North Yorkshire is a county in Yorkshire in northern England. Yorkshire was a huge county, the largest in England, so it was traditionally divided into three "ridings" which were later re-organised into four counties. So North Yorkshire is about half the area of Yorkshire, yet still the largest present-day county.
The terrain is a broad fertile plain running north-south, with moorlands either side that are scenic national parks: Yorkshire Dales to the west in the Pennine hills, and North York Moors to the east. It's always been agricultural. In the Middle Ages when wealth was founded upon agriculture, that made the area important, dotted with abbeys to farm that wealth and castles to defend it. When industry came, its towns grew but were largely unspoiled. Smokestack industry went elsewhere: to the textile towns of West Yorkshire, to the coal-mining areas to the south, and to the metal-bashing cities around the north and south fringes of Yorkshire. The towns of North Yorkshire haven't escaped modern sprawl and the hollowing out of high streets, but retain their pleasant character.
Cities, towns and villages
- Top attraction in the county is the walled city of 1 York, long held by the Vikings, and today rich in atmosphere, amenities and visitor attractions.
- Another top attraction is 2 Ripon: it's small, though it has a cathedral and is actually a city. But the reason to visit is nearby Fountains Abbey.
The North York Moors and coast
The eastern part of the county is a plateau called the North York Moors, which are a national park. The moors reach the coast as cliffs, with little coves, and seaside resorts. From north to south these are:
- 3 Whitby with a ruined abbey, and vampire history.
- 4 Scarborough is larger, being easier to reach by road and rail.
- 5 Filey is where the sea starts to make serious inroads into the underlying rock. Here is the county border with East Yorkshire, the Wolds end with the magnificent spur of Flamborough Head, and the land slopes away to Bridlington.
The Vale of Pickering sits between the moors, coast, Wolds and Howardian Hills. Historically fenland, all its settlements sit on slightly raised ground, mainly around its perimeter. These towns and villages are the gateways to the surrounding hills and moors.
- 6 Pickering is to the south of the moors. It has a 13th-century castle, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and nearby is Rievaulx Abbey.
- 7 Helmsley and its castle is a little further west, near the scarp of Sutton Bank.
- 8 Malton is a lowland market town. It's near Castle Howard, a couple of abbeys, and an abandoned medieval village.
The western part of the county is millstone and limestone moorland. The limestone has eroded into scenic valleys, the Yorkshire Dales, and much of the area is a national park.
- 9 Skipton, just north of Bradford, is a market town with a scenic castle.
- 10 Settle is a good centre for walking the Dales and moors.
- The best scenery around Settle is above the small village of 11 Malham, notably Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and the waterfall Janet's Foss.
- 12 Grassington, 13 Buckden and 14 Hawes are three other small towns here.
The Vale of York
Between the two moorlands is a broad low-lying area of farmland, with meandering rivers and small market towns. The area has good transport, with the A1 and East Coast Mainline railway coursing through. From south to north the main towns are:
- 15 Selby has an attractive abbey, with the original "Stars and Stripes": a stain-glass window with the Washington family coat of arms.
- The City of York lies at the centre of this stretch.
- 16 Tadcaster is notable for brewing.
- 17 Harrogate is a genteel place, a well-preserved spa town from the Regency and Victorian eras.
- Next-door 18 Knaresborough is its smaller sister, home to a ruined castle and a legendary witch's cave.
- Ripon is just west of the main road and railway.
- Just east is 19 Thirsk, where the author James Herriot practised as a vet.
- 20 Northallerton is the administrative capital of North Yorkshire.
- 21 Richmond is still a pleasant place, but it's become engulfed by the nearby barracks town of Catterick, and various military camps and ranges.
- 22 Yarm lies under the Cleveland Hills at the north end of the county.
Between 1974 and 1996 the towns around the River Tees were part of a separate county, Cleveland. This was then abolished and the towns north of the river were re-assigned to County Durham, while the towns to the south became part of North Yorkshire. They're industrial and frankly the least attractive part of the county: but if you had to be here for some reason, there's quite a lot to see and do. The main settlements are:
- 23 Middlesbrough is a large town, with the Captain Cook Museum in Marton
- 24 Guisborough is a small market town.
- A coastal strip runs from Redcar to 25 Saltburn-by-the-Sea.
If you intend to fly in and hire a car (which you'll need for the Dales and North York Moors) then best choice is Manchester Airport (MAN IATA). It's the other side of the Pennines, but it has excellent global connections and competitive fares. A couple of hours motoring from there will get you most places in the county.
Leeds-Bradford Airport (LBA IATA) has a decent range of flights from western Europe and is closer. If you want to base in the north end of the county near the border with Durham or Cumbria, then consider flying into Newcastle (NCL IATA). The two other nearby airports, Doncaster Robin Hood (DSA IATA) and Durham Tees Valley (MME IATA) have few flights.
The central vale is on the East Coast main line. Trains from London Kings Cross take two hours to York. They continue north through Thirsk and Northallerton to Darlington, Durham, Newcastle and Edinburgh. From York, one branch line runs east to Malton, Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington, while another runs west to Knaresborough, Harrogate and Leeds. A branch line from Northallerton cuts north via Yarm to Thornaby (for Stockton) and Middlesbrough. Other rail routes to Teesside are mostly via Darlington: from Middlesbrough trains continue along the coast through Redcar to Saltburn and down the Esk Valley to Whitby. From Leeds, a very scenic route runs northwest through the Dales to Skipton, Settle, Ribblehead, Appleby and Carlisle.
The main north-south artery is the A1, mostly of motorway standard. The main east-west route is M62. National Express coaches run to the larger towns, with at least a daily direct coach to London Victoria.
The individual towns are all small enough to see on foot, and buses link the towns, though not very frequently once you get into the Dales and Moors. Beyond that, you start to need a car: from Harrogate to Harlow Carr is 3 miles, from Ripon to Fountains Abbey is four. You don't want to be tired and drenched before you even start. Scenic spots such as Malham Cove, and the trail-heads for most hiking, are further still from public transport.
The Moors are traversed by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, running 24 miles from Pickering via Grosmont to Whitby.
If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, you can save money by purchasing the Visit York Pass, a ticket which gives you access to more than 25 attractions across North Yorkshire, of which around half are in the city of York. The pass also includes a 24-hour ticket for the City Sightseeing bus tour of York, a free Italian meal in York, and a guidebook and map.
A three-day pass for all participating attractions costs for one, two or three days (as of Feb 2024):
- per adult £59/75/90
- per child £35/45/55
The three-day passes are valid for any three days in a six-day period — they do not have to be consecutive days. You can buy online or in person at the visitor information centre at 1 Museum Street, York, YO1 7DT. When buying online, you can download your pass to your smartphone instantly and for free.
The pass covers the entry fee of every participating attraction, but does not allow you to queue jump or to have privileged access.
In order to get your money's worth, you should visit at least three attractions per day; if this sounds like too much, the pass is not for you. While the York attractions are mostly within walking distance of one another, the rest of the participating venues are spread far and wide across the county, so you should plan your itinerary wisely. Wikivoyage can help with that!
The Yorkshire Dales have the best scenery in Yorkshire. The principal Dales are Wharfedale, Wensleydale, Swaledale, Ribblesdale, and Airedale within the National Park, Nidderdale which is outside the Park but designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and Lonsdale (added to the park in 2016) is in the county of Cumbria. If you've only time to see one, head up Airedale above Malham.
North Yorkshire has some striking examples of former abbeys, most of which were destroyed at the time of the dissolution under Henry VIII, although the nave of Bolton Priory is still intact because it served as the parish church.
- Fountains Abbey — near Ripon - owned by the National Trust along with the neighbouring Studley Royal estate. These are possibly the most impressive remains of all and are a World Heritage Site
- Bolton Priory — beautifully situated by the Wharfe with excellent walks and extensive area where children can play (as opposed to a 'play area!') 
- Byland Abbey between Thirsk and Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park 
- Easby Abbey — near Richmond on the Swale 
- Jervaulx Abbey — in Wensleydale below Leyburn - these remains are perhaps the scantiest
- Rievaulx Abbey — one of the great Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire with remarkable remains set in one of the most tranquil dales within the North York Moors National Park 
Lots here, but they all ended up on the losing side: Yorkshire was mostly Royalist during the 17th-century Civil Wars. The castles weren't much damaged in the conflict, but the victorious Parliamentarians then had them "slighted" — partly demolished — to prevent rebels using them in future. So mostly they're just hollow masonry shells, some still imposing, many scrappy. You don't visit them for plush furniture and aristocratic fine art collections.
Exceptions to that rule are those built, or extensively rebuilt, at a later date. Examples are Ripley, just north of Harrogate (an 18th mansion house) and Hazlewood near Tadcaster (an 18th- and 19th-century re-build). Cawood near York and Hellifield Peel near Skipton have been converted to modern use.
In the "hollow but still imposing" group, thanks partly to the setting, are Clifford's Tower in York, Skipton, Pickering, Helmsley, Middleham, Bolton and Richmond.
There's not much left of Scarborough, Knaresborough, or Spofforth near Harrogate.
- Lightwater Valley — near Ripon, a theme park with Europe's longest rollercoast The Ultimate.
- The Pennine Way long-distance footpath runs along the west of the county. The southern part around Skipton and Gargrave is low-lying, following the valley. Then it heads up over moorland towards County Durham. It's never technically demanding and seldom far from a road, so you can easily do it section-by-section as a Sunday stroll. Other notable paths are the coastal route between Bridlington, Scarborough and Whitby, and the Cleveland Way looping round the North York Moors.
- Go to the Races: Yorkshire has nine racecourses with regular fixtures, and five of them are in North Yorkshire: York, Ripon, Thirsk, Catterick and Redcar. (The others are Beverley in East Yorkshire, Pontefract and Wetherby in West Yorkshire, and Doncaster in South Yorkshire.) Most of the events are flat-racing, in summer, but Catterick is among those with jumps races in winter.
York has the best choice of eating places, both for variety and price-range. You'll always find something in the towns listed here, but the best restaurants are often out-of-town: you'll need a car, and a prior conversation about who's driving back. All of Yorkshire does breakfast, but North Yorkshire does the best dinners.
- Beer: there must be a paperback novel and TV costume drama in this somewhere: rival breweries of the Smith family cheek-by-jowl. John Smith took over a long-established brewery in Tadcaster in 1847, then moved the business next door, eventually leaving the old building to his nephew Samuel. John Smith's grew into a large brewing combine, later acquired by Scottish & Newcastle and now part of Heineken. Meanwhile young Sam Smith started his own brewery in the old building, and this firm remains independent. You'll find the products of both Smiths everywhere.
- Wine: Yorkshire has three commercial vineyards. They're at Ryedale (with sites at Westow and Howsham); Yorkshire Heart at Nun Monkton midway between York and Harrogate; and Leventhorpe on the east edge of Leeds, over the county border in West Yorkshire. Is Ryedale the most northerly vineyard in Britain? (More northerly claimants, e.g., in Orkney, don't use grapes.) It's certainly the most northerly in Yorkshire.
North Yorkshire is a relatively wealthy, peaceful place to visit and the crime rate is very low. Normal precautions still apply. Beware the weather on the hills: they're not high, but they don't need to be, they're on about the same latitude as Novosibirsk.
- North is County Durham, with the attractive old city of Durham.
- Yorkshire Dales National Park nowadays extends across the Pennines to adjoin the Lake District in Cumbria.
- For big city attractions, head west to Leeds, south to Sheffield or north to Newcastle upon Tyne.