York, located in the north of England, is a charming city with a rich history that spans more than two millennia. The city is renowned for its stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, and the ancient walls that encircle its centre.
York is a popular travel destination for both domestic and international visitors, and for good reason. With so many things to see and do, it’s hard not to fall in love with this beautiful city.
In this article, we’ll explore the top 25 things to do in York, as well as provide tips and advice to help you make the most of your visit. Whether you’re travelling with family, friends, or on your own, there’s something for everyone in York.
So pack your bags, get ready to explore, and let’s dive into the top things to do in this beautiful city.
A Brief History Of York
York has a long and fascinating history, dating back to Roman times when it was known as Eboracum. The city grew in importance during the Middle Ages as a centre of trade and commerce, and it played a significant role in the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.
During the Industrial Revolution, York became a hub for the railway industry and continued to grow and prosper throughout the 19th century.
Today, the city is a vibrant cultural centre and is home to numerous museums, galleries, and other attractions that showcase its rich heritage. From the iconic York Minster to the cobbled streets of The Shambles, there’s no shortage of historical sites to explore in this fascinating city.
So, let’s dive into the top things to do in York and discover what makes it such a special place to visit.
Top 28 Things To Do In York
1. York Minster
What is it? York Minster is a beautiful Gothic cathedral and one of the most iconic landmarks of York. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York and the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, with stunning stained-glass windows and breathtaking architecture.
Why visit? Visiting York Minster is an absolute must for anyone visiting York. The cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with incredible details and intricate stonework. Visitors can explore the building’s history through guided tours or audio guides, climb the tower for stunning views of York, or attend one of the daily services or concerts held at the cathedral. The Minster also houses a fascinating collection of artefacts, including the world-famous Rose Window, which is over 600 years old.
2. The Shambles
What is it? The Shambles is a narrow, medieval street located in the heart of York’s city centre. It is often referred to as the most picturesque street in Britain, with its overhanging timber-framed buildings, cobblestone streets, and quaint shops.
Why visit? Visiting the Shambles is a must for anyone looking to experience the charm and character of old York. The street dates back to the 14th century and is one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe. Visitors can stroll through the narrow alleyways and browse the unique shops selling everything from artisanal chocolate to magical supplies. The Shambles is also a great spot for Instagram-worthy photos, with its picturesque buildings and charming atmosphere.
3. York City Walls
What are they? The York City Walls are a historic set of walls surrounding the city of York, England. They were first built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, and have since been rebuilt and expanded upon over the centuries.
Why visit? Walking along the York City Walls is a popular activity for tourists and locals alike. They provide stunning views of the city and its historic landmarks, such as York Minster and Clifford’s Tower. The walls also offer a unique perspective on the city’s history and provide an enjoyable walking route through the heart of York.
4. JORVIK Viking Centre
What is it? The JORVIK Viking Centre is a world-renowned museum that offers visitors a unique look at Viking life in York. The museum is built on the site of a Viking settlement discovered during an archaeological dig in the 1970s.
Why visit? Visiting the JORVIK Viking Centre is an immersive and interactive experience that takes visitors back in time to 10th century York. Visitors can see reconstructed Viking-era buildings, learn about Viking crafts and trades, and even experience the sights and smells of a Viking city. The museum also houses a fascinating collection of Viking artifacts, including weapons, jewellery, and coins. It’s a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in history or Viking culture.
5. York Castle Museum
What is it? The York Castle Museum is a fascinating museum located in the heart of York. It is housed in two historic buildings, the 18th-century prison and the former debtors’ prison, and features exhibits that showcase life in York from the 18th century to the present day.
Why visit? Visiting the York Castle Museum is a great way to learn about the history and culture of York. The museum features a wide range of exhibits, including reconstructed Victorian street scenes, exhibits on the history of fashion, and displays on the impact of World War II on the city. Visitors can also see a recreation of the prison cells and learn about the lives of prisoners and debtors. It’s a great attraction for families, history buffs, and anyone interested in the social history of York.
6. National Railway Museum
What is it? The National Railway Museum is a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in trains and railways. The museum is home to over 300 years of railway history and features a vast collection of locomotives, including the iconic Flying Scotsman.
Why visit? Visiting the National Railway Museum is a great way to learn about the history of the railways and see some of the most iconic locomotives in the world. The museum features a wide range of exhibits, including vintage train cars, model railways, and interactive exhibits that showcase the technology and engineering behind the railways. Visitors can also see the famous turntable demonstration, where locomotives are turned around on a revolving platform. It’s a great attraction for families and train enthusiasts alike.
7. York Dungeon
What is it? The York Dungeon is a theatrical attraction located in York’s city centre. It offers visitors a thrilling journey through 2,000 years of York’s dark history, using live actors, special effects, and shows to create an immersive experience.
Why visit? The York Dungeon is a unique and exciting way to learn about York’s history. Visitors can experience live shows and interactive exhibits that cover everything from the city’s gruesome past to its ghostly legends. It is a great option for families with older children or adults looking for a bit of a scare.
8. Clifford’s Tower
What is it? Clifford’s Tower is a medieval tower located in the heart of York. It was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and has since been used as a royal mint, a prison, and a defensive structure. Definitely worth adding to your York travel itinerary as it’s a favourite thing to see in York.
Why visit? Visitors to Clifford’s Tower can explore the history of York’s military past and enjoy panoramic views of the city from the tower’s battlements. It is a great way to learn about the city’s fascinating history and see one of its most iconic landmarks.
9. The York Ghost Walk Experience
What is it? The York Ghost Walk Experience is a guided tour of York’s most haunted locations. Led by experienced storytellers, visitors will hear about the city’s history of ghosts, hauntings, and paranormal activity.
Why visit? For those who love a good ghost story, the York Ghost Walk Experience is a must-see attraction. Visitors can learn about the city’s most haunted locations, including the Treasurer’s House, the York Minster, and the Shambles. It’s a unique way to experience the city’s history and culture, with a spooky twist.
10. York’s Chocolate Story
What is it? York’s Chocolate Story is a museum and attraction dedicated to the history and culture of chocolate in York. The museum is housed in a historic building that was once the home of the Terry’s Chocolate Factory.
Why visit? Visitors can learn about the history of chocolate, how it is made, and even have the opportunity to make their own chocolate creations. The museum also offers tastings and demonstrations, and there is a shop where you can purchase chocolate souvenirs.
11. Fairfax House
What is it? Fairfax House is a beautifully preserved Georgian townhouse that has been restored to its original 18th-century grandeur. The house was once the home of Viscount Fairfax, and it now serves as a museum showcasing life in Georgian York.
Why visit? Visitors can take a guided tour of the house to learn about the history of the Fairfax family and see the stunning interior decorations, including chandeliers, mirrors, and furniture from the 18th century. The house also hosts regular events and exhibitions.
12. York Art Gallery
What is it? The York Art Gallery is home to a collection of over 15,000 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, and ceramics. The gallery has been recently renovated and expanded to include new exhibition spaces.
Why visit? Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of art from different periods and styles, including works by local artists and a collection of Italian old masters. The gallery also hosts special exhibitions and events throughout the year.
13. The Treasurer’s House
What is it? The Treasurer’s House is a historic mansion that was once the residence of the Treasurer of York Minster. The house has a rich history and is famous for its ghostly sightings.
Why visit? Visitors can take a guided tour of the house to learn about its history and see the beautifully preserved interior, including its impressive collection of antiques and furniture. The house also hosts ghost tours, where visitors can learn about the many ghostly sightings that have been reported in the house.
14. York’s City Centre Parks
What are they? York has many beautiful parks, which offer an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the popular parks include Museum Gardens, Rowntree Park, and Homestead Park. Museum Gardens is located in the city centre and offers visitors the chance to see the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey and the Yorkshire Museum.
Why visit? City centre parks in York offer a peaceful retreat from the crowds and provide visitors with the opportunity to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the city.
15. Barley Hall
What is it? Barley Hall is a medieval townhouse that was built in the 14th century. It was hidden behind a modern facade until it was restored to its original condition in the 1980s. Today, the house is open to the public, and visitors can experience what life was like for the people who lived there in the 15th century.
Why visit? A visit to Barley Hall offers a unique insight into the history of York and the lives of the people who lived there during medieval times.
16. York’s City Cruises
What are they? York’s City Cruises offer visitors the opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. The boats depart from the King’s Staith landing, and travel along the River Ouse, past some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the York Minster and the Clifford’s Tower.
Why visit? A cruise along the River Ouse provides visitors with a unique and relaxing way to see the city’s famous landmarks, while also learning about the city’s history and culture.
17. St. Mary’s Abbey
What is it? St. Mary’s Abbey was once one of the wealthiest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in England. Today, the ruins of the abbey are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors can explore the remains of the abbey church and the surrounding gardens and a fantastic place to see in York
Why visit? A visit to St. Mary’s Abbey provides visitors with a glimpse into the religious history of York, and the opportunity to see the impressive ruins of one of England’s most powerful monasteries.
18. Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
What is it? Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is a historic merchant hall located in the heart of York’s city centre. Built in the 14th century, it was the central hub of commerce and trading activities in the city. It now serves as a museum and event space, featuring artefacts and exhibits showcasing the hall’s rich history and the lives of its members.
Why visit? Visitors can take guided tours of the hall to learn about its history and significance to the city’s development. It offers a unique insight into York’s medieval past, with various rooms to explore, including the Great Hall, the Undercroft, and the Chapel. There are also regular events and exhibitions held at the hall, making it a dynamic and exciting place to visit.
19. York Observatory
What is it? The York Observatory is a historic observatory located in the Museum Gardens in the heart of York. It was built in 1832 and was used for over 150 years by the York Astronomical Society to observe the night sky and make astronomical discoveries.
Why visit? Visitors can take guided tours of the observatory to learn about the history of astronomy and the many discoveries made there. They can also view the telescopes and instruments used by the York Astronomical Society and learn about the work they did in studying the stars and planets. The observatory offers a unique glimpse into the world of astronomy and the important role it has played in scientific discovery.
20. The Roman Bath Museum
What is it? The Roman Bath Museum is a museum located in the historic Roman city of York. It features the remains of a Roman bathhouse that was discovered during excavations in the 1960s. The bathhouse was built in the 3rd century and was one of the largest and most well-preserved in the Roman Empire.
Why visit? Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the museum to learn about the history and culture of the Roman Empire and how the bathhouse played a role in daily life. They can explore the various rooms of the bathhouse, including the Caldarium, the Tepidarium, and the Frigidarium. The museum also offers interactive exhibits and displays showcasing Roman artefacts and life in York during the Roman era. It is a fascinating and educational experience for visitors of all ages.
21. Goddards House and Garden
What is it? Goddards House and Garden is a historic property located in York, England. It was once home to the Terry family, the founders of the famous Terry’s Chocolate Company, and has been restored to showcase life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A great place to tick off the list and a favourite place to visit during a trip to York.
Why visit? Visitors to Goddards House and Garden can explore the beautiful Arts and Crafts style interiors, which feature original furnishings, decorative art, and photographs that tell the story of the Terry family. The lovely gardens are also worth exploring, with their beautiful flowers, trees, and sculptures.
22. Beningbrough Hall
What is it? Beningbrough Hall is an 18th-century country house located just outside of York, England. It was built in the Baroque style and has been beautifully preserved, with its interiors and gardens offering a glimpse into the lives of its former owners.
Why visit? Visitors to Beningbrough Hall can explore the grand rooms of the house, which are filled with portraits of notable figures from the 18th century, as well as beautiful furniture and decor. The extensive gardens are also a highlight, with their winding paths, water features, and perfectly manicured lawns.
23. York Maze
What is it? York Maze is a seasonal attraction that features a giant maze made out of maize plants. It is located just outside of York, England, and is open from July through September each year.
Why visit? Visitors to York Maze can challenge themselves to find their way through the maze, which covers more than 10 acres of land. In addition to the maze, there are also plenty of other activities to enjoy, including a mini-maze for children, a playground, and various farm animals to visit.
24. York Racecourse
What is it? York Racecourse is a famous horse racing venue located in York, England. It has been hosting races since the early 18th century and is considered one of the premier racecourses in the United Kingdom.
Why visit? Visiting York Racecourse allows you to experience the excitement and thrill of horse racing. It’s a great place to watch live horse races, place bets, and enjoy a day out with friends and family.
25. Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
What is it? The Yorkshire Museum and Gardens is a museum located in York that showcases the history, culture, and natural environment of Yorkshire.
Why visit? The museum features a wide range of exhibits that cover everything from prehistoric fossils and Roman artefacts to medieval jewellery and contemporary art. It also has beautiful gardens where visitors can relax and enjoy the scenery.
26. Holy Trinity Church
What is it? Holy Trinity Church is a historic church located in the heart of York. It was built in the 12th century and is considered one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the city.
Why visit? Visiting Holy Trinity Church allows you to explore its rich history and admire its stunning architecture. It’s also a great place to attend a church service or participate in other spiritual activities.
27. York Cold War Bunker
What is it? The York Cold War Bunker is a former nuclear bunker located in York that was designed to protect government officials in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War.
Why visit? Visiting the York Cold War Bunker provides a unique opportunity to learn about the history of the Cold War and how the British government prepared for a nuclear attack. Visitors can explore the underground bunker, learn about its operations, and see artefacts from the era.
28. Rowntree Park
What is it? Rowntree Park is a public park located in the heart of York, England. The park was opened in 1921 and covers 20 acres of land. It features a large lake, walking paths, gardens, and playgrounds.
Why visit? Rowntree Park is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It’s a great place to go for a walk or have a picnic, and the playgrounds make it a fun destination for families with children. The park also hosts events throughout the year, including concerts and festivals, so be sure to check the schedule before your visit.
The Top 28 Things To Do In York
- York Minster
- The Shambles
- York City Walls
- Jorvik Viking Centre
- York Castle Museum
- National Railway Museum
- York Dungeon
- Clifford’s Tower
- The York Ghost Walk Experience
- York’s Chocolate Story
- Fairfax House
- York Art Gallery
- Treasurer’s House
- York’s City Centre Parks
- Barley Hall
- York’s City Cruises
- St Mary’s Abbey
- Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
- York Observatory
- The Roman Bath Museum
- Goddards House and Garden
- Beningbrough Hall
- York Maze
- York Racecourse
- Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
- Holy Trinity Church
- York Cold War Bunker
- Rowntree Park
Tips for Visiting York
Best Time to Visit
When planning a trip to York, it’s important to consider the best time to visit. York is a year-round destination, but the summer months of June through August are the most popular time to visit due to the warm weather and school holidays. However, this also means that the city can be crowded and prices may be higher. Spring and autumn are great times to visit if you’re looking for fewer crowds and milder weather. Winter can be chilly but it can also be a great time to visit as the city is beautifully decorated for Christmas.
Getting Around York
York is a relatively small city, which makes it easy to explore on foot. The city centre is compact and most of the top attractions are within walking distance. However, if you prefer to use public transportation, the city also has an excellent bus system. You can purchase single or day tickets from the bus driver or use the First Bus app to plan your journey and purchase tickets in advance. If you’re planning to visit the surrounding areas, you can also take the train from York Railway Station which connects to other parts of the UK.
Where to Stay
When planning your trip to York, you’ll want to make sure you choose the right accommodation. There are many options available in the city, ranging from budget-friendly hostels to luxury hotels. Some of the most popular areas to stay in York include the city centre, Bootham, and Clifton. It’s a good idea to book your accommodation in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the peak tourist season.
Best Restaurants and Cafes in York
York is a foodie’s paradise, with a wide range of dining options to suit every taste and budget. Whether you’re looking for a traditional pub meal, international cuisine, or fine dining, you’ll find it in York. Some of the city’s most popular restaurants include The Star Inn The City, The Ivy St. Helen’s Square, and Skosh. For a more relaxed dining experience, there are plenty of cafes and coffee shops in the city serving up delicious cakes, pastries, and coffee.
Things to Do in York for Specific Groups
Things to Do in York for Couples
- Take a romantic stroll along the medieval city walls and enjoy the stunning views of the city and its surroundings.
- Visit the Betty’s Tearooms, an iconic café with a classic British atmosphere and delicious cakes and pastries.
- Enjoy a candlelit dinner at one of the many cosy and intimate restaurants in the city, such as the Blue Bicycle, serving British and European cuisine.
- Take a romantic river cruise along the River Ouse and see the city from a different perspective.
- Visit the York Cocoa House for a chocolate tasting and workshop, and learn how to make your own truffles together.
Things to Do in York with Kids
- Visit the Jorvik Viking Centre and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of a Viking city.
- Explore the York Dungeon and learn about York’s gruesome history through interactive exhibits and live performances.
- Visit the National Railway Museum and see a huge collection of trains and locomotives, including the famous Flying Scotsman.
- Discover the York Maze, a giant maze made from maize, with fun activities for all ages, including a mini maze for younger children.
- Take a ghost walk through the city with a spooky guide, and hear creepy stories of York’s past.
Things to Do in York for Young Adults
- Visit the city’s many pubs and bars, such as the famous Ye Olde Starre Inne, one of the oldest pubs in the city.
- Explore the Shambles, a medieval street with quirky shops and street performers.
- Visit the York Art Gallery and see works by famous artists such as David Hockney and L.S. Lowry.
- Take a cycling tour of the city and see the sights from a different perspective.
- Visit the York Theatre Royal, a historic theatre with a variety of performances including plays, musicals, and comedy shows.
Free Things to Do in York
- Walk the City Walls: The York city walls are free to access and offer stunning views of the city.
- Visit the Museum Gardens: The Museum Gardens are free to enter and offer a tranquil escape from the bustling city.
- See the street performers: York is known for its street performers who entertain the crowds for free.
- Explore the York Minster: While entry to the York Minster is not free, visitors can attend services for free and enjoy the magnificent architecture.
- Visit the Shambles: The famous Shambles street is free to explore and offers a glimpse into York’s medieval past.
Unusual Things to Do in York:
- Visit the York Cold War Bunker: The York Cold War Bunker is a unique attraction that offers a glimpse into the UK’s nuclear past.
- Take a ghost tour: York is considered one of the most haunted cities in the UK, and there are many ghost tours available.
- Go on a pub crawl: York has many historic pubs that are worth visiting for their unique atmosphere and history.
- Take a bike tour: See the city from a different perspective with a bike tour that takes you through York’s hidden gems and backstreets.
- Visit the Cat Gallery: This unusual museum showcases artwork inspired by cats, and even has a resident cat that visitors can meet.
Fun Things to Do in York for Adults:
- Take a cocktail-making class: Many bars and restaurants in York offer cocktail-making classes where you can learn to make your favourite drinks.
- Visit a brewery or distillery: York has several breweries and distilleries that offer tours and tastings.
- Go shopping: York has a variety of independent shops and boutiques, as well as major high street stores.
- Attend a concert or theatre show: York has several theatres and music venues that offer a range of performances.
- Visit the York Races: The York Races are a popular event that takes place annually and is a fun day out for adults.
Things to Do in York for Families:
- Visit the Jorvik Viking Centre: This interactive museum allows visitors to experience Viking life in York.
- Take a boat tour: The York City Cruises offer family-friendly boat tours that showcase the city’s history and architecture.
- Visit the York Dungeon: The York Dungeon is a fun and interactive experience that takes visitors on a journey through York’s dark history.
- Explore the Castle Museum: The Castle Museum has a range of exhibits that are fun for the whole family, including the recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate.
- Visit the York Maze: The York Maze is a fun and challenging attraction that offers hours of entertainment for families.