10 of the Best Medieval Abbeys in Britain

Hauntingly beautiful, the ruined abbeys of England, Scotland, and Wales stand majestically defiant against the elements—a reminder of a medieval past governed by work, study, and prayer.

Here’s our list of 10 of the best medieval abbey ruins in Britain.

1. Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

Overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire, England sits the ruined Whitby Abbey.

Disestablished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, Whitby Abbey is a Grade I (building of exceptional interest) Benedictine abbey in the care of the English Heritage Trust.

Whitby Abbey at sunset. Credit Ackers72
Whitby Abbey at sunset. Credit Ackers72
Whitby Abbey. Credit Chris Kirk
Whitby Abbey. Credit Chris Kirk
Whitby Abbey at sunset with reflections. Credit Ackers72
Whitby Abbey at sunset with reflections. Credit Ackers72
Whitby Abbey. Credit Mike Peel
Whitby Abbey. Credit Mike Peel

2. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

Founded in 1132, Rievaulx Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey in Rievaulx, near Helmsley in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, England.

Once one of the wealthiest abbeys in England, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and is now owned and maintained by the English Heritage Trust.

 Rievaulx Abbey. Credit Mike Peel
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit Mike Peel
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit Tilman2007
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit Tilman2007
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit Mike Peel
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit Mike Pee
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit mattbuck
Rievaulx Abbey. Credit mattbuck

3. Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

One of the largest and best preserved Cistercian monastery ruins in England, Fountains Abbey is about 3 miles south-west of Ripon in North Yorkshire.

Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for over 400 years, until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Fountains Abbey. Credit Petr Krtochvil
Fountains Abbey. Credit Petr Krtochvil
Fountains Abbey. Credit mattbuck
Fountains Abbey. Credit mattbuc
Fountains Abbey. Credit David Iliff
Fountains Abbey. Credit David Iliff
Fountains Abbey Monks' cellarium. Credit Katie Chan
Fountains Abbey Monks’ cellarium. Credit Katie Chan
Inside Huby's Tower, Fountains Abbey. Credit Juliet220
Inside Huby’s Tower, Fountains Abbey. Credit Juliet220

4. Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, in 1131, Tintern Abbey sits on the Welsh bank of the River Wye, between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England.

Falling into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1548, the abbey has been a favorite haunt of poets and painters from the 18th century onwards.

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey and Courtyard. Credit Saffron Blaze
Tintern Abbey and Courtyard. Credit Saffron Blaze
Tintern Abbey east end columns. Credit NotFromUtrecht
Tintern Abbey east end columns. Credit NotFromUtrecht
The nave, Tintern Abbey. Credit Poliphilo
The nave, Tintern Abbey. Credit Poliphilo

5. Kirkstall Abbey, West Yorkshire, England

Set in a public park on the north bank of the River Aire, Kirkstall Abbey is a ruined Cistercian monastery near Leeds in West Yorkshire, England.

Founded in 1152 and dissolved by Henry VIII, the picturesque ruins have been the subject of works by artists J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman.

Kirkstall Abbey in the late afternoon sunlight. Credit Minda
Kirkstall Abbey in the late afternoon sunlight. Credit Minda
Kirkstall Abbey. Credit John Armagh
Kirkstall Abbey. Credit John Armagh
Kirkstall Abbey cloisters. Credit Sireuk
Kirkstall Abbey cloisters. Credit Sireuk
Kirkstall Abbey at sunset. Credit Minda
Kirkstall Abbey at sunset. Credit Minda

6. Buildwas Abbey, Shropshire, England

Buildwas Abbey is located along the banks of the River Severn in Buildwas, Shropshire, England, about two miles west of Ironbridge.

Founded in 1135 by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Coventry (1129–1148), the Cistercian Buildwas Abbey was originally a Savignac monastery inhabited by a small community of monks from Furness Abbey.

The abbey has a storied history, with intrigue to rival the famous “Name of the Rose”. Frequently raided by Welsh princes who also kidnapped the abbot, there was a case where a monk murdered his abbot and, having evaded arrest, petitioned for reinstatement into the Cistercian order.

Buildwas Abbey. Credit JohnArmagh
Buildwas Abbey. Credit JohnArmagh
Buildwas Abbey. Credit Chris Walsh
Buildwas Abbey. Credit Chris Walsh
The church, Buildwas Abbey. Credit Tony Grist
The church, Buildwas Abbey. Credit Tony Grist
The church, Buildwas Abbey. Credit Tony Grist
The church, Buildwas Abbey. Credit Tony Grist
The church, Buildwas Abbey, looking west. Credit Tony Grist
The church, Buildwas Abbey, looking west. Credit Tony Grist

7. Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

Founded as a Savignac abbey in 1135, Byland Abbey was absorbed into the Cistercian order in 1147.

Described in the late 14th century as “one of the three shining lights of the north”, it wasn’t always so for Byland Abbey. Its early life was marked by disputes with other abbeys and the whole abbey community had to move five times before settling on Byland.

Now in the care of the English Heritage Trust, Byland has some impressive features including the lower half of a huge rose window and a stone lectern which is the only one of its kind in Britain.

Byland Abbey at Sunrise. Credit Chris Combe
Byland Abbey at Sunrise. Credit Chris Combe
Byland Abbey. Credit Antony McCallum
Byland Abbey. Credit Antony McCallum
Byland Abbey. Credit mattbuck
Byland Abbey. Credit mattbuc
Byland Abbey Sunset. Credit Willj
Byland Abbey Sunset. Credit Willj

8. Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

Nestled in the rolling landscape of the Yorkshire Dales sits the 12th-century ruins of an Augustinian monastery.

The Bolton Abbey estate includes many miles of public pathways through beautiful countryside.

The Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway terminates at a nearby village.

Aerial view, Bolton Abbey. Credit Dr John Wells
Aerial view, Bolton Abbey. Credit Dr John Wel
Bolton Abbey David Benbennick
Bolton Abbey David Benbennick
Bolton Abbey. Credit Dbenbenn
Bolton Abbey. Credit Dbenben
Bolton Abbey. Credit David Benbennick
Bolton Abbey. Credit David Benbennick
Bolton Abbey Sunset. Credit Matt Smith
Bolton Abbey Sunset. Credit Matt Smith

9. Melrose Abbey, Roxburghshire, Scotland

Founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks on the orders of King David I of Scotland, Melrose Abbey was built in the Gothic style in the form of a St. John’s cross.

In 1921, an amazing discovery was made below the Chapter House of Melrose Abbey.

Held inside a lead container was believed to be the embalmed heart of Robert the Bruce.

Confirmed in records of his death, the rest of his body is buried at Dunfermline Abbey.

Alexander II and other Scottish kings and nobles are buried at Melrose.

Maintained by Historic Scotland, the partly ruined monastery is a museum open to the public.

Melrose Abbey, Scotland. Credit Edwinrijkaart
Melrose Abbey, Scotland. Credit Edwinrijkaart
Melrose Abbey. Credit Steve Collis
Melrose Abbey. Credit Steve Collis
Melrose Abbey. Credit Globaltraveller
Melrose Abbey. Credit Globaltravelle
Melrose Abbey. Credit Hartlepoolmarina2014
Melrose Abbey. Credit Hartlepoolmarina2014
Melrose Abbey. Credit The Land
Melrose Abbey. Credit The Land

10. Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, Scotland

“Rood” being an old word for the cross of Jesus Christ, the name Holyrood means “Holy Cross.”

Founded in 1128 at the behest of King David I, Holyrood Abbey was home to the Canons Regular in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Lying adjacent to Holyrood Palace at the eastern end of the Royal Mile, the Abbey lost prominence following the Scottish Reformation and has been ruined since the 18th century.

The abbey is protected as a scheduled monument.

Holyrood Abbey. Credit Brian Holsclaw
Holyrood Abbey. Credit Brian Holsclaw
Ruins of Abbey behind Holyrood Palace. Credit Donna
Ruins of Abbey behind Holyrood Palace. Credit Donna
Holyrood Abbey. Credit dun_deagh
Holyrood Abbey. Credit dun_deagh
Holyrood Abbey. Credit dun_deagh
Holyrood Abbey. Credit dun_deagh
Holyrood Abbey. Credit Brian Holsclaw
Holyrood Abbey. Credit Brian Holsclaw
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