Visiting Bolton Abbey Estate: A Complete Guide

Bolton Abbey is a household name amongst locals and a whisper amongst tourists.

The estate is on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Bolton Abbey covers 33,000 acres of meadows and woodland, with hundreds of trails to explore on foot, bike, or horseback. The estate is split in two by the River Wharfe and is home to the Priory ruins in its centre.

Bolton Abbey basically has everything. Nature, history, and culture? Tick, tick and tick.

If you want to spend a day walking, picnicking, and exploring multiple heritage sites, visiting Bolton Abbey Estate is the ideal day. I’ve prepared this guide to provide you with all the information you need.

Where is Bolton Abbey?

Bolton Abbey is a small village on the south border of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is a short distance from the spa town of Ilkley and the famous country town of Skipton.

The Bolton Abbey Estate itself is owned by the Duke of Devonshire but open for public use.

What are the Bolton Abbey opening times?

Bolton Abbey Estate opens from 9 am until 7 pm.

How to spend a day at Bolton Abbey

Bolton Priory.
Bolton Priory via Unsplash.

Start your day with a visit to the Bolton Priory. The Priory is a remarkably well-maintained 12t-century monastery, which was gifted to Augustinian canons (ancient Catholic priests) until its closure by Henry VIII in 1539. Allow up to an hour to wander the grounds. The Priory is surrounded by a small graveyard as well, with lots of architecture and stonework to see.

Once you’ve seen the Priory, cross the river by the stepping stones – if you dare! While you can use the adjacent footbridge, the stepping stones are considered a rite of passage and are loved by local visitors.

After the stepping stones, join the footpath heading upstream alongside the River Wharfe. This path is a gentle (but sometimes muddy) 20-minute walk through fields and woodland. It is a nice stretch to enjoy some sunshine and typical English countryside and is busy with families and other walkers. Once you reach a large bridge, you can cross it to find the Cavendish Pavilion and toilet facilities.

If you haven’t packed a picnic, I’d recommend stopping for a light lunch at the Cavendish Pavilion. You can sit in or grab something from their ‘Food To Go’ menu, so it slots easily into your itinerary either way. Expect to pay between £3-4 for a sandwich, £2-3 for a cake, and £2-3.50 for a hot drink.

Well-refreshed, pop next door to the Visitors Centre for a free map. There are many different walks to complete, so seek advice at the desk if you want specific suggestions. I’d suggest the Welly Walk for families as it features challenges for children at regular intervals! There are also some longer walks like the 7 miles Bolton Abbey to Hare Head trail.

Spend the rest of the day walking the trail of your choice – perhaps stopping at the Cavendish Pavilion for a final coffee before you head home.

How to book Bolton Abbey tickets?

If you are visiting Bolton Abbey Estate without a car, you don’t need to purchase a ticket.

However, if arriving by car, you’ll need to purchase tickets to entitle you to park. You can book these tickets online on the Bolton Abbey official website.

I’ll discuss these tickets in detail below.

Bolton Abbey parking

Red and blue car.
Car parking via Unsplash.

Bolton Abbey parking is somewhat of a local scandal. I’m not going to lie; it is pricey to pay for parking. But is Bolton Abbey Estate worth it? Absolutely.

When paid on arrival, all parking costs £15 per day and £12.50 per day when booked online in advance. It is worth booking ahead as car parks do fill up quickly!

I’ve broken down your parking options in the table below.

  Bolton Abbey Car Park (BD23 6EX) Strid Wood Car Park (BD23 6AN) Riverside Car Park (BD23 6AN) Barden Field (BD23 6AS)
Best for: Access to the Bolton Priory and Bolton Abbey village centre. Access to The Strid, Strid Wood Tea Rooms, and Barden Bridge. Access to the Cavendish Pavilion. Access to Barden and Barden Bridge.

Of course, you can always park in a nearby village and then walk to Bolton Abbey. However, don’t rely on finding a space. In recent years parking around Bolton Abbey Estate has been clamped down on, and you might find yourself with a fine or at the mercy of an angry resident.

Feel free to be creative. Just remember to also park courteously.

Is Bolton Abbey accessible for wheelchair users?

Yes, lots of Bolton Abbey Estate is accessible for wheelchair users. There are also mobility scooters to hire on-site. You can find more information here.

Things to do near Bolton Abbey

A lamb.
Lambs via Unsplash.

Bolton Abbey is perfectly placed to combine with other trips and activities. It is actually a challenge to narrow down, but I’ve listed the top things to do near Bolton Abbey below.

Visit Buffers Coffee Shop

Stopping by Buffers after visiting Bolton Abbey Estate is one of my core memories.

The café is set in an old farmhouse building, with vintage toy displays and ‘proper’, country-style food. But, the best part about Buffers is the old train collection upstairs. The entire second floor is converted into a miniature railway world, with multiple tracks and hundreds of tiny scenes. Peering in through glass screens, you can press the buttons to start the trains – watching them whir round their tiny model environments.

**Buffers’ website still lists it as closed in 2022, although this could be due to the pandemic. It is definitely worth ringing to check ahead or just passing by when you visit Bolton Abbey.**

Spend an afternoon in Ilkley or Skipton

Ilkley and Skipton are my top recommendations if you want a shopping day.

Skipton is a market town with pop-up stalls down the Main Street on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Ilkley is a charity shop mania, with lots along The Grove and Brook Street to score a good deal. Ilkley is also great if you want an evening meal, and I’ve written a guide to the best restaurants here if you’d like some extra guidance.

In Ilkley, I’d suggest walking on Ilkley Moor or climbing Beamsley Beacon. Visiting Skipton Castle is also a great thing to do if you visit Skipton.

Go hiking in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is the best place for hikers. One (or all) of the Three Peaks make for a great full-day activity, while Malham is a scenic town with lots of little walks. Even with half a day spare, you can experience tons of nature and attractions while walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

Again, for a complete guide for walks in the Yorkshire Dales, visit my existing article here.

Visit Hesketh Farm Park

Families, definitely keep Hesketh Farm Park in mind. The farm is less than a fifteen-minute walk further up the village, so a perfect combination with a visit to Bolton Abbey Estate.

In Spring, there are calves and lambs to bottle feed. But all year round, you can join in the feeding times spaced throughout the day. There are loads of opportunities for children (and adults) to get hands-on with the animals and have some adorable interactions.

There is an indoor straw maze and play area to enjoy on rainy days. And, on sunny days, a go-kart track and outdoor play area.

Go caving at Stump Cross Caverns

If you’ve caught Bolton Abbey on a rainy day, don’t worry! Stump Cross Caverns is a 20-minute drive away and perfect to stay dry and entertained.

The caverns were only discovered in 1860 by miners but are hundreds of millions of years old. Visitors can don a hard hart and embark on tours through the wider parts of the caverns, which are illuminated with soft coloured lighting. There is a lot to spot en-route with stalactites, stalagmites, and even fossils.

Hotels near Bolton Abbey 

The Cow and Calf hotel.
The Cow and Calf via Unsplash.

The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa

Address: Bolton Abbey, Skipton, BD23 6AJ

Website: https://www.thedevonshirearms.co.uk

Price: £££

Fancy a treat? I can recommend The Devonshire Arms firsthand.

Luxury is a standard at this country hotel. It actually has a helipad for the rich and famous to arrive in style! Plus, there is an adjoining spa and indoor pool for you to soothe any aching legs.

The Devonshire Arms is only a short walk from the Bolton Abbey Estate, so consider a stay if you want to extend your experience.

I stayed at The Devonshire Arms a few years ago and loved the experience. The hotel treads an impressive line between classy and warmly welcoming. It has all the benefits of a luxury hotel without pretentious stuffiness, which I really admire. Definitely keep it in mind.

Catgill Farm 

Address: Cargill Farm, Bolton Abbey, Skipton, BD23 6HA

Website: https://www.catgillfarm.co.uk

Price: £-££

Another personal recommendation, Cargill Farm is a campsite, not a hotel, but a worthy addition to this list.

Cargill’s family atmosphere is what stands it apart from the other options. As soon as the sun is out, you can hear children laughing and playing in the stream that cuts through the campsite. I stayed at Cargill as a young teen on my first camping trip with friends and also found it very safe and welcoming. If you want your children to make new friends or just to enjoy a sociable atmosphere, Cargill is the accommodation for you.

Plus, if camping isn’t your scene, you can book a luxury wooden pod or tepee. These options are a little pricier but with hot tubs and stunning views over the surrounding countryside. It seems a fair trade to me.

The Craven Heifer

Address: Main Street, Addingham, Ilkley, LS29 0PL

Website: https://www.cravenheifer-addingham.co.uk

Price: ££

Addingham is a classic country village divided by a narrow Main Street dotted with a few pubs. At the end of the Main Street sits the Craven Heifer.

The Craven Heifer has pub-inn-meets-luxury style rooms on offer. If you want a rustic, country experience but with all the pleasant luxuries (like freestanding bathtubs and David Hockney paintings), consider the Craven Heifer. You’ll be able to enjoy pub food and a Yorkshire pint downstairs too, which is always a bonus!

The Craven Heifer is 4.5 miles from Bolton Abbey, so best for those who want to stay fairly near Bolton Abbey. While you can walk from Addingham to Bolton Abbey, it will take around an hour and a half and probably leave you too tired to tackle the walks around the estate. It is best to plan on driving.

The Cow & Calf

Address: The Cow & Calf, Hangingstone Road, Ilkley, LS29 8BT

Website: https://www.innkeeperslodge.com/hotels/the-cow-calf-ilkley-west-yorkshire?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=gmb

Price: ££

I’ve probably listed enough favourites, but I really love The Cow & Calf.

The 19th century stone property is a restaurant, pub, and hotel all in one. With fireplaces, rustic interior décor, views over Ilkley, and the Cow and Calf Rocks just across the road, it makes for an atmospheric country escape. I’ve written a complete guide to Ilkley Moor too, which you can view here for exploring inspiration.

The Cow & Calf is part of the Innkeeper’s Collection but an independent property. It has a small-scale, personal feel with only fourteen rooms available to book. While this gives it a calming atmosphere, just make sure to book in advance as rooms fill quickly!

The Cow & Calf is 8.2 miles from Bolton Abbey, which is about a 20-minute drive. It is best suited to those who want accommodation in a busy town, as, despite being on the edge of Ilkley Moor, you can walk into the town centre in around fifteen minutes.

Have a great time visiting Bolton Abbey Estate! The grounds are an amazing representation of Yorkshire countryside and a fun place to unwind. Whether you are a solo traveller or a large family, I’d recommend Bolton Abbey as somewhere to visit.

Been before and got any further suggestions for people visiting Bolton Abbey Estate? Drop them in the comments below.

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