Why you should go
There are ruined abbeys, and there are picturesque ruined abbeys. And then there's Whitby Abbey, dominating the skyline above the East Cliff like a great Gothic tombstone silhouetted against the sky. Looking as though it was built as an atmospheric film set rather than a monastic establishment, it is hardly surprising that this medieval hulk inspired the Victorian novelist Bram Stoker to make it the setting for Count Dracula's dramatic landfall.
Dracula at Whitby
The famous story of Dracula, inspiration for a thousand lurid horror movies, was written by Bram Stoker while holidaying in Whitby in 1897 (a blue plaque at 6 Royal Crescent marks the hotel where he stayed). Although most Hollywood versions of the tale concentrate on deepest, darkest Transylvania, a large part of the original book was set in Whitby, and many of the sites can still be seen today.
Modern-day Dracula hunts invariably start or end at St Mary's Church beside Whitby Abbey, which is where the book describes the vampire's ship making landfall. The church has received so many fans looking for Dracula's grave that it had to put a sign on the door informing the public that, alas, it's not there… because he's not real.
The stately mansion beside the abbey ruins was built by the Cholmley family, who leased the Whitby estate from Henry VIII after the dissolution of England's monasteries in the 1530s. Following a £1.5 million revamp in 2019, the abbey has dramatically improved its museum, added a small coffee shop with outdoor seating in the abbey grounds, and replaced its free audio guide with a more family-friendly ‘ammonite quest’ to explore the site with.
Tickets and other practicalities
The site is managed by English Heritage and all visitors (including EH Members) must book tickets in advance online to help control visitor numbers.
From the end of Church St, the 199 steps of Church Stairs will lead you steeply up to Whitby Abbey. By car, you have to approach from the A171 Scarborough road to the east side of the bridge over the River Esk.