As England’s largest county, North Yorkshire offers much for a caravan holiday – so much, that you’ll wish and need to return again and again. Its numerous alluring areas vie for the attention of caravanners. Do you opt for the Yorkshire Dales or North York Moors? Aim for an historic city or a rural market town? Countryside or coast? North Yorkshire has it all.

Yorkshire Dales

Buttertubs Pass, and the view over the Yorkshire Dales landscape

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of Yorkshire’s gems, with outstanding scenery of gentle dales enhanced by curly-horned Swaledale sheep clinging to hillsides, bubbling streams and inexorably charming villages thronging with community life. Swaledale, Wensleydale and Wharfedale are, perhaps, the best known but Nidderdale (actually outside the National Park but considered an AONB) and the Ribble Valley are equally as beautiful.

For somewhere a little more remote but easily accessible (without towing), plump for Langstrothdale or, further north, Arkengarthdale. Not forgetting, of course, the famous Malhamdale with the spectacular Malham Cove and other neighbouring natural attractions like Gordale Scar.

North York Moors National Park

The haunting beauty of Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire makes it a top destination for caravan holidays in North Yorkshire
The haunting beauty of Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire makes it a top destination for caravan holidays in North Yorkshire

On the other side of the main A1 road running north to south, and hugging Britain’s east coastline is the North York Moors National Park, of significantly different character to that of its neighbour. It appears wilder and more rugged than the ‘gentleness’ of the Dales. Although the moors are considerably lower in height than the well-known peaks within the Dales, they appear bleaker, the valleys (still called Dales) more enclosed.

Look out for the beauty of Rievaulx Abbey, the charm of villages like Hutton-le-Hole and Goathland (where one-time TV programme ‘Heartbeat’ was filmed), the natural wonder of the Hole of Horcum (a giant natural bowl) or the unmistakable Roseberry Topping, and the craggy coastline. Coastal villages like Runswick, Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay (filled with smuggling stories of yesteryear) are more than attractive – Staithes is only accessible on foot down a steep hill but once there, the charm of miniature fisherman’s cottages and tiny lanes wrapped around a harbour with colourful bobbing boats is unforgettable.

The villages are, perhaps, surpassed by the main coastal town of Whitby, known for its fishing fleet, its connection to Captain Cook, its ‘up-on-high’ St Mary’s Abbey and its connections to the gothic novel Dracula. And that’s not forgetting the traditional seaside holiday town of Scarborough, lined with sandy beaches and culturally known for its Theatre-in-the-Round.

The Vale of York

With some of the best cafes and treats in England, go to the famous Bettys Tearoom in Harrogate when you visit Yorkshire
With some of the best cafes and treats in England, go to the famous Bettys Tearoom in Harrogate when you visit Yorkshire

In between the Dales and the Moors is a beautiful vale within which lie some of Yorkshire’s best loved towns and cities: the charming Northallerton, Thirsk, Leyburn, Ripon, Richmond, Knaresborough and Ilkley. Every one deserves a visit, if only to sup a classic Yorkshire afternoon tea and wander the market squares to take in the hearty atmosphere that these towns all seem to pervade. Harrogate demonstrates an air of grace and elegance with its fancy Victorian metal walkways, spa town history and formal gardens, all centred around The Stray, a vast centre-of-town open parkland.

View of the autumnal park at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
View of the autumnal park at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire

York, by contrast, is a city made on tourism filled with more eye-level history than most can contemplate as Viking and Roman finds sit alongside more ‘recent’ history like that of the wondrous York Minster and the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. Walk the Roman walls, soak up the atmosphere of some of the narrowest streets in England – The Shambles and Whip-ma-Whop-ma-Gate (yes, really), enjoy shopping along Stonegate and visit the world-renowned Jorvik Viking Centre, before taking a boat trip on the River Ouse, a waterway that is notoriously cruel to its host city in times of flood.

And if it’s a man-made ‘something to do’ that draws you to North Yorkshire, well, the county has some of the best in Britain including Wensleydale Creamery, Black Sheep Brewery, Lightwater Valley Theme Park, Newby Hall, Eden Camp, Bolton Abbey, Castle Howard, Fountain’s Abbey and the National Railway Museum.

Things to do

Take in the beautiful countryside in traditional style aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Take in the beautiful countryside in traditional style aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway

1.Eat fish and chips on the harbourside on your caravan holidays in Whitby. Whitby’s fish and chips are considered some of the best in the UK. Famous restaurants include Trenchers, the Magpie, Hadleys or the Quayside fish and chip shop, which won the top prize at the 2014 National Fish and Chip Awards.

2.Spend a day at the races. North Yorkshire boasts more top racecourses than any other UK region, offering the very best in British horseracing. Choose from Catterick, Redcar, Ripon, Thirsk, Wetherby, York and Beverley (strictly speaking in the East Riding of Yorkshire). Or you could try Doncaster or Pontefract ever so slightly further afield, though still in ‘Yorkshire’. The Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival throughout July celebrates racing at all venues.

3.York is famous for its chocolate, with Rowntree’s and Terry’s both worldwide brands originating from the city. York’s Chocolate Story reveals all, or you could go on the self-guided Chocolate Trail (you can download it here or pick it up from the tourist information centre in Museum Street) to visit places around the city linked to its chocolate history.

4.Climb one (or all) of the Three Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside. If that sounds just too strenuous, opt for a leisurely stroll along one of the sparkling rivers in the Dales such as the Swale, the Wharfe or the Ure.

5.Have a steamy adventure on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. With wood-panelled carriages on lovingly preserved steam trains and some of the most picturesque countryside, this is a train ride never to forget. The Railway organises many special events, but for something extra special, treat friends and family to a Pullman Diner Service.

When to visit

Events take place very much all year round in North Yorkshire, kicked off in York by the huge Jorvik Viking Festival where boat burning and all-things Nordic come to the city during February. Indeed, York is a big festival lover and the Viking festival is followed in March with the York Literature Festival, the York Early Music Festival in July, the York Food Festival in September and the St Nicholas Fayre in November and December. York, of course, is renowned for its racecourse at The Knavesmire and no social calendar would be complete without a trip to the races, the season running from May to October. York’s biggest race meet of the season is the Ebor Festival in August.

And it’s arguably too long between visits but visitors should make their way to York at least once every four years however for the outdoor spectacle that is the York Mystery Plays. With a long tradition of performance – since medieval days – and including the career launch of Dame Judi Dench, these should not be missed. The Plays are likely to take place next in 2022 and again in 2026.

Heading to the coast, Whitby marks its connections to the Dracula novel with the Whitby Goth Weekend in October and attracts ever-increasing numbers of music fans to the very popular Whitby Folk Week every August.

Harrogate meanwhile lights up the region with two large-scale flower shows, the Spring event held in April and the Autumn Flower Show, in September. The town also hosts The Great Yorkshire Show every July at the Great Yorkshire Showground. Like York, the town has a long tradition of hosting large-scale festivals, including the Crime Writing Festival to celebrate its links to Agatha Christie.

Not to be outdone, many of the Dales have their own individual summer festivals to celebrate their individuality. First up is the Swaledale Festival in May and June, followed by the Grassington (Wharfedale) Festival also in June, the Wensleydale Show in August and the Masham Sheep Fair in September.

Getting there

With jaw-dropping views on all sides, Practical Caravan's travel guide recommends taking a memorable drive through the Yorkshire Dales National Park
With jaw-dropping views on all sides, Practical Caravan’s travel guide recommends taking a memorable drive through the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The M1 motorway is one of the quickest routes from the south, which runs as far as Leeds or the A1(M) from the north, which divides the Yorkshire Dales from the North York Moors. Travelling east-west, the M62 south of the county and the A66 cross-Pennines route between the M6 at Penrith and the A1 (Scotch Corner) are the quickest routes into the area, while the A59 links York and Harrogate with the southernmost parts of the Dales.

The A19 is one of the easiest routes to the North York Moors, although caravans are not allowed on the A170 at Sutton Bank – coming from the south, caravans should approach the Moors via the A64 around Malton and the A169 through Pickering. Consideration should be taken of weather conditions for cross-Pennine routes during winter and when blustery.

The A171 from Scarborough to Middlesbrough offers one of the best coastal routes when heading for your caravan holidays in North Yorkshire, skirting the edge of the North York Moors; again, given its location on high ground, weather conditions can change unpredictably fast in winter.

You’ll find rural country lanes to be considerably quieter than in other parts of the country, particularly in the more remote areas of countryside. Only a few minor country roads are best avoided while towing a caravan – routes within the centre of the North York Moors National Park and, in the Yorkshire Dales, avoid the route from Thwaite, Swaledale to High Tan Inn, and the road from Kettlewell to Leyburn. Care should also be taken approaching campsites at Malham, owing to tourist traffic during the day – consider phoning ahead to your destination campsite to check for specific arrival and departure times to avoid meeting oncoming traffic along very narrow lanes.

Where to Stay

York Caravan Park

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