- Travel centuries back in time to experience what people lived like almost 1,000 years ago.
- Climb, explore and run around the huge ruins of the Abbey.
- Go deer spotting on your trip around the grounds.
- Let the kids loose at the Fountains Abbey Adventure Playground.
Less than an hour’s drive from the city of York, nestled in the green North Yorkshire countryside, lies the UK’s largest monastic ruin. Founded almost a thousand years ago in 1132 not far from Ripon, the huge and impressive Fountains Abbey still holds a huge amount of its former glory.
With sprawling grounds that are guaranteed to inspire the imagination, including the stunning Studley Royal Water Garden and deer park, Fountains Abbey is truly a family day out to remember.
Originally built in the 12th century by Cistercian monks, the Abbey has a complex and fascinating history. Life was hard in the Middle Ages, and there were many conflicts within the church that meant the Abbey was subject to a lot of changes in ownership, ending in 1539 when it was surrendered to Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. At this time, Fountains Abbey was the richest of all the Cistercian monasteries in England. After Henry VIII’s Dissolution, the Abbey was sold multiple times, with owners stripping the building of various materials such as timber and stone, to be sold. Fortunately, the site is now maintained by the National Trust and is a Grade I listed building. It also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Knowing a little bit about the history of Fountains Abbey will make your trip there all the more jaw-dropping. While the Abbey itself is in ruins, you can still view a lot of the original structure as you walk around, with plenty of hiding places and secret spots for kids to explore. With over 600 acres of parkland to wander around, it’s easy to make a day of your trip to the Abbey.
Once you’ve taken in the monastic ruins of the Abbey itself, you can pop over to the Mill to learn all about how the monks at Fountains Abbey harnessed the power of the river to help make their bread and other things, such as beer! On your walk around, you will also find the wooden children’s adventure playground, which has enough activities to keep the kids entertained for hours.
If you have more than a couple of hours, we highly recommend you continue around the grounds until you reach the Studley Royal Water Garden. This large, beautiful garden was created in the early 1700s, with ornamental lakes, statues and even temples, that kids will have a fantastic time exploring. And, if you still have a little time and energy, you can continue on your route around the grounds and spot some deer at the Studley Royal Deer Park! With so much to do and see, a visit to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden is not to be missed if you’re in North Yorkshire.
What to know before you go
- Fountains Abbey opening times are from 10am until 5pm daily, with the shop and restaurant operating on slightly reduced hours (information is available online).
- The estate is large, and there is uneven terrain and deep water, so kids should be kept under close supervision. There are also some slopes which are indicated on the Abbey’s map.
- Buggies and wheelchairs are welcome, and there are plenty of accessible paths.
- The Adventure Playground has specialised activities that are accessible for wheelchair users, including the roundabout and a secure five-point harness swing.
- Accessible toilets and baby changing facilities are situated next to the restaurant. The restaurant and cafes, as well as the rest of the estate, is breastfeeding friendly.
- Fountains Abbey is easy to get to from the A1 and is just off the B6265 if you’re coming from Ripon.
- If you are travelling from York, the quickest and cheapest way is to drive via the A59, A168 and B6265. You can also catch the Dales Bus 822 from York. There is no direct connection by train, but you can take the train to Knaresborough and take a 15 minute taxi from there.
- There are two car parks, one found at the Fountains Abbey visitor centre and one at Studley Royal. Parking is free if you are a National Trust member; otherwise, it’s pay and display.
- You can reach the Abbey and travel to and from Ripon using bus services 36 and 139. Please check bus timetables for specific timings.
- The Abbey is on the route of the Way of the Roses coast-to-coast bike ride if you wish to cycle. There are also lots of public footpaths if you are walking to the Abbey.