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There’s something rather magical about a mooch around a traditional Yorkshire market town. You’ll find cobbled streets and historic buildings mixing seamlessly with upmarket independent shops and artisan food producers.
Throw in castles, heritage steam trains along with gorgeous gardens and you’ll find plenty to do during a visit. The markets themselves typically take place weekly in traditional market squares and you can purchase everything from locally grown vegetables to clothing and local crafts.
There are market towns throughout the Dales, Wolds, Coast and Moors and we have compiled a guide to ten of our favourites to get you started on your next short break or holiday to Yorkshire.
Helmsley is the only market town in the North York Moors National Park and with its cobbled streets, boutique shops and wide choice of cafes, bars and restaurants, it is deservedly a popular destination for anyone visiting North Yorkshire.
Amongst the country pubs, independent shops and tearooms that are dotted around the market square you’ll also find a micro-brewery and a top-class spa. Helmsley Castle is a must-visit North York Moors attraction where you can see how the medieval fortress has evolved over 900 years then take a scenic woodland walk to nearby Rievaulx Abbey which is one of the finest Cistercian monasteries in the country.
There’s a vast choice of foodie options in Helmsley too, ranging from a traditional afternoon tea at the historic Black Swan to a gourmet feast at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Star at Harome.
Helmsley market day: Each Friday throughout the year.
Our top pick: The Helmsley Walled Garden is a dog-friendly Yorkshire garden that comprises 5 acres of flowers and plants and will feature in the upcoming remake of The Secret Garden. The on-site Vine House cafe welcomes pooches with a bowl of water and people with everything from a warming cup of tea to a refreshing gin cocktail.
Pickering is located between Helmsley, Malton, Whitby and Scarborough and with Dalby Forest just a short drive away, it’s the ideal base for a Yorkshire holiday.
There are around 100 independent shops in Pickering including boutiques, chocolatiers and book shops so it’s a great shopping destination too. Make sure to seek out The Hidden Market, an indoor flea market that’s filled to the brim with antiques, gifts, nearly new items and a range of quirky curios.
On the edge of Pickering, you’ll find Dalby Forest which is the perfect spot for either an outdoor adventure or a peaceful picnic under a canopy of trees. There’s an abundance of walking and cycle trails, playgrounds for children and a specially created dry stone wall maze. It’s also a Dark Sky Discovery Site if you fancy spending a night together under the stars.
Pickering market day: Each Monday throughout the year.
Our top pick: Catch a traditional NYMR steam train from Pickering and travel through the North York Moors in style all the way to Whitby on the coast. You’ll pass through pretty villages along the way with calling points including Goathland station which features as Hogsmeade in Harry Potter.
Richmond sits at the northern tip of the Yorkshire Dales and combines Georgian architecture, pretty riverside walks and a Norman castle that looks out over the market town from its spot on the top of a hill named Riche-Mont.
The remains of Richmond Castle include a 100-foot keep and there’s also lots of nooks and crannies for children to explore. Just outside of the castle walls is the cockpit garden which has views out over the River Swale and is a tranquil spot to watch the world go by.
You can take part in a town trail to learn more about Richmond and there are regular ghost walks where you can delve into tales from the past. Historical buildings that are well worth visiting include The Station, a former Victorian railway building which now houses a cinema, art exhibition and cafe bar, and The Georgian Theatre which is home to Britain’s oldest surviving stage scene.
Pretty places to seek out in Richmond include the Richmond Falls waterfall and the ruins of Easby Abbey which can be reached by a scenic riverside walk and has been painted by artists including J. M. W. Turner.
Richmond market day: Each Saturday throughout the year. An indoor market also takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Our top pick: There are plenty of cycling trails in the Swaledale hills that surround Richmond. You can hire a bike at the Dales Bike Centre and follow in the footsteps of the 2014 Tour de France.
The market town of Malton sits in the Howardian Hills of Yorkshire, right between the North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds and has become a bit of a mecca for foodies in recent years.
Proclaimed Yorkshire’s Capital of Food by the late great Antonio Carluccio, Malton is filled with artisan food producers and independent cafes. Uncover local foodie favourites on regular guided food and drink tours and sample wares ranging from French macarons to Malton’s Bluebird Gin.
On the second Saturday of every month, Malton plays host to a specialist food market where you’ll find growers and makers, freshly cooked street food and live music. Malton was also named the UK’s most dog-friendly town in 2018 so you’ll find lots of cafes and shops where four-legged friends will be welcome.
Malton market day: Each Saturday throughout the year.
Our top pick: Malton is the closest town to beautiful historic house Castle Howard and it’s worth taking a drive through the Howardian Hills to discover the grounds, gardens and grand rooms that have been featured in TV shows ranging from Brideshead Revisited to Victoria.
Leyburn is a Yorkshire market town on the edge of Wensleydale and surrounded by a number of pretty villages including Middleham, Aysgarth, West Burton and Castle Bolton.
On the outskirts of the town is a chocolate factory and Tennants Auction House where you can pick up anything from antiques to fine art and then enjoy a luxurious afternoon tea at the next door Tennants Garden Rooms.
Within Leyburn’s market square you'll find a selection of cafes, bistros and restaurants along with art galleries and gift shops. Campbells of Leyburn is an independent supermarket and wine shop in the town that stocks locally sourced produce including rare breed meats and Yorkshire cheeses.
Leyburn market day: Each Friday throughout the year.
Our top pick: Leyburn is surrounded by gorgeous Yorkshire Dales countryside and there are a trio of pretty waterfalls to discover during a scenic walk. One of our favourite walks to try is along the Leyburn Shawl. It’s said that Mary Queen of Scots dropped her shawl here while escaping nearby Bolton Castle and the views from this spot are magnificent.
Hawes is a classic Yorkshire Dales town that combines breathtaking scenery, traditional buildings and cobbled streets. Little has changed in this small town over the years and the gentle pace of Hawes is the perfect escape from the stresses of modern life. It’s located between Buttertubs Pass and Fleet Moss in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and is the highest market town in England.
You’ll find a small selection of gift and antique shops to browse, a traditional old English sweet shop plus the Dales Countryside Museum which is set in the town’s former Victorian railway station and has a range of interesting objects and interactive exhibitions.
Just outside of Hawes is the Snaizeholme Red Squirrel Trail. Catch a Little White Bus from the Dales Countryside Museum then take a scenic walk to the special red squirrel viewing platform to see these animals up close in their natural environment.
Hawes market day: Each Tuesday throughout the year.
Our top pick: Hawes has been the home of the Wensleydale Creamery since 1897 so you can’t visit the town without picking up some classic Wensleydale Cheese. You’ll find over 20 varieties of cheese in the on-site shop and free sampling is available so that you can choose your favourite.
Beverley is a handsome market town which is best known for its gothic Minster and 15th-century North Bar - the only surviving brick-built town gate in the country. It’s surrounded by the gently rolling hills and country houses of the Yorkshire Wolds countryside.
Beverley is the perfect Yorkshire destination for a bit of retail therapy with big names like Mint Velvet, Seasalt, Jack Wills and Jo Malone interspersed with upmarket independent boutiques and antiques arcades.
There’s a thriving bar and restaurant scene in Beverley too where you’ll find everything from characterful 17th-century pubs that are brimming with original features to the Michelin-rated Whites which offers a contemporary nine-course tasting menu. Pubs, cafes and bistros are dotted around elegant courtyards, charming cobbled streets and a Georgian Quarter that is filled with listed architecturally interesting buildings.
Beverley market day: The main market day is every Saturday however a smaller market also takes place each Wednesday.
Our top pick: Dress up in your finest attire, don an extravagant hat and head to the historic Beverley Racecourse on the outskirts of town. Race meetings have been held here since 1767 and Ladies Day each August is a highlight of the Yorkshire social calendar.
Settle is a traditional market town on the western reaches of the Yorkshire Dales and the start (or end) point of the famous Settle to Carlisle railway line.
The marketplace and surrounding streets are filled with classic stone barns and you only have to take a few steps out of town to find the dry stone walls, lush meadows and hilly landscapes that the Yorkshire Dales is famous for. Nearby natural attractions include Castleberg Crag which is a huge limestone cliff and Gordale Scar - a dramatic limestone gorge that contains two waterfalls.
Within Settle’s market square are some lovely independent shops and interesting buildings including The Shambles which houses a collection of local stores under six distinctive arches and Settle Victoria Hall - a classic Victorian musical hall.
Settle market day: Each Tuesday throughout the year.
Our top pick: There are lots of lovely eateries in and around Settle including the unusually named Ye Olde Naked Man cafe but one place that’s well worth seeking out is The Courtyard on the outskirts of town. Alongside an excellent all-day brasserie, you’ll also find Yorkshire crafted fabrics and clothes, locally crafted furniture and a fabulous day spa.
Although it’s technically a small cathedral city, Ripon has an ancient marketplace and weekly outdoor market so we think it qualifies as a Yorkshire market town. It’s located between two rivers on the edge of Nidderdale with Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Park just a few miles away. The UNESCO World Heritage Site contains the largest medieval ruins in the UK and acres of glorious parkland and gardens to explore.
Ripon Cathedral itself is filled with beautifully intricate wooden carvings which inspired Lewis Carroll to create some of the characters in Alice in Wonderland when his father was canon there in the 1850s. The original crypt at the cathedral is still in use and dates back to 672AD when the church was founded by St. Wilfrid.
Spa Gardens in Ripon is a wonderful park in the town that has Alice in Wonderland themed tree sculptures, crazy golf, tennis courts and a Victorian bandstand.
If you fancy delving into the past, there’s also a collection of interesting museums including the Ripon Courthouse Museum where you can stand in the dock as prisoners would have done in Georgian times.
Ripon market day: Each Thursday throughout the year.
Our top pick: At 9pm every night you can see a traditional hornblower sound his horn at the four corners of the obelisk in the market square - a custom that has taken place in Ripon for over 1000 years. It’s one of England’s oldest town ceremonies and dates back to Saxon times.
Harrogate’s smaller neighbour, Knaresborough is a beautiful spa and market town in its own right that’s best known for its viaduct over the Nidd Gorge and famous prophetess, Mother Shipton.
Knaresborough is located high above the River Nidd and we recommend exploring the maze of medieval streets that climb up and drop down this clifftop town to see what treasures you can find in the range of independent shops along the way.
Mother Shipton’s Cave is England’s oldest visitor attraction and contains a petrifying well that turns everyday objects to stone. It’s set in the Royal Forest of Knaresborough and also includes an adventure playground and scenic walking trails.
Knaresborough market day: Each Wednesday throughout the year.
Our top pick: The Knaresborough Windows are a collection of trompe l’oeil paintings on the town’s blank Georgian windows (a feature of Georgian design) and depict Knaresborough’s key events and history.
Explore gorgeous Yorkshire
If this has inspired you to seek out some of these market towns for yourself, Gorgeous Cottages have a range of luxury holiday cottages throughout Yorkshire.
Other market towns that are worth visiting include Masham, Bedale, and Kirkbymoorside and for even more inspiration and lovely places to visit, read our guide to 10 of the prettiest villages in Yorkshire.