7 Oct 19 / Harrogate
Top Things to do in Harrogate
With historic buildings, luscious gardens and the charming cobbled streets of the Montpelier Quarter, Harrogate is one of Yorkshire's most elegant destinations. This enchanting, upmarket town on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Dales is the perfect place for a relaxing break.
WHERE TO STAY
Situated within a row of magnificent Georgian-style houses, Hotel du Vin has classic period features. The 48 timelessly-styled rooms are different shapes and sizes but all include the luxurious touches you deserve: Egyptian linen, deep baths, powerful drench showers, etc. Relax with a drink in the walled courtyard (there are over 600 wines in the glass-walled wine cellar!) then dine at the recently redecorated Bistro du Vin that serves traditional French food using regionally-sourced ingredients.
Harrogate's heritage is as a popular spa resort. During the Victorian era, the fashionable and wealthy flocked to Harrogate as it was known as ‘the English spa'. Members of every European royal family have visited Harrogate to experience its health-giving natural springs and promenade along its elegant streets.
As Hotel du Vin has Spa du Vin, you don't need to move far for some pampering. There are luxury therapeutic and holistic treatments, steam rooms and more to leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
There are few remaining Turkish Baths and none in full working order and as historically complete as Harrogate's Turkish Baths. Open since 1897, the beautifully-restored Baths' stunning Moorish-style means soaring arches, an ornately-decorated high arabesque ceiling, vibrant glazed brick walls and elaborate Italian mosaic and marble terrazzo floors. The Victorian dark wood fittings blend beautifully with the interior's Islamic designs. But don't just come to admire the building as you can relax in and out of the water and book treatments too.
When the ritual of visiting spa towns as a health cure was fashionable in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the ornate Royal Pump Room attracted 15,000 visitors each summer. It's now a museum so you can no longer 'take the waters' and you probably wouldn't want to as the spring with the highest concentration of sulphur emerges in the Royal Pump Room Museum. The museum has a changing temporary exhibition programme and permanent displays of Harrogate’s spa-history including displays of old-fashioned shops.
The upmarket Montpellier Quarter is full of independent shops, art galleries and a thriving café culture. Pedestrianised streets are lined with restored nineteenth-century buildings including antique shops and some lovely places to buy presents. Covet is always good for beautiful textiles, homewares and unique gifts.
And, while in the area you must stop at local institution Betty's Cafe & Tearooms for tea and Fat Rascal scones (they are like rock cakes), or a full traditional afternoon tea. Established in 1919 by a Swiss immigrant confectioner, the menu has influences from both Switzerland and Yorkshire. Of course, you could also enjoy afternoon at Hotel du Vin too.
If art galleries appeal, outside of the Montpellier Quarter do also go to the Mercer Art Gallery as it's free to visit seven days a week. The Gallery is home to Harrogate district's fine art collection which includes works by William Powell Frith, Atkinson Grimshaw, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Dame Laura Knight. Regular changing exhibitions range from national touring displays of painting, photography, sculpture and crafts to exhibitions from the permanent collections to displays by local artists.
Harrogate's parks, gardens and estates are wonderful all year round to enjoy peaceful natural surroundings.
Opposite the Royal Pump House Museum, leafy Valley Gardens is a 17-acre English Heritage Grade II listed garden in regal Low Harrogate, next to the Pinewoods woodlands. There's plenty of space for a picnic, plus pitch-and-putt golf and a bandstand hosting concerts on Sunday afternoons from June to August. And it is believed that a greater number of mineral springs come to the surface in Valley Gardens than in any other place on Earth. Of the 88 mineral wells found in Harrogate, 36 are found within the gardens, with no two being alike.
If you walk through Pinewoods for about half an hour, you reach RHS Garden Harlow Carr which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019. The northern showpiece of the Royal Horticultural Society, this is one of Yorkshire's most relaxing and innovative gardens.
The 58-acre garden has the largest Streamside Walk in the country, and the Scented Garden is filled with roses, lilies, wisteria and jasmine. Plus, you can find year-round inspiration along the dramatic Main Borders where the RHS experts have chosen contemporary planting to suit the challenging growing conditions.
Back in the town centre, The Stray is one of Harrogate's best-known landmarks. It's 200 acres of grass parkland that encompasses the town centre on the southern half, as well and giving the town a uniquely green and spacious feel. It's a lovely space to walk or run, and there are annual funfairs here over the Spring and August bank holidays plus a bonfire and fireworks event in November.
FESTIVALS AND SHOWS
Harrogate International Festivals run an amazing array of festivals throughout the year. Highlights include the Crime Writing Festival in July which often welcomes big-name authors and the Harrogate Comedy Festival in October which attracts household names.
There are Spring and Autumn Flower Shows each year at the Yorkshire Showground with stunning plant nursery displays and ideas for your garden. And The Great Yorkshire Show is at the Showground in July celebrating the very best of farming, food and the countryside.
Held on The Stray, Harrogate Christmas Market comes each November to put a distinctly Yorkshire stamp on the traditional Christmas market experience. There's a strong focus on regionally-made products, bringing the best of home-made and fairly-traded Christmas goods to the heart of Harrogate.
Written by Laura Porter - Travel writer for Hotel du Vin & Malmaison