The ancient city of Ripon is the 3rd smallest in England, and it’s an absolute gem! With a magnificent cathedral, a Victorian workhouse museum, a thriving market, and a town hornblower too, there are more things to do in Ripon than you might imagine, considering how tiny it is.
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Every time I visit Ripon, I discover something new about this charming and very walkable city. It’s a great place for a day out, and well connected to other attractions in North Yorkshire. Plus Ripon has some surprisingly good places to eat and the prettiest houses for you to drool over!
“Ripon is a very neat, pleasant, well built town, and has not only an agreeable situation on a rising ground between two rivers, but the market place is the finest and most beautiful that is to be seen of its kind in England.Daniel Defoe
Where is Ripon?
Ripon is an unspoiled cathedral city in the Borough of Harrogate, in North Yorkshire, England. It’s easily accessible from the A1(M), yet rurally located in between the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorks Moors.
Yorkshire’s first UNESCO World Heritage site – Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal – is just outside the city, plus Ripon is only 10 miles from Ripley Castle, and a short drive to elegant Harrogate, charming Knaresborough, and medieval York.
How to get to Ripon
In the 1960s, Dr Richard Beeching (CEO of British Rail) closed 4,500 miles of loss-making railway lines and 2,128 stations to save money. Ripon’s train service was a victim of what became known as the “Beeching cuts”.
Efficient and regular buses connect Ripon with Boroughbridge (17 mins), Harrogate (35 mins), Thirsk (41 mins), and York (upwards of 1 1/2 hours!) The best onward regional and national bus, coach, and train connections are in York and Harrogate.
Ripon has good road connections:
From Leeds, Leeds Bradford Airport, and “The South“: Drive North on the A61 from Harrogate (approx. 30 minutes).
From Durham, Edinburgh, Scotland and “The North”: Drive South on the A1, turning off at Junction 50 (Baldersby Interchange) for Ripon.
From York: Take the B6525, then the A1 North to Junction 50 (approx. 45 minutes).
Where to Park in Ripon
The easiest place to park is the St Marygate Car Park in the centre of the city – moments from Ripon Cathedral. Satnav HG4 1LY. Parking here is very cheap by UK standards! It costs 60p for 1 hour, £1 for up to 2 hours, £1.60 for up to 4 hours and 4+ hours is just £2.
The Best Things to Do in Ripon
Here are the best things to do in Ripon, including where to eat and stay, including:
- How to plan your visit to the unmissable UNESCO World Heritage Fountains Abbey and Studley Park Water Gardens
- Where to find ghosts and ghouls
- Precisely what the literary connection is between Alice in Wonderland and Ripon Cathedral, and what to look for!
- When and where to see the famous Ripon Hornblower
While it’s not quite as big or famous as York Minster, Ripon Cathedral is breathtakingly beautiful and it completely dominates this small city! With regular special events and exhibitions, visiting this cathedral is one of the top things to do in Ripon.
History of the Cathedral
The first Anglo-Saxon church was built on this site in the 7th century, by St. Wilfrid, inspired by a trip to Rome. You can still see some remains of the original church in the cathedral’s crypt.
Today’s cathedral is the fourth church to have graced this site. It originated as a monastery, then in 672, it was re-founded as a Benedictine monastery.
The imposing west front of the Cathedral is an outstanding work of Early English Gothic architecture, dating to 1220. The standout features are the two rows of lancet windows, framed by slender columns and archivolts.
The choir was rebuilt at the end of the 13th century with a sensational geometric east window in the Decorated Gothic Style.
Fun Fact: High above the archway below the organ, there’s an old wooden hand just visible. It was the conductor’s hand for the choir!
The Lewis Carroll Connection
Lewis Carroll was a canon at this Cathedral in the mid-19th century.
Look out for the 35 late-15th-century misericords in the choir. Apparently, Lewis Carroll was inspired to create the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by looking at the carvings in the misericords! Look out for the owls, mermaid, dragons and pig.
On my most recent trip, 10,000 beautiful paper angels adorned the roof of the Cathedral for the Wing and a Prayer exhibition. A team of local volunteers aged from 3 to 90 made the angels to represent dedications made during COVID to keyworkers and loved ones.
Location: Liberty Court House, Minster Rd, Ripon HG4 1QT
Entry Charge: Free, but please be kind and leave a donation in the box!
Three Marvellous Museums
The three museums are known as the Yorkshire Law and Order Museums, and they are open six days a week (closed on Mondays). One ticket provides access to all three museums, which you can easily visit in one day, as they are located very close to each other. The “all museums ticket” costs £16.50, and you must pre-book your visit. More information here.
1. The Workhouse Museum
Ripon’s Workhouse Museum stands as a grim monument to Victorian times when attitudes to poverty, vagrancy, and illness were different. It’s a compelling place to visit, to discover how the “inmates” lived, where they slept, what they ate, and what jobs they did to earn a meagre wage.
The huge kitchen gardens are maintained by volunteers who grow produce for local restaurants.
Location: Allhallowgate HG4 1LE
2. The Police Museum (and Prison!)
This is where the House of Correction for Vagrants was founded at the end of the 17th century.
The Liberty Prison was built here in 1816, and the building was converted into Ripon Police Station, which finally closed in 1956. The museum brings to life the history of policing in Yorkshire, from Anglo-Saxon times to the foundation of a professional police force in 1829.
You can get locked in a cell, and see some of the historical forms of punishment like a restraint chair and pillory. You’ll also get a taste of Victorian-style hard labour by climbing a treadmill, winding a crank, and shot drilling.
Location: 1 St Marygate HG4 1LX
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3. The Courthouse Museum
This elegant Georgian Courthouse is almost unchanged since it was built in 1830, with interiors maintained in the original colour scheme. The museum has three rooms: the Jury Room, the Justices’ Retiring Room, and the Court Room.
The most exciting is the Court Room, with seats for the Justices raised high over the rest of the Court. You’ll see the well where the Clerk to the Court and any advocates sat, plus the boxes where witnesses and defendants faced the court. In those days, a witness for the prosecution stood in a box right next to the accused person!
From these boxes, men and women were fined, sentenced to hard labour, and even transported to Australia.
Behind the boxes, are benches for the Constables, Surveyors of the Highways, and Overseers of the Poor. There’s also a box where defendants in custody waited their turn to appear before the bench.
Fun fact: There’s a ceiling over this box, protecting prisoners from missiles thrown from the public gallery!
Location: Minster Rd HG4 1QS
Ripon Market Place is only a two-minute walk from the St. Marygate car park.
In the middle of it stands a curious column of stone, imitating the obelisks of the ancients, tho’ not so high, but rather like the pillar of the middle of Covent Garden, or that in Lincoln’s Inn, with dials also upon it.daniel defoe
Market Place has been the centre of Ripon since the beginning of the 13th century. It’s fronted by historic houses and the 18th century Palladian Town Hall, which houses the tourist information centre.
The Obelisk (market cross) in the centre of the market, which went up in 1702 is the UK’s earliest free-standing obelisk. It’s where the Ripon Hornblower “sets the watch”.
Every Thursday, Market Place is filled with the sights, sounds, and scents of Ripon Market. You’ll find traders selling fruit, vegetables, confectionery, cheese, fresh-baked bread, pastries, flowers, fabrics, and a lot more besides. Look out for the stall with the mouth-watering homemade olives!
The Ripon Hornblower
During the reign of King Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxons waged war with Viking invaders. In 886, the 37-year-old King had just recaptured London, and he toured England to generate support from his people. When he arrived in Ripon, he warned the small settlement to be more vigilant to the ongoing threat of a Viking invasion.
The townspeople appointed a “Wakeman” to keep watch throughout the night. Every night since, the city’s hornblower sounds his watch at 9 pm, at each corner of the Obelisk. It’s one of England’s oldest ceremonies and not one single night has been missed in over 1100 years!
Ripon Spa Gardens
This genteel little park has a Victorian bandstand where local bands play on Sunday afternoons in the summer months. There’s also a bowling green, an 18-hole putting green, tennis courts, and a tree sculpture of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The beautifully maintained park has dainty flowerbeds, topiaries, and exotic trees, making a wander around the gardens very pleasant.
Location: 9 Park Street, Ripon HG4 2AX
The picturesque canal was built in the late 18th century to ship coal to Ripon, and to transport locally mined lead from the city. When the (now disused) railway came to Ripon, the canal fell into decline, but it was restored in the 1990s.
Today, the canal is a lovely place to take a short (2.3 mile) stroll around the city. You’ll see ducks and swans, glorious wildflowers, pretty little bridges, and glimpses of the cathedral through the trees too.
Location: Canal Wharf, Ripon HG4 1AQ (5 minutes walk from the City Centre)
The Leper Chapel (St Mary Magdalen’s Chapel)
In the 12th century, Archbishop Thurston of Ripon founded a hospital dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. He gave funds for Masses in the Hospital chapel and for nuns to provide food, clothing, and shelter to any leper born or living locally.
While the church is known as the “Leper Chapel”, the long-vanished Hospital looked after the lepers, and today’s building is the medieval Hospital chapel.
The limestone chapel has an incredible 12th-century entrance in the southwest corner and a bell turret above the west gable.
Inside the chapel, look out for the stunning four-light Perpendicular Gothic style window to the East, plus a 15th-century screen, a medieval stone altar, 17th-century communion rails with turned balusters, and late medieval floor tiles. Discover more about the chapel here
Location: Magdalen’s Road, Ripon HG4 1HT
Ripon Ghost Walks
While not as famous for ghosts as York (reputed to be the most haunted city in Europe!), Ripon has its fair share of ghouls, ghosts, and dark history to discover too!
Join a spooky 90-minute ghost walk to discover Ripon’s dark history! Your guide will take you to ancient burial sites, curious bone finds, and tell stories of people who lived hundreds of years ago.
Look out for special ghost hunts at Halloween and Christmas, when the dark nights lend an extra spooky atmosphere to the tour!
Ripon ghost walks can be adapted for wheelchair users (if you let them know in advance that you’ll be joining the tour).
Location: Tours depart from the four red telephone boxes in Ripon Market Square for a 7:15 pm start. The tour ends in Market Square, just in time to see the Ripon Hornblower!
Price: £3 for adults and £1 for those under 16s.
Find full information and contact details here.
Ripon Spa Baths
The Ripon Spa Baths are the city’s local swimming baths set in the grandest Art-Nouveau style building dating back to 1905. The Baths were built to mark the 300th anniversary of Ripon’s charter in 1604.
Ripon Baths was the last English spa to be built, and it was officially opened by Princess Henry of Battenberg in 1905. Visit today to enjoy the wood sauna and large swimming pool.
“There are few buildings of this date and quality in the country”.chairman of Ripon Civic Society, David Winpenny
Location: Park St, Ripon HG4 2BD
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Things to Do Near Ripon
Ripon Races (1.6 miles from Ripon)
Yorkshire has more racecourses than any other county in England, so if you’re a fan of racing, there are plenty of race meetings to choose from.
For over 300 years, Ripon Racecourse (known as “Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse” has hosted some of the best racing in the country, and it was voted “Best Small Racecourse in the North” by the Racegoers Club in 2011, 2014, and 2015.
During the flat racing season, a day at the Ripon Races is an enjoyable way to spend the day, and Ladies Day is a real treat!
Location: Boroughbridge Rd, HG4 1UG
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens (3.8 miles from Ripon)
One of the best things to do while you’re visiting Ripon is to spend a day at the hauntingly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site, Fountains Abbey. This medieval monastery was founded in 1132 by Benedictine Monks but was ruined on the orders of King Henry VIII, during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Fountains Abbey is England’s best-preserved Cistercian monastery, located on a massive site, just under four miles from Ripon. Today, the Abbey sits within the Studley Royal estate, which includes the magnificent Studley Royal Water Gardens, St Mary’s Church, Fountains Hall, and a stunning deer park!
Discover more about visiting Fountains Abbey here, including all the best things to see and do.
Location: Fountains, HG4 3DY
Lightwater Valley (4.2 miles from Ripon)
Just 10 minutes from Ripon, Lightwater Valley was a self-pick fruit farm that’s grown into is a popular theme park. There are about 30 thrill rides, plus children’s play areas and animal attractions.
The standout white-knuckle ride is 2,268 metres long! “The Ultimate” is the longest steel rollercoaster in Europe and the second-longest in the world.
For visitors wanting less of an adrenalin rush, there’s Eagle’s Creek Farm, with pygmy goats, Shetland ponies, and donkeys.
Location: Water Lane, North Stainley, HG4 3HT
Open: April to November
Markenfield Hall (4.5 miles from Ripon)
Markenfield Hall is a mostly 14th century Grade I-listed manor house with a 16th-century Tudor gatehouse. Look out for the vaulted Gothic undercroft/kitchen, the great hall, chapel, and the impressive four-poster bedroom!
Location: Markenfield Hall, HG4 3AD
Newby Hall and Gardens (5.5 miles from Ripon)
Glorious Newby Hall is a late-17th-century country house, next to the River Ure. A visit here is like stepping back through the pages of history, to meet some of England’s most famous designers!
- Sir Christopher Wren was involved in the house design.
- Robert Adam helped remodel the interiors.
- Thomas Chippendale made hall and dining chairs, and Pembroke tables for the house.
The chairs in the Tapestry Room are covered with unique tapestry fabric from the famous Gobelins factory in Paris. They are the only remaining Chippendale suite still to have original coverings and to be in their original setting.
Other highlights at Newby Hall include the Sicilian marble floors, stucco panels, mahogany doors, Corinthian columns, Renaissance paintings, and alabaster urns.
In the 25 acres of award-winning gardens, look out for the double herbaceous border, water garden, rose garden, tropical garden, woodland garden, and two rock gardens! Find out more here, including opening hours.
Location: Newby Hall, Skelton-on-Ure, HG4 5AE
Druids’ Temple (11.5 miles from Ripon)
In the early 19th century, scholar and wealthy landowner William Danby built a folly on his estate in lower Wensleydale. near Ripon. Using cheap local labour in a scheme to alleviate unemployment, he created The Druid’s Temple as a tribute to Stonehenge.
Today, the monument is a favourite picnicking spot, wrapped in fern-bedded woodland. Despite its well-documented history, many tales of devil worship and strange secret rituals have circulated about the Druid’s Temple over the last 200 years!
Location: Knowle Ln, HG4 4JZ
Where to eat and drink
Ripon has several restaurants that you might be familiar with and good independent coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants too. The most popular include Manchega, Realitea, Wilfred’s Cafe, Chimes, and the Wakeman’s House.
There are also a lot of lovely, atmospheric places to enjoy a drink, Some of the best include The Water Rat, the Golden Lion, The Royal Oak, and the George and Dragon.
Seasonal Things to Do in Ripon
- The Christmas Gift and Food Fair takes place in the stunning setting of Ripon Cathedral in late November. You’ll find more than 100 local traders selling seasonal goodies to help you find that perfect present!
- Music and Lights at Fountains Abbey: see the Abbey buildings lit up in brilliant colour, in the week before Christmas
- Christmas at Ripon Cathedral: a very special time of year to visit. One of the best things to do is listen to the bells and the wonderful singing of the cathedral choir. Find service details here.
Where to stay in Ripon
The Royal Oak and the Unicorn Hotel are both wonderfully atmospheric former coaching inns. Located 200 yards away from the city centre, both offer lovely rooms and excellent food. Highly recommended!
The Royal Oak Hotel, 36 Kirkgate, HG4 1PB
The Unicorn Hotel, Market Place, HG4 1BP
For a real “feel like a celebrity” experience, you’ll want to stay at the outstanding Grantley Hall. Just 4.7 miles outside the city, and set in glorious North Yorkshire countryside, this is where to stay if you’re planning to visit Fountains Abbey (2.7 miles away) and you want to be pampered.
Grantley Hall: There’s a fabulous restaurant (with excellent vegan options), free private parking, a fitness centre, and a bar, plus a charming garden, an indoor pool. There’s also a great spa centre it would be rude to ignore!
This 5-star experience is good value (compared to the rest of the UK). Check rates and availability at Grantley Hall here.
Location: Grantley Hall, HG4 3ES
Active Things to Do in Ripon
Ripon is one of the points on “The Way of the Roses“. This 170-mile coast-to-coast cycle route is from Morecambe on West Coast to Bridlington on the East Coast mostly uses quiet lanes, disused railway tracks, and designated cycle paths.
For testing climbs and distant views, head west into the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you prefer something more leisurely, the route to the East of the city is mostly flat.
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- A Sensational North Yorkshire Gin Distillery Tour!
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