23 things to do in York

If you’re visiting York, you might wonder what there is to do in the city. It has quite a lot of museums, especially for such a small city, and you could easily spend a weekend in just one area, such as Coppergate or the area around the Minster, if you wanted to visit every museum available.

Here is a list of 23 things you can do in York. It includes all the main tourist attractions and then some:

  1. National Railway Museum; a museum all about trains and British railway history. There are lots of steam trains, as well as some more modern trains, and a now-obsolete early Japanese bullet train from the 1980s.
  2. Walk the walls (free): The current walls around the city are incomplete, but they date from the medieval period. They’re actually built on top of the city’s original Roman walls. Some sections are more interesting than others. Be careful taking young children on the walls as they don’t have safety barriers and have some open sides.
  3. York Minster: This beautiful medieval cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of York. It has been undergoing extensive restoration work pretty much non-stop since the 1980s. There are three main areas to the Minster: The main (ground) floor, the undercroft and the roof. You pay separate entry to each. The roof is excellent (but a huge climb, not suitable for anyone with mobility issues) because there’s an edict which says no building within the walls can be taller than the Minster, so you get a phenomenal, unrestricted view of York from the top. The undercroft is also fascinating and has some intriguing archaeological finds from some of the excavations of the minster.
  4. Yorkshire Museum: A fairly bog-standard museum with an emphasis on Roman and Viking displays.
  5. Museum Gardens and St. Mary’s Abbey: Far more interesting than the museum itself, the museum gardens is home to the picturesque remains of St. Mary’s Abbey. This is the perfect place to have a picnic.
  6. Cholera Graves: Between the Railway Museum and Yorkshire Museum, you can find the Cholera Graves across the road from York Railway Station. They are easy to overlook as they look like a grass verge beside the pavement but there is a small plaque marking it out.
  7. DIG: A fun place to take the kids, this hands-on ‘museum’ lets children be archaeologists for an hour or so, complete with plastic trowels and safety rubber ‘soil’ to dig so they can discover resin ‘artefacts’.
  8. Jorvik Viking Museum: An interactive Viking museum that takes you on a journey back in time to the age of the Vikings. Includes re-enactors and a ‘ride’ (don’t worry, it’s not a rollercoaster).
  9. Richard III Experience: Ever wanted to know everything about Richard III? This is the place to do it. Don’t know who King Richard III was? This Horrible Histories video will explain it for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL2se6BzIHk
  10. Barley Hall: Once a 14th century priory, this is an authentic medieval building you can take a look around.
  11. Merchant Adventurers Building: Built in 1350, this stunning medieval building still has its original timber frame as well as a chapel and alms house.
  12. York’s Chocolate Story: A museum dedicated to the history of chocolate making in York, which was the home of Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Nestle (but not Cadbury’s, that’s in Birmingham).
  13. The Wiggly Trail: I totally made this one up, but it’s a short trail you can follow with preschoolers. Details here.
  14. Fairfax House: There are actually TWO buildings called Fairfax House in York (yeah… imaginative). One is a Victorian building which used to house student nurses and now houses all sorts of students. You can’t go in that one. The other is around the corner from Jorkvik Viking centre, and it’s an 18th century townhouse that’s been turned into a museum. If you want to see how rich people lived in the age of Jane Austen, this is the place to go. To avoid confusion, the address for the correct Fairfax House is Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN.
  15. York Army Museum: Near Fairfax House and Jorvik, you can find York Army Museum tucked away next to the York Hilton. It has exhibitions on York’s military past.
  16. Clifford’s Tower: You cannot miss this. It’s on top of a big hill in the middle of an open space that includes York Army Museum and York Castle Museum. You have to climb the hill to gain entry to the tower (so it’s not disabled-friendly) . At one point it was even a royal mint, which is difficult to believe when you see how small it is inside!
  17. York Dungeon: One of the “[Town Name] Dungeon” tourist attractions that plague many touristy cities across the UK. If you’ve never been to one before and it’s raining it might be worth a look, but otherwise it’s a bit of a tourist trap.
  18. Ghost Walk: A few people around the city offer ghost walks, where they take you on a tour of various parts of the city centre and tell you grisly, ghostly tales about what happened in particular buildings. Obviously, take it as fun entertainment and don’t expect any real ghosts. There was a time when one of the ghost walk people resorted to trashy gimmicks like having an accomplice to make noises in certain areas, but all the shenanigans seem to have stopped since Most Haunted fell by the wayside, and now all the ghost walks I know of tend to consist of good storytelling.
  19. Morris Dancers: The Ebor Morris dances publicly in King’s Square, near The Shambles, at 7pm every Monday.
  20. Red boats: Go down to the river on the Kings Staith side and, by Tower Gardens, you will find York Red Boats. They let you hire self-drive small motorboats to drive up and down the river.
  21. York Castle Museum: This museum is more focused on the 19th century, which in York’s timeline makes it relatively modern, but if you ever wanted to imagine yourself on one of the streets of Sherlock Holmes, it’s well worth a look. The Victorian period of York’s history is mostly overlooked around the rest of the city so this museum makes a great addition to any itinerary.
  22. York Art Gallery: Around the corner from the Yorkshire Museum, you’ll find the York Art Gallery. It has a nice fountain in front of it that children might enjoy sticking their hands in.
  23. Henry VII Experience: Like the Richard III experience but on the other side of town, the Henry VII experience tells you all about the life and times of Henry VII. If that makes you say, “Once more unto the breech dear friends”, this is the place for you!

So there you have it, 23 things to do in York. I haven’t included temporary exhibitions such as the beer festival or the many crafts fairs that go on around the year because I wanted to cover things you could do no matter when you visit. I decided to leave out cafes, restaurants, shops and pubs as these aren’t really tourist attractions (but I have written articles about these, see below). Have you done them all? Let me know in the comments!


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