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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!
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.
The Best Things to Do in Ripon Yorkshire
Every time I visit Ripon, I discover something new about this charming and very walkable city. It’s an excellent 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.
Read Next: 11 Fantastic Things to do near Ripon (including Ripon races and Fountains Abbey)
1. Visit Ripon Cathedral
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. Today’s cathedral is the fourth church to have graced this site!
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.
The choir was rebuilt at the end of the 13th century with a sensational geometric east window in the Decorated Gothic Style.
Fun Fact: An old wooden hand is visible high above the archway below the organ. It was the conductor’s hand for the choir!
Lewis Carroll was a canon at the Cathedral in the mid-19th century. 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.
Location: Liberty Court House, Minster Rd HG4 1QT
Entry Charge: Free, but please be kind and leave a donation in the box!
2. The Ripon 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.
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.
Volunteers who grow produce for local restaurants maintain the vast kitchen gardens.
Location: Allhallowgate HG4 1LE
3. The Prison and Police Museum Ripon
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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4. The Ripon Courthouse 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: This box has a ceiling, protecting prisoners from missiles thrown from the public gallery!
Location: Minster Rd HG4 1QS
5. Browse Ripon Market
Market Place is only a two-minute walk from the St. Marygate car park.
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”.
On Thursdays, 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!
6. 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 about 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 night has been missed in over 1100 years!
7. Stroll in Ripon Spa Gardens
This genteel little park has a Victorian bandstand where local bands play on Sunday afternoons in the summer. 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 wandering around the gardens very pleasant.
Location: 9 Park Street HG4 2AX
8. Walk Along 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 declined, 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 also see ducks and swans, glorious wildflowers, pretty little bridges, and glimpses of the cathedral through the trees.
Location: Canal Wharf HG4 1AQ (5 minutes walk from the City Centre)
9. 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.
Inside the chapel, look out for the stunning four-light Perpendicular Gothic style window to the East, a 15th-century screen, a medieval stone altar, 17th-century communion rails with turned balusters, and late medieval floor tiles.
Location: Magdalen’s Road HG4 1HT
10. 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 and curious bone finds, telling stories of people who lived hundreds of years ago.
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.
11. Check Out 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 were the last English spa baths to be built, officially opened by Princess Henry of Battenberg in 1905. Visit today to enjoy the wood sauna and large swimming pool.
Location: Park St HG4 2BD
Related Post: How to Visit the Royal Turkish Baths in Harrogate
12. 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.
Head west into the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for testing climbs and distant views. If you prefer something more leisurely, the route to the east of the city is mostly flat.
13. 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 its 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, apple juice locally pressed from the garden’s apples and honey from 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 Royal Oak Hotel in Ripon’s Market Square offers comfortable rooms and hearty pub meals.
📍 For a luxury stay, you can’t beat the 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 city’s centre 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.
Wrap Up – The Best Things to Do in Ripon
As you can see, Ripon has some great attractions. Take the time to explore Ripon and the surrounding countryside, and I know that you will fall in love with the wonderful county of Yorkshire – a beautiful county packed with fascinating history, places to visit, and plenty of hidden treasures.
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