Last updated: 8th February 2021
Whilst we were unable to travel abroad we looked at options closer to home and decided on a week in Yorkshire Dales National Park – England’s beautiful and completely unspoilt countryside. In this Yorkshire Dales travel guide we’ll show you the best Yorkshire Dales villages, waterfalls and famous attractions to visit in a week.
Best 5 Yorkshire Dales for Villages & Attractions
Situated in the North of England, The Yorkshire Dales National Park offers some of the best unspoilt countryside of England’s green and pleasant lands. The Yorkshire Dales gained National Park status in 1954 and thankfully remains protected. It feels and looks like a slice of England where time has stood still. The pretty villages with their handsome stone buildings reminded us a bit of the Cotswolds. The Dales are famous for lots of walking trails, limestone landscapes, castles, rustic villages with great county pubs and lots of waterfalls. ‘Dale’ means valley and comes from an old Viking word. There’s over 20 Dales and each has its own character, most are named after the rivers that run through them. The best 5 dales to visit are Wensleydale, Swaledale, Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Wharfedale.
The Dales is a popular destination for families, nature lovers, hikers and cyclists plus day trippers from nearby Yorkshire cities like York and Leeds. We couldn’t resist seeking out the prettiest and the best Yorkshire Dales villages on a week’s self guided tour. Garth wanted to practice his drone and photography skills especially on waterfalls and Phil wanted to rediscover the places he last visited as a kid. The Yorkshire Dales is absolutely gorgeous! all this stunning scenery is why Yorkshire is called ‘God’s Own Country’.
Wensleydale is probably the best known of the Dales, it is one of only a few Dales not to named after the river. Instead it gets its name from the village of Wensley. There are lots of lovey stone villages to explore and impressive waterfalls all surrounded by a patchwork of dry stone walled fields.
We started by visiting the market town of Hawes, famous for making Wensleydale cheese. Hawes is a popular tourist spot and an important agricultural centre where farmers come to sell sheep and cattle every week.
It’s a delightful place to stroll around and browse the nice antique and craft shops. On Tuesdays it’s market day when various stalls line the main street. Also in Hawes is the quirky Outhwaite Ropemakers shop. Since 1905 they’ve been making handmade ropes for a variety of purposes such as bellropes and dog leads.
The River Ure runs through Hawes so there’s some nice photo opportunities on the bridges. There are 4 pubs and quaint tea rooms where proper Yorkshire Tea is served a china pot. We had a cream tea, not with jam but with cheese (obs!) at the flower filled Laburnum House Tea Room.
Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes
The top visitor attraction in Hawes is the Wensleydale Creamery where you can see Wensleydale cheese been made and the history of the cheese making since 1897 in their mini museum. It is still made using traditional methods and you can view the process through a factory window. It was made world famous by Wallace and his dog Grommit in the comedy animated movies (it’s their favourite cheese!). And of course a slice of Wensleydale Cheese from their cheese shop makes a perfect souvenir from the Yorkshire Dales to take home and enjoy.
Wensleydale cheese has a distinctive flavour and crumbly texture, Garth says it’s okay and it’s a bit like Cheshire cheese, Phil loves it. We also bought Kit Calvert Cheese named after the man who saved the Wensleydale Creamery. It’s firmer and less crumbly with a crust which you must eat – according to the sales guy in the shop.
Wensleydale’s other characteristic is loads of waterfalls. From Hawes drive for 5 minutes to the village of Hardraw and go to The Green Dragon pub. Walk through the small car park at the back where you can view Hardraw Force. It’s the largest single drop waterfall in England. The pub maintains the footpaths so there’s a charge of £4 to access the easy circular walk that takes you behind the falls (even though you there are plenty of signs advising you not to). The footpaths are very wet and slippery so you’ll need hiking boots. There’s also an upper walk that takes you above the waterfall for about a mile. It reminded us of the time we went behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland. We would suggest taking a picnic as there’s lots of picnic tables dotted around the walk.
Travelling east following the River Ure will bring you to the village of Aysgarth. Garth kept seeing his name everywhere on road signs and homes like ‘Aysgarth’, ‘Dalegarth’ or ‘Havergarth’. Garth in Yorkshire means a small grass yard or a grass paddock.
Here we visited Aysgarth Falls – a triple flight of waterfalls located in some lovely woodlands. Yorkshire is a wet county so that means lots of waterfalls, we didn’t realise there were so many in such a small part of England. Park in one of two nearby car parks and then walk through the woodlands to view the Aysgarth Falls. It’s the biggest and we think the most impressive waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales. Viewed from a distance the torrent of water from the River Ure comes down the broad 3 limestone steps at some speed, it’s pretty mesmerising. You can wander around the upper falls, but access to the lower ones is pretty limited. The best view of all three is from the road bridge. Oh and the upper falls was used as a filming location for the 1991 Robin Hood Prince of Thieves movie.
Not far from Aysgarth Falls (a 5 minute drive) is Cauldron Falls also known as West Burton Falls. It’s a small photogenic waterfall in the pretty village of West Burton. It has super easy access just a a few minutes walk from the village green. Garth practiced his camera skills to get some silky smooth looking water shots.
Also in Wensleydale is the small village of Askrigg. The village was made famous in the 1980s as the filming location for the BBC TV drama All Creatures Great And Small. Not much here apart from a cobbled market square, a couple of pubs and tearooms. However it’s the perfect spot to walk to the tumbling waterfalls of Whitfield Falls and Mill Gill.
Bolton Castle is a privately owned medieval castle from the 14th century. It’s one of England’s best preserved castles. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here in 1568 after fleeing Scotland because she was considered a threat to Queen Elizabeth I. She had her own bed chamber which you can visit, it’s still called the Mary Queen of Scots room. Outside the grounds have some lovely gardens including falconry and archery shows. Bolton Castle was also a filming location in the 1998 movie Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett. It doubled up as the Tower of London.
The Buttertubs Pass
Driving north from Hawes in Wensleydale to Thwaite in Swaledale takes you over the Buttertubs Pass. This winding scenic road is high up on the moorland with vertical drops either side, so not for faint-hearted. Just after the summit there’s a couple of pull ins where you view some of the limestone potholes which the road is named after. This road was used in the 2014 Tour De France and is a real challenge for cyclists. Legend has it the name comes from farmers who used to lower butter they’d made into the potholes to keep it cool in summer months. The farmers would stop here to rest on their way to market towns. Watch out for sheep on the road, we had to stop multiple times for them and look out for motorbikes going fast.
Swaledale is the most northern Dale in the National Park and more remote. This was where lead mining was a major industry and remains of old lead mining mills and chimneys can be found. The River Swale that runs through the Dale is one of the fastest flowing rivers in England. Swaledale also has England’s highest pub – Tan Hill Inn in a remote and windy spot.
Swaledale feels more lush with more trees, we’d highly recommend walking or driving to a high vantage point near Reeth or Gunnerside to take in some of the wonderful panoramic views across the rolling hills and wildflower meadows.
Reeth is the main village of Swaledale it has a large village green, 3 pubs and some arts and craft shops selling woollen items. We tried Yorkshire’s local ice cream – Brymor at the ice cream parlour just off the green. The Reeth Bakery is also great if you’re looking for pies and organic bread for a picnic. On Fridays it’s market day, when the village is transformed with stalls and traders.
Reeth also has a museum – The Swaledale Museum housing a gallery of rural life in the Yorkshire Dales. We opted for a nice walk, if you prefer a mountain bike ride you can hire one from the Dales Bike Centre in Fremington next to Reeth.
Across the Dales but especially high up in Swaledale you’ll see dozens of Swaledale sheep grazing the land. They are a hardy breed known for their ability to survive in remote and exposed mountainous places. They have a thick and coarse off-white woollen coat. Swaledale sheep have distinctive curly horns, the male curled horns are bigger than the females and they have white around their eyes and nose. They are also the symbol in the logo of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Ribblesdale is home to the ‘Three Peaks’ the mountains of Whernside, Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough. The Three Peaks Challenge is a famous 23 mile trail for hikers usually done in a day. Ribblesdale also has lots of underground caves for those into caving.
We were happy to opt for the view of the Three Peaks and instead we chose the much easier walk to see the impressive Victorian built Ribblehead Viaduct. It was completed in 1875 and built to link Settle with Carlisle. It’s one of the most scenic railway journeys in the UK and is still in use. After we parked up, we were so lucky and caught sight of the heritage steam train going over the viaduct, talk about good timing! It looked just like the Hogwarts Express steaming along. The viaduct might look like it’s from a scene of Harry Potter, however the actual viaduct used was the Glenfinnan Viaduct that we saw in Scotland. The Ribblehead Viaduct has been used as a filming location for various movies including Sightseers (2012), Lad: A Yorkshire Story (2013) and No Blade of Grass (1970).
Up close we looked up at the huge 24 arches standing 32 metres high. Phil thought what an incredible feat of engineering it is. It took 2,300 men over 5 years to built the viaduct. Sadly 100 died of smallpox and construction accidents.
To get to the viaduct there’s a very small car park which fills up quickly, but everyone parks on the road side grass verges.
Malhamdale in the South of the Yorkshire Dales National Park offers dramatic limestone scenes. Centred around the small village of Malham are Malhamdale’s 3 main attractions – Malham Cove (see below), Gordale Scar a dramatic limestone canyon and Malham Tarn a picturesque lake and the highest in England. All these scenic spots are connected on a long circular walk.
Malhamdale’s star attraction is Malham Cove – a landmark of the Yorkshire Dales. Famous for its impressive limestone shaped amphitheatre formed by glaciers 12,000 years ago. It used to be a huge waterfall until the the water went underground. Bird watchers will also love the variety of nesting birds including peregrine falcons who’ve raised chicks in the rocks for over 20 years.
It’s a lovely walk following the stream to the rock face. If you’re feeling energetic climb the 400 steps on the left hand side to reach the limestone pavement at the top. It was used as a filming location in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – the scene where Harry & Hermione hide in a tent from Voldemort. It looks like a lunar landscape and the views of the valleys from here are awesome. Take care though as there’s no fence!
There’s no parking at Malham Cove, so just park in Malham village and follow the road for 10 minutes till you reach the entrance gate.
Wharfedale is the most visited Dale and popular with hikers for the Dales Way an 80 mile long distance route. This rugged landscape is full of charming stone villages and the impressive Bolton Abbey.
Grassington is just gorgeous, it’s the biggest village in Wharfedale and we thought the prettiest of all the Yorkshire Dales villages we visited. It’s really nice because it’s like stepping back in time with all the cobbled streets and the old stone houses and shops. It has some lovely arty shops and a good choice of tea rooms. Grassington was used in 2020 as the filming location for Channel 5’s reboot of All Creatures Great And Small.
Burnsall is another pretty Dales village (which one isn’t?!) with a statement 16th century bridge, it’s a popular place for picnics. We enjoyed walking along the edge of the River Wharf that runs through the village. Burnsall also has a couple of tea rooms, a pub and an ice cream shop. We had a fab chippy lunch at the Red Lion Hotel. Burnsall was used as a filming location in the 2003 movie Calendar Girls – it was used as a location for the annual village show.
Arncliffe is a delightful place to stop at, it has a large village green surrounded by handsome stone houses. Arncliffe’s claim to fame was the original filming location for ITV’s Emmerdale – the tv soap opera. Arncliffe was used from 1972 – 1976, be sure to check out The Falcon Inn which was the original Woolpack pub. We loved the quirky interior, rooms have a fab eclectic decor using lots of taxidermy.
Kettlewell a small market village was where most of the 2003 Calendar Girls movie was filmed. The village is popular with hikers for its access to many walking routes. In August people celebrate the annual Scarecrow Festival and Kettlewell is transformed with over 100 life size scarecrows.
Red telephone boxes might be a rare sight in the UK these days, but not in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. We’ve never seen so many, every village seems to have a red box presumably because some villages are so isolated and these phones may be needed in an emergency. It was great to see a couple repurposed to hold defibrillators whilst others had been converted into cute mini libraries.
Other Yorkshire Dales Attractions
- Bolton Abbey – Historic estate with picturesque stepping stones.
- Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden – A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- White Scar Cave – UK’s longest show cave with tours.
- Pateley Bridge for ‘The Oldest Sweet Shop in the World’
Our Yorkshire Dales Cottage Accommodation
The Yorkshire Dales is full of nice B&Bs and gorgeous cottages to rent. We opted for a socially distanced stay in one of the many quaint cottages to choose from. We found a fabulous small detached cottage in the tiny and remote village of Marsden right in the middle of Wensleydale. Longdale Cottage has no internet or mobile phone coverage so it was also great for a digital detox. We loved the views across the valley and just listening to the sound of sheep baaing and leaves falling off the trees. Like many of these remote holiday cottages everything is off-grid, the water is supplied from a nearby stream and we had an oil fired Rayburn cooker which Phil enjoyed cooking a full-english breakfast each morning.
We found these websites useful in our search to find a Yorkshire Dales cottage:
Yorkshire Dales Practical Information & Useful Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Yorkshire Dales Tips
- Tip #1: There is no mobile phone coverage in lots of areas. So we downloaded an offline Google map to follow.
- Tip #2: Enjoy a picnic in the Dales but do not light BBQs. Dogs must be kept on leads too.
- Tip #3: Remember to close all gates behind you when out walking. Most of the Dales is privately owned.
- Tip #4: Take hiking boots and wet weather clothes. The Yorkshire Dales can be a wet place.
- Tip #5: Summer brings lots of biting midges. So take some insect repellent.
Driving In The Yorkshire Dales
We soon realised it takes ages to get anywhere. That’s because there’s not that many roads and many are single track so you need to take it easy and drive much slower giving way to other vehicles at passing places. You’ll also need to stop and give way to walkers and sheep on many remote roads. Look out for pheasants, grouse and rabbits, sadly we saw lots of road kill!
Best Time to Visit The Yorkshire Dales
June, July and August are the best months for good weather in the Yorkshire Dales. June and September are quieter because you’ll avoid the schools holidays. We visited in September and got lucky with the weather. It was lovely and sunny for the most part 22ºC (71ºF). Generally in the UK we usually get one week of good weather in September. Nights were cold and we were hoping for great stargazing opportunities because there’s very little light pollution in the Yorkshire Dales, but sadly it was cloudy for us most nights.
Yorkshire Dales Map
Use our Google map for driving to the best Yorkshire Dales villages, waterfalls and attractions. If you have a Google account and you’re logged in, click the star next to the title to save this map.