The 13 Best Things to Do in Ripon – A Quaint City to Love

You will find the ancient city of Ripon in glorious North Yorkshire – one of the smallest cities in the UK. It’s quirky and utterly charming to visit. Best known for its magnificent cathedral, Victorian workhouse museum, a thriving market, and town hornblower, you’ll find a surprising amount of things to do in Ripon!

Ripon Street
The city has quaint cobbled streets

Yorkshire’s first UNESCO World Heritage site – Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal – is just outside the city, and Ripley Castle is only 10 miles away. Elegant Harrogate, charming Knaresborough and medieval York are all within an easy drive too.

If you’re travelling on a budget, there are plenty of free things to do in Ripon too.

Kirkgate Ripon Yorkshire
Pretty Kirkgate, opposite the Cathedral

“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

The Best Things to Do in Ripon England

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, there are great – typically independent – places to eat and the prettiest houses for you to drool over!

This complete guide to the best things to do in Ripon will help you to discover where to eat and stay, plus where to find ghosts and ghouls, precisely what the literary connection is between Alice in Wonderland and Ripon Cathedral, and when and where to see the famous Ripon Hornblower.

Visit Ripon Cathedral

View of Ripon Cathedral
The Cathedral dominates the city

While 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.

The first Anglo-Saxon church was built on this site in the 7th century, by St. Wilfrid – you can still see some remains of the original church in the cathedral’s crypt. Incredibly, today’s cathedral is the fourth church to have graced this site!

Ripon Cathedral from the Front
The imposing front view of the cathedral – directly opposite a lovely coffee shop!

The imposing west front of the Cathedral is an outstanding work of Early English Gothic architecture, dating to 1220. Don’t forget to check out the two rows of lancet windows, framed by slender columns.

View inside Ripon Cathedral of Choir stalls and organ
Looking through the choir to the magnificent organ, with the cathedral entrance just visible

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!

View inside Ripon Cathedral of choir stalls and misericords
The intricate carvings in the choir are so beautiful and so atmospheric.

Lewis Carroll was a canon at the Cathedral in the mid-19th century. Apparently, the carvings in the misericords inspired him to create the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!

Look out for the owls, mermaids, dragons and pigs.

Detail from choir stalls in Ripon Cathedral
The poor fellow had a noose around his neck, as the choir stalls were roped off due to Coronavirus!
Detailed view of misericords from Ripon Cathedral
One of the beautifully carved misericords in the choir

Location:  Liberty Court House, Minster Rd HG4 1QT

Entry Charge: Free, but please be kind and leave a donation in the box!

The Workhouse Museum

Ripon has three fascinating museums known as the Yorkshire Law and Order Museums. If you’re looking for indoor things to do in Ripon, visiting these museums is a perfect plan.

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.

Ripon Workhouse Museum facade
The imposing entrance to the immaculate Workhouse Museum

The Workhouse Museum is a monument to Victorian times when attitudes to poverty, vagrancy, and illness (both mental and physical) were quite 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

The Prison and Police Museum Ripon

Ripon Police & Prison Museum dark corridor in cell block

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

You may also like: The 20 Most Beautiful Towns in Yorkshire

The Courthouse Museum

Plaque outside Ripon Courtyard Museum

This elegant Georgian Courthouse is almost unchanged since it was built in 1830, with interiors maintained in the original colour scheme.

The most interesting room is the Court Room. Seats for the Justices are raised high over the rest of the Court and you’ll see the well where the Clerk to the Court and any advocates sat.

You can stand in one of the boxes where witnesses and defendants faced the court – where men and women were fined, sentenced to hard labour, or 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

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Browse Ripon Market 

Ripon Market Square

The 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, the Market Place buzzes 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! 

See 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!

Stroll in Ripon Spa Gardens

Ripon Square Gardens
Ripon Spa Gardens are so tranquil and pretty

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 HG4 2AX

Walk Along Ripon Canal

Ripon Canal

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 HG4 1AQ (5 minutes walk from the City Centre)

Related: The 11 Best Things to do in Harrogate

Discover 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.

Lepers Church Ripon

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 HG4 1HT

Take a Ripon Ghost Walk

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 under 16s.

Find full information and contact details here.

Check Out Ripon Spa Baths

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 HG4 2BD

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Cycle Along The Way of the Roses

Ripon is one of the points on a 170-mile coast-to-coast cycle route from Morecambe on the West Coast to Bridlington on the East Coast. The route 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.

Explore Ripon Walled Garden

Once a working kitchen garden within the Bishop’s Palace, Ripon Walled Garden is now a peaceful oasis used and developed by the Ripon Community Link Charity for their work supporting adults and young people with learning disabilities.

It’s a tranquil green space with a plant nursery, orchard, woodland and a little shop selling snacks, drinks and products made from ingredients grown on-site. You’ll find delicious jams and chutneys, plus apple juice locally pressed from the garden’s own apples and honey from in the hives on site.

Location: Palace Road HG4 3HN

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9.30 am – 4.00 pm

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.

Ripon Travel Information

Where to Stay in Ripon

The perfectly located Royal Oak Hotel in Ripon’s Market Square offers comfortable rooms and hearty pub meals. For a luxury stay, you can’t beat the absolutely gorgeous Grantley Hall where you will be pampered, well-fed, and are guaranteed to leave feeling 100% refreshed.

Getting to Ripon

By Bus: 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.

By Car: 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

St Marygate Car Park in the centre of the city is 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.   

Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Ripon

As you can see, Ripon has some great attractions. Take the time to explore not only Ripon but also the surrounding countryside and I know that you will fall in love with North Yorkshire!

Yorkshire is a wonderful county packed with fascinating history, places to visit, and plenty of hidden treasures. Do check back often – I’m always adding new Yorkshire travel advice here!

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Coralie Thornton

Coralie is an over 50s travel writer based in Yorkshire in the UK who writes engaging travel tips, destination guides, and detailed itineraries about the UK, Europe and beyond to inspire boomer travel. When she's not travelling, she's either planning a new trip, exploring locally in the UK, visiting castles and cathedrals, or finding somewhere new to enjoy afternoon tea.

20 thoughts on “The 13 Best Things to Do in Ripon – A Quaint City to Love”

  1. I have never heard of Ripon in England. But with so many spots to visit including UNESCO sites, it would definitely be a spot to visit when we are in the Yorkshire area. Although I am probably not going looking for ghosts and ghouls! The paper angels reminded me of the display we saw at other churches. The gardens and canal would be a cheery way to relax after visiting so many historical sites and that fascinating Druids’ Temple.

    Reply
  2. This is fantastic! I love old English towns so it’s interesting to learn about the very oldest of them. As expected, it’s so cute and cozy. Also, those extra tours to the outskirts look great, particularly the Druids’ Temple. Here, history and myths seem to come alive.

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  3. Ripon sounds like an absolute gem! You had me from the words “England’s oldest City” and I read this with great pleasure. So much history to uncover and one of my highlights will definitely be the visit to the Fountains. Pinned so I can start planning on my trip soon 🙂

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    • Hi Georgina, I’m so glad you enjoyed this, and I’m certain you would love both the city and the incredible Fountains Abbey – it’s somewhere that draws me back time and time again.

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  4. Admittedly, I have never heard of Ripon before! But, it looks like there is plenty of quaint English charm and history here. I would definitely spend a bit of time strolling through the streets and market, as well as enjoying the garden!

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    • Hi Jenn, I’m sure you would love Ripon. I can highly recommend the market (especially the stall with the most incredible Mediterranean olives. I may just have spent far too much money there 🙂 )

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  5. What a gorgeous looking town and I have to confess I’ve never heard of it and I’m from England. My excuse I moved away a long time ago. I love York and Harrogate so I know I would love Ripon and even though, my partner always laughs at me for this, I do enjoy a good ghost tour or two. Thanks for opening my eyes – next time I’m in the region, I will pay a visit.

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    • Hi Sarah, I’ll admit that I’d never heard of Ripon either before moving to Yorkshire! But it’s a lovely little place and so friendly. I’m sure you’d enjoy exploring it 🙂

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  6. What a lovely looking city…& I never even would have known it was a city! I live in St Albans which is basically a town but with a cathedral… so actually officially a city. I’m discovering the beauty of the UK & this post has only further reinforced the deep & rich history we have here. Imagine a ceremony which has happened every night for 1100 years?! That just blows my mind! Looks like I need to start planning another trip to Yorkshire…& will definitely include Ripon next time.

    Reply
    • Thanks Sue – I’m loving discovering new places on my doorstep while I can’t travel further afield. I was astonished too to learn about the Ripon Hornblower – what a wealth of rich history we have in this country to keep us all busy and interested at this time 🙂

      Reply
  7. Looks like an absolutely charming town! I’m not familiar with Ripon, but I am now! As an American living in a lesser-known city of the Netherlands, I love sharing with others the beauty of it like you are. I love to visit UNESCO sites & can see Ripon offers beautiful architecture that I can’t get back in the US!

    Reply
    • Hi Stefanie, I’m a huge fan of visiting UNESCO sites too – so many beautiful places to explore and enjoy. I’m sure you would love Ripon if you ever visited, especially with Fountains Abbey so close by:)

      Reply
  8. Those houses are indeed drool worthy! Love ambling around old towns, cities and ruins so this one would be just up my alley. I would need to spend quite some time here.

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  9. I was not knowing that Ripon is the oldest city of England and it would see some of the nicest ancient architecture here. I loved the stunning cathedral here because of its intricate carvings in the choir. It would be great to attend Christmas markets here.

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  10. The architechture is absolutly amazing on that old cathedral, and it kind of redinds me about the big cathedral in Edinburgh… I think I have to do some research to see if they are designed in the same way 🙂 Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Ann,
      I’ve not been to Edinburgh Cathedral (yet), but I’m thinking I’ll need to check it out too now! We are so lucky to have so many ancient cathedrals in the UK 🙂

      Reply

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