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Although many people visit the famous 199 Steps Whitby when they visit Yorkshire, few know of its secrets.
These curious steps have been here for centuries and have lived through all of Whitby’s most colourful chapters.
From a test of faith, a place to rest the dead and a stomping ground for Count Dracula, this staircase really has seen it all.
Here’s a complete guide for the 199 Steps Whitby with the history and how to visit!
The history of Whitby’s 199 Steps
Today, these steps are made of stone but when they were first built they were constructed out of wood.
Although records place these steps being constructed in 1340, many say they date back even earlier!
People often ask why is there 199 steps in Whitby?
Well, many believe that the steps were used by St Hilda as a test of faith for those who were making a pilgrimage to worship in St Mary’s Church.
Back then, nutrition was not as good as it is nowadays. So, the climb up the cliffs in the medieval era would have been gruelling and much more of a challenge.
The Sneaton stone steps replaced the wooden ones in 1774.
The secret of the 199 steps coffin benches
Many people make use of the benches that are lined up on this staircase. They make a good spot to rest awhile as they climb up to St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey.
It’s a welcome respite but what many do not know is that these benches were not created for the living!
During the 19th century, St Mary’s Church was open for burials in their churchyard. A tradition was to have the body carried up the steps which would have been extremely challenging.
So, a series of benches were installed on the 199 steps to give the pallbearers a respectable place to rest coffins on their journey up!
199 Steps in Dracula
Another reason why the 199 steps in Whitby are so famous is that Bram Stoker mentioned them in his famous book ‘Dracula’.
In the novel, a ship wrecks on the coast and Dracula makes his escape. He runs up the 199 steps in the shape of a Black Dog!
Bram Stoker stayed in the Royal Hotel Whitby near the Khyber Pass and Whalebone arches. From his room, he got a perfect view of Whitby Abbey and these steps.
Are there really 199 steps?
This is the time old question that people still have debates about today if you can believe it.
Although you’d think that the name of these stairs does what it says on the tin. People have fought over whether there really are 199 steps for centuries.
Many say there are 198, while others say 200. A guidebook from the 18th-century counted 191 and a 19th-century guide book counted 194.
I guess the only way that you can tell is to count them for yourself.
Something that is often overlooked by visitors is the Roman numerals carved on the side of the 199 steps. There is a numeral (X) for every ten steps and it starts out on the bottom.
So, you can follow these numerals or count them as you climb. Only then will you find the answer!
Are the steps worth a climb?
YES! Despite it being a challenge, no visit to Whitby would be complete without seeing the 199 steps.
Even if you don’t walk up and down them, you have to take a peek and see them for yourself.
As well as stepping back in time, the views you get from this historic passageway are breathtaking.
From the top, you can see all of Whitby and the dramatic North York Moors coastline beyond.
The Donkey Road
If you’re feeling really brave, why not traipse up here on the Donkey Road next to the steps?
It’s a continuation of Church Lane and it’s incredible steep so it’s more of a challenge!
The name comes from the donkeys who used to live on the Abbey Plain. They were taken down the path each day to give Donkey rides on the beach. Thankfully, this tradition has stopped.
199 Steps Photography
Second to the abbey, the 199 Steps is a favourite amongst photographers in Whitby.
The top of the steps provides a spectacular composition over the town. From here, you can capture the stairs swooping down, the harbour and all of the red-roofed buildings below!
For me, I find the best time to visit these steps would be just after sunset. Although the sun will be on your horizon, watching the sky change colours here was magical.
Also, I would recommend sticking around to take some night photography. Once the sun goes down, the old oil lamps light up which makes it an intriguing photo. You’ll also see the harbour lit up below with indigo skies.
Where is the 199 Steps in Whitby?
You’ll most likely see the 199 steps in Whitby before you walk up them! They are located underneath the dramatic Whitby Abbey which towers over the town on the headland.
From afar, you can see just how steep these steps are that allow you to walk up the cliffside. At all times of day, you’ll see visitors struggling to make their way up and down the steps.
You can access the 199 steps via the cobbled Church Street if you’re heading from Whitby Harbour.
Or, if you’re starting your journey from Whitby Abbey, head over to St Mary’s church and you’ll find these steps at the end of the graveyard!
Opening times & prices
As these stairs are a pathway to St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey, the 199 Steps are FREE to visit and available to walk around 24 hours a day!
Personally, I recommend visiting at sunset to watch the sky change colour over the horizon. On my visit, I was lucky to see a blood-red sky which was rather appropriate for the home of Dracula.
Later, when the sun goes down, I’d also recommend visiting the 199 steps at night. You get to see the steps lit up with the old oil lamps. It’s incredibly photogenic.
Although be on the lookout. Legends talk of a phantom coach that haunts St Mary’s churchyard.
Many people have spoken of the coach chasing them while the ghostly driver whips the horses to make the coach go faster!
Looking for more things to do in Whitby?
Whitby is one of my favourite places to visit in Yorkshire and it has been for many years.
There’s something so quaint about this seaside town and the Bram Stoker connection brings a sense of mystery to the place.
If you’re looking for Dracula, I would personally recommend starting your tour at the ruined Whitby Abbey on the headland.
There is also the incredible St Mary’s Churchyard, The Royal Hotel and the Dracula Experience to enjoy.
Opposite the Royal Hotel, you’ll find the Whitby Whalebones monument which provides a perfect view of the abbey.
If you want to see Whitby from the sea, I’d recommend a ride on the Endeavour Experience which will take you back to the time of Captain Cook.
Also, it’s nice to take a walk down the cobbled Church Street that is as pretty as a postcard and has many shops to browse.
If you’re looking for a coffee stop, I’d recommend Sherlocks which is on Flowergate.
Where to stay in Whitby
As Whitby is the home of Dracula, there really is nothing better than staying in vampire themed accommodation.
Bats & Broomsticks in Whitby is a delightful B&B that brings a modern spin to phantasmagoria.
It has three artistic rooms that are a labour of love. All are a work of art and have been tastefully decorated with four-poster beds and amazing decor!
I stayed in the Green Man room that had a great view of Whitby Abbey in the distance. But, if you were a Bram Stoker fan, I’d recommend the Dracula room that’s dedicated to the Count.
Every guest receives a delicious full English in the morning and the breakfast parlour is equally as spooky!