Things to Do in Helmsley: A Guide to the Town's Must-See Attractions

2 months ago   •   8 min read

By More Yorkshire
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Things to Do in Helmsley

Welcome to the charming market town of Helmsley, located in the heart of North Yorkshire! This delightful destination offers a blend of historical sites, natural beauty, and cultural experiences that will appeal to visitors of all ages. Whether you're eager to explore the region's rich heritage or simply want to take a leisurely stroll through stunning gardens, Helmsley has something special in store for you.

One of the town's standout attractions is the National Centre for Birds of Prey, which boasts the most extensive collection of these majestic creatures in the north of England. Get ready to be amazed by over 150 species, including owls, eagles, and falcons, all within a spacious 10-acre environment. Nature lovers will also adore the Helmsley Walled Garden, where the beauty of plant life is showcased in a historical setting dating back to the 18th century.

Helmsley serves as a gateway to the captivating ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, where the tranquil surroundings seem to echo with the chants of Cistercian monks from centuries past. For those interested in the town's military history, a visit to Helmsley Castle is a must, as it unveils a fascinating story spanning from medieval times to the Civil War. With such a rich tapestry of engaging activities, Helmsley promises an unforgettable experience for all who visit.

Exploring Helmsley Castle

Step back in time and witness the rich tapestry of English history at Helmsley Castle, from its medieval origins to its role in the tumultuous English Civil War.

Historic Sites

Within the North York Moors National Park, Helmsley Castle is a heritage site preserved by English Heritage. Established in the 12th century, the castle has undergone significant transformations over the years, serving as a luxurious Tudor mansion for the Duncombe family and playing a crucial role during the English Civil War.


As you explore the sprawling grounds of the estate, you'll encounter impressive ruins that tell a story spanning nearly a millennium. The castle's evocative structure, including its formidable twin-towered keep, has withstood the test of time and now offers a romantic and historic charm.


Enrich your experience by visiting the on-site museum, which presents fascinating artefacts and informative displays detailing the castle's transition from a medieval stronghold to a Victorian ruin. Gain insights into everyday life within the castle and learn about the broader historical context of its evolution.

A Walk Through Nature

Immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of Ryedale with Helmsley's unparalleled walking experiences. Each trail reveals well-preserved historic sites and serene garden havens that will take your breath away.

Duncombe Park

Discover one of Helmsley's foremost natural attractions at Duncombe Park in North Yorkshire. This expansive estate offers an impressive variety of walking paths through its lush grounds. Enjoy a delightful mix of peaceful woodland and rolling parkland while taking in stunning views of Helmsley Castle and the surrounding countryside.

Helmsley Walled Garden

Just a short walk from the market town's centre, you'll find the tranquil Helmsley Walled Garden. This five-acre oasis, established in the 18th century, boasts a vibrant array of flourishing plants and flowers. Stroll along the well-defined paths and explore the diverse plant life, including the orchard with its heritage apple varieties and the ornamental vegetable plot.

North York Moors National Park

For the adventurous walker, the North York Moors National Park is a must-visit attraction in Helmsley. The Park's vast moorland offers extensive walks, including access to the renowned Cleveland Way, a national trail that traverses dramatic coastlines and rugged terrain. Ambitious hikers can embark on this trail from Helmsley, experiencing the moors' changing landscapes and the historical significance of the Cleveland Way as they journey through woodlands and heather-clad hills.

Shopping and Dining

Helmsley's charming blend of independent shops and delightful dining options caters to both traditional and modern tastes, making it a perfect destination for a day out.

Independent Shops

Wander through the cobbled streets of Helmsley and explore an array of speciality shops that reflect the character of this historic market town. Fairfax & Favor Helmsley offers a unique retail experience with private shopping sessions, ensuring a personalized touch. Discover handcrafted goods that showcase local craftsmanship, perfect for keepsakes or gifts.

Local Cuisine

Dining in Helmsley is an experience to savour, with cafes, bars, and restaurants offering a range of casual to gourmet fare. The emphasis on fresh, regional produce caters to various dietary preferences, including a vegetarian selection. Food enthusiasts will appreciate the full refund policy offered by major tour operators like Viator when cancelling at least 24 hours in advance, allowing for flexible dining plans.

Arts and Culture

Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of arts and culture that Helmsley offers, centred around its vibrant arts centre and diverse gallery exhibitions. Engage with a variety of mediums, from ceramics and prints to original paintings, through workshops and rotating gallery displays.

Helmsley Arts Centre

The Helmsley Arts Centre is a cultural beacon in North Yorkshire, providing an eclectic programme that caters to all art enthusiasts. This multi-purpose venue showcases an array of visual arts and hosts live performances, films, and community events. Don't miss the opportunity to get hands-on with various creative pursuits, including ceramic making, through the centre's engaging workshops.

Galleries in Helmsley exhibit a vibrant selection of paintings and prints, often featuring the work of local artists. With regularly changing exhibitions, you'll get a glimpse into the region's creative pulse. Art lovers can expect to find a compelling mix of traditional and contemporary works, proudly displayed and sometimes available for purchase, supporting the thriving local arts community.

Religious Heritage

Delve into Helmsley's religious heritage and gain a deep insight into the historical significance of churches in the fabric of this market town. These sacred spaces represent the town's spiritual past and the vital roles they have played within the community.


  • Rievaulx Abbey, a former monastery from the 12th century, is a fascinating place to explore. With its beautiful ruins, peaceful gardens, and interesting museum, it's a great attraction for history lovers and anyone looking for a relaxing day out.
  • Byland Abbey, another 12th-century monastery, is an impressive site to visit. The ruins of this once-thriving religious community showcase the skill of medieval architects and offer a peaceful atmosphere for visitors to enjoy. With its rich history and serene surroundings, Byland Abbey is a wonderful destination for those interested in the past or simply seeking a calming escape.

Local Churches

  • All Saints Church: Standing as a pivotal religious site amidst the town, All Saints Church traces its origins back to the 12th century. Its architecture bears witness to the evolving styles and local faith over the centuries.
  • St Mary's Church: Venture to a nearby village and discover the intimate and traditional village church of St Mary's. With its classic stone construction, it serves as a quintessential example of a rural English place of worship.

Wildlife and Falconry

Calling all raptor and wildlife enthusiasts! Helmsley offers exceptional experiences centred around birds of prey. Observe a variety of species and participate in interactive sessions that will leave you in awe of these magnificent creatures.

National Centre for Birds of Prey

The National Centre for Birds of Prey is a prominent attraction in Helmsley, boasting the largest collection of raptors in the North of England. Open annually from 10 February until 31 October, this spacious 10-acre setting within Duncombe Park is home to over 150 birds, including owls, eagles, vultures, falcons, hawks, and kites. The aviaries are designed to provide a comfortable habitat for the birds, ensuring their welfare is given top priority.

  • Birds Displayed: Owls, Eagles, Falcons, Hawks
  • Location: Duncombe Park, Helmsley
  • Dates Open: 10 February - 31 October

Interactive Experiences

Get up close and personal with the fascinating world of raptors through interactive sessions at the Birds of Prey Centre. Witness the silent flight skills of nocturnal species like owls during night flying displays, and marvel at the impressive agility of falcons and hawks during indoor flying displays, regardless of the weather conditions. These activities are not only observational but also educational, shedding light on the habits and conservation of these majestic birds.

Outdoor Leisure

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Helmsley offers a wealth of outdoor activities, with options to suit water lovers and walking enthusiasts alike. Enjoy a refreshing swim at the Helmsley Lido or explore the stunning landscapes along the region's walking trails.

Helmsley Lido

The cherished local outdoor swimming pool, Helmsley Lido, opens seasonally for visitors and residents to enjoy a cool dip during the warmer months. As an open-air pool, the lido provides a unique opportunity to swim under the sky, surrounded by the natural beauty of North Yorkshire.

Note: The outdoor swimming pool is usually only open during the summer months from May onwards.

Walking Trails

Helmsley serves as a gateway to a variety of walking trails, each promising its own spectacular views and challenges. The most notable is the Cleveland Way, a National Trail that stretches across beautiful heaths and along rugged coastlines. Walking enthusiasts can embark on portions of this trail for a scenic hike, starting from Helmsley and winding through the North York Moors National Park.

Gardening and Horticulture

Helmsley offers a wealth of opportunities for gardening enthusiasts, blending historical estates with a rich heritage of horticultural excellence. Immerse yourself in gardens where fruit, vegetable, and ornamental plant cultivation come to life.

Workshops and Tours

Beneath the dramatic ruins of Helmsley Castle, Helmsley Walled Garden is a cornerstone of horticultural activity in the region. This five-acre garden, founded in the 18th century, has been restored to its former glory, showcasing a variety of fruit and vegetable patches that contribute to the historical narrative of the estate. Once affiliated with the estate stemming from the era of Henry VIII, the garden provides a tranquil retreat steeped in history.

The garden hosts a variety of workshops aimed at both amateur and experienced gardeners. These sessions offer practical advice and insights into cultivating and maintaining garden spaces that include heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables.

Guided tours of Helmsley Walled Garden are available, allowing visitors to explore its intimate garden rooms. The tours emphasize sustainable gardening practices while providing historical context, highlighting the garden's role through different periods, including its connections to the Tudor dynasty.

Frequently Asked Questions

Helmsley offers a multitude of activities catering to diverse interests, from historical sites to outdoor adventures.

Adults can explore Helmsley Castle for a dose of history or enjoy the landscapes of Duncombe Park. For the creatively inclined, the Helmsley Arts Centre showcases a variety of performances and exhibitions.

Where can one find the best shopping options in Helmsley?

The market town is replete with boutique shops and galleries. Visitors can wander around the cobbled streets to find unique gifts, local produce, and antiques especially on market day.

Are there any enjoyable activities to do for free in Helmsley?

One can stroll through the picturesque town and take in the architecture, or walk along the Cleveland Way National Trail for breathtaking views at no cost.

Can you suggest some dog-friendly places to visit in Helmsley?

Several outdoor attractions, like the Helmsley Walled Garden, welcome dogs. The town also features many walking paths where dogs are allowed, making it ideal for pet owners.

Which eateries are considered must-visits in Helmsley?

Visitors should not miss trying the local cuisine at the renowned Star Inn or the charming cafes offering traditional Yorkshire treats and meals.

When does Helmsley host its traditional market days?

The traditional market in Helmsley takes place every Friday. It provides a glimpse into local commerce and culture, with stalls selling a variety of goods from food to crafts.

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