What can you do at Fountains Abbey?

Walking by Fountains Abbey with daffodils

The ruins of Fountains Abbey are truly something to behold. Walk down the path from the visitor centre, or along from West Gate carpark and come face to face with some of the oldest abbey ruins in the country.

Wait! We know you're keen and eager to start exploring but before you venture into the abbey make sure to pop inside Porter's Lodge. Here you'll find all the detail you could want to know about the history of abbey, how it came to be and about the different lives of all the monks who lived there.

Stroll down the nave towards the Chapel of the Nine Altars.
Explore the abbey
Stroll down the nave towards the Chapel of the Nine Altars.

Once you're up to speed on the turbulent history of these ruins, it's time to walk across the west green and step into the cavernous nave, which looks down to the 'crossing' - here you'll find both the oldest and newest part of the abbey - with the Chapel of the Nine Altars at the end.

Autumn fun can be found all about the estate
Children playing in the autumn leaves near the abbey ruins
Autumn fun can be found all about the estate

Soak up the view over to the west range of the abbey, the cellarium, which you will no doubt have spotted the moment the abbey came into view. Sprawling off to the side of the main abbey building spot the arched doorways and large windows. As you wander under the low roof you can easily imagine this chilly space as it once was - as a food store.

Will you spot the stone carved graffiti?
Visitors in the Cellarium at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire.
Will you spot the stone carved graffiti?

Rather than being used for storing food now, it's used for events such as our Carols by Candlelight at Christmas, choirs throughout Fountains by Floodlight and services such as the Big Sing. It's also been used as a filming site - most recently in the BBC short series, Gunpowder about the Guy Fawkes plot.

From the cellarium you can see the remains of the cloister, the refectory, the muniment room and don't miss the huge fire place in the warming room. As you wander through to the east side of the abbey be sure to visit the ruins of the infirmary, built over the river itself.

Exploring the abbey
Exploring the abbey
Exploring the abbey

There were even prison cells here. You can find them under the remains of the two-storey abbots house. The words Vale libertas ('Farewell freedom') were once inscribed on the stonework and there's still an iron ring in the floor, used to keep prisoners chained up.

Top 7 things to do in the abbey

  1. Swot up in Porter's Lodge
  2. Stand and take a selfie on the alter 
  3. Find the fig trees
  4. Play your biggest game of hide and seek yet
  5. Sing in the cellarium and see if you can hear an echo
  6. Find all the spiral stairways
  7. Spot the dark tunnels under the infirmary

The monks were expert hydrologists, which means they did some exceptional building work to incorporate the river into the abbey. There are four large stone tunnels under the abbey infirmary, which would have let the water storm through in the wet seasons.

Fun fact

Only three of the tunnels are in use now thanks to the work of William Aislabie. As he worked to incorporate the abbey into his landscape garden, he narrowed the river course making it much more uniform. You can see evidence of his alterations near these tunnels where Aislabie's wall overlaps the older monastic stonework.

The abbey through the seasons

Through autumn and winter see the abbey lit up and glowing at Fountains by Floodlight through October and Music and Lights at Christmas. You can hear choirs sing and our Christmas Carols by Candlelight is always a popular event.

See the abbey aglow this autumn
Couple at Fountains by Floodlight
See the abbey aglow this autumn
Sing along to your favourite carols at Carols by Candlelight
Sing along to your favourite carols at Carols by Candlelight in Fountains Abbey
Sing along to your favourite carols at Carols by Candlelight