How to Spend a Weekend in Harrogate: 48 Hours in the Spa Town of the North

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Retrace Agatha Christie’s footsteps with this perfect weekend in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

Things to do in Harrogate

How to Spend the Perfect Weekend in Harrogate

A weekend in Harrogate is a decadent voyage to Yorkshire’s luxurious past. The Spa Town hit the headlines in the 19th century when its sulphur springs became the height of fashion. Anyone who was anyone paid a visit, from Agatha Christie to the Tsars of Russia.

Today, the wealth of the era shines through in the shape of honeyed stone and grand buildings, with echoes of the Cotswolds and Bath.

But make no mistake. This is Yorkshire, the beating heart of northern England, with a character quite distinct from those genteel southern soft spots.

Let me introduce you to some of the best things to do in Harrogate to relax and recharge. Plus, a plan to make the most of Harrogate in two days.

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Your 48 Hours in Harrogate Itinerary

Right, let’s get started! A beautiful weekend in Harrogate awaits.

Friday Night in Harrogate: Agatha Christie at the Old Swan

Now, here’s a story I’d never heard before. Renowned crime writer Agatha Christie once went missing from her home in Berkshire, her car found abandoned at a train station.

At the time, she was thick in the midst of marital trouble and grief following the death of her mother and her disappearance caused a nationwide manhunt.

After 11 days, she was spotted: relaxing and having a good time in The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate.

Apparently, she’d seen a poster at Waterloo in London and decided to head on down and enjoy herself. And frankly? Who could blame her!

England - Yorkshire - Weekend in Harrogate visit Turkish Baths
Harrogate’s Turkish Baths are beautifully ornate

9am Saturday Morning: Get Steamy in the Turkish Baths

Another signature thing to do on a weekend in Harrogate is to unrobe and get hot and steamy at the Turkish Baths.

If it was good enough for Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, it’s good enough for you, right?

These beautiful historic buildings recently received a 21st century face lift, providing a modern light atrium before the traditional steam, soak and cold plunge.

The dark wooden changing rooms resemble old hospital wards at sanatoriums but once you’re into the bath proper it’s as though you’ve stepped into a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It makes sense to book a session in advance as places fill up fast. Fresh white towels and a hairdryer are provided but you’ll need a towel for the locker and most other toiletries.

Other treatments are also available but two hours of steam and soaking is relaxing in and of itself.

Related: 7 of the Best Spas in the World

Things to do in Harrogate, the Turkish Baths
The Old Swan is a must-visit

11.30 Feel Cultured at the Mercer Art Museum

Duly soaked and scrubbed, take a quick wander through the Mercer Art Museum to work up an appetite.

Free to wander in, the single storey Mercer houses an ever-changing menu of exhibits sandwiched beneath glass chandeliers and a polished wooden floor from a purpose built spa building constructed in 1805.

Things to do in Harrogate, Inside Betty's Tea Rooms Harrogate

1pm Late Lunch or Early Afternoon Tea at Betty’s Tea Rooms

Over 100 years old, Betty’s is a landmark eatery and experience in Harrogate.

In a place where Russian royalty spent the equivalent of a month’s salary every single day, Harrogate built its fortunes on the splendours of the past.

And Betty’s offers a return ticket to those halcyon days through fresh clotted cream and rich raisin scones.

Vintage Afternoon Tea

The traditional afternoon tea comes with four triangular sandwiches (cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and a mystery surprise), the scone and three small sweets. For me, this involved a chocolate cake, glazed fruit tart and lemon and orange zested macaron.

You have a choice of tea (of course!) but also coffee and other drinks, with Moutard Rosé Prestige champagne available for an extra cost. With a whimsical hint of The Titanic, I chose Chinese Rose with a slice of lemon. Floral, light, but not too different from regular tea after all.

But it’s the presentation that brings the experience alive.

Muted walls and artfully placed greenery. Mirror-lighted teapots and exquisite table service. Silver tea strainers, expertly cut lemon and a cake stand that stacks up the goodies in a way you’d never do at home.

You’re also surrounded by people having a good time.

People getting together before the theatre. People celebrating a birthday. Mothers and daughters and grandchildren and grandparents and close friends arranging a special treat.

It’s the jam and scones version of the Heathrow sequence at the start and end of Love Actually.

How to Arrange Afternoon Tea at Betty’s

You can book tables at Betty’s between Thursday and Sunday, but on other days just turn up and feel lucky. I walked straight in at 5 on a weekday but others report queues stretching around the block. Just factor it into your plans and be prepared.

Betty’s also serves “normal” food beyond the tea so bear that in mind if you fancy something more substantial.

Also, bear in mind that the tea is already substantial. I couldn’t finish mine and didn’t want to eat again for about a decade.

Things to do in Harrogate
No trip to Harrogate is complete without a box of Farrah’s Original Toffee

3.30 Shop in Style

You’ll find numerous boutiques, jewellers, booksellers, shoe shops, delicatessens, and chocolatiers and even a department store on the ever popular James Street. So, as part of your 48 hours in Harrogate, browse these glimpses of the city’s past, present and, if we’re feeling poetic, future.

In particular, don’t miss the Harrods Food Hall of the North: Betty’s.

Things to do in Harrogate - The Little Ale House
The Little Ale House specialises in craft ales

Saturday Night in Harrogate

For a boutique nightlife experience, try the Little Ale House on Cheltenham Crescent.

This independent mini pub specialises in craft ales and blends its style of hipster cool with old traditions, hanging hops from the ceiling and making the most of the exposed wooden beams and doors.

And if you are still hungry after Betty’s, try Stuzzi’s for some Italian tapas.

Small and run by well-informed young staff, Stuzzi aims to turn the British idea of Italian food on its head (which, let’s face it, is probably what needs to be done.)

A deli counter and freshly prepared dishes like ‘Uova alla Diavola’ (devilled baked eggs with fiery nduja salami) and potato and pecorino hash brown topped with mortadella, fried egg and white Alba truffle oil allow you to move beyond the pasta and pizza repertoire and learn more about each region as you go.

It is nothing like Harrogate’s iconic Betty’s and everything like it: small dishes full of flavour that transport you to another time or place.

Sunday Morning: The Royal Pump Room Museum

Fittingly located inside the former public baths, this small but charming museum forms an essential part of understanding Harrogate – and then failing to understand it again.

Memorabilia and a brief tour held on the hour explain how the world’s ultra wealthy would head here to drink the water. Regimens were strict and involved a mixture of steaming, drinking water, listening to bands play and going for a promenade.

In a time when drinking water wasn’t always up to scratch, it’s possible to see why this would be beneficial.

When you see the salty, sludgy, stinking water held in the subterranean vaults, you wonder if they hadn’t all lost their minds.

Stroll Through Valley Gardens

This beautiful 17-acre English Heritage Grade II listed garden is well worth a visit, as long as the weather is feeling kind.

Historical buildings such as the Sun Pavilion and the colonnades are framed by pretty flowers, shrubs and manicured lawns. The grounds have benefitted from the expertise of award-winning garden designer Paul Hervey-Brookes, with family friendly additions like a paddling pool, skate park, playground and café here.

Related: Unusual Things To Do in Bristol; England’s Sassy City

Unusual Things to Know About Harrogate

  • Harrogate topped the ‘Happiest Places to Live in the UK’ poll for three years in a row.
  • It’s only a day trip away from a UNESCO world heritage site: Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal
  • It’s the self-styled Gateway to the Dales and Jewel of the North (the Dales are thousands of square miles of hills, moors, valleys and villages).
  • The Harrogate Flower Shows are the biggest exhibitions of flower arranging and floristry in Britain, attracting over 40 000 visitors.
  • The world’s biggest celebration of the crime genre, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, takes place at the Old Swan Hotel, as a nod to its Agatha Christie Heritage.

Things to do in Harrogate - The Chapel
The Chapel is a truly unique hotel

Where to Stay in Harrogate for a Weekend

The Chapel

Part Gothic Horror House, part Opium Den, one thing’s for sure: a night at The Chapel is never dull.

So named because it’s a renovated chapel, this B&B is the passion project of Mark Hinchliffe and has been picked up by Channel Four’s television programme Four in a Bed, as well as Restoration Man.

Taking photos is one thing but this place has to be seen to be believed.

Crown Hotel Harrogate

With a history dating back over 300 years, the Crown Hotel Harrogate is an excellent choice for visitors looking to be as close to the centre of town as possible.

There are a variety of rooms available to cater to all budgets and tastes, as well as onsite restaurants and bars.

The Yorkshire Hotel

The 4-star Yorkshire Hotel is a great choice for families and solo travellers alike. Set in the heart of town, this modern accommodation has everything you need to enjoy your weekend in Harrogate. Don’t miss dinner at The Pickled Sprout – I promise the food is better than the name suggests!

When is the Best Time to visit Harrogate?

There’s never really a bad time to visit Harrogate but you’ll get something different at different times of year. Spring (March to May) brings blooming gardens and the renowned Flower Show. Summer (June to August) is ideal for outdoor activities and festivals. Autumn (September to November) showcases picturesque landscapes with changing colours. Winter (December to February) has a magical festive atmosphere.

How to Get to Harrogate

Harrogate is pretty easy to get to from across the UK.

If you’re coming from London, the most convenient way is to take a train from London King’s Cross station, with a journey time of around two hours. The Harrogate railway station is centrally located, allowing for easy exploration of the town on foot.

For those preferring road travel, the A1(M) motorway provides a direct route by car, approximately a four-hour drive from London.

Leeds Bradford Airport is the nearest air travel option, situated about 12 miles southwest of Harrogate, offering international and domestic flights.

Additionally, well-connected bus services operate within the region.

How to Get Around Harrogate

Harrogate really isn’t that big so it’s quite easy to get around under your own steam. The town’s pedestrian-friendly layout encourages exploration on foot, allowing visitors to appreciate its Victorian architecture, lush gardens, and charming streets.

Additionally, cycling is a popular and eco-friendly means of transportation, with numerous dedicated bike paths and rental options available.

The Harrogate Bus Company operates an extensive network of buses that connect key attractions and surrounding areas.

Finally, taxis are readily available, offering a comfortable and efficient way to reach specific destinations.

It’s not really worth hiring a car unless you have one already as part of a road trip or campervan trip around the UK.

What to Pack for Harrogate

As a spa town in North Yorkshire, the climate can be unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to pack layers. Bring a mix of lightweight clothing for warmer days, such as breathable fabrics like cotton, and warmer layers like sweaters or jackets for cooler evenings.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must, especially if you plan to explore the town on foot and visit its beautiful gardens.

As Harrogate is known for its upscale atmosphere, consider packing some smart-casual outfits for dining in its fine restaurants or attending events.

Don’t forget essentials like an umbrella and a waterproof jacket to shield against occasional rain.

If you’re planning outdoor activities, such as hiking in the nearby Yorkshire Dales, pack sturdy footwear and outdoor clothing suitable for varying terrains.

Lastly, it’s always wise to bring a travel adapter, as well as any personal items and medications you may need.

Oh, and, don’t forget your swimwear for the Turkish Baths!

A Weekend in Harrogate at a Glance

Compact, walkable, green and fairly steep, Harrogate is pretty well connected to major cities in the north.

It’s 40 mins by train from Leeds and York and it’s easy to walk from the station into town. If you drive, park on the outskirts of town and walk in.  The closest airport is Leeds (Bradford.)

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