From the South, take the M1 towards Sheffield and then the M18; from the North, the A1(M) connects Harrogate to Glasgow. If you're planning to stay in Harrogate itself, a car will be of no use to you, but if you want to explore North Yorkshire and the Dales, you'll have more freedom with your own wheels.
Leeds Bradford International Airport (www.lbia.co.uk) is a 25-minute drive from Harrogate; Manchester Airport (www.manchesterairport.co.uk) is 90 minutes away - both have good national and international flight connections.
Harrogate is well connected to the rest of the country on Northern Rail lines from York or Leeds. The National Express East Coast train (www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com) from London King's Cross to York takes a little over two hours; it's then a pleasant half an hour ride to Harrogate station. Edinburgh is two and a half hours from York by train.
UK country code: +44. Harrogate: 01423.
Book of Matches and All Points Northby Simon Armitage; Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë; Alan Bennett's Dinner at Noon.
Do go / Don't Go
Catch the gardens of Harrogate in all their glory in spring: late April sees a riot of blooms on display for the Harrogate Spring Flower Show. But, come prepared with just-in-case waterproofs, and any time of year's a pleasure.
Tradition, tradition and more tradition: this part of the country is a staunch sticker to British classics, including roast beef and (what else?) Yorkshire pudding. But increasingly, these once-stodgy staples are being given an artisan makeover, with farm-fresh, top-quality ingredients and modern interpretations. Head for a tea room for the sarnies-and-scones afternoon classic, or try a warm Yorkshire 'fat rascal' - a large, fruity scone packed with citrus peel, almonds and cherries. Apart from the famous Farrah's of Harrogate toffee, other regional specialities include Wensleydale cheese and Masham sausages. Seek out local delicacies at the monthly farmers' market (usually on the second Thursday of the month); in the Cheeseboard of Harrogate on Commercial Street (01423 508837), where you'll find more than 200 varieties; or at the excellent deli-café Weeton's, on West Park (01423 507100).
Harrogate is easy to navigate on foot, but if you want a taxi, there are ranks outside the station and at the War Memorial. Otherwise, try Yellow Line taxis on 01423 521531.
Service is not generally included and many of the smaller cafés and shops don't take cards, so bring plenty of cash and factor in a tip on the generous side of 10 per cent.
Pound sterling (£).
Bring swimwear if you want to try out Harrogate's hammam - the 19th-century Turkish alternative to the traditional spa. Twitchers walking in the Pinewoods will want their binoculars for spotting lapwing and curlews, and light-fingered gardeners may want a few freezer bags for surreptitiously snipped cuttings. Walking/cycling gear for exploring the Dales.
The Mercer Art Gallery (01423 556188), set in an 1806 spa building - the town's oldest - on Swan Road, contains a collection of fine art and occasional exhibitions; see www.harrogate.gov.uk/museums. The nearby Pump House Museum on Crown Place (01423 556188) is a bite-sized insight into Harrogate's boom era as a genteel spa destination, with a scary array of Victorian 'spa' equipment. You can also take the waters, although we suggest you don't attempt this if you're in any way hungover: Europe's most sulphurous mineral water smells of past-their-best boiled eggs and is super-salty to boot.
The Montpellier Quarter has interiors shops to delight antiques collectors and modernists alike: Rasmus at 12-13 Royal Parade (01423 560050) has a buy-me-now assortment of glamorous lighting and contemporary furniture; Montpellier Parade is a good kicking off point for a treasure hunt in the fine art and period furnishings shops. James Street has boutiques such as Cruise, Space NK, LK Bennet et al, but we prefer independent shops like Lynx at 12 and 20 West Park for clothes; Cimmermann at 10 Regent Parade for vintage furniture and contemporary design (01423 524777); and old-school gentlemen's cobbler JN Walker on Russell Street (01423 879738).
Hotel du Vin Harrogate offers great views across the Stray common from some rooms and suites, but if you're not checked into one of those, head for high ground in the Pinewoods: about half-way along the walk from Valley Gardens to RHS Harlow Carr, there are gorgeous vistas of sheep-dotted pastures and the Nidderdale region, stretching all the way from the Pennines in the west to the North York Moors in the east.
Hit Harrogate at the right time of year and there'll be beautiful blooms wherever you cast your eyes: this town takes its gardening seriously. The Valley Gardens - a 17-acre Grade II-listed park with woodlands - are soil saint Alan Titchmarsh's favourite public gardens, and they're free to visit (unlike RHS Garden Harlow Carr, which is splendid, but charges a £6 entry fee).
Late April The Harrogate Spring Flower Show at the Great Yorkshire Showground sees the whole town blossom into life (www.flowershow.org.uk). May The prestigious Harrogate Antique & Fine Art Fair brings the country's best wheeler dealers to town (www.harrogateantiquefair.com). July Prize bulls, sheep racing, showjumping, flowers, food and more at the Great Yorkshire Show (www.greatyorkshireshow.com). September Mid-month sees summer's last gasp with floral displays and autumn foliage at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show (www.flowersho.org.uk). The dealers roll out their wares again towards the end of the month for the second Harrogate Antique Fair of the year (www.harrogateantiquefair.com).