Visiting Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden [2023]

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Looking for what to do when visiting Fountains Abbey? I’ve got you covered!

The vast UNESCO World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Park in Yorkshire (in the North of England) is an absolute gem!

The breathtaking site includes the largest monastic ruins of any Cistercian monastery in the United Kingdom, a Georgian water garden, and a medieval deer park.

As a North Yorkshire resident and National Trust member, I often visit Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal Estate. I recommend you spend a whole day here to make the most of visiting Fountains Abbey – there’s so much to see. You’ll also need decent walking shoes as there is lots of walking!

In this post, you’ll find what to do and see at Fountains Abbey and Studley Water Garden, including how to get there, where to eat and where to stay so you can plan a fantastic day out.

Temple of Fame Fountains Abbey


Worried about driving on narrow Yorkshire lanes? This 3-day Yorkshire Dales and Peak District Tour from Manchester will pick you up from your hotel or the airport!

Where is Fountains Abbey?

Fountains Abbey is tucked away out of sight in rural North Yorkshire, around four miles by road from the tiny city of Ripon.

A Brief History of The Abbey 

Thirteen Benedictine monks, expelled from St. Mary’s Abbey in York in 1132, settled in a remote valley along the River Skell and built a new abbey named “Fountains Abbey” after the water springs in the area.  

They joined the Cistercian order in 1133, making Fountains Abbey the second Cistercian monastery in North Yorkshire after Rievaulx Abbey. 

Fountains Abbey prospered and grew to a community of about 200 monks with income from sheep farming and wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding, and quarrying stone at Fountains Mill. In addition, wealthy families gave money to the Abbey, seeking prayers for their loved ones – particularly during the Black Death.

Fountains Abbey became one of the wealthiest Cistercian monasteries in England.

What to Do When Visiting Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal

Even if you arrive as the gates open and leave on the dot of closing time, you won’t see everything in one visit, so here are my recommended “must-sees”:

The Abbey is in a deep valley, a pleasant 10 to 15-minute stroll from the Visitor’s Centre. You won’t see the ruined abbey buildings until almost the last moment. Then, you round a corner, and that first view through the ancient trees will take your breath away!

Top Tip: If you visit in Springtime, this walk is THE BEST place to see beautiful wildflowers in bloom.

First View of Fountains Abbey Yorkshire min scaled
The serene and beautiful gardens around Fountains Abbey

1. Explore the Ruins of Fountains Abbey

The grassed area in front of the Abbey is the perfect place to drink in the magnitude of the site. You can see the towering ruined Abbey and guesthouses and the Bakehouse, the Woolhouse, and the Brewhouse on the other side of the river. 

As you wander around the ruins, you can imagine what the Abbey would have been like all those centuries ago. It’s so serene and peaceful, with the river meandering beneath weathered stone bridges and wooded and grassy areas. 

If you need refreshments or a moment to rest and reflect, there’s a cafe by the stream near the ruins.

Huby’s Tower (The Belltower)

Hubys Tower Fountains Abbey
Huby’s Tower, viewed from the Chapel of Nine Altars

The remarkably well-preserved belltower at Fountains Abbey is known as “Huby’s Tower” after Abbott Marmaduke Huby, who had the soaring 160-foot high tower built. He even inscribed his motto on the building, Soli Deo Honor et Gloria (Honour and Glory to God alone). 

Inside the Belltower Fountains Abbey yorkshire min

It’s easy to imagine how wonderful the bells must have sounded in this great place.

View inside Hubys tower Fountains Abbey Yorkshire min

In 1379, one of the original bells from Fountains Abbey was transported to Ripon Cathedral by sledge and barge along the River Skell – what a mammoth task that must have been! The bell – known as the “Mary Bell” – remained in Ripon until the mid-18th century.

When Henry VIII’s agents vandalised the abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Abbott saved the bells as he knew their meaning to his people. He re-distributed them amongst local churches.

The Church and the Chapel of the Nine Altars

The church was constructed as a cross, with separate spaces for the monks and lay brothers to pray. The nave was 90 metres long, and candles burned day and night here.

The Chapel of the Nine Altars was the holiest place at Fountains Abbey, where ordained members of the community celebrated masses.

The chapel was based on the east end of the abbey church of Clairvaux, in Burgundy, as a reminder of Fountains’ link with its Cistercian motherhouse.

Inside the Chapel of the Nine Altars
Inside the Chapel of the Nine Altars – facing North

The Cellarium

This 300-foot-long part of the ruins was the food store. The detailed arched ceiling is terrific, and you can imagine the legions of monks scurrying around here.

The atmospheric cellarium at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, England
Inside the vast Cellarium at Fountains Abbey

The ruined and inaccessible floor above the Cellarium was the brothers’ dormitory, where the monks slept.

The Cellarium is where events like ‘Fountains at Christmas’ are held today, with candlelit carol-singing.

The Sacristy

In addition to being where the vestments (clothes), vessels, and books used in services were stored, under the watchful eye of the sacristan, the Sacristy is probably the spookiest part of the Abbey ruins!

In the mid-19th century, the walls blocking off the Sacristy were removed, and 400 skeletons were discovered! It’s believed that these represent “the dead of local Civil War action.”

There’s still so much more to explore while visiting Fountains Abbey!

The Cloister

A large (38 square metres) central part of the Abbey, where the monks observed silence, meditated and prayed.

The Muniments Room

The monks stored essential documents here. It’s cleverly located upstairs, above the Warming House, so documents were protected from the damp. 

The Chapter House

The place where the monks met each morning for chapter meetings and where they celebrated on feast days. 

The Refectory

This was the vast room where the monks took their meals.

The refectory at Fountains Abbey is a must-see for your visit
Can you imagine the refectory filled with 200 monks eating their meals?

2. Discover The Story of Fountains Mill

The 12th-century Fountains Mill is the oldest surviving Cistercian mill in Europe. There’s an exhibition here detailing daily life at the Abbey and the chance to see the mill equipment working. 

There’s a small cafe beside the mill if you need refreshments. 

3. Learn About Fountains Hall 

Fountains Hall was partly constructed from stone repurposed from the ruined Abbey in the early 17th century. Check out the exhibition about the Fountains Abbey Settler’s Society, whose mission was to provide training in trades for impoverished young men from the North East during the Great Depression (1934 to 1937).

4. Stroll Through Studley Royal Water Gardens

It’s tempting to spend all your time visiting Fountains Abbey exploring the Abbey itself, but do make time to discover the beautifully designed Studley Royal Water Gardens.

De Gray’s Walk 

Heading from the Abbey towards the Water Gardens, there is a steep path uphill by the half-moon reservoir. It’s one of the best places to look back for wonderful views of the Abbey and the river.

The Surprise View and Anne Boleyn’s Seat

For a distant glimpse of Fountains Abbey, it’s worth the stiff hike up to “Anne Boleyn’s Seat”. This lovely spot got its name for a rather gruesome reason! There was a headless statue here, but it’s no longer on public display, and there’s no evidence that Anne Boleyn ever visited Studley Royal or Fountains Abbey.

The Temple of Fame 

The Temple of Fame, Fountains Abbey
The Temple of Fame

Next, you’ll come to the Temple of Fame. What’s surprising here is that the “stone” columns are painted wood! There’s a stunning view of Fountains Abbey from this spot.

The Octagon Tower

This extravagant folly was built in the 1730s and extensively restored in 1976. While you can’t go inside, there’s a grand staircase to enjoy, pretty architectural details, and lovely views over the garden.

Octagon Tower Folly at Fountains Abbey
The Octagon Tower folly

The Serpentine Tunnel

The Serpentine Tunnel is close to the Octagon Tower. Dark and curving, it’s rather spooky, as you have no idea what lies ahead. My dog, Bertie, loved it!

The Temple of Piety, Moon Pond, and Studley Lake

The Italianate Temple of Piety and the Moon Pond are serene and beautiful, with manicured lawns, still waters and classical sculptures everywhere. 

5. Wander Through Studley Royal Deer Park

About 300 deer live in the park – Red Deer, Fallow Deer, and Sika Deer. If you’re lucky, you’ll see beautiful groups of them.

I recommend walking through ‘Seven Bridges Valley‘ for the stunning scenery and the best photo opportunities!

6. Marvel At St. Mary’s Church

St Mary's church, Studley Royal, Yorkshire

This beautiful Grade I listed church is one of England’s best High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture examples. Designed in the 1870s by William Burges, St Mary’s Church has been named his “ecclesiastical masterpiece”.

Don’t Miss: The stunning high-quality stained glass by Frederick Weekes.

Door to St Mary's church, Studley Royal
Look at the detail in the church entrance!

The church was closed when I last visited, so I could only enjoy the outside 🙁

Why is Fountains Abbey a Ruin?

West window Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

The Abbey fell victim to the wrath of King Henry VIII, who wanted the Pope to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. When the Pope refused, Henry’s terrible revenge was to order the dissolution of all English monasteries. 

Everything valuable was seized for the King, precious religious texts were removed, and the buildings were destroyed. Monastery lands were distributed to Royal favourites, and once the monks had left, Fountains Abbey lay in ruins for over 200 years.

Ruins of Guest House Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

What’s the Connection Between Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal? 

Studley Royal Water Gardens is the best-preserved Georgian landscaping in England. It was created by England’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Aislabie, who was expelled from Parliament (along with other MPs) for his involvement in the South Seas Bubble scandal.

Aislabie retired to North Yorkshire and created the gardens with his son William. They created formal water gardens with classical statues, garden buildings, and follies within sight of the abbey ruin. In 1761, William also bought Fountains Abbey. Today’s gardens are barely changed from the Aislabies’ original 18th-century design.

The best way to see the Studley Royal gardens is to follow the garden trail, which has clear signage to all the viewpoints and areas of interest. 

Fountains Abbey View from Studley Royal

The Best Photo Spots at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Photographers love Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, so pack your camera! For the best photos, try these spots:

  • For Wildflowers: The walk from the Visitor’s Centre to the Abbey is the best place to photograph wildflowers. Snowdrop season starts in February, followed by swathes of daffodils, and then in late April and May, you find carpets of bluebells and forget-me-nots. 
  • Views of the Abbey: Leaving the Abbey towards Studley Royal, take De Grey’s Walk, then turn around to capture the best shots of the Abbey, with the River Skell in the foreground.
  • Distant Abbey Views: Walk up the steep hill to Anne Boleyn’s seat for the ‘surprise view’ of the Abbey.
  • Popular, Instagrammable Shots: The most photographed place in Studley Royal is the Temple of Piety.
  • Architectural and Garden Shots: The Octagon Tower presents two photo opportunities – the tower itself and the spectacular views of the gardens.

Where to Stay Near Fountains Abbey

If you’re visiting Fountains Abbey from outside Yorkshire, I recommend staying nearby for at least one night. It’s a long journey and North Yorkshire is beautiful!


There are several excellent hotels near Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, including:

Grantley Hall

Grantley Hall Ripon

For a luxury experience, it has to be Grantley Hall, just a few miles from Fountains Abbey.

Set in a glorious rural location with a spa and exceptional food, you might be surprised how reasonably priced a luxury stay here can be.

Check pricing and availability at Grantley Hall here.

The Unicorn

Unicorn Hotel in Ripon - one of the best places to stay in Ripon

The Unicorn is a historic coaching inn in Ripon’s quaint city centre, close to the bus station and Ripon Cathedral. It’s comfortable, affordable and offers delicious food!

Check pricing and availability at the Unicorn here.

Vacation Rentals

Vacation rentals in North Yorkshire range from apartments to houses and cottages. Staying in a vacation rental can be a fantastic, flexible option and cost-effective if you travel with a large group.

🛎️ Find the best rates for vacation rentals on VRBO and Booking.

How to Get to Fountains Abbey 

The best way to get to Fountains Abbey is to drive, as the journey by public transport can be lengthy.

Need to rent a car? I recommend because they connect you to all the biggest brands in car hire, giving you superb flexibility and the best deals for your trip 🙂

By Road

The best route is via Ripon, which has good road connections. Here’s how to get to Ripon:

🚗 From Leeds, Leeds Bradford Airport and “The South“, including London: Drive North on the A61 via 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)

Travelling From Ripon to Fountains Abbey is easy!
Follow the B6265 for 3.7 miles (8 minutes).
Satnav: Fountains, Ripon, HG4 3DY

By Bus

🚌 From York: Take the #22 bus to Ripon and the #139 bus to Fountains Abbey.

🚌 From Harrogate: take the #36 bus to Ripon. Change to the #139 bus to Fountains Abbey.

By Train

🚄 From London: Travel to Harrogate via Leeds by train (you will have to change trains), then take the #36 bus to Ripon. Change to the #139 bus to Fountains Abbey.

With all the changes and extra time for connections, expect this journey to take at least 5 hours, possibly longer!

Visitor Information

Fountains Abbey Tickets (2023)

One ticket provides entry to both Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens. The ticket prices are as follows:

  • £18 for adults
  • £6.50 for children
  • There’s also a family ticket for £45 (with two adults) or £27 (with one adult). 

Visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is free if you’re a member of English Heritage or the National Trust.


Guided tours are available from the Porter’s Lodge. You can pick up the day’s schedule from the Visitor’s Centre on arrival.

Audio guides are also available, on request, at the visitor’s centre. 

Can you walk around Fountains Abbey without paying?

Entry is free if you only visit Studley Deer Park and St. Mary’s Church. Normal entrance fees apply if you want to see the rest of Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey Opening Times

While the Abbey is open all year round, opening hours vary seasonally, with the Abbey closed to visitors on Fridays during the winter.

Check opening hours for your planned visit here.

Best Time To Visit Fountains Abbey

Each season has its merits for a visit:

  • February through to May: Visit for the wildflowers
  • Summer: The best chance of good weather and enjoying picnics
  • Autumn: For crisp walks with the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot
  • Winter: Festive music plays throughout the ruins, and the Abbey is lit with different colours. It’s magical!

Special Events at Fountains Abbey

Fountains by Floodlight

In October, the ruins are lit up! Can you imagine how beautiful the ruins look in multicolour? It’s a fabulous North Yorkshire after-dark experience that II return for time after time.

Christmas at Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey at Christmastime is incredibly atmospheric, especially when there are Carols by candlelight.

FAQs: Visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Can I use my drone when visiting Fountains Abbey?

No, drones are not permitted anywhere within the grounds of Fountains Abbey.

Is Fountains Abbey dog-friendly?

Visiting Fountains Abbey Cellarium with dog

Yes! Well-behaved dogs on a lead are welcome everywhere in Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, except inside the buildings and play area. My dog, Bertie, loved visiting Fountains Abbey: especially the outside areas of the cafes and paddling in the river just behind the Abbey.

What facilities are there for dog walkers at Fountains Abbey?

Plenty of dog waste bins exist, but don’t forget a dog water bottle and bowl for those long walks!

Can you walk around Fountains Abbey without paying?

No. You can walk around the Fountains Abbey deer park and the seven bridges walk without paying, but you will pay to go into the abbey grounds.

Is Fountains Abbey open to the public?

Yes. Fountains Abbey is open daily from 10 am until 16:30 pm, except in the winter, when it is closed on Fridays.

Is Fountains Abbey worth visiting?

Absolutely. From the magnificent ruined Abbey to the glorious gardens at Studley Royal and the deer park, there is so much for visitors to enjoy.

When is Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden open?

The Abbey is open all year round, with seasonal variations in the opening hours. In most months, the Abbey is open daily from 10 am until 16:30 pm; however in the winter, the Abbey is closed to visitors on Fridays.

Who owns Fountains Abbey?

In 1983, the National Trust bought the Abbey to save it for future generations to enjoy.

How Accessible Is Fountains Abbey? 

Parts Fountains Abbey are difficult for people with accessibility needs; however, accessible parking is available at the Westgate car park and a free shuttle bus runs from the Visitor Centre to the car park, Studley Royal, and St Mary’s Church.

Do you need to book in advance to visit Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden?

No, there’s no need to pre-book when visiting Fountains Abbey. It’s a vast site with large car parks!

Is Fountains Abbey free for English Heritage members?

Yes, Fountains Abbey is free for English Heritage members to visit

Is it free to park at Fountains Abbey?

The main car park at the visitor centre is free; however, Studley Royal car park is pay & display (free for National Trust members)

How long is the walk around Fountains Abbey?

In total, the walk around Fountains Abbey is four miles.

What Netflix series was filmed at Fountains Abbey?

Season 2 of The Witcher was filmed among the atmospheric ruins of Fountains Abbey.

Final Thoughts – Visiting Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

So that’s it for this guide to visiting Fountains Abbey – an inspiring experience you should not miss. From the stunning architecture of the abbey ruins to the tranquil Studley Royal gardens and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, it’s a serene and special place, with something for visitors of all ages to enjoy.

Exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site provides a unique glimpse into the medieval life of Cistercian monks. Whether you come alone or with family and friends, Fountains Abbey offers a peaceful retreat from everyday life that will leave you feeling refreshed and inspired. So why not plan your next adventure today?

Fountains Abbey is a unique part of England’s heritage and one of the most impressive National Trust properties. It’s a great addition to your Yorkshire itinerary.

Planning To Visit Yorkshire?

Check out more destinations to help you plan your UK itinerary:

⭐️ Tiny Ripon. Check out fascinating museums and the 12th-century cathedral, and see the ancient tradition of the Hornblower – at 9 pm EVERY evening!

⭐️ Charming Ripley: An ancient castle, deer park and unique medieval monuments.

⭐️ Elegant Harrogate: Upmarket shopping, fabulous food, RHS gardens and stunning Victorian architecture.

⭐️ Pretty Knaresborough: Medieval castle, fascinating Civil War history, mesmerising waterfront, and gorgeous Victorian viaduct.

What to see and do when visiting Fountains Abbey