How to organize a historical tour of the ancient monasteries in Yorkshire?

11 June 2024

Yorkshire, a historic county in northern England, is renowned for its rich heritage, beautiful landscapes, and impressive ancient monasteries. A historical tour around these monastic sites, nestled among the scenic Yorkshire Dales and dramatic North York Moors, is a day well spent for history enthusiasts, casual tourists, and families alike. Let's dive into the captivating world of Yorkshire's monastic ruins, as we guide you on how to organize the best day tour of these ancient marvels.

1. Fountains Abbey

Built in the 12th century, Fountains Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and best-preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. Nestled in a serene valley along the River Skell, this abbey is a fantastic starting point for your day tour.

Begin your day early to catch the morning light over the abbey ruins. The sprawling complex includes the abbey, a water mill, and the grand Fountains Hall. Admire the Abbey Church's grand structure, with its towering walls, intricate windows, and detailed carvings. The cloister and the chapter house are notable for their evocative atmosphere, and the monks' cellarium, where food and drink were stored, is remarkably well-preserved.

While there, don’t miss the chance to stroll through the adjacent Studley Royal Water Garden, a stunning 18th-century garden featuring elegant ornamental lakes, canals, and beautiful landscaped grounds.

2. Rievaulx Abbey

As you continue your tour north from Fountains Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey, in the North York Moors National Park, will be your next stop. Founded in 1132, Rievaulx was one of England's most powerful Cistercian monasteries.

As you arrive, the abbey will reveal itself, nestled in the tranquil Rye Valley, away from the worldly distractions. You'll be captivated by the site's tranquillity, just as the monks were almost nine centuries ago. The towering, gothic-style abbey church, the refectory with its carved wooden details, and the abbot's house are the main highlights here.

In addition to the historical and architectural appeal, the abbey's setting amidst beautiful woodlands and verdant pastures is equally impressive. The on-site museum contains artifacts discovered during the archaeological excavations, such as stone carvings, medieval tiles, and metalwork.

3. Whitby Abbey

Continuing along the North Yorkshire coast, your tour will bring you to Whitby Abbey. This 7th-century Christian monastery famously hosted the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, where the English Church decided the date of Easter.

The dramatic ruins of Whitby Abbey stand majestically on a cliff overlooking the North Sea, providing breathtaking panoramic views. The abbey's history is as fascinating as its architecture. The Cholmley House, located within the grounds, gives an insight into the abbey's history through an interactive museum.

Don't forget to take a stroll in the charming seaside town of Whitby below, famous for its fish and chips and the inspiration it provided to Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

4. York Minster

After exploring the ruins and their charming surroundings, the next stop is York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe. Unlike the previous sites, York Minster is not a ruin but a thriving, active cathedral in the heart of the historic city of York.

York Minster is a masterpiece of English architecture. The cathedral's stunning stained glass windows, including the renowned Great East Window, the world's largest expanse of medieval stained glass, are the highlights. Don't forget to climb the Central Tower for a spectacular view of York.

While in York, stroll around the medieval city walls, visit Clifford's Tower, and explore the narrow, twisted alleyways of The Shambles, widely considered one of the best-preserved medieval streets in the world.

5. Castle Howard

To conclude your day, a visit to the nearby Castle Howard is highly recommended. This magnificent 18th-century stately home, still occupied by the Howard family, is one of Britain's finest historic houses.

The castle's opulent interiors are a feast for the eyes. The Great Hall, with its dramatic dome and stunning frescoes, is a highlight. The Antique Passage displays a wonderful collection of classical sculptures.

You will also enjoy exploring the 1,000-acre grounds, landscaped by Capability Brown, featuring lush gardens, wooded areas, and tranquil lakes. The Atlas Fountain and the Temple of Four Winds are not to be missed.

Throughout your tour of Yorkshire's religious sites and historic buildings, you'll discover tales of devotion, power, and conflict. You'll revel in architectural grandeur and marvel at the beautiful landscapes that these sites inhabit. This journey will surely take you on a wonderful trip back in time, through the centuries of Yorkshire's rich and evocative history.

6. Bolton Abbey

Heading south from York, your journey will lead you to Bolton Abbey. This captivating 12th-century Augustinian monastery is sprawled out on the banks of the River Wharfe, offering a unique combination of natural beauty and historical significance.

The Priory Church and ruins, set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales, tell a tale of a once-thriving religious community. While the nave of the church continues to be in use for worship, the east end stands as a reminder of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

The grounds of Bolton Abbey offer more than 80 miles of footpaths through woods, moors, and fields. Embark on the Bolton Abbey Woodland Walk, a trail that covers serene woodland, the riverside, and offers stunning views of the abbey ruins. The stepping stones across the river and the nearby Strid Wood are perfect spots for a picnic.

After a full day of exploration, consider treating yourself to a classic English afternoon tea at the Cavendish Pavilion, set amidst the scenic woodland landscape.

7. Aysgarth Falls and Jervaulx Abbey

Last on your historical tour of Yorkshire is a visit to Aysgarth Falls and the nearby Jervaulx Abbey. Situated in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Aysgarth Falls is a series of three breathtaking waterfalls on the River Ure. Known for their beauty, these falls were featured in the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves film.

A short distance away is Jervaulx Abbey, one of the great Cistercian monasteries of Yorkshire. Although lesser-known than its counterparts, this privately-owned, free-to-enter abbey offers an intimate and peaceful experience. Discover the atmospheric ruins adorned with wildflowers, and explore the 126-acre parkland that houses an abundance of wildlife and stunning trees.

The Tearoom at Jervaulx Abbey is a perfect place to end your day, offering delicious homemade cakes and speciality teas.


Organizing a historical tour of the ancient monasteries in Yorkshire is no small feat, given the abundance of rich heritage sites scattered across this beautiful county. From the sprawling ruins of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden to the dramatic cliffs of Whitby Abbey, the tranquillity of Rievaulx Abbey, and the grandeur of York Minster, each site offers a unique insight into Yorkshire's religious history.

In addition to the religious sites, a visit to Castle Howard provides a glimpse into the aristocratic life of the 18th century, while Bolton Abbey and Aysgarth Falls highlight the breathtaking natural beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.

Embarking on this tour is not merely a day trip, but a journey that bridges the past and the present, offering a deeper understanding of the region's historical significance. It's an experience that will linger in your memory long after you leave the car park, making every moment spent across Yorkshire's historical landscape an unforgettable one.

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