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Pretty little Knaresborough is an enchanting town in North Yorkshire. with a 12th-century castle, soaring stone Victorian viaduct, and a glorious position above a scenic river gorge.
Let’s peek at some of the best things to do in Knaresborough – a gorgeous little town that has been welcoming tourists for centuries!
Where is Knaresborough?
Located on the train line from Harrogate to York, Knaresborough is easy to visit on a day trip from Harrogate (11 minutes), York (29 minutes), and Leeds (32 minutes). Travelling from London by train takes around three hours.
About Knaresborough Yorkshire
Knaresborough is a market town in the borough of Harrogate in North Yorkshire that was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086. The town has a population of 15,400 and is home to Britain’s oldest paid tourist attraction. Knaresborough also played an essential role in British Civil War history and was painted by Britain’s greatest landscape artist JMW Turner (1775-1851).
The Best Things to do in Knaresborough England
If you only have one day in Knaresborough, you’ll find it’s a compact town and easy to walk around, so you can enjoy the best things to see in Knaresborough on a limited time budget.
There are also plenty of free things to do in Knaresborough if you’re looking for an inexpensive day out.
1. Explore Knaresborough Castle
High above the River Nidd, this mighty 12th-century fortress was the stronghold of medieval kings, including King John and Kings Edward I, II, and III. The views from here across the Nidd Gorge are incredible.
The castle was loyal to King Charles I in the English Civil War and was ruined by the victorious Parliamentarians of Oliver Cromwell as punishment when the war ended. In true thrifty Yorkshire style, however, much of Knaresborough Castle’s stone was reused by homeowners in the town centre.
Stroll around the castle grounds and enjoy the sweeping views of the River Nidd far below for free. Alternatively, take the castle tour for just £3.50 to peer into the dungeon, scale the King’s Tower and discover the secret underground exit known as a sally port.
Location: Castle Yard, HG5 8AS
2. Meet the Knaresborough Castle Ravens
Meet His Majesty’s Keeper of the Ravens and the castle’s ravens which might greet you with a surprising, Yorkshire-accented “y’alright luv”!
3. Discover History at Knaresborough Courthouse Museum
The 14th-century Courthouse is the only part of Knaresborough Castle still in good repair. Originally the “house of records”, it became a court for “The Honour of Knaresborough”. In the 19th century, a prison was added to the building.
In the Courthouse Museum, you’l find the original Tudor courtroom and its original fittings, including a set of stocks. You can also learn out about 18th-century Knaresborough local “Blind Jack” (John Metcalfe), who built more than 180 miles of roads across Yorkshire and Lancashire despite losing his sight to smallpox.
Tip: Knaresborough Castle and the Courthouse Museum are open from Easter to September. At other times, you can visit by appointment.
4. Marvel at Knaresborough Viaduct
The Victorian railway viaduct at Knaresborough is one of Yorkshire’s most iconic landmarks. Constructed in 1851 to connect the town with Harrogate and York, the 330 feet long, four-arch viaduct stands nearly 80ft above the River Nidd.
With castellated walls and piers, the viaduct was designed to blend in with the ruined walls of Knaresborough Castle.
5. Stroll Along the Nidd Riverside Walk
The Nidd riverside in Knaresborough is a firm favourite with photographers and walkers alike. Cheery little independent cafes dot the waterfront beneath the castle’s cliff, some with terraces where you can sit and enjoy the view of the viaduct and the river.
In the summer months, some of the loveliest things to do in Knaresborough are taking a stroll along the riverside with ice cream or hiring a rowing boat. A meander under the viaduct gives a different perspective of the bridge and the castle.
6. Check Out Our Lady of the Crag
Don’t miss a stroll along the riverside to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, a tiny medieval chapel excavated from sandstone. Just 13ft x 8ft, it was reputedly built by a grateful stonemason to thank God after his son was saved from falling rocks.
While it’s only open on Sunday afternoons, it’s worth a visit to see the dramatic cliff it’s built into and to peek through the chapel window.
7. See King John’s Hunting Lodge – The Old Manor House
The 11th century Old Manor House on the Nidd Waterside is visible from anywhere along the river: it’s one of the most famous black and white Knaresborough checkerboard houses.
The house was a hunting lodge for King John, who enjoyed hunting in Knaresborough Forest. He would leave his men under a great oak by the River Nidd, then eat beneath the tree on his return. The tree’s trunk is said to still be inside the house today.
During the English Civil War, Parliamentarians “Roundheads” defeated the Royalist “Cavalier” forces at the Battle of Marston Moor. The Royalists signed the Treaty of Capitulation at the Old Manor House in the presence of the Roundhead leader Oliver Cromwell who was a guest in the main bedroom.
8. Commune with Nature in the Nidd Gorge
The River Nidd has carved a 37-metre-deep ravine into the soft sandstone between the village of Bilton and Knaresborough. Ancient woodland borders the river, providing a haven to 30 types of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, plus more than 80 species of birds.
If you’re quiet, you might see roe deer, herons by the water, or green woodpeckers in the trees.
The now-defunct 104 feet high Victorian Nidd Gorge viaduct was built to carry trains to Ripley, Ripon, and Thirsk. Today it carries part of the Nidderdale Greenway Cycleway and provides a spectacular view of the river far below in the ravine.
9. Visit Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Petrifying Well
The oldest tourist attraction in England is located in a cave above the River Nidd. According to local lore, Ursula Sontheil was born in this cave in 1488. She grew up to become a witch/prophetess, known as Old Mother Shipton, making her living telling the future.
Legend suggests that Old Mother Shipton predicted key events, including the Great Fire of London in 1666, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and the invention of iron ships.
There’s also a “petrifying well” just outside the cave, which turns items to stone thanks to the amount of carbonate and sulphate in the water. Items suspended beneath the cascade soon form a crust of “stone”.
Mother Shipton’s Cave is quirky to visit and one of the most fun things to do in Knaresborough.
Location: Mother Shipton’s Inn, Low Bridge HG5 8HZ
10. Discover St Robert’s Cave
On the south side of the town, discover the cave where Robert of Knaresborough lived as a hermit early in the 13th century. Born into a wealthy family, Robert left home left to become a monk at Fountains Abbey before moving to Knaresborough.
The cave contains a shelf believed to have been used as an altar. Outside the cave, the foundations of a chapel built to hold Robert’s tomb are visible.
11. While Away Time at Bebra Gardens
The town’s Moat Gardens have been renamed Bebra Gardens to honour Knaresborough’s German twin town. Located on a steep hill on the castle grounds, this small park features swirling paths, mature trees, well-tended rockeries, and herbaceous borders. Young children love the paddling pool in this garden!
12. Spot Ye Oldest Chymist Shoppe in England
A fascinating shop in Knaresborough Market is the oldest pharmacy in England, located at 16 Market Place. Records show a chemist shop (drugstore) here in 1720, but it’s widely believed that the pharmacy could be at least 200 years older.
13. Ride the Beryl Burton Cycleway
Avoid the busy road between Knaresborough and Harrogate and take a leisurely cycle along the scenic and traffic-free Beryl Burton cycleway – from the River Nidd to Harrogate and the Nidderdale Greenway.
The cycleway pays homage to Beryl Burton – a champion Yorkshire cyclist who won more than seven world titles.
14. Step Back in Time at the Church of St John the Baptist
The church has soaring arcades in the nave supported by 15th-century octagonal piers. The Slingsby Chapel has remarkable 17th-century family memorials. In contrast, St Edmund’s Chapel has some of the oldest Gothic masonries.
Don’t miss the 18th-century paintings of Moses and Aaron and the beautiful 19th-century stained glass by renowned Victorian Arts and Crafts designer Morris & Co.
15. Follow the Knaresborough Town Windows Trail
When King William III introduced window tax as a property tax in 1696, people across the country bricked up windows to avoid paying the hated tax – you can still see this in Georgian houses today.
Knaresborough has dozen of these bricked-up windows in the old town centre, and the town has commissioned artists to create Trompe-l’œil paintings of people and events from the town’s history in these windows.
Various artists have completed Knaresborough Windows. See if you can spot Mother Shipton and King John, who conducted the first-ever Royal Maundy in Knaresborough in 1210.
16. Browse Knaresborough Market
Knaresborough Market has been open for business every Wednesday since 1310. Today, the 100+ stalls trade from 08:30 until 16:00, selling fresh local seasonal meat, seasonal fruit and vegetables, fish, sweet treats, and delicious Yorkshire pork pies.
You’ll also find cheese, beer, household goods, decorative crafts, plants, pet products, clothing, and more. It’s a thriving, local hub and a proper taste of Yorkshire, and there are plenty of shops in Knaresborough for a good browse.
Top Tip: Get to the market just before 11 am or 1 pm to hear the “oyez, oyez” of the Knaresborough town crier proclaiming all the local news.
As you potter around the market, look for the bronze statues of Blind Jack and Mother Shipton.
17. Stroll in Jacob Smith Park
North of Knaresborough, this park was bequeathed to the town by Miss Winifred Jacob Smith, who worked the land with her sister after inheriting it from their father.
Covering 20 acres, the park is encircled by a stone wall and planted with ancient trees. It’s a serene place to wander the many footpaths.
18. Watch the Knaresborough Bed Race
The eccentric Great Knaresborough Bed Race has taken place annually since 1966, raising money for worthy local causes with 90 teams participating.
Racers parade through the town in fancy dress before the start of the race. Then the teams set off at ten-second intervals, pushing a wheeled bed along a challenging 2.4-mile course around the town. The race ends with a chilly traverse of the fast-flowing River Nidd.
Crowds line the streets, and nearby pubs burst at the seams with cheering spectators. It’s peculiarly British, totally bonkers and utterly magnificent.
19. Tackle the Knaresborough Round Walk
Keen walkers and hikers love the challenge of the 21-mile Knaresborough Round Walk, which takes an average of almost 9 hours to complete. It’s one of the most beautiful Knaresborough walks.
Best Time to Visit
Knaresborough is pretty all year round, but it’s glorious in late spring and summer when the riverside cafes are open, and you can hire rowing boats.
How to Get Around Knaresborough
Knaresborough is a compact town – most attractions are within an easy (albeit hilly) walk of the train station. Expect to find steep steps up and down between the riverside and the town.
Places to Eat in Knaresborough
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Knaresborough is to eat! The town has excellent independent coffee shops and tea rooms for light snacks, teas, and coffees. Try the delightful Cafe di Lucca, quirky little Number Thirteen, riverside Ugly Duckling Tearoom, or the atmospheric Old Ticket Office at the train station.
For something more substantial, try some of the pubs in Knaresborough, Mother Shipton’s Inn and the Guy Fawkes pub are comforting eateries serving excellent meals. Make sure you’re hungry if ordering fish and chips at the Guy Fawkes, as it’s huge!
Knaresborough Travel Information
Places to Stay in Knaresborough
📍 Newton House Knaresborough is a charming and friendly 300-year-old B&B, allegedly built with stone from Knaresborough Castle.
📍 Renting a cosy riverside cottage is a lovely way to stay in Knaresborough. Teardrop Cottage is an absolute delight!
📍 Goldsborough Hall is a 400-year-old private historic stately home and gardens, is ideal if you’re looking for a luxurious treat.
How to Get to Knaresborough
Knaresborough is 45 minutes from Leeds or York by train, with Leeds only 2 hours away from London. The nearest airports are Leeds and Manchester.
If you’re planning to drive to Knaresborough, there is plentiful parking, but the car parks near the town centre are payable. If you’re looking for some independence in transport, hiring a car is probably your best option.
I hope I’ve given you a great introduction with this Knaresborough travel guide and plenty of ideas for what to do when you visit, but here are the answers to a couple of questions that people sometimes ask, in case you’re still asking yourself “is Knaresborough worth visiting”.
What day is market day in Knaresborough?
Knaresborough market day is on Wednesdays from 7.30 am until 3 pm, all year around (except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).
Is Harrogate or Knaresborough better?
The two towns are quite different, and both are very worthwhile to visit. Harrogate will be easier to visit if you struggle with hills, whereas Knaresborough has unbeatable views.
What’s Knaresborough famous for?
The most famous things are the viaduct and Mother Shipton’s cave.
Wrap Up – the Best Things to Do in Knaresborough North Yorkshire
Now you know what to do in Knaresborough, do you plan to visit Knaresborough? If you’re planning a trip to Yorkshire or just want to read more about the county, take a look at what else I’ve written about it to discover more of the best things to do in Yorkshire.
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Until next time