The Yorkshire Dales National Park is undeniably one of the most beautiful parts of England. A patchwork of rolling green valleys, purple hills dotted with dry-stone walls, flower-filled meadows, and towering, jagged cliffs – it’s the epitome of quiet, rural bliss. Yet there’s a wonderful sense of wilderness about this unique region, too.
Packed with charming villages, historic attractions, and dramatic landscape to explore, there’s plenty to see and do in the Yorkshire Dales. But to get you inspired, here are seven of the very best places to visit.
Nestled in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the beautiful valley of Wensleydale is one of the area’s most popular attractions – and for good reason. Boasting crumbling castles, glossy waterfalls and picturesque villages, you could spend days exploring Wensleydale and still barely scratch the surface of all it has to offer.
If you’re into hiking, the valley is packed with gorgeous trails of varying difficulty. You can check out a few of the best over on the Walking Englishman.
The beating heart of Wensleydale has got to be the lively market town of Hawes, which, at 850 feet above sea level, is one of England’s highest towns. The name Hawes actually means ‘a pass between mountains’, and tucked between the imposing Buttertubs Pass and Fleet Moss hill, you’re perfectly placed to explore the many hiking and cycling trails that lead out of the town.
In Hawes itself, you can spend the day browsing its antique shops and art and craft stores, as well as admiring the waterfall in the centre of the village – and if you’re in town on a Tuesday, be sure to visit the bustling market.
Fans of the world-famous Wensleydale cheese will probably be keen to visit the Wensleydale Creamery Visitor Centre, too. Here you can learn all about the valley’s eponymous cheese and buy some souvenirs to take home.
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2. Malham Cove
One of the most impressive natural features in Yorkshire is Malham Cove, which is another unmissable attraction if you’re visiting the Dales. Situated in the beautiful Malhamdale, Malham Cove is a huge limestone cliff that stands 70 metres high and looks just like a natural amphitheatre – and this magnificent site has been attracting visitors for centuries.
From the bottom of Malham Cove, you can walk up to the top, where you’ll find a large area of eroded, patterned limestone pavement. It looks so weird and wonderful that it’s been featured in films including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Just note that the edge of the cliff isn’t fenced, and the limestone pavement is covered with holes, so be sure to tread carefully!
If you’re an experienced rock climber, you might want to think about trying to scale the sheer rock face of Malham Cove – and if you’re into birdwatching, keep an eye out for the nesting peregrine falcons that live here, as well as house martins and jackdaws.
After you’ve explored the cove and climbed to the top, you can stroll up to the villages of Malham and Kirkby Malham – which used to be the home of US travel writer Bill Bryson – where there are pubs, bistros, and tearooms.
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3. Bolton Abbey
If you’re looking to plan a day out that’s packed with history, nature, and perhaps a bit of fine food too, then a visit to Bolton Abbey should be high up on your Yorkshire Dales to-to do list.
Located at the Southern end of the national park – near the popular market town of Skipton – Bolton Abbey is a private estate owned by the Duke of Devonshire. It’s best known for its Augustinian Priory, which was one of hundreds of monasteries that were dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII.
Though today the Priory is in ruins, it’s still a working church, as a small chapel is tucked away in one of the wings of the old building – and there’s plenty of seating in and around the chapel where you can enjoy some quiet reflection, and perhaps feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
If you fancy a walk, you’ll be spoilt for choice at Bolton Abbey. You can stroll through the tranquil Valley of Desolation, trek through the ancient Strid Woods, or hop over the 60 historic stepping stones.
Once you’ve got your fill of nature, there’s still plenty more to see and do at Bolton Abbey. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can fuel up at some of the estate’s award-winning restaurants – or pop into its brasserie, tea rooms, cafes, or refreshment kiosks. You can have a look at the estate’s many eateries here. Plus, if you’re looking to take home some souvenirs of your Yorkshire break, there are several lovely gift shops where you can pick up pictures, jewellery, and much more.
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4. The Three Peaks
If you’re a walking enthusiast and are keen to do some serious hiking while in the Yorkshire Dales, then you might want to think about tackling the Three Peaks challenge. The trek takes on the three summits of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough, and is traditionally attempted in a single day. At 24 miles, and with an ascent of 1,585m, it’s easily the most formidable walking challenge in the Yorkshire Dales and requires proper planning.
However, if you’d like to do the walk, but fancy something a little less strenuous, you can of course break the hike up and climb each peak on a separate day. The three peaks form part of the Pennine range, and with breathtaking scenery all around you, this is a wonderful place to spend a few days, appreciating the Yorkshire landscape at its most beautiful – and rawest.
To find out more about the three peaks challenge, as well as see the different routes you can take if you want to break the walk up, you may want to download the Three Peaks App, which contains plenty of useful information about points of interest and accommodation, as well as detailed route maps. If you’re planning on doing the hike in one day, Ribblesdale makes an excellent base.
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5. Pateley Bridge
The Yorkshire Dales definitely isn’t short of pretty villages and vibrant towns, but one of the most popular is Pateley Bridge: a small market town that makes an ideal base for exploring the area.
Tucked away in the heart of Nidderdale (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Pateley Bridge perfectly combines the tranquility and beauty of rural life with the lively hustle and bustle of a historic market town – and there’s plenty to see and do here.
Hikers might be interested to know that Pateley Bridge is the start and end point on the Nidderdale Way. The Nidderdale Way is a circular walking route that covers 53 miles and winds through some of the most spectacular scenery of the Nidd Valley (an area that’s provided inspiration for countless writers and artists over the years). Plus, from Pateley Bridge you’re ideally situated to explore some of the most unusual attractions the area is known for, like Brimham Rocks, Stump Cross Caverns, and How Stean Gorge.
But, it’s perhaps the village itself that’s the biggest draw. There are dozens of quaint shops to while away the hours in here, including the oldest sweet shop in the world, where you can treat yourself to some of your favourite sweets from childhood. There are also plenty of decent pubs, restaurants, and tea rooms where you can relax after a long day of exploring – and if you’d like to learn more about the history of the area, then a visit to the Nidderdale Museum is also a must.
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6. Fountains Abbey
Another must-visit attraction in the Yorkshire Dales is Fountains Abbey, a National Trust property that combines centuries of history with some of the most mesmerising landscape and architecture in the whole national park. Hidden away in a secluded valley, Fountains Abbey is home to another ruined monastery – although this Cistercian Abbey is arguably even more impressive and atmospheric than Bolton Abbey.
After you’ve wandered through the grand ruins of the abbey, and discovered its secret staircases and hidden alcoves, you can visit the Cisterian Mill which was built by the monks who lived here. At the Porter’s Lodge exhibition you can learn all about the history of the abbey, and as you discover what life was like here for the monks, you’ll hopefully enjoy an insightful glimpse into the medieval times.
In the grounds of Fountains Abbey, there are acres of stunning gardens to explore – and the Studley Royal Water Garden is especially impressive. It’s because of these gardens that the whole estate is now a World Heritage Site. Here, you can stroll over rustic bridges and through classical-style temples, admire ornate statues and colourful modern artwork, and enjoy some quiet reflection as you gaze out at the pristine ponds. If you’d like to relax with a good meal after your day out, the lovely cathedral city of Ripon is just a few minutes drive away.
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7. Aysgarth Falls
It’s fair to say that the Yorkshire Dales gets a good amount of rain each year – and because it’s home to so many rivers and hills, it isn’t surprising that there are also several magnificent waterfalls located within the national park. Perhaps the very best is Aysgarth Falls on the River Ure, which has been a popular tourist attraction for hundreds of years.
Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visited, and Wordsworth was so impressed he came back for his honeymoon. The artist Turner also sketched the falls in 1819, and John Ruskin was similarly inspired. More recently, Aysgarth Falls was a filming location for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – and today they’re just as impressive, no matter the weather. On rainy days the roaring falls will leave you breathless, and when it’s sunny, you can sit back and listen to the relaxing sounds of the water.
Before you visit the falls themselves, be sure to pop into the Aysgarth Falls National Park Centre, where you can check out interesting displays about the area, and pick up some free leaflets and guidebooks. You can also park here, so it’s a great starting point for a day exploring the River Ure and its waterfalls. Plus, there are lovely walks from Aysgarth Falls through the surrounding woodland and up to the pretty villages of Carperby or Aysgarth, where you can enjoy a meal or some drinks in the local pubs and tea rooms.
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The Yorkshire Dales is an extremely diverse area, and this special stretch of the UK has many looks and moods. At certain times the ancient hills can seem wild and windswept, and at other times, the tranquil valleys and pretty villages encapsulate pastoral perfection.
Whether you’d like to spend your break doing some strenuous treks or enjoying a spot of wild swimming, or you’d rather relax in cosy pubs, wander through beautiful gardens and explore historic ruins – the Yorkshire Dales has it all.