11 Best Abbeys in England for a Medieval Day Out

Fancy visiting some of the best abbeys in England? From icons like London’s Westminster Abbey to the ruins of Yorkshire’s great Cistercian monasteries, the famous abbeys in England promise a history-themed day out like no other. 

Abbeys in England

England is home to some of the world’s most impressive abbeys that once served as great centres of art, religion and education. Usually located in the heart of ancient settlements, the best abbeys in England offer a wealth of insight into the nation’s medieval history, from the earliest days of Christianity to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. 

Whether you’re a looking for a trip back in time, an architectural wonder or just a place to relax and soak up the surrounding countryside, one of England’s fascinating abbeys has you covered. 

So, join us on a journey into the Middle Ages as we explore some of the most famous and historically significant abbeys in England.  

Best Abbeys in England 

From London’s world-famous Westminster Abbey to the great Cistercian monasteries of Yorkshire, here are some of the most fascinating abbeys in England.  

1. Westminster Abbey, London  

One of the most famous landmarks in London, Westminster Abbey was founded in the 10th century CE as a Benedictine monastery. Ever since, it’s been a popular site for royal weddings, burials and coronations. 

Westminster Abbey in London, England

Built in the Gothic style with a variety of Renaissance and Baroque touches, Westminster Abbey features intricate stone carvings, moving memorials and beautiful stained-glass windows. While exploring the abbey, you’ll discover historic highlights such as the Royal Tombs, the majestic nave, Poet’s Corner and the Cloisters, which are a series of covered walkways surrounding a tranquil courtyard.  

Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous abbeys in the UK and UNESCO sites in England, making it a must-visit landmark on a day out in the Capital. Even if you don’t head inside, admiring Westminster’s iconic Gothic exterior is one of the best free things to do in London

Want to take in more views of the Great British Capital’s awe-inspiring cityscape? Check out the best viewpoints in London

2. Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire  

If you’re taking a trip to the beautiful Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby, you simply need to pay a quick visit to Whitby Abbey, where you’ll see the clifftop ruins of a 7th-century Benedictine Monastery overlooking the North Sea. 

Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire, England

During a tour of Whitby Abbey, you can admire the magnificent Gothic architecture, learn about the site’s history and take in sprawling views of the coastline. Notable features include the cloisters, chapter house, dormitory and central tower. Don’t miss the unique rose window on the abbey’s east wall. 

After your trip back in time, you can grab yourself a patch of sand on Whitby Beach, one of Yorkshire’s best beaches. Then, stock up on souvenirs and order smoked kippers from the pier. While you’re here, you can discover attractions such as the Captain Cook Memorial Museum that make Whitby one of England’s most interesting towns

Not bad for a day out in North Yorkshire

3. Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire 

Founded in 1132, Fountains Abbey was one of the most powerful and wealthiest monasteries in England until it was dissolved in 1539. Today, it’s one of the most visited abbey ruin sites in the nation. 

Fountains Abbey in England

While exploring the remains of the Fountains Abbey, you’ll be able to see the impressive nave and cloisters that provide a glimpse into the abbey’s former grandeur. You can also walk through the pristine winter gardens that were added to the site during the 18th century. 

In addition to the historic monastery building, Fountains Abbey is home to a Georgian mansion and a medieval mill, giving you an insight into the lives of the people that lived here all those centuries ago.  

You’ll find Fountains Abbey in Ripon by the River Wharfe, one of the most interesting rivers in England. After roaming through the grounds of this UNESCO-listed abbey, you might want to spend the day in Harrogate, which is just ten miles away. 

4. Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset 

Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most culturally and historically significant abbeys in England. Legend has it that the site was founded in the 1st century CE by Joseph of Arimathea, though the abbey ruins you can see today date back to the 7th century. 

Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset, England

Among the ruins, you’ll see architectural highlights such as Lady Chapel and the Great Church. You can also explore the 13th-century Galilee Chapel, the 14th-century abbey kitchen and the 16th-century Abbot’s Kitchen. 

While you’re here, you can learn about Glastonbury Abbey’s connection to King Arthur and his knights – the abbey is said to be the king’s final resting place. You can also discover the Holy Thorn, a tree that is said to have grown from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff. 

The Abbey is just one historical landmark that makes Glastonbury one of the best towns in Somerset. If you fancy spending a few days out in Somerset, you might also want to visit Taunton, Burnham-on-Sea and Cheddar. 

5. Kirkstall Abbey, West Yorkshire 

Founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1152, Kirkstall Abbey was one of the most important abbeys in North England. It’s an amazing place to visit on a day trip from Leeds for those who love history. 

Kirkstall Abbey in West Yorkshire, England

Kirkstall Abbey is one of England’s best-preserved abbeys of its kind, where you can discover rooms such as the gatehouse, the abbot’s house and the nave. There’s also a bridge crossing the River Aire that dates back to the 16th century. 

Surrounding the abbey are pristine parklands where you can enjoy a scenic stroll and a picnic. If you want to learn about the abbey’s history, head to the visitor centre.  

6. Battle Abbey, East Sussex  

Fancy following in the footsteps of William the Conqueror? Pay a visit to Battle Abbey, which was founded in 1070 on the site of the Battle of Hastings. 

Battle Abbey in England

Some of Battle Abbey’s most impressive ruins include the chapter house, the gatehouse and the dormitory. You can browse a vast collection of the abbey’s historical artefacts by exploring the onsite museum. Climb to the top of the tower for sprawling views of the surrounding countryside. 

After getting your fill of history at Battle Abbey, you might want to catch some rays on Camber Sands Beach to make the most of a day out in East Sussex

7. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire  

One of the great Cistercian monasteries of Yorkshire, Rievaulx Abbey dates back to 1132 and is known for its particularly well-preserved cloisters. 

Rievaulx Abbey in England

Exploring the abbey’s ruins gives you a good sense of what life was like here, and you can gain more insights into the abbey’s history at the on-site museum, which houses carvings, sculptures and manuscripts. 

From the terrace of Rievaulx Abbey, you can soak up incredible views of the North York Moors, one of the most beautiful national parks in England

8. Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire 

Head down to South Yorkshire to visit the Roche Abbey, which became one of the county’s most important Cistercian monasteries when it was founded in 1147 by Richard de Busli, who also established Rievaulx Abbey. 

Roche Abbey in South Yorkshire, England

The most impressive ruins at Roche Abbey include the Chapter House, the Gatehouse and the cloisters. At the abbey’s museum, you’ll discover a range of artefacts that provide an insight into the site’s history. 

While you’re here, you might want to see what else there is to do on a day out in South Yorkshire. You could easily spend a few days in the historic city of Sheffield.  

9. Furness Abbey, Cumbria  

Furness Abbey was founded in 1123 by Stephen the Count of Boulogne, who went on to become the King of England in 1135 until his death in 1154. 

Furness Abbey in England

Like many abbeys in England, Furness Abbey was stripped of its riches and left to ruin in the 16th century. However, it remained a site that was renowned for its beauty. William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about the abbey during the 19th century. 

Furness Abbey is just one of the many amazing places to visit in Cumbria. If you’re staying here a while, you simply need to visit some of the most beautiful villages in the Lake District

10. Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk  

Wymondham Abbey was founded during the 12th century as a Benedictine Monastery, and it was converted into a parish church following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. 

Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk, England

While admiring the abbey, you’ll notice a range of Norman, Gothic and Tudor architectural touches. Some of the site’s design highlights include stained-glass windows, an ornate wooden roof and the spectacular west end façade. Don’t forget to check out the 15th-century rood screen, the medieval font and the chained library. 

Looking for more ways to make the most of a visit to Norfolk? Discover the Cathedral Quarter of Norwich or the wildlife at the Blakeney Nature Reserve.  

11. Buildwas Abbey, Shropshire  

Located in Shropshire, Buildwas Abbey is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of Cistercian architecture in South England. You might have seen it featured on blockbuster hits such as Pride and Prejudice. 

Buildwas Abbey in England

Established in 1135 by the powerful de Clare family, Buildwas Abbey was home to monks who were skilled craftmen and played an important role in Shropshire’s economy until it was dissolved. 

While much of Buildwas Abbey is in a state of disrepair, well-preserved sections incude the transepts, cloister, tower and west front. From the grounds, you can take in stunning views of the River Severn and Wrekin Hill. 

Are there any incredible English abbeys in your area? 

The great abbeys in England once played a crucial role in the development of the nation’s values, culture and local economies. If you want to gain a glimpse into medieval England while admiring some of its most spectacular architectural gems, visiting its famous abbeys promises to leave a lasting impression. 

Are there any well-preserved ruins of churches, monasteries or abbeys in your local area? Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Quick list of the best abbeys in England 

  1. Westminster Abbey, London  
  2. Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire  
  3. Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire 
  4. Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset 
  5. Kirkstall Abbey, West Yorkshire 
  6. Battle Abbey, East Sussex  
  7. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire  
  8. Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire
  9. Furness Abbey, Cumbria  
  10. Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk  
  11. Buildwas Abbey, Shropshire  

Josh Saunders

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