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Rated as one of the happiest places in Britain, Skipton in North Yorkshire (known as the “Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales“) attracts thousands of visitors every year. With 17 cosy pubs, a 900-year-old castle, a historic cobbled high street, a pretty canal, and quality places to eat and stay, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Skipton. There’s also a romantic ruined abbey nearby and the vast Yorkshire Dales to explore.
This guide introduces you to the best things to do in Skipton, Yorkshire.
Skipton is an ancient town – first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Nestled into the verdant Yorkshire Dales that teem with sheep, it’s no surprise that this charming town prospered thanks to the wool trade. In fact, the old Anglo-Saxon name for Skipton was “sceap tun“, or sheep town.
In 1090, Robert de Romilly (one of William the Conqueror‘s trusted Norman barons) built a wooden motte and bailey fortress that became the town’s first castle. As it wasn’t very good at keeping attacks from Scotland at bay, the castle was strengthened with a stone keep in the 12th Century.
Skipton received a Royal Charter in 1204, allowing a weekly market trading in sheep and woollen goods. Nine centuries later, Skipton Market thrives on the High Street and visiting the quirky independent stalls is one of the best things to do in Skipton.
During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, Skipton became a vital mill town using the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to transport woollen fabrics to UK cities and ports.
When the woollen industry declined, Skipton switched its focus to tourism, exploiting its attractive historic architecture and proximity to the Yorkshire Dales.
15 Things to do in Skipton Yorkshire Today
1. Visit Skipton Castle
One of England’s most complete and well-preserved medieval castles, Skipton Castle is also a private residence.
The imposing entrance to the castle is a huge gatehouse between two large drum towers. Once inside the castle, you are free to explore. the banqueting hall, kitchens and bedchambers used for more than three centuries by the influential Clifford family.
Pro Tip: There’s a dark, windowless dungeon to explore down a steep, worn stone staircase, plus a watchtower to climb to understand why the castle’s location was chosen.
Daily from 10 am to 4 pm.
Related Post: A Day Trip to Skipton Castle
2. Meander along the Skipton Castle Woods Walk
You’ll find the charming Skipton Castle Woods tucked into the Eller Beck Valley, right behind Skipton Castle.
Once you enter the woods, it feels like you’re miles from anywhere rather than moments from a busy town. If you’re lucky, herons and kingfishers might make an appearance as you walk along the “Kingfisher Highway” between Eller Beck and the Springs Canal. The 2.5-mile circular riverside walk is rated as suitable for all skill levels and should take you about an hour.
Pro tip: The path can get muddy, especially during the winter. Remember your walking boots!
3. Rest a While in Holy Trinity Church
As you leave the Skipton Castle Woods, poke your head into Holy Trinity Church at the top of the cobbled High Street. This impressive church dates back to the early 14th Century. While it was damaged during the English Civil War, the church was repaired in the 1650s by Lady Anne Clifford of Skipton Castle. It’s still used as Skipton’s parish church today.
Fun Fact: You can see a medieval fresco representing the hand of death – in the shop on the south wall!
There are well-tended gardens in front of the church, with welcome benches conveniently placed beneath the shade of ancient trees, making this a pleasant place to pause before exploring further. Alternatively, the church has a very welcoming cafe.
Pro Tip: You can see the ornate tombs of Lady Anne Clifford and her parents in Skipton Parish Church.
4. Browse the Market and the Boutique Shops
Moments away from the Holy Trinity Church, you’ll find the award-winning High Street market that takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Discover an eclectic mix of independent shops and stalls selling clothes, homeware, food, and souvenirs.
Then there’s Skipton’s hidden gem. Craven Court is a Victorian-themed shopping arcade praised by Prince Charles for its architecture. You’ll find a selection of popular High Street names inside, plus more unusual shops selling everything from German woodcraft to silver jewellery. The beautifully painted ironwork and stunning glass roof make it a unique and enchanting shopping experience.
Beyond the High Street and Craven Court, there are myriad narrow side streets packed with more shopping treasures. Shopping is one of the best things to do in Skipton!
5. Cruise along the longest canal in the UK
Once you’ve shopped ’til you drop, a leisurely boat trip on the Leeds and Liverpool canal is a great way to rest your feet and see more of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.
Top Tip: Try a 2-hour afternoon tea cruise and watch the world glide by as you tuck into delicious cakes!
7. Let Off Steam in Aireville Park
Henry Allcock created Aireville Park in the 1830s as part of the Aireville Estate. If you’re travelling with children or dogs, there’s plenty of space for eager legs to run.
If you’re feeling energetic, there’s a treetop high ropes course, football pitches, tennis courts, netball and basketball courts. There’s a 14-hole pitch and putt course for golfers, and a café too.
8. Stroll Along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Towpath
You can enjoy Skipton’s canal without a boat trip too. One of the best things to do is head out of the centre of town along the towpath. You can go in either direction towards Liverpool or towards Leeds.
There is plenty to see, from organised pleasure trips to working barges and colourful houseboats with their roofs covered in pots of flowers. It’s a paradise for photographers.
9. Check Out Freddie Trueman’s Statue
Freddie Trueman OBE (1931- 2006) was one of cricket’s greatest fast bowlers. “Fiery Fred” was a proud Yorkshireman who lived in the Skipton area for many years, so it’s fitting that there’s a bronze statue of this cricketing legend next to the Skipton canal. It’s a rather good bronze, showing Freddie in full flow, launching a ball towards an unknown opponent.
10. Enjoy Sheep Day
Skipton’s “Sheep Day” is a hotly anticipated annual event in early July that the whole town gets involved in! The Sheep Show takes place all day, showcasing different sheep breeds; plus, you can see sheep shearing demonstrations and sheep dancing too!!
There’s usually a petting zoo, birds of prey encounters, and more food than you can imagine. It’s a genuinely unique, unmissable event.
Best Things to Do in the Wider Skipton Area
If you’re visiting for more than one day, here are some lovely things to do in the local area:
11. Take a Trip on the Embsay and Bolton Railway
If you love heritage railways, the Embsay & Bolton Railway will be a real treat. The smells of a real steam railway and the puffing and hissing of the steam engine is absolutely intoxicating.
Treat yourself to a ride in the First Class saloons for Afternoon Tea, Fish & Chip Specials or the famous Curry Express!
12. Spend the Day Exploring Bolton Abbey
A visit to nearby Bolton Abbey is one of the best things to do if you’re visiting Skipton, as it’s just 15 minutes by car from the town.
Bolton Abbey Estate and village take their names from the ruined 12th-century Augustinian monastery known as Bolton Priory. The community thrived for 400 years until the Abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries – ordered by Henry VIII.
Today, the atmospheric ruins, 30,000 acres of beautiful countryside and 80+ miles of footpaths offer a great place to walk and explore.
Managed by the Devonshire family since 1755, Bolton Abbey Estate is the Yorkshire seat (home) of the 12th Duke of Devonshire. It’s £10 a day to park your car at Bolton Abbey, but there are no further charges, and there’s plenty to see and do.
13. Take a Gin Tour
Enjoy a gin tour and tasting experience at the rural Otterbeck Distillery – just 7 miles from the centre of Skipton. In a beautiful setting, you’ll be introduced to the still, talked through the distillation process, and have the opportunity to see and smell the wonderful botanicals used in the gin-making process. Then you get to taste the distinctive herbaceous Cotton gin.
14. Explore Lovely Villages Near Skipton
Grassington: The quaintest little stone village with the most fabulous Dickensian Christmas market.
Pateley Bridge: Home to the oldest sweet shop in England and one of the prettiest high streets in England.
Haworth: Home of the Bronte Sisters and quaint independent shops.
Hawes: A chocolate box village that is home to the Wensleydale cheese creamery (beloved of Wallace and Gromit)
15. Walk Lady Anne’s Way
The 100-mile Lady Anne’s Way trail runs from Skipton Castle, where Lady Anne Clifford was born, to Brougham Castle in Penrith, where she died.
If you’re reasonably fit, with a sense of adventure and love the countryside, you’ll love this beautiful, historic long-distance path.
The route passes through Wharfedale and Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales. You’ll see unspoilt villages and limestone pavements before reaching the remote and rugged fellside of Mallerstang to enter Cumbria and the romantic delights of the Eden Valley. The walk was initially planned as a six-day hike, but there’s now a more leisurely nine-day alternative too.
3 Tips For Visiting Skipton
- Take a jacket: This is North Yorkshire – even on the warmest days, it’s best to have a jacket with you. Check out: What to pack for a trip to Yorkshire
- Wear comfortable walking shoes: There’s lots of walking to be done and the high street is cobbled/
- Pack a reusable shopping tote bag for any goodies you pick up in Skipton’s lovely shops!
How to Get to Skipton
By Train: Skipton has its own train station and is well connected. Travel time from London stations is from 3 1/2 hours, while trips from Manchester Airport take about 2 1/2 hours, and trains to/from Leeds take from 35 minutes.
Related post: Discover how to book and manage train travel in the UK
By Car: There are several places to park in Skipton. Find full information here.
Pro Tip: If you’re happy to walk for a few minutes (there’s a steep hill), head for the Bailey long stay car park (Satnav BD23 1UA) where all-day parking is £4.50, after 2 pm £2.50. This is the best (and cheapest) place to park if you’re visiting Skipton Castle.
Where to eat in Skipton
The Cake’ole: This little cafe in the Craven Court Shopping Centre has delicious, massive homemade cakes! Try not to drool over the beautifully decorated three-tier cakes on the display table. If you’re visiting with friends, the sharing platter is the best way to try several different cakes – in great company!
Herriots Hotel: This contemporary hotel has a strong reputation, and it’s conveniently located opposite Skipton rail station. While lunch and dinner are lovely in the Rhubarb restaurant, afternoon tea here is excellent and convenient if you’re only visiting Skipton for the day. Enjoy exploring the town, relax over a delicious afternoon tea and then hop straight onto the train!
The Craven Heifer: If you’re in Skipton on a Sunday, this is THE place to go for a sumptuous (er – huge) Sunday roast with all the trimmings!
Before You Go
If you’re heading to Skipton, be sure to bookmark this page for later! If you love England as much as I do, sign up for my weekly newsletter for even more adventures and tips for travels in England!
Until next time!
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