The attractive village of Great Ayton is centred on the banks of the River Leven. It is ancient in origin, having several Neolithic sites within the parish boundary, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Great Ayton has two village greens. The High Green is the centre of the village, while the Low Green, with the river running alongside, is a popular picnic place in the summer months. To the north of the village, the view is dominated by the 330 metre high Roseberry Topping.
The navigator and explorer, Captain James Cook, spent his boyhood in the village. He attended the Postgate School, which has now been converted into the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. A monument to Captain Cook stands in a prominent position on Easby Moor.