It would be a cheap shot to say Yorkshire is England’s best county simply because it’s the largest. The latter is obviously true but what makes it such a cracking place to spend a weekend (preferably longer) is the variety. Take the scenery; not one but two National Parks: the sheep-and-dry-stone-wall-dotted Dales and the wild and horizon-stretching North York Moors. Plus, a swathe of beaches, breezy clifftop walks, thrilling waterfalls (including England’s highest single-drop waterfall) and weirdly wonderful rock formations that pop up out of nowhere.
It’s not all for the hearty action-seeker though. There are sumptuous stately homes, romantically ruined abbeys, steam railways and world-class art from Salts Mill’s collection of David Hockney to the 500-acre Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Market towns still hold markets, there’s the occasional slice of posh (Harrogate, for example), and you’d be hard-pushed to find a village without a pub.
But, of course, it’s the people that make a place. Direct, maybe, but always big-hearted, keen to crack a joke and proud to share their beautiful county with others.
For further inspiration, see our guides to the best hotels, pubs, beaches, restaurants and things to do in Yorkshire. If you’re planning a city break, see our guide to the perfect weekend in York here.
The perfect weekend break in Yorkshire
Scenic valleys, riverside lunches and plenty of cheese
A weekend in Yorkshire presents a dilemma: it’s a huge county with almost too much choice. But the Yorkshire Dales possibly has the edge; each valley has a different character, plus there are well-resourced towns and villages if a wet-weather or shopping fix is required.
Base yourself in Burnsall, in Wharfedale, sitting on a curve of the river and with a choice of the riverside Red Lion (from £130) or, for valley views, the Devonshire Fell (from £160). Explore the Bolton Abbey Estate five miles downriver with its 12th-century church ruins, stepping-stones, paddling and bosky walks to the Strid where the river squeezes through a rocky chasm. Dog-friendly Cavendish Pavilion, with an outside terrace, is a good lunch spot.
Afterwards, drive to Malham Cove in Malhamdale, a spectacular 230-foot (70m) limestone cliff, the result of glacial action. If feeling energetic, extend the walk past Janet’s Foss waterfall, up the rocky Gordale Scar onto Malham Moor’s limestone pavement and back to the Cove. Enjoy an early supper at the Lister Arms overlooking the village green. Find more of the best things to do in our dedicated guide.
The next day, take the scenic drive up Wharfedale, perhaps stopping at Grassington (location for much of Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small) or for home-baking at The Old School Room Tea Room in Hebden. Look out for the overhang of Kilnsey Crag where rock-climbers hang like spiders before enjoying views of Buckden Pike where the road climbs over into Wensleydale. Hardraw Force, on the outskirts of Hawes is England’s highest single-drop waterfall while the town, with its museum, is a good spot for presents including the valley’s eponymous cheese. Watch it being made before a cheesy blow-out in its cafe.
The perfect one-week holiday in Yorkshire
Tearooms, steam trains and days at the beach
After a couple of days in the soft green dales, move east to the wilder expanses of the North York Moors. But take your time. Either detour south to wander the glories of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, from monumental Sean Henry to the curves of Henry Moore. Alternatively, dally in Harrogate with its Pump Room Museum, antique shops and indulgent Betty’s café tea rooms
Motor on to Helmsley, on the southern edge of the moors; options include the Black Swan overlooking the Market Place (from £119) or The Feversham Arms with its spa (from £149). Stride out on a walk on the moors perhaps out of Rosedale Abbey to Lastingham, or around the amphitheatre of the Hole of Horcum. On the way back, call at the New Inn at Cropton for a well-deserved pint from its microbrewery. Find more of the best pubs in Yorkshire in our guide. For a less energetic option, take a steam-train ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway from Pickering to Whitby. Hop off at Goathland for a pint in the pocket-sized Birch Hall Inn at Beck Hole. Finish the perfect day with dinner at Michelin-starred The Star Inn at Harome, two miles from your hotel. Find more of the best restaurants in the area in our guide.
The following day, potter around the town with its 12th-century Helmsley Castle, Walled Garden (with Vine House Café), independent shops and, just outside, the romantic ruins of Rievaulx Abbey before driving 30 minutes south to Malton, the self-styled ‘food capital of Yorkshire’ for lunch. You’ll need the energy as you’re now heading to the showstopper Castle Howard with its Baroque and Palladian flourishes, lavish furnishings and 1000-acre parkland dotted with follies. Find more of the top attractions in Yorkshire in our guide.
For the last two days, breathe in some salty air at the coast. Stay either in bright and dog-friendly Bike & Boot (from £99), overlooking Scarborough’s South Bay, or 10 minutes inland from here at more tranquil Ox Pasture Hall (from £130). After a brisk walk up to Scarborough Castle, take your pick of the beaches: sandcastles and donkey rides at South Bay, watching the surfers – or have a go with Scarborough Surf School – at Cayton Bay, family games at Filey or simple, amusement-free Hunmanby Gap, with its excellent Beach Cafe. Alternatively, head north to the beautiful curve of Runswick Bay and take the cliff-top path to Staithes which tumbles prettily down a ravine to its harbour, and tea at Dotty’s tea room. Find more of the best beaches in Yorkshire in our guide.
Spend the last day in Whitby with its clifftop medieval abbey, Captain Cook Memorial Museum (the 18th-century explorer served his apprenticeship here), ‘cabinet of curiosities’ Whitby Museum (from gigantic fossil creatures and Victorian medical equipment to Meccano toys and ships in light bulbs ) and Goth shops (Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ was set in the town). After a walk along the sands enjoy a slap-up fish supper at the Magpie Café save room for their home-made crumble.
Where to stay
Best for relaxing
Best for families
Children will be entertained with bike rides, fishing, cookery lessons, birds of prey, and Woodland School (spa, golf and cookery, amongst others, for grown-ups) at Swinton Park from £245, room only). Or try the White Swan Inn in Pickering with its board games, early suppers and plum spot close to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (from £170).
Best for budget-friendly breaks
Bright and funky, dog- and cyclist-friendly, Bike & Boot has an enviable position overlooking Scarborough’s South Bay (from £99). Equally well-placed is Harrogate’s White Hart Hotel, a Georgian coaching inn with bold-coloured interiors, and between Valley Gardens and the fashionable Montpellier Quarter (from £89).
What to bring home
Using traditional methods of glass-blowing, and taking inspiration for colours and patterns from the surrounding North York Moors, Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones produce covetable pieces of contemporary glassware at Gillies Jones in Rosedale Abbey, most notably bowls, in both opaque and translucent colours.
Find a real bit of Yorkshire at Swaledale Woollens in Muker. In sweaters, socks, hats, gloves and more. Whether you choose hand-knitted or machine-knitted, it all comes from the wool of local Swaledale and Wensleydale sheep. Or buy a ball of wool and get knitting.
When to go
Yorkshire’s weather can be unpredictable though, generally, it’s not as wet as its friendly foe on the other side of the Pennines. Summer can be glorious whether doing seaside-y things on the coast, tramping over the North York Moors – at their finest with heather in July and August – or enjoying the soft greenness of the Dales. But be aware, summer can mean country roads – especially in the Dales – are slow-moving and parking spaces can be at a premium.
Spring and autumn, outside school holidays, are good times for more settled weather and quieter surroundings. But don’t dismiss winter when blustery or snowy walks, if well wrapped-up, bring a glow to the cheeks and the prospect of a warming pint in a cheery, fire-warmed pub.
There are tourist offices in many of the main towns and cities such as Scarborough, Whitby, Harrogate and Leeds, plus National Park Visitor Centres or tourist information centres in several villages, such as Hawes, Grassington and Sutton Bank. You can also find plenty of information on the tourist board’s website, yorkshire.com. Or try those of the two National Parks: northyorkmoors.org.uk and yorkshiredales.org.uk.
To drive from London takes four hours up the M1 or A1. The East Coast mainline serves Doncaster, Wakefield, Leeds, York and Northallerton and there are also direct services to the capital to Harrogate, Sheffield, Bradford and Halifax.
Helen Pickles is Telegraph Travel’s Yorkshire expert. Born within singing distance of Ilkley Moor and brought up on Dales’ walks, the proper way to eat Yorkshire pudding (as a separate course) and (extremely rare) treats at Bettys, she just knows Yorkshire is the best place on earth.