markets!
- 26 Boxing Day Dip on Whitby beach
Christmas Art Trail
Churches are open all through the winter and the North York Moors has some incredible examples, just like York!)
Forget Banksy or Marvel’s comic art: 500 years ago, artists created one of Europe’s most important medieval masterpieces on the walls of St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church in Pickering, recreating – in colossal scale - stories from the Harrowing of Hell and St George’s battle with the dragon, full of drama and vibrant colour, like magnificent medieval manga. It’s not the only church in the area with amazing treasures: Byland Abbey (great window inspired York Minster’s famous rose window), Lastingham Priory, St Gregory’s Minster in Kirkdale, and Stonegrave Minster all have unique – even legendary - masterpieces and artefacts to discover within their hallowed walls. Even better, they’re free to visit and open daily!
Favourite Winter Walk
It’s become a winter pilgrimage for many people seeking peace and quiet: a ‘blow the cobwebs away’ hike between Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx Abbey
along the Cleveland Way National Trail, through ancient woodland into the secluded valley of the River Rye. You’ll certainly work up an appetite, so take time to treat yourself in the abbey’s café, or one of the many top-class tea-tooms and restaurants in Helmsley, your starting point. Leave around 3 hours for the walk; route details are here.