Scarborough: Britain’s First Seaside Resort

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A coastal town with a Viking history, Scarborough was allegedly Britain’s first seaside resort.

Despite dating back centuries, the Yorkshire Coast seaside town still maintains its popularity with tourists and locals alike.

Scarborough Location

Scarborough is located on the northeast coastline and is located in North Yorkshire, lying in the historical North Riding of Yorkshire.

Scarborough North Yorkshire maps
Scarborough North Yorkshire location

The town’s two bays (the North Bay and the South Bay) are separated by the rocky headland and the harbour area.

Scarborough has a population of almost 62,000 and is therefore the largest seaside town in the region.

The Short History of Scarborough

Scarborough’s history dates back centuries.

The first evidence of settlers in the town was found on the Headland and dates from around 2,500 years ago.

However, it was first founded as a settlement by a Viking raider named Thorgills Skarthi in 966AD.

History facts Scarborough
The short history of Scarborough

Skarthi gave Scarborough its name: Skarðaborg.

However, such a settlement was said to have been destroyed by a rival Viking band and therefore not a lot was recorded in the Domesday book in 1085.

Archaeological finds have revealed some Roman occupations until the early fifth century with a signal station and a luxury villa or religious sanctuary.

The 12th century saw Henry II develop the castle on the Headland, granting Scarborough town charters in both 1155 and 1163, allowing a market to take place on the beach.

Edward II went on to grant the castle to Piers Gaveston and it was then besieged, with Gaveston eventually being taken to Warwick Castle to be executed.

This was still not the end of Scarborough’s misery. The Scots burned the town in 1318.

A couple of centuries later, things were on the up.

A lady name Mrs Thomasin Farrer discovered an acidic water stream from down a cliff towards the south of the town. This is what prompted the seaside resort of Scarborough Spa.

Get to Scarborough
Scarborough road

It was mentioned in a book written by Dr Robert Wittie and this caused Scarborough’s first influx of tourists with it then becoming the first seaside resort in Britain.

The number of visitors only increased when the railway was built in 1845.

10 Things to See and Do in Scarborough

When arriving in Scarborough, you cannot fail to notice its striking rocky headland with the castle atop.

The outcrop points towards the east, jutting out into the North Sea.

The headland effectively cuts the town’s seafront in two – there’s the lively South Bay and the somewhat quieter North Bay.

There are lots of things to see and do in the town, so we’re sure you’ll find something that everyone in the family can enjoy.

1. Scarborough Beach

As mentioned, Scarborough has two bays, the North Bay and the South Bay.

So, when it comes to stretches of sand, you’re spoiled for choice.

Visit Scarborough beach
Scarborough beach view

The South Bay is the town’s busiest beach. It is adjacent to the road, over which there are many attractions and shops including:

  • arcades
  • bowling alleys
  • café
  • ice cream parlours
  • and shops

The sand here is soft with calm waters and its angle means it’s a great little suntrap in warmer weather.

Aside from the nearby shops, there are also the main roads and paths up into the town as well as the harbour as you head towards the North Bay.

There are even two cliff lifts remaining to transport you into the town.

Scarborough beach UK
Visiting Scarborough beach

One of the lifts was the first of its kind to open in Britain back in 1875.

The North Bay beach is a Blue Flag beach, meaning it is one of the best and cleanest in Europe.

Even Better – Most of this beach is set away from the road, meaning it’s quieter and safer too.

There are colourful beach huts along the sand.

This beach also runs along to Scarborough’s Sealife Centre at the most northern end.

2. Scarborough Castle

Separating the North and South Bays is the rocky headland. Atop of this outcrop sits Scarborough Castle.

Scarborough castle facts
Scarborough castle

Passing through its imposing gatehouse, you’re whisked back in time.

Its walls skirt the headland, and you can take a walk around the site (it boasts 16 acres!).

The castle is a part of English Heritage, so if you’ve already got a season pass, it’s a great little stop-off.

3. Marine Drive

Marine Drive is the road that takes you from the North Bay to the South Bay and vice versa.

This feat of engineering was completed over 100 years ago and it curves around the headland giving you some stunning views as you circumnavigate it.

North Bay to the South Bay Scarborough
Marine drive Scarborough

There’s new rock armour placed there too, and you might even spot dolphins swimming a little out to sea.

4. Open Air Theatre

Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre is the largest of its kind in Europe, with a capacity of 8,000 people.

The venue has seen some of the music industry’s biggest stars perform there including:

  • Gary Barlow
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Elton John
  • Noel Gallagher
  • Lewis Capaldi
  • Lionel Ritchie
  • and Lewis Capaldi

In fact, there are too many to mention as there have been well over a hundred shows since it opened its doors in the summer of 2010.

5. Sealife Centre

The Sealife Centre at Scarborough is a great place to visit for all the family.

With over 2500 creatures, you can learn all about the sea both locally and across the globe.

Visiting The Sealife Centre at Scarborough
Sea life Centre Scarborough

You can also visit Penguin Island and get close to the Humboldt penguins as you walk through their home.

One of the best experiences is walking through the tropical ocean tunnel where you can really feel like you’re under the sea.

Aside from the sea creatures, there are also rainforest bugs to encounter in the Rainforest Adventure section of the centre.

Face your fears by getting up close to poison arrow dart frogs or green tree pythons!

6. Peasholm Park

Peasholm Park is a stunning must-see on a visit to Scarborough.

There’s a Japanese pagoda sitting atop an island in the lake and there is a waterfall cascading down the rocks from it.

Peasholm park Scarborough
Peasholm park

You can get a closer look by swan or dragon pedalo!

Not only is the park a stunning place to stroll (or pedal), but it is also the home of some famous almost-extinct tree species.

The Dickinson Golden Elm was thought to have been wiped out in the 1970s by Dutch Elm disease, but Scarborough’s two are holding their own!

In the Summer – There are also the world-famous Naval Warfare demonstrations, featuring people manning model ships re-enacting famous marine battles. There are explosions, firing planes and ships that sink!

7. Miniature Railway

Since 1931, Scarborough’s miniature railway has been taking visitors from Peasholm Park to the Station at Scalby Mills, near the Sealife Centre.

The ride offers amazing views of Scarborough’s North Bay. It’s only open from around Easter through to the end of October, however.

Scarborough at night beach
Scarborough at night

8. Luna Park

Luna Park is the fairground situated near the end of the headland.

There are many rides including Exposure, Cyclone and King Frog, plus many other smaller children’s rides.

Stop off for some candy floss or a spin on the bumper cars!

9. Alpamere Waterpark

One of the newest and most popular attractions in Scarborough is the Alpamere Waterpark.

There is a large wave pool, a splash and play area, and also a warm outdoor garden pool!

Alpamare waterpark Scarborough
Visit Alpamare waterpark Scarborough

Aside from pools, there are four state-of-the-art waterslides, which are sure to give you an adrenaline rush.

There’s the Olympic Run double tube slide, the Cresta Run mat racer where you slide on your front and the Black Run – you guessed it, it’s dark!

Perhaps the most unique is the Snow Storm slide where four of you all get on board a four-person tub!

10. Star Carr

This attraction is further afield, at around five miles south of Scarborough.

However, if history is your thing, it is well worth a visit.

The site is a Mesolithic archaeological site, dating back to the middle Stone Age around 9,000 BC.

Scarborough North Yorkshire traveler guide
Facts about Scarborough North Yorkshire

To put this into context, this is only a few centuries after the end of the last Ice Age.

At This Time – Britain was also a part of continental Europe rather than being the island that we know and love today.

Star Carr has become famous thanks to some amazingly well-preserved artefacts that were discovered in the peat there.

This includes headdresses that are made from the skulls of red deer and the so-named “oldest house in Britain.”

Final Thoughts on Britain’s First Seaside Resort

Whether you’re keen on history, nature or thrill-seeking, Scarborough has something for everyone.

There’s no wonder why it remains one of Britain’s top tourist destinations, even after 400 years of visitors!

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