Five Things to Do in Harrogate


From history to cake, Katy Leverett recommends five things to do on a day trip to Harrogate

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Image by C L T Smith

By Katy Leverett

Only a cheap 30 minute train ride away from York, Harrogate is a brilliant, quick trip for a Saturday afternoon to escape the bustle of city life for a short while. As one of the UK’s royal spa towns, Harrogate boasts a fascinating history and some beautiful architecture. There’s so much to see and do, but here are five of Harrogate’s top attractions that are well worth visiting.

1.       Royal Pump Room Museum
As one of the UK’s royal spa towns, Harrogate has a rich history. If you’re interested in finding out more about this, (for a small entry fee), visit the Royal Pump Room museum, situated in the original Pump Room constructed in 1842. The museum offers brilliant displays on 18th through to 20th century Harrogate. With the original architecture of the building still intact and numerous displays on the town’s history, it is the perfect location to fully immerse yourself in Harrogate’s opulent history. It is even possible to see the original source of the famous sulphur water, which was believed to be beneficial to those with poor health, beneath the museum. People would travel nationwide to reap its benefits, increasing Harrogate’s prosperity. On the outside wall of the museum, there is a tap which you can press to release this water. It doesn’t smell great, but it is exciting to actually see the source of Harrogate’s success.

2.       Valley Gardens
Just a short walk away from the museum are the Valley Gardens. Perfect for a picnic on a warm summer’s day, the gardens offer plenty of things to see and do. If you’re after traditional Georgian elegance, an afternoon stroll through the Sun Colonnade is perfect for you, completed by meandering the Elgar Walk along the river. If you’re in search of some peace and quiet, the Japanese Garden of Serenity is a lovely location to pause and reflect. Or, if you want some classic park activities to do, Valley Gardens has tennis courts and crazy golf. There’s definitely something for everyone to enjoy in the gardens. Take the opportunity to find out about the park’s interesting history, too, there are numerous Regency and Victorian buildings scattered throughout the park which have found new purposes today but offer great insight into Harrogate’s fascinating past. One of them is even a café, so if you’re feeling hungry, be sure to make a quick stop for a hot drink or even some ice cream if it’s warm! There are some great opportunities to snap a few photos, too!

3.       St. Wilfrid's Church
If you’re in search of some more of Harrogate’s rich and fascinating history, make your way out of the town centre toward Duchy Road to find St. Wilfrid’s Church. Still a working building, the church is open daily to visitors free of charge, with services throughout the day, (although you do have to book an appointment if you’d like to see the hall). First opened in 1909, St. Wilfrid’s is widely known to be the best work of its architect, Temple Moore, and his son, Leslie Moore. The stunning architecture and rich history of Harrogate are on display inside, making the church well worth a visit if you’re staying in Harrogate for more than a few hours.

4.       Mercer Art Gallery
Open from Tuesday to Saturday every week, the Mercer Art Gallery situated on Swan Road offers some incredible exhibitions of both contemporary art and Harrogate’s own fine art collection. The building was originally the Promenade Rooms constructed over 200 years ago but has more recently been a theatre and town hall, before opening as an art gallery in 1991. The original architecture is still evident and offers a real feel for the town’s rich history. Their current exhibition, East Coast Lines features the work of Ian Mitchell. Mitchell’s drawings of the North Yorkshire coast celebrate the beauty of the British landscape. The exhibition is on until 7 January 2024. However, their exhibitions change throughout the year, so be sure to check their website before your visit to find out what’s on!

5.       Artizan Café
After all of that, you’ll probably be feeling hungry. With lots of choice for food in Harrogate, one of the best is definitely Artizan, found near Oxford Street. The café offers light bites, from tea and cake to paninis and baguettes, all at a reasonable price. However, what makes Artizan particularly special is the fundraising it does for people with disabilities within the UK and in developing countries. Founded in 2013 by Susie Hart, the wider company is involved in running free weekly craft workshops for people with disabilities in the UK and offering those in developing countries with disabilities the opportunity to work in their international projects. This is done through a buying and selling cycle that operates through their shop, just a short walk from the café and employment in catering. The café in Harrogate is staffed by people with disabilities who receive training to help them find work in the catering industry. Therefore, if you want some good food and to support an incredible cause, definitely make Artizan café a stop on your tour of Harrogate. To find out more about Artizan's work, follow this link.

These are just a few of the things you can do to pass the time in Harrogate. There is so much more to see and do, and being such a quick and easy train ride from York, Harrogate is the perfect term time escape from the fast pace of university life on a sunny Saturday afternoon.