What is Harrogate Famous For?

The exterior of the Old Swan Hotel

Harrogate is relatively small town in Yorkshire with a population of just over 75,000 so why is it so well known and such a popular destination for people all over the world?

Why is Harrogate Famous?

There are many contributing factors that combine to make Harrogate famous and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Yorkshire. From it’s beginnings as a spa town in 1571 to the glorious floral displays you see today, below you’ll find everything that has made Harrogate famous over the years.

Harrogate Spa Water

Let’s start at the very beginning..

In 1571 the first spring was discovered in High Harrogate by William Slingsby. He was riding through the Forest of Knaresborough when his horse stumbled by a pool and he stopped to refresh himself with a drink. The taste reminded him of the mineral waters he had taken at spa in Belgium. 

Realising that his discovery could be important, he had the spring walled and paved. It became known as ‘the Tewit Well’, on account of the lapwings (which the locals called ‘tewits’) which fed on the mineral deposits around it. You can still visit the Tewit Well in a peaceful corner of the Stray.

This was the first of many mineral springs discovered in Harrogate and it wasn’t long before visitors flooded in to sample the waters. The Victorian visitors would take two glasses of sulphur water from the Pump Room before breakfast, with a further dose before lunch. They would spend the rest of their morning reading the newspaper or letter-writing, strolling in Crescent Gardens, or shopping in Harrogate’s boutiques.

The Pump Rooms is now a museum and I would highly recommend a visit to learn more about the history of Harrogate’s famous spring water. For the very inquisitive there is still a tap on the exterior of the building if you want to try ‘the cure’ for yourself but beware…

An author named Tobias Smollett once wrote about Harrogate’s waters in his novel Humphrey Clinker:  ‘As for the water, which is said to have effected so many surprising cures, I have drank it once, and the first draft has cured me of all desire to repeat the medecine…The only effects it produced were sickness, griping and insurmountable disgust. I can hardly mention it without puking…’

There is some truth to his statement but I can speak from experience; the water isn’t the nicest thing I’ve tasted and I probably wouldn’t want to drink multiple glasses a day as the Victorians did.

As a primary school child in Harrogate it was a right of passage to visit the museum on a school trip and have a shot glass of the famous Harrogate water!


And seamlessly we move from grand Victorian Harrogate to the Eurovision Song Contest!

Harrogate famously hosted Eurovision on 24th April 1982 (a very good year!). Not surprisingly, few people watching the show knew about Harrogate so the BBC added a piece called ‘Where is Harrogate?’ into the opening sequence of the show.

It was held at the conference centre and was won by a German artist called Nicole. The first time Germany had ever won since the contest began in 1956.

Agatha Christie

There is no wonder Harrogate is host to the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival every summer since it has links to one of the best crime writers of all time.

In 1926 the famous author Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days sparking a massive UK wide search after her husband Archie had declared his love for another woman, Nancy Neele.

Christie was eventually found alive and well at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate where she had checked in under the name Miss Neele!

Mother Shipton

Knaresborough is home to Mother Shipton’s Cave, the birthplace of the famous prophetess and next to the Petrifying Well which is England’s oldest visitor attraction.

Still a massively popular day out for families, the attraction boasts beautiful views of the River Nidd, large play areas, you can still visit the petrifying well to see various articles turning to stone and visit the cave where Mother Shipton was born. Read more about a day out at Mother Shipton’s in my blog.

Known as the Knaresborough Prophetess and to some as a witch, Ursula Sontheil was raised in the cave by her mother Agatha who was only 15 when she gave birth. She spent most of her days alone, studying the forest and making remedies from the local herbs and flowers.

She made a living by telling the future and foretold many things that were impossible to know at the time such as the fates of several rulers in her lifetime, the invention of iron ships, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and even the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Mother Shipton’s website has lots more details and facts which are well worth a read but the only way to truly learn more would be to take a visit to the cave yourself.


A famous Harrogate institution, it’s hard to read anything about visiting Harrogate without the mention of a trip to Bettys Café Tea Rooms.

I have always loved Bettys and in my early 20’s I secured my dream job of working in the shop on Parliament Street. If you are visiting Harrogate and wanting to pop into Bettys make sure you check out my Bettys Insider Tips.

The founder of Bettys was a Swiss man named Fritz Butzer. In 1907 he travelled to London, England and after losing the address of his destination all he could remember is that it sounded like ‘bratwurst’. After asking around he eventually found himself on a train to Bradford and there he began working for a swiss confectioner.

He eventually settled down in Harrogate and married his wife Claire in 1919. With the help of her family, Fritz (then known as Frederick) soon opened he own business; Bettys. The very first Bettys was actually opposite the site where it is now on Cambridge Crescent. I’m not quite sure which building it was in but if you stand at Bettys as it is now and look over the road, it was somewhere near NatWest!

So who is Betty?

The truth is…no-one knows for sure. These are the two theories I love the most:

  • The first chairman of Bettys had a granddaughter named Betty who was said to have interrupted the very first board meeting carrying a toy tea tray.
  • Betty Lupton served the towns spa waters to visitors at the time and was the ‘Queen of the Harrogate Wells’

Which Betty do you think inspired the famous Harrogate attraction?

Harrogate Born and Bred

Many famous faces have come from Harrogate, here are just a few. How many do you know?

The Happiest Place to Live

Since taking the title of Happiest Place to Live in 2015, Harrogate keeps popping in and out of the top 20 list published by Rightmove every year.

The ranking system takes into account several factors, including whether there is access to green space. But Rightmove believes that a ‘sense of belonging’ is the number one factor that contributes to someone feeling happy where they live.

This year Harrogate came in 6th place being beaten to the top spot by St Ives but is still the oly town in Yorkshire to make it into the top 20.

The Yorkshire Show

When the Great Yorkshire Show was conceived in 1837, Queen Victoria was on the throne and Britain was in the grip of the Industrial Revolution. A group of agriculturalists, led by the third Earl Spencer, met in York to discuss the future of farming and decided to form the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

It had five aims to improve and develop agriculture. The first was to run a major agricultural event which led to the first Yorkshire Show the following year in 1838.

The Great Yorkshire Show is known as one of the best agricultural shows in the UK, welcoming 140,000 people to the 250-acre showground.

The four-day show celebrates agriculture, food, farming and countryside, with a respect for tradition while welcoming new additions.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, it’s a bit longer than most that I write but I get carried away and could talk about some of these subjects for hours!

What makes Harrogate Famous to you?