Fountains Abbey. North Yorkshire

Visiting Fountains Abbey: 18 Amazing Things To See + Tour Info

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IS VISITING FOUNTAINS ABBEY WORTHWHILE?

The vast UNESCO World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Park is an absolute gem. The breathtaking site includes the ruins of the largest Cistercian monastery in the United Kingdom, splendid Georgian formal water gardens, and a medieval deer park.

You will need a whole day to make the most of visiting Fountains Abbey, as there is so much to see, and decent walking shoes as there is lots of walking to do!

This travel guide shares what to do and see at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, so you can plan a fantastic day out.

Temple of Fame Fountains Abbey

BEST TOUR INCLUDING 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.

How to Get to Fountains Abbey 

By Road: The best way to get to Fountains Abbey is to drive 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 Public Transport: Visiting Fountains Abbey by public transport involves a long journey, with several changes. Here are some options:

  • From York: Take the 22 bus to Ripon, then take the 139 bus to Fountains Abbey.
  • From London: Travel to Harrogate via Leeds by train, 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, but possibly longer!

Fountains Abbey History

After a riot at St. Mary’s Abbey in York in 1132, thirteen Benedictine monks were expelled. The Archbishop of York granted the monks land, 30 miles from York, in a remote valley along the River Skell. The monks settled and named their new monastery “Fountains Abbey” after the water springs in the area.  

In 1133, the monks joined the booming Cistercian order, and Fountains Abbey became the second Cistercian monastery in North Yorkshire, after Rievaulx Abbey. 

At first, sheep farming was the biggest source of income for Fountains Abbey, which prospered and grew to a community of about 200 monks. The monks also earned from lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding, and quarrying stone at Fountains Mill.

Wealthy families also donated money to the Abbey, seeking prayers for their loved ones, particularly during the Black Death. Over time, Fountains Abbey became one of the wealthiest Cistercian monasteries in England.

Why is Fountains Abbey a Ruin?

West window Fountains Abbey Yorkshire
The ruined remains of the magnificent West Window

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
The ruins of one of the guesthouses

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

Find Out More When Visiting Fountains Abbey

  1. Visit the exhibition in the Porter’s Lodge
  2. Take a guided tour from the Porter’s Lodge (pick up the day’s schedule from the Visitor’s Centre)
  3. Ask for the audio guide at the visitor’s centre. 

Suggested reading: Visiting Bolton Abbey

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 magnificent ruins of Fountains Abbey

Top Things to Do When Visiting Fountains Abbey

Even if you arrive as the gates open and leave on the dot of closing time, you’re not going to get to see everything in one visit! Here’s what you can see when visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, with my recommended “must-sees”. 

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

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

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, on the other side of the river, the Bakehouse, the Woolhouse, and the Brewhouse. 

As you wander around the ruins, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine what the Abbey would have been like all those centuries ago. It’s a serene and peaceful place. The river meanders beneath weathered stone bridges and wooded and grassy areas offer you a place to rest and reflect. 

If you need refreshments, there’s a cafe by the stream near the ruins.

1. 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, the Abbott saved the bells as he knew their meaning to his people, and he re-distributed the bells amongst local churches.

2. 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 would have burned day and night here.

Nave of Fountains Abbey towards the Chapel of the 9 Altars min
Inside the nave of Fountains Abbey, looking towards the Choir, the Chapel of the Nine Altars and the Great East Window.

The Chapel of the Nine Altars was the holiest place at Fountains Abbey. It was the place 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

3. The Cellarium

This 300-foot-long part of the ruins was the food store. The detailed arched ceiling is wonderful, 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.

Today, the Cellarium is where events like Fountains at Christmas are held, with candlelit carol-singing.

4. 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 which blocked off the Sacristy were removed, and 400 skeletons were discovered! It’s believed that these represent “the dead of local Civil War action.”

More to Explore while Visiting Fountains Abbey

5. The Cloister

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

6. 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. 

7. The Chapter House

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

8. The Refectory

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

the refectory - a great place to see when visiting fountains abbey
The refectory was once filled with 200 monks eating their meals.

9. 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. 

10. 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).

Studley Royal 

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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

The Octagon Tower, Fountains Abbey
The Octagon Tower folly

15. 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!

16. 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. 

17. 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!

18. St. Mary’s Church

St Mary's church, Studley Royal, Yorkshire

This beautiful Grade I listed church is one of England’s finest examples of High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. Designed in the 1870s by William Burges, St Mary’s Church has been named as 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 visited, so I could only enjoy the outside.

The Best Photo Spots at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Photographers love Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, so remember to 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.

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?

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

There are plenty of dog waste bins but don’t forget a dog water bottle and bowl for those long walks!

dog friendly Fountains Abbey
Bertie loved his visit to Fountains Abbey

How Accessible Is Visiting Fountains Abbey? 

The National Trust has worked hard to make the site accessible; however, some places will be difficult for people visiting Fountains Abbey with accessibility needs. 

The best place to park is the Westgate car park, for level access to the Abbey ruins. There’s also a free shuttle bus from the Visitor Centre to the car park, Studley Royal, and St Mary’s Church.

Find more information about accessibility at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal here.

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.

Is Fountains Abbey free for English Heritage members?

Fountains Abbey is free for English Heritage members to visit

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.

Get membership information for English Heritage here and the National Trust here. If you’re in the USA and interested in National Trust membership, check out the Royal Oak Foundation US membership affiliate programme and benefits here.

If you’re wondering, ‘can you walk around Fountains Abbey without paying’, note that 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.

What are the Fountains Abbey opening times?

While the Abbey is open all year round, opening hours vary seasonally, and each season has its merits for a visit:

  • From February through to May for the wildflowers
  • In the summer for the best chance of good weather, and for picnics
  • At autumntime for crisp walks with the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot
  • In the winter, festive music plays throughout the ruins when the Abbey is lit with different colours. It’s mesmerising!

Check opening hours for your planned visit here.

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.

Where to Stay Near Fountains Abbey

If you’re visiting Fountains Abbey from outside Yorkshire, I recommend staying nearby for at least one night. There are several excellent hotels near Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

  • 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 great food, you might be surprised how reasonably priced a stay here can be. Check pricing and availability here.
  • In Ripon, two historic coaching inns are located in the city’s centre, close to the bus station and Ripon Cathedral. Both are comfortable and affordable and offer delicious food! Check pricing and availability here.

Things to See and Do Near Fountains Abbey

  • Meander through the quaint City of Ripon. Check out the three fascinating museums and the beautiful 12th-century cathedral, and see the ancient tradition of the Hornblower – at 9 pm EVERY evening!
  • Explore the charming village of Ripley, with its castle, deer park and unique medieval monuments
  • Venture into elegant Harrogate for upmarket shopping, fabulous food, RHS gardens and stunning architecture.
  • Discover pretty Knaresborough, its medieval castle, fascinating Civil War history, mesmerising waterfront, and gorgeous Victorian viaduct.

Wrap Up – Visiting Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

So that’s it for this guide to visiting Fountains Abbey. For such a hidden-away place, it has much to offer visitors and could make a great addition to your Yorkshire itinerary.

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What to see and do when visiting Fountains Abbey