Picture credit: Jane Keighley (IFY Community)

“The queerest place with the strangest people leading the oddest lives!”

– Charles Dickens

Harrogate is a former spa town located in North Yorkshire. It is best known for its beautiful floral surroundings, tourism, and its importance for business.

The town has consistently been voted as one of the best places to live in the UK. It is home to some of the most expensive properties in Yorkshire that can be found within its many leafy suburbs.

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Harrogate’s Economy

The spa town’s economy is currently based around the Harrogate Convention Centre (HCC) which is the 3rd largest in the UK. It is the biggest place in Yorkshire for exhibitions, conferences, and business meetings.

Harrogate Convention Centre (HCC) opened in 1982. It staged that year’s Eurovision Song Contest and in turn instantly put Harrogate on a continental stage.

The venue has a 2,000 seat auditorium, 10 exhibition halls, and the Royal hall which is used for banqueting and entertainment.

It is extensively used for trade shows, event space and conferences. Many organisations including businesses, charities, wedding fairs, and political parties use this space.


Places to Visit in Harrogate

The Stray

The most striking and notable feature of Harrogate is the amount of open space that can be found in its town centre. This area, which is known as the Stray, is 200 acres in size. It was created through an Act of Parliament in 1778 in order to link Harrogate’s springs to one area and protect them from damage.

To this day, the Stray has maintained its size despite road widening. The area is still protected and many efforts are made to maintain its correct size.

These days, the many open spaces are popular with residents and tourists alike. Kite-flying, local football matches, public events, and joggers all take advantage of these wonderful spaces.

Great Yorkshire Showground and Events Centre

The Great Yorkshire showground is the county's principle outdoor events location. Picture credit: Nigel Thompson: geograph wikipedia creative commons.
The Great Yorkshire showground is the county’s principle outdoor events location. Picture credit: Nigel Thompson: geograph wikipedia creative commons.

For those who love the outdoors, Harrogate is home to the Great Yorkshire Showground and Events Centre. This is based on the edge of the spa town and, in some ways, can be said to be the outdoor equivalent of the conference centre. The 250 acre site includes a grandstand, show ring, and country pursuits arena.

Every July for 3 days, the centre hosts the Great Yorkshire Show. This is the largest agricultural fair in England and is organised by the county’s Agricultural Society.

The show started in the mid-nineteenth century. It was held in several different locations until it found its permanent home at the showground in 1951.

As part of the show, competitions are split into twenty categories such as sheep, goats, and pigeons. These are then subdivided into several classes which are judged by an expert in that field.

At the Great Yorkshire Show, there are many exhibitors displaying things from farm machinery and vintage cars to businesses and charities. It gives them the opportunity to advertise their services and causes.

There is also a fairground at the Great Yorkshire Show which is enjoyed by many. Food stalls and beer tents are on hand and there is also a bandstand where various musical acts perform throughout the 3 days.

Valley Gardens

The Valley Gardens were created in the late Victorian era. It covers 17 acres of shrubs, flowerbeds, and woodland. Amongst this floral splendour are two historic buildings: the Colonnade and the Sun Pavilion.

There are also many other attractions such as a cafe, children’s playground, paddling pool, skate park, and outdoor games. Throughout summer, there is a programme of band concerts which are held every Sunday.

Harlow Carr Gardens

Harlow Carr Gardens are a lovely outdoor attraction in Harrogate. Picture credit: Carol Law (IFY community)
Harlow Carr Gardens are a lovely outdoor attraction in Harrogate. Picture credit: Carol Law (IFY community)

Harlow Carr Gardens have existed since 1950. Since then it has expanded to 27.5 hectares of garden, lakes, and woodland all of which is owned by the Royal Horticultural Society.

The site lies in an area that is known as the Forest of Knaresborough. It used to be an ancient hunting ground and a source of one of the towns’ many natural sulphur springs and bath houses.

There are a host of features which can be found in the gardens. These include rhododendron glade, limestone rock garden, rose borders, and a state of the art green learning centre.

Throughout the year people can take part in a range of activities such as guided walks, workshops, and demonstrations. There is also a tea room, plant centre, and gift shop.

Museum in Harrogate

The Royal Pump Room is a museum that celebrates Harrogate’s spa town history. Visitors will learn about the discovery of its natural sulphur springs around the beginning of the 17th Century through to its heyday in Victorian England.

This museum building dates back to 1842. It was originally built to cover the well in which it still houses. The Royal Pump Room museum hosts a display of town artefacts which includes some from Ancient Egypt.

These are also plenty of things for children to do. The museum has activity areas, trails, and quizzes.

Relaxation in Harrogate

Harrogate is known as a place for healing and relaxation. Dating back to the Victorian era, the spa town is home to Turkish Baths which are still being used today. This makes it the only original spa that is still in use.

There are guided tours of its relaxation rooms, saunas, plunge pools, and massage parlours. Visitors also have the chance to pick a beauty treatment amongst other services.

Flower Shows in Harrogate

Harrogate has many floral areas and gardens so it’s no surprise that the town has a range of flower shows and competitions held throughout the year.

Spring Flower Show

The Harrogate Spring Flower Show takes place each April at the Yorkshire showground. It’s regarded as one of the largest horticultural events in the UK outside of London and attracts exhibitors to its four main outdoor halls from all over the country.

There are competitions for the best gardens in several different categories. Visitors will also find craft stalls, food, and outside nurseries.

Autumn Flower Show

The Autumn Flower Show is held on the same site in September. It has a giant vegetable competition with several categories for the largest carrot, marrow, and pumpkin.

This event also focuses on cooking. There are several demonstrations on how to use the summer’s produce to make delicious meals.

Festivals in Harrogate

The spa town has its very own festival called the Harrogate Festival. This takes place every year in July.

Visitors can enjoy music, talks, and book readings around several venues. A couple of the venues that are used are the St George’s Hotel and Royal Hall.

During the same month, there is also the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. It features guest speakers from authors in the genre, such as Lynda La Plante, and a murder mystery dinner.

Theatres in Harrogate

Harrogate Thaetre is one of two in the town. Picture credit:
Harrogate Theatre is one of two in the town. Picture credit: Betty Longbottom geograph wikipedia creative commons.

Harrogate has a very rich cultural scene. So much so that it has two theatres: The Royal Hall and Harrogate Theatre.

The Royal Hall

The Royal Hall was built in 1903 and is now part of the International Conference Centre complex. It’s famous for being the only surviving kursaal in the UK – this means “spa in which entertainment is provided”. Its programme is mainly focused on music concerts, talks, and plays.

Harrogate Theatre

Harrogate Theatre was built in 1900. It was named the Grand Opera House which originally staged pantomime, its own amateur dramatics, and music hall acts, such as Charlie Chaplin, up until it closed in 1955.

In 1958, it reopened as Harrogate Theatre and has been refurbished twice – once in the early 70’s and then in 2007. The venue hosts a varied programme of plays, comedy, and music.

Harrogate’s Nightlife

Harrogate is home to an interesting and varied nightlife. This is most especially seen in the form of cafe bars which often provide live music and a relaxed atmosphere.

There are also numerous restaurants and bistros to enjoy. Many residents and visitors also pay a visit to the famous Betty’s tea rooms.

Travelling In & Out of Harrogate

Historically, Harrogate was part of the West Riding but was changed to the North Riding of Yorkshire.

It is centrally located and adjacent to the A1 motorways. The town has good road links to Leeds in the South down the A61, and Bradford to the South West on the A658.

The A61 carries on northwards to Ripon and the Dales. On the other hand, the A59 runs through the town from East to West – York to Skipton.

In 1848, trains first arrived to the town through another station known as Harrogate Brunswick. This was eventually replaced in 1864.

The current Harrogate railway station was built in 1965. This replaced the older Victorian Railway Station which was located on the same site. 

Originally, the station was linked to all nearby towns and cities. Due to the Beeching report it lost three of its services, most notably the line to Wetherby.

Luckily, the route to York was saved from closure in 1966. This line continues to operate via Knaresborough to this day. In the opposite direction, there are also services to Leeds.

Less than 100m away is the bus station. It has 13 stands and can take passengers to places such as Ripon, Knaresborough, Leeds, Skipton, and Pateley Bridge.

Shopping in Harrogate

The Victoria shopping centre, Harrogate.Picture credit: Louise Devanney (IFY Community)
The Victoria shopping centre, Harrogate.Picture credit: Louise Devanney (IFY Community)

Close by to the bus station is the Victoria Centre. This forms the centrepiece of the Harrogate shopping experience. It has a host of high street names in fashion, food, and leisure.

The town is also noted for its large number of fashion shops and boutiques. A majority of these can be found along Montpellier Hill and other parts of the town centre.

Sport in Harrogate

Harrogate is home to two football teams. These are Harrogate Town and Harrogate Railway.

Harrogate Town play at Wetherby Road and have competed in the Conference North. Harrogate Railway was formed in 1935 and is derived from workers on the town’s train network.

In 1871, Harrogate rugby union club was founded in 1871. They have also competed in the National Division Two North League.

During July 2014, the spa town was chosen as the finish line for stage one of the Tour de France. This attracted large crowds and celebrations on the Stray. The roads around Harrogate were also extensively used on the route during both of the Yorkshire stages.

Harrogate is a beautiful spa town full of green spaces. It has been enjoyed by residents and visitors alike throughout its history which has carried on to today. This beautiful Yorkshire town is a popular destination and will continue to remain so.

History of Harrogate

Harrogate has a very unique history. This has led the spa town to follow a very different path from other Yorkshire places.

Viking Settlement

Evidence has been found of a Viking settlement in 2007. A treasure hoard of 700 coins and other artefacts were discovered by two metal detector enthusiasts. These are now housed in The British Museum in London.

It wasn’t until around the 1330’s that the first mention of a settlement named Harewgate was made. This means road to a “pile of stones”.

The town originated from two settlements, High Harrogate and Low Harrogate. They were known as two small hamlets near Knaresborough. Eventually they were merged together to form one town.

Tewit Well

Natural springs like these made Harrogate famous and an attraction for the upper classes. Picture credit: N Chadwick wikipedia creative commons.
Natural springs. Picture credit: N Chadwick wikipedia creative commons.

The reason for its growth could be found in the land itself. The first mineral spring called Tewit Well was discovered by William Slingsby in 1571.

William found that the water from this well had similar properties to those found in Spa, Belgium. The minerals iron and sulphur which the water contained were said to contain healing powers by doctors.

These theories were published in a book called “The English Spa Fountain” written by Edmund Deane in 1626. Over time, similar springs were discovered causing the town to grow around them. Many visitors, mainly the rich, came to visit these springs to drink and bathe in them.

The Stray was created

In 1778, the Stray was created. It protected the springs and gave the town open green space for its upper class tourists to enjoy.

Harrogate didn’t industrialise on purpose. By the Victorian era, the spa town was seen as the ideal getaway from the smog and filth of places such as Bradford and Leeds thanks to its spas and open spaces.

Favoured by Nobility

By the turn of the Twentieth Century, Harrogate was a place that was favoured by the nobility all over Europe. Visitors to the town included royalty, members of the government, and famous people such as Charles Dickens.

In 1897, the Royal Baths were opened. It offered its services of spa treatments and hydrotherapy to paying customers. The influx of rich visitors brought with them the town’s first theatres, hotels, and tea rooms in order to accommodate and entertain them.

This captivated audience would stand the town in good stead for the Twentieth Century. Due to advances in medical science, the spas declined in popularity.

Most of the spas were filled in as they were no longer needed or wanted. Today, only the Turkish baths are left as Harrogate’s sole remaining working spring.

Harrogate ITC put the town briefly on the musical map when it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982. Picture credit: Paul Harrop geograph wikipedia creative commons.
Harrogate ITC put the town briefly on the musical map when it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982. Picture credit: Paul Harrop geograph wikipedia creative commons.

World War II

The Second World War aided Harrogate’s transformation. It turned it into the town for conferencing and hospitality which it’s known for today.

During this conflict, the town’s large hotels provided rooms to create makeshift government offices. These were created for the ones that had to be evacuated from London.


In 1982, the Harrogate International Centre was built. It has hosted the Eurovision Song Contest which helped put the Yorkshire spa town on the map.

This event and the popularity greatly improved Harrogate. The town became a centre for commerce, exhibitions, and conferencing.

Happiest Place to Live

Nowadays, Harrogate is known as one of the happiest places to live and has continually been voted as one of the best places to live in the UK. Its wide open spaces and excellent hospitality facilities truly make it one of a kind.

Harrogate Trivia

In total, there are over 6 million crocus plants which are in bloom during the springtime.

In the Victorian times the area housed a racecourse.

Ancient byelaws on the Stray prevent the playing of golf, the flying of jet propelled aircraft, and the playing of a gramophone.

Harrogate hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982 at its newly opened International Centre.

The founder of Betty’s tea rooms was a Swiss baker called Fredrick Belmont. The reason he called it “Betty’s” remains a mystery. A popular story though is that a young girl, who went by the name, interrupted a board meeting which was discussing what to call the new tea rooms.

The first spring in the spa town was discovered in 1571 by William Slingsby.

During the Victorian era, visitors would come to Harrogate from around the world to drink and bathe in the town’s water which was believed to have healing powers.

Harrogate spring water is very popular in Russia and is sold at stores throughout the country, including its airports. In the late 19th Century the tsar’s family were regular visitors to Harrogate to take in its waters.