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The best things to do in York

Popular destination for generations

York Castle Museum

York Castle Museum

The must-sees One of York’s legendary attractions, the Jorvik Viking Museum, reopened in 2017 after a £4 million makeover. The whole story of the Vikings in York has been reimagined. Visitors glide over the city as it would have looked a thousand years ago, complete with animatronic Norse families at work and play (and even clucking chickens).

York’s position at the heart of the rail network and proud tradition of train building are celebrated in the National Railway Museum, behind York’s imposing station. Here you can see some of the great locomotives of the steam age, including Mallard and the Duchess of Hamilton. And as kids can run roam freely around the vast central hall and touch many of the exhibits, it’s a great spot for them to let off steam. A former European Museum of the Year, the NRM is free (but parking is pricey – go on foot, or by bus or train, if you can).

York Castle Museum has been a popular destination for generations. This museum of everyday life allows you to walk along a Victorian street, visit the shops and chat to the shopkeepers, and discover how people’s homes changed through the ages.

Its major exhibition marking the centenary of the First World War, 1914: When the World Changed Forever takes the visitor on a journey from peacetime York to the horrors of the trenches. Partly based inside York’s old prison, the Castle Museum also features the condemned cell where Dick Turpin saw out his last days.

Just across the Eye of York from the museum is Clifford’s Tower. This stone keep is what remains of a 13th-century castle, and it gives panoramic views across York.

A tasty treat for any visit, York’s Chocolate Story on King’s Square is an entertaining guided tour through the history of York’s famous chocolate-making families, the Rowntrees and the Terrys. You can also create your own sweets at the chocolate-making station.

Its major exhibition marking the centenary of the First World War, 1914: When the World Changed Forever takes the visitor on a journey from peacetime York to the horrors of the trenches

York’s crowning glory

York Minster

York Minster

York’s crowning glory, the majestic Minster, tops the lot. Northern Europe’s greatest gothic cathedral is a breathtaking spectacle. Sightseers must pay to get in, but children under 16 go for free to the main cathedral.

Revealing York Minster in the undercroft is the largest exhibition ever created within a British cathedral. Through a combination of priceless ancient artefacts and state-of-the-art computer modelling, it explains how the Minster was saved from imminent collapse in the 1960s, what existed before the present building, including the Roman fort and the “lost” Saxon Minster, and the living, working church down the centuries. Family attractions Farm animals, a fort and trips on a steam engine – there’s everything a child could want at Murton Park. Found just to the east of York, the 14-acre site is home to the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, featuring sheep, ponies, pigs and cows; a Roman Fort; Danelaw, the Dark Age village; and on summer Sundays, short trips on the Derwent Valley Light Railway. There’s also play and picnic areas and a café. It’s open from April to October, with Santa Specials in December.

A little further south there’s a great chance for the kids to get lost. Every summer a forward-thinking farmer creates a giant puzzle in his maize field – the result is the York Maze, near Elvington. Said to be the largest maze of its kind in Europe, it has been shaped like a Spitfire and Doctor Who in the past. It’ll keep the whole family occupied for quite some time. Alongside are lots of other activities like quad bikes and crazy golf.

After all that action, how about a relaxing glide along the river? City Cruises York takes visitors on a boat trip along the Ouse at intervals throughout the day. Interesting features are pointed out by the captain’s live commentary. You can board the boats at Kings Staith or Lendal Bridge. Prefer to take the helm? City Cruises also hires out small motor-boats by the hour, called Red Boats, which seat up to eight people.

York’s crowning glory, the majestic Minster, tops the lot. Northern Europe’s greatest gothic cathedral is a breathtaking spectacle. Sightseers must pay to get in, but children under 16 go for free to the main cathedral

Largest independent air museum

Yorkshire Air Museum

Yorkshire Air Museum

To complete the transport theme, Yorkshire Air Museum houses its collection of aircraft, some pre-dating the Second World War, at a former wartime RAF base in Elvington. The largest independent air museum in Britain, it is home to early aircraft like the Cayley Glider, as well as iconic war-winners such as the Spitfire and Halifax bomber. It’s newest star attraction is the French-built Mirage, built for tactical nuclear strike – a chilling reminder of the Cold War.

Little ones love going to The Web Adventure Park, with giant slides and ball pools inside, and a pedal track, rope course, animal zone and climbing frames outside. It’s just off York’s outer ring road on Wigginton Road.

But it’s the bigger boys and girls only who’ll appreciate York Dungeon. Not for the squeamish, it depicts some of the grisliest bits of history, and thanks to the lively and very funny guides you’ll soon find yourself involved in some of York’s darker legends. Living history with a couple of millennia to go at, York is perfect for exploring the past. The Yorkshire Museum is a good place to start. Set in Museum Gardens, the city’s best picnic spot, the handsome Victorian building is home to historical treasures and fascinating fossils. Its latest exhibition, Yorkshire’s Jurassic World, lets you take a journey back 150 million years to discover the giants that ruled the earth.

York Mansion House has reopened after a major renovation. This handsome building in St Helen’s Square is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York. Now it comes complete with interactive exhibitions. In the basement kitchen you can cook a virtual feast, to a Georgian recipe. And video technology recreates the view from the State Room window at different times in the city’s history.

The Yorkshire Museum is a good place to start. Set in Museum Gardens, the city’s best picnic spot, the handsome Victorian building is home to historical treasures and fascinating fossils

Interesting museums

Fairfax House

Fairfax House

DIG! in St Saviourgate is brought to you by the people behind Jorvik. The idea is to get down and dirty with a trowel to find what secrets lie underground, just like real archaeologists.

Two of York’s four main Bars – or gateways – host small and interesting museums. Richard III has strong ties to York: he even wanted to be buried in the Minster, although attempts to bring his rediscovered remains here failed. Inside Monk Bar you’ll find The Richard III Experience, which explores the king’s story and reveals what life was like when he was king.

After defeating Richard in the Battle Of Bosworth, Henry VII was made king. The Henry VII Experience is found in Micklegate Bar, telling the monarch’s story and that of the gateway itself, which was once decorated with the heads of traitors on spikes.
Other historical sites well worth a visit include the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall off Fossgate, a Grade I-listed building dating from 1357; the Roman Bath, found underneath the pub of the same name in St Sampson’s Square; and the Cold War Bunker in Monument Close, Acomb, a chilly reminder of our more recent past. It was here that officials would have monitored the effect of a nuclear attack on Yorkshire.

Fairfax House is considered the finest Georgian townhouse in England, and is only a stone’s throw from Clifford’s Tower. And next door to the Minster is Treasurer’s House which is a beautiful building complete with a spooky ghost story: it is here that a Roman legion was seen marching through the basement.

The Henry VII Experience is found in Micklegate Bar, telling the monarch’s story and that of the gateway itself, which was once decorated with the heads of traitors on spikes

Exciting edition

Clifford's Tower

Clifford’s Tower

Like Treasurer’s House, Goddards on Tadcaster Road is owned and run by the National Trust. Described as “an intimate Arts and Crafts-style family home”, Goddards was built by the Terry family who ran the famous chocolate factory. Sport and festivals York races provides an exciting day out for young and old alike at the course they call the ‘Ascot of the North’. A meeting aimed specifically at families is held every September. The city’s professional football team, York City FC, are to be found at Bootham Crescent. York City Knights rugby league team are sharing the ground until a new York Community Stadium is opened in 2019.

If you need to put some bounce in your bungee, the Energi Trampoline Park has nearly 100 trampolines, parkour walls, reflex games and a timed assault course. They do fitness fun for adults, special classes for toddlers and children’s parties.

Look out, too, for the regular festivals held in York, on themes as varied as Vikings, the river and food. July 2018 sees the launch of the brand-new Bloom! festival. To mark the 250th anniversary of the Ancient Society of York Florists – the oldest such body in the world – York will host four days of floral, fruit and veg fun.

Another exciting addition to the city’s calendar is the York Mediale. The first digital media arts festival of its kind will celebrate and showcase the world’s leading artists and technologists for 10 days from September 27 2018. For most of July the Great Yorkshire Fringe brings live comedy, music and family friendly entertainment to Parliament Street in the centre of town.

Like Treasurer’s House, Goddards on Tadcaster Road is owned and run by the National Trust. Described as “an intimate Arts and Crafts-style family home”, Goddards was built by the Terry family who ran the famous chocolate factory

Wonderful family days out

World War Two reenactment

World War Two reenactment

Later in the summer, the Micklegate Run Soapbox Challenge sees teams in fancy dress rattle down the Micklegate cobbles in home-made go-karts, a fun day for all. And the York Balloon Fiesta returns for its second year at the end of September 2018, ready to fill the skies with colour and spectacle. Worth a trip There are many wonderful family days out a short drive from York. Fifteen miles to the north east of the city you’ll find the spectacular historic house of Castle Howard, which has stood in for Brideshead on film and TV. Beautiful grounds, an adventure playground and craft shops make this a memorable trip for everyone.

Both Beningbrough Hall and Nunnington Hall are impressive stately homes which host regular exhibitions of art and photography. Fountains Abbey near Ripon is a World Heritage Site, featuring the ruins of a Cistercian abbey in stunning grounds.

No other transport can match a ride on a steam train, as anyone who has taken a trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway would testify. Services depart regularly from Pickering.

The much-loved tales of country vet James Herriot enthralled the world. Now you can explore his real home and surgery, lovingly preserved as The World Of James Herriot in the friendly market town of Thirsk.

Finally, wartime memories are evoked at Eden Camp, where many different 1940s scenes are recreated on the site of a prisoner of war camp near Malton.


Everything you need to know about York

Where to eat in York

The best shopping in York

The best nightlife in York

Your guide to arts and culture in York

Image credits: ©Alastair Wallace/Shutterstock.com; Eden Camp; York Museums Trust; Yorkshire Air Museum

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