Ripon – guide for visiting this North Yorkshire cathedral city in 2023

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Despite being the third-smallest city in England, the smallest in Yorkshire (by population), and one of the oldest cities in England, you'll be surprised at the number of things to see and do in Ripon. It's also an incredibly pretty place, and is worth visiting for the cathedral alone. We wanted to round up our favourites with information up to date for 2023, let's get into the guide:

Where is Ripon?

Ripon is about a 40 minute drive from York and about the same to Leeds, but it's probably the surrounding towns and villages that we'd recommend you visit. For example, Boroughbridge is only a 15 minute drive away and Harrogate is only 30 minutes away by car. Overall, you've got a good choice of options if you're looking to visit other places for the day during your stay in Ripon.

What is there to do during your time in Ripon?

Ripon is a great place to visit, here are some of our favourite things for you to check out:

Ripon Cathedral

Ripon is what is known as a 'cathedral city', and the cathedral is absolutely the heart of Ripon. People have been visiting Ripon to pray for more than 1000 years, and Ripon Cathedral is actually the to have stood on the site, the first was built in the 7th century! Although this current building was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries, there are parts of the building which are original, most notably the crypt which is incredibly special to visit.

Ripon Cathedral is not just old, it's also beautiful. Designed in a Decorated Gothic style, it is architecturally very impressive and attracts visitors from across the world for this alone. 'The Great East Window' is also an impressive feature of the building - a huge 19th-century stained-glass which portrays the risen Christ and his apostles. We have a full guide about the cathedral which you can read here.

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Fountains Abbey (& Studley Royal Water Garden)

Fountains Abbey might be ruinous and might not be as impressive as the main cathedral, but is still an impressive piece of architecture and is still absolutely worth visiting. Managed by The National Trust, visiting the Abbey is a well though-out experience which is much more than just looking at some ruins. The setting is absolutely lovely and the park which the abbey sits in (Studley Royal Park) is more than 800 acres in size, so it's wonderful for walking and exploring. The area is actually a World Heritage Site and is full of riverside paths and ancient trees (such as oaks and limes) which are very impressive. The Studley Royal Water Garden was designed and built by John Aislabie in the 18th century, a politician who turned his hand to horticulture after his career ended in disaster. Learn more about the abbey and the park here -


Newby Hall and Gardens

Continuing the theme of impressive buildings to visit in Ripon, Newby Hall is definitely another place to see if you've got time. Set within 25 acres of award-winning gardens packed with rare and beautiful plants, Newby Hall is a Georgian country house considered to be one of the best Adam houses in England. The house was originally built in the late 17th century and although it has been renovated in areas, much of the original house remains. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the house, exploring the impressive rooms such as the Library and the Billiards room.

The house is actually 3 miles south-east of Ripon so you'll have to travel a bit, but we think it is worth the trip if you're looking for a great family day out. Learn more and book your visit here -

Lightwater Valley Family Adventure Park

If you're looking for something a little less historically impressive but still loads of fun, the Lightwater Valley Family Adventure Park is definitely worth a visit. The attraction is great for younger kids especially, with more than 40 rides suitable for all ages, but if you're looking for a bit of a thrill then the park is also home to The Ultimate, Europe's longest roller coaster. There are a number of new rides and attractions which have been launched for 2022, including a state-of-the-art virtual reality arcade. Book your tickets and learn more about the park here -


Workhouse Museum

Visiting a workhouse might not sound like much fun, but trust us when we say that a visit to the Workhouse Museum in Ripon is well worth your time. This Victorian workhouse has been converted into a fascinating museum, and the Ripon Museum Trust has done an excellent job at preserving the grim atmosphere of what it must have been like to work there in the 18th century. A walk around the building is enough to get an idea of the poor conditions, but there are also exhibitions and experiences at the museum which young and old alike will find fun and interesting. These include looking at the clothes and baths that people would have used during their stay here.

Buying a ticket to the Workhouse museum also allows you access to the Courthouse Museum & the Prison & Police Museum, both of which are also worth a visit. Learn more about the museum and book your tickets here -


The Ripon Hornblower

This is less of an attraction to visit and more of an experience - you'll almost certainly be spending quite a bit of time in the lovely Market Square during your time in Ripon, and if you happen to be there at 9pm then you'll get a chance to see the Ripon Hornblower tradition. This is considered to be one of the longest-running traditions in the world, first being recorded in the 9th century. The tradition stems from when King Alfred the Great donated a horn to the city and suggested that the locals appoint a 'Wakeman' to watch out for Vikings (as a side subject, we've written about viking jewellery). The locals decided that the Wakeman should use the horn to let the locals know that he was working and keeping a watch out. This is a great tradition and the job is now shared by a few people, including the first-ever female Wakeman in Ripon. Plus, the horn blows no matter the weather!

Ripon Racecourse

Horse racing isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you enjoy the sport then Ripon Racecourse is an excellent place to visit. Generally considered to be one of the best racecourses on the Northern circuit (and certainly one of the prettiest), Ripon Racecourse is popular with locals and visitors alike. Attending an evening meeting and placing a few bets is a great experience, and the staff are always really helpful and welcoming. Part of what makes this racecourse such a joy to visit is that you'll find flowers everywhere (it is often described as 'the garden racecourse of Yorkshire').

Brimham Rocks

20 minutes drive from Ripon town centre you'll find Brimham Rocks. Another area managed by The National Trust, this natural spectacle was formed by a river which flowed more than 100 million years before the dinosaurs existed and is now a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. For those interested in how the Earth was formed it is a truly fascinating place to visit, but it can even be enjoyable for younger visitors who can't appreciate the history as much - after millions of years of erosion, the rocks have turned into a variety of odd and often funny shapes. Many people see different shapes, but it is pretty regularly reported that some of the rocks look like gorillas and turtles. Some of the more interesting rocks are only a stone's throw (excuse the pun) from the car park, but to properly explore the entire site it would take more than 3 hours. Learn more and plan your visit here -

Spa Gardens

On a sunny day, a visit to the Spa Gardens is highly recommended. Here you can wander around the lovely greenery and sit outside with a cup of tea and a slice of cake from the cafe. If you feel like doing something a little more active, there is a small crazy golf course which you can hire clubs for. The gardens feature a few interesting sculptures which are beautifully made and very pretty to admire.

Enjoy some food and visit the independent shops

York is an amazing place to enjoy a meal, but there are also some lovely places to visit in Ripon. Near the cathedral, along Kirkgate you'll find a couple of excellent Italian restaurants such as Mario's. Cafes such as The Silva Balls offer excellent views of the Cathedral while you enjoy a coffee. Oliver's Pantry is excellent for a proper cooked breakfast.
Like many Yorkshire towns and cities, Ripon also has some very interesting antiques shops and shops which sell curios, such as No 1 Antiques & Collectables and Karma Ripon.
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Things to be aware of before visiting Ripon

Like we mentioned previously, Ripon is quite a small place and to visit many of the locations we've included in this guide, you'll need to travel a bit. Having a car is ideal but the bus routes are also pretty good. You'll also want to dress appropriately if you're heading to any of the outdoor locations - it is Northern England after all!

If you enjoyed this guide, check out our other guides about places in and around Yorkshire including the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the North York Moors.

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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