Ripon Cathedral from the Front

The ancient city of Ripon is the 3rd smallest in England, and it’s an absolute gem! Since moving to North Yorkshire, I’ve discovered there are more things to do in Ripon than I expected!

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Discover the best things to see and do in Ripon, Yorkshire, 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 some surprisingly good places to eat and the prettiest houses 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 unspoilt 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 only 10 miles from Ripley Castle, and a short drive to elegant Harrogate, charming Knaresborough, and medieval York.

Pretty Kirkgate, opposite the Cathedral

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”.

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).

One of the city’s cobbled streets

Where to Park in Ripon

The easiest and most central place to park is at the St Marygate Car Park, which is in the centre of the city and 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

Come with me as I show you the best things to do in Ripon, including where to eat and stay. As I introduce you to this quaint and completely enchanting city, I’ll show you:

  • 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

Ripon Cathedral

The Cathedral in one of the best things to see in Ripon
The Cathedral which dominates the city is the number one thing to see in Ripon

While it’s not quite as big or famous as York Minster, Ripon Cathedral is breathtakingly beautiful and it completely dominates this small city!

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 front view of Ripon's cathedral
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. 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.

View from the inside of the choir screen at Ripon Cathedral
Looking through the choir to the magnificent organ, with the cathedral entrance just visible

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 Carrol was inspired to create the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by looking at the carvings in the misericords! See if you can find the owls, mermaid, dragons and pig.

Intricately carved choir stalls
The intricate carvings in the choir are so beautiful and so atmospheric.
Intricately carved animals on the choir stalls in the cathedral
The poor fellow had a noose round his neck, as the choir stalls were roped off due to Coronavirus!
One of the beautifully carved misericords in the choir
One of the beautifully carved misericords in the choir

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.

The wing and a prayer exhibitions of paper angels at Ripon cathedral
The Wing and a Prayer exhibition was so beautiful!

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 current Covid restrictions mean you must pre-book your visit. More information here.

1. The Workhouse Museum

The imposing entrance to the immaculate 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

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 

Ripon Market Place is just two minutes walk from the St. Marygate carpark.

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

The 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 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 home-made 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

Ripon Spa Gardens - the perfect place to wander and relax in Ripon, Yorkshire
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, Ripon HG4 2AX

Ripon Canal

View of 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, 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 south-west corner and a bell turret above the west gable.

Inside St Magdalen's Church, known as the Leper's Church

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 under 16s.

Ghost walks are halted as part of the COVID restrictions – find full information and contact details here.

Ripon Spa Baths

Art-Nouveau 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

Other Things to Do in 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)

View inside Fountains Abbey ruined monastery

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 North Yorkshire England

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)

Newby Hall and Gardens North Yorkshire

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)

View of the Druid's Temple folly
View of the Druid’s Temple folly

In the early 19th century, scholar and wealthy landowner William Danby built a folly on his estate in lower Wensleydale. 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

Visiting the medieval streets is one of the best things to do in Ripon
Pretty Kirkgate is directly opposite the cathedral and home to several lovely cafes,

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.

Events 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

Mid Budget

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

Affordable Luxury

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.

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.

Read More

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17 Best Things to Do in Knaresborough
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Discover Coldstones Cut: Britain’s Biggest Public Artwork
A Sensational North Yorkshire Gin Distillery Tour!
The 20 Most Beautiful Towns and Villages in Yorkshire

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About Author

Coralie is a Brit living in North Yorkshire. When she's not writing, she's either out exploring, planning a new trip, tasting street food or relaxing with a cold G&T. With 40+ years of adventurous travel to almost 40 countries (so far), she knows there's still much to see and remains an adventure-seeker at heart. Follow her on social media and keep up with her adventures and awesome travel tips.

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20 Comments

  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.

    1. Hi Linda, I loved the paper angels display and didn’t know that there were similar ones in other churches. You’ve whetted my appetite now to find out more!

  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.

  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 🙂

    1. 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.

  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!

    1. 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 🙂 )

  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.

    1. 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 🙂

  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.

    1. 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 🙂

  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!

    1. 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:)

  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.

  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.

  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!

    1. 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 🙂

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