Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Discover why Harrogate was chosen as one of The Sunday Times Best Places to Live 2022 in their words.

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Five years ago, when Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa topped the charts, Harry and Meghan got married, and Gareth Southgate made waistcoats a World Cup fashion hit, Harrogate, which has been a mainstay of Best Places to Live since it launched, was kicked out of the guide. Big news.

The highly prized, highly priced spa town fell out of favour because it had become just a little too predictable, a little too prosperous in the most conventional ways. Or perhaps familiarity just bred contempt. Fast-forward to today, and slowly but surely, Harrogate has been reinventing itself as one of the hippest and happiest of Yorkshire home grounds.

“It used to be grannysville, now it’s really cool, with delis, bakeries, boutiques. It’s like living in Wimbledon — loads of people have moved back from London,” says Lucy Robinson, 36, the founder of Harrogate-based and French-influenced fashion brand Aurélie, who lives here with her husband, Ralph, an international retail consultant, and their three-year-old daughter, Sofia. “I grew up here and went to school here, but I’ve lived in Paris and London. These days Harrogate has a really cool, London-y vibe.”

Harrogate has probably not looked this fashionable since about 1842, when The Royal Pump Room opened. A little more than a decade later, a visiting Charles Dickens noted: “Harrogate is the queerest place with the strangest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining.” There are still reassuring vestiges of starchier times — Bettys Café (traditional afternoon tea, £21.95), and Valley Gardens, with its carpet-bedding and Sunday afternoon bandstand concerts — but these days, it’s definitely all about ease of living and everything within strolling distance.

Among the attractions: The Stray, 200 green open acres in the middle of the town centre; RHS Garden Harlow Carr, one of the leading gardens in the region; the Great Yorkshire Show every July; Harrogate Convention Centre and Harrogate Theatre hosting events and big-name acts – Paloma Faith is here in June; the Blues Cafe Bar, with live music every night of the week; and a branch of The Ivy, which opened in 2017. 

“We were careful when choosing the location [to move to],” says Robinson, who lives in a Victorian house off Cold Bath Road, where locals nip in to Major Tom’s Social for stonebaked pizza (Super Vegan £9.50) and craft beer after a Saturday morning browse of the boutiquess. “The drawback is we don’t have a proper garden, we could have got a bigger house with a garden, but further out.”

It’s all about being in the mix. Harrogate is still a safe place for relocating younger families and second-steppers, often from London and the Southeast, who want all the fun and fresh air of being “up North” without the grim and gritty bits — but now it has a little more pizzazz. Big news.

High Street

You can eat well in Harrogate. The supermarkets are covered — Marks & Spencer, Asda, Aldi, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, plus several Co-ops, Tesco Express — while Harrogate Farmers’ Market on Cambridge Street on the second Thursday of the month draws the crowds. Some say they move here just for the small bakery chain Bakeri Baltzersen (sourdough loaves from £3.70), and Manna (parmesan, mozzarella and olive sticks, £2.20), on Cold Bath Road.

The former Debenhams department store building faces demolition and rebuilding as flats. However, Hoopers, an affluent art deco department store (also found in Torquay, Tunbridge Wells and Wilmslow) keeps calm and carries on, with Max Mara and MAC Cosmetics bridging the Harrogate divide between classic and cool.

It joins a good smattering of high-end high street names — Brora, Mint Velvet, Space NK, L’Occitane, The White Company — and independent boutiques: local resident Gareth Southgate is reputed to be a regular customer in Porters, a smart mens and womenswear outfit on James Street. There’s a rumour that Anthropologie is on its way, taking over the former Jaeger shop, yet another reflection of the direction Harrogate is heading in. 

Schools

All Harrogate primary schools, except Woodfield Primary School (rated inadequate in 2020) and Willow Tree Community Primary School (requires improvement, 2020) are Ofsted-rated good or outstanding. State secondary schools include outstanding (2007) co-ed academy Harrogate Grammar School (ranked 17th in The Sunday Times Parent Power league of top state secondaries in the North of England), St Aidan’s C of E High School, also a co-ed academy, rated inadequate in 2021, but 15th in Parent Power’s league of top state secondaries in the region, and St John Fisher Catholic Academy, another co-ed awaiting Ofsted inspection after academy conversion last year.

Independent Harrogate Ladies’ College (day fees £5,840 a term) takes boys up to the age of 11, and Ashville Harrogate (day fees £5,420 a term from age 11), at 16th in Parent Power’s league of top independent secondaries in the region, is fully co-ed.

Connections

York wins the North Yorkshire commuter war of “fastest journey time to capital” at 1 hour 47 minutes. The quickest trip from Harrogate to London King’s Cross is a rather more stately 2 hours and 51 minutes, with 12 trains a day (some direct, most changing at Leeds) first direct train 6.36am, last direct train, 5.36pm.

You could always drive to York, a journey of about 50 minutes, but choose a home to the east of Harrogate for proximity to the A59 and also, the A1. Trains to Leeds take, on average, 34 minutes, driving to Leeds city centre is 40 minutes (depending on time of day/night) and to Leeds-Bradford airport, 25 to 30 minutes.

Buses, owned by Transdev, run daily between Harrogate and Ripon or Leeds, both journeys taking around 40 to 45 minutes

Broadband

Almost four out of five homes have access to a Gigabit broadband option. The majority of this is via Virgin Media, but CityFibre sold by TalkTalk and others is a growing full-fibre option. Central Harrogate does have a number of slower locations.

Best Address

The Duchy, land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, is Harrogate-shorthand for “expensive”. This includes Duchy Road, Kent Road, Cornwall Road and Oakdale. Other sought-after streets include Park Avenue, Regent Parade, York Place and The Oval. Large detached four/five-bedroomed family houses will sell for more than £1 million. Anything overlooking The Stray also attracts a premium.

Property prices

Average house price: £390,000 
Growth since 2020: 10% 
Source: Halifax using Land Registry data

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Prices are correct as of April 2022.

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