In the first part of "The Pilgrim's Progress", a man from the City Of Destruction is convinced that the city will be destroyed and decides to leave to escape. He meets a man named Evangelist who tells him that he should go to the Celestial City where he will be happy forevermore.
Christian starts on his journey, and the city sends two people to lure him back, Obstinate and Pliant. Christian manages to convince Pliant to come with him, however, the man from the city turns back at the first obstacle, which is the Slough of Despond, a gigantic mire in which Christian almost drowns, but got saved by an angel named Help. After he got out of the swamp, Christian was lured by Mr. Worldly Wiseman to come to the town of Morality, but Evangelist warns him about this town and Christian continues on his way.
At the wicket gate (the entrance to the path to the Celestial City), Christian is quickly taken to the right path by the gatekeeper, Goodwill. Goodwill tells him that he was rushed because Beelzebub and his minions were ready to shoot anyone who tarried at the wicket gate. Next, the gatekeeper took him to Interpreter, a person who lived in a large house and had many curiosities to show to travelers.
In Interpreter's house, Christian is shown many wonderful things, including a fire which Satan was trying to put out but was getting hotter every minute (representing the Christian's passion for reaching Heaven); someone who is condemned to judgment because he turned off the path; and a painting of an evangelist. Interpreter tells him to look at this man so that he can recognize what a real evangelist looks like to tell apart from a fake one.
After leaving Interpreter, Christian ascends a hill with the cross on top and a tomb at the bottom. When he gets to the top, his burden falls off and rolls into the tomb. Christian rejoices because his burden is gone, and he is visited by some angels who take off his dirty rags, give him new white robes and a scroll that would let him into the Celestial Kingdom.
On the way to the next challenge, Christian meets three men asleep on the ground. He tells them to wake up and continue, but they do not listen and continue their slumber. Next, he meets two men named Formalist and Hypocrisy who jumped over the walls which had been built to prevent any from entering the Holy Way except through the Wicket Gate. They come with him until they reach the Hill of Difficulty, which they try to go around but cannot and perish. Christian continues up the hill, finding a resting place. He is about to go to sleep when a voice tells him: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise".
Christian hurries up and leaves that spot. When he reaches the top of the hill, he meets two other pilgrims who say that there are lions on the path, and he should turn back. He tells them that it is surer that they will die in the City of Destruction than by some lions, so he continues on his way. Suddenly, Christian realizes that he had lost his scroll, so he goes back to the resting place and finds it there.
Next, Christian visited the House Beautiful, a large mansion built by the Lord of the Hill, where he rests, being helped by the maidens living there. They show him around the house, telling him about the Old Testament heroes and reading to him out of the history books in the library. When he needs to go, Christian is outfitted with armor, a sword, and a shield so that he can protect himself against the monsters that might be on the path.
Christian then ventures into the Valley of Humiliation. There, he meets Apollyon, who asks him where he is going. Christian tells the fiend that he is going to the Celestial City, and at this the monster attacks Christian. After a long and arduous battle, Christian finally manages to stab Apollyon in the stomach and make him flee.
In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian sees the mouth of Hell, so he prays for God to help him get past and manages to get out quite easily.
After he gets out of the Valley, Christian meets Faithful, another pilgrim from the City of Destruction, who tells him about his journey. Faithful tells him how he walked around the Mire of Despond and ended up at the wicket gate, where a woman named Wanton tried to flatter him. He did not take notice of her and continued on his way. At the base of the Hill of Despair, Faithful meets the First Adam, who tempts him to come and marry one of his daughters so that he can be his heir.
Later, Christian and Faithful meet Talkative, who starts telling them that they are illiterate and do not know how to talk well. They get into an argument, and Christian and Faithful tell him the error of his ways. They say that Talkative would talk about anything, and compare him to a drunk man.
After passing Talkative, Christian and Faithful come across Vanity Fair, a place where anything could be bought and sold. When the pilgrims enter the fair, they are horrified at the things being bought and sold, like "slaves, bodies, or souls". They said that they didn't want to buy anything because they had more important things to do, like getting to the Celestial City.
The townsfolk are shocked of their behavior and start beating them. After a thorough hiding, Christian and Faithful are put into a cage as a spectacle, but their conduct is so wise and sober that the town splits into two factions: the people who want to let the pilgrims go and the people who want them killed.
After some fighting occurs, Faithful is brought before the judge, Hate-good, and is accused of disturbing the peace. Three false witnesses arrive and tell the judge that it would be wise to execute Faithful, because they said they knew him and he was always a disturber of the peace and hated their "good lord Beelzebub". The judge decides to execute Faithful, and they burn him to the stake.
Christian is not tried, however, and he somehow manages to escape, meeting a person from Vanity Fair named Hopeful who decides to come with him. They pass by the field of Ease and finally arrive to the hill of Lucre, where they are invited to come and make a profit mining silver. Christian and Hopeful decide not to go, and continue on the right path.
Next, Christian and Hopeful come across a river with a pillar of salt next to it. On the pillar is written "Remember Lot's Wife". They take this as a sign that they should not turn back and continue on their journey.
After crossing the river, the path they are on becomes rocky, so they decide to walk on By-Path Meadow, which promises to be easier than the rocky path. On By-Path Meadow, they meet a man named Vain-Confidence. He brags that he knows the way and tells them to follow him, so that they could reach the Celestial City easily. After following Vain-Confidence for a while, it becomes dark, and soon Christian and Hopeful lose sight of their guide.
Suddenly, Christian and Hopeful hear a thud and see Vain-Confidence's dead body at the bottom of a large pit. He had fallen in the pit, which was dug by the owner of the field to "catch vainglorious fools withal."
Next, Christian and Hopeful are almost drowned by a flash-flood, which happens that night during a storm. After the storm passed, they decide to go to bed. In the morning, a giant named Despair (the owner of the field) takes them to his castle and puts them in prison.
The giant starts beating the prisoners but suddenly has a seizure which stops him in this act. He then talks with his wife about what to do with them. She tells him that it would be easier to encourage the prisoners to commit suicide than to kill them himself. After the giant tells the prisoners that they had no hope of escape, and they should kill themselves, Hopeful is horrified and says that he will do no such thing.
Christian contemplates this action, but Hopeful dissuades him from suicide. Suddenly, Christian remembers that he has a key that can open any lock in Castle Despair, so he uses it to get out. Giant Despair tries to chase the prisoners, but he has another seizure and cannot.
Next, Christian, and Hopeful travel to the Delectable Mountains, a mountain chain that is near the Celestial City. There, they meet Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, who are shepherds and live in the mountains, taking care of the Lord's sheep. They give the pilgrims a spyglass with which they can see the gate of the Celestial City.
Later, the pilgrims meet Ignorance, a person who comes from the country of Conceit. He tells them that he is confident that he will get to the Celestial City because he fasts and prays and pays tithes and alms and many other religious works. Christian and Hopeful tell him that that is not how you get into the Celestial City, you need to get in by the wicket-gate and not by any other way.
Christian and Hopeful are then led astray by a man called Flatterer, who leads them into a net. Luckily, an angel helps them out of the trap, but harangues them for following Flatterer.
On the path, the pilgrims meet Atheist, a person who does not believe that the Celestial City exists. They are almost led astray by him but continue even though he seems very convincing.
Next, Christian and Hopeful get to the land of Beulah, where they rest a while because they are very tired. Here, the sun shines night and day and birds sing all the time. There grow many plants and vineyards.
Passing through the land, they meet Gardener, who told them that the Lord of the land sometimes came to this land so that he could have some peace and quiet in some gardens here.
There, the pilgrims meet two other angels, who come with them to the edge of the River of Death and tell them that to get to the Celestial City, they must cross it. They say that the river is a test of faith, and that if you firmly believe in the Lord of the city, it will be shallow, but very deep if you don't.
Christian and Hopeful then start wading to the other side, but in the middle of the river, Christian despairs and starts drowning. Hopeful holds his head above water and encourages him until he can get up and get to the other side safely.
Christian and Hopeful are then welcomed into the city, given new clothes, crowns, and harps and live happily ever after, but Ignorance does not have a pass into the city and is thrown into Hell.
The second part of the Pilgrim's Progress begins when Christian's wife, Christiana, hears news of her husband's well-being in the Celestial City and decides to go there herself after being invited by an angel. Her neighbor, Mercy, decides to accompany her, and they set off with their children.
The party struggles in the Slough of Despond, but manages to get across safely. Soon, they reach the Wicket-Gate, where they hear a loud dog and are afraid to knock. Finally, Christiana knocks on the gate and is let in with her children, but Mercy was not let in. Christiana has to ask the keeper to let her in, and he says that he didn't know that she wanted to be a pilgrim, but then opens the gate.
Later, Christiana's children ask the keeper why did he keep such ferocious dogs at the gate. The gatekeeper says that the dogs were from Satan's castle to intimidate all pilgrims, but he tries to keep them away.
Next, the party goes on, and on the road they meet two men who say that they want to help them. Christiana is suspicious of their intentions and tells the others to not listen to them. As the men get closer, she calls for help, and a man comes out of a house nearby and drives off the pursuers. He rebukes the women that they did not ask for a protector at the wicket gate, and leads them to the house he came from.
When they arrived at the house, the party sees that it is the Interpreter's house. They go in and Interpreter gives them food and water and then shows them the wonders of his house. He shows them all the things which he showed Christian, but also some others, like a man with a shovel who does not want riches but to keep shoveling dung. This man represents the people of this world who would rather have their own riches (the dung) than God's eternal riches.
Next, Interpreter supplies the pilgrims with food for the journey and sends one of his servants, Sir Great-Heart, on the journey with them. The travelers soon get to the sepulcher into which Christian's sins fell. After resing there a while, they came to the bodies of Simple, and Sloth, and Presumption, who were hanged for trying to mislead pilgrims coming that way by telling them that the Celestial City did not exist, and they should not waste their energy trying to get to it.
After that grisly sight, the pilgrims came upon the Hill of Difficulty, which they managed to ascend even though it was very steep. At the top, Sir Great-Heart had to drag one of Christiana's children because he was too tired to continue.
After climbing the Hill of Difficulty, the pilgrims came to a giant who is blocking the path. He tells them that he will not let them pass, but then Sir Great-Heart kills him and the party continues until they reach the House Beautiful, where Sir Great-Heart says that he needs to go back to the Interpreter and leaves.
The pilgrims go inside and are welcomed by the owners of the house. They are invited to stay a month there. During their stay, one of Christiana's children accidentaly eats a fruit from Beelzebub's garden and gets sick. Christiana calls a doctor, who makes a very strong potion that is supposed to heal pilgrims of all the wounds they might encounter on their journey. Christiana buys 12 boxes of this potion before setting out again. Before leaving, she sends a message to the Interpreter asking him to send Sir Great-Heart with them to keep the travelers safe. That evening, Sir Great-Heart arrives and they set off the next day.
After Sir Great-Heart arrives, the party continues on their adventure, venturing into the Valley Of Humiliation where Christian fought Apollyon. There, they find a stone pillar, upon which is written of Christian's exploits.
Next, the pilgrims have to pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. On the way, a lion comes near the pilgrims, but Sir Great-Heart takes out his sword and the lion runs away. After passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the pilgrims come upon a giant named Maul, who threatens to fight them. At this, Sir Great-Heart fights the giant and chops off his head, mounting it on a pole to warn other giants not to interfere.
After the giant was slain, the party continues on their journey and meets a man named Mr. Honest. He tells them that he would like to join their party, and they continue on the way. On the way, Sir Great-Heart tells Mr. Honest about a fellow pilgrim named Mr. Fearing, who was from the same town as Mr. Honest. Sir Great-Heart tells Mr. Honest that Mr. Fearing made it to the Celestial City and was probably very happy there.
Next, Christiana says that she would very much like to go to an inn to stay for the night. Sir Great-Heart says that he knows an inn nearby where they can stay. The inn is run by one of his friends, Gaius. When they get to Gaius's house, the pilgrims like it there so much that they stay for a month. At Gaius's house, Christiana's oldest son gets married to Mercy and her second-oldest marries Gaius's daughter. Also, Sir Great-Heart kills Giant Slay-Good, who is terrorizing pilgrims.
After leaving the inn, the pilgrims go to the town of Vanity, where Faithful was killed. There, they visit another of Sir Great-Heart's friends, who lets them stay in his house until they leave. While there, Sir Great-Heart is notified of a monster who is terrorizing the people of the land. Sir Great-Heart fights it and manages to wound the monster, making it flee and leave the people alone.
Next, the travelers continue on their way and see the hill of Lucre, where Christian and Hopeful were tempted to mine silver. They suspect that By-ends fell into the pit and died, so they do not go anywhere near it. Instead, the pilgrims continue on their way and eventually come into sight of Doubting Castle, where Giant Despair and his wife Diffidence lived.
At the sight of the giant's castle, Sir Great-Heart decides to kill him and destroy his castle. Christiana's sons and Mr. Honest decide to help Sir Great-Heart, and they leave Mr. Feeble-mind and Mr. Ready-to-halt to guard the women. When they get to the castle, Giant Despair comes out to fight them. The men fight the horrendous giant and kill him, cutting off his head and placing it on a pole to warn other giants from interfering with the pilgrims on their journey. In the castle, they find a man named Mr. Despondency and his daughter, who were about to starve to death. They give them food and they join the party.
After destroying the castle, the pilgrims come to the shepherds, who welcome them and invite them in their palace. There, the pilgrims rest and are shown around the mountains. At the palace, Mercy asks for a mirror which reflects the pilgrim on one side and shows Jesus on the other side. The shepherds give her this mirror and then the pilgrims leave.
Next, the pilgrims meet a man named Mr. Valiant who is wielding a sword and has blood all over himself. He says that three ruffians who were trying to kill him attacked him but he defeated them all. Mr. Valiant then joins the party and they start to go through the Enchanted Ground.
After meeting Mr. Valiant, he tells them where he came from and what happened to him on his journey. He came from Dark-Land, where he was discouraged by his parents to go on pilgrimage because they said it was very dangerous. They had actually tried to go to the Celestial City but turned back because of the long and dangerous journey. They had to pass through the Slough of Despond and past Beelzebub's archers. Mr. Valiant was not daunted by these prospects, so he picked up his sword and started his journey. He eventually got to the wicket-gate and ended up where they found him.
The pilgrims then had to walk through the Enchanted Ground, which was a place that tempted you to sleep there, but if you did, you would die. They saw two pilgrims asleep there and tried to wake them up, but were unsuccessful and then had to leave. Later, they met a man named Standfast, who came with them on their journey.
Soon, the weary pilgrims come to the land of Beluah, where Christiana's sons stay so that they can have kids. The others go to the Celestial City, where Christiana meets Christian and they all live happily ever after.