How to get cheaper rail tickets in the UK (without booking billions of years in advance)

The price of UK rail travel has undoubtedly gone up over the past 2 years. What used to be a cheap trip is now double the price for a lot of people. This article explores some ways you can buy cheaper tickets, whether you’re a native or coming to the UK from abroad.

Many people suggest “oh, you have to book in advance to get the cheap tickets” but this isn’t helpful for many people. There are three issues with this:

First, if you try and book in advance, you might think you’ll definitely get the cheaper tickets. But let’s say you booked three or four months in advance. The cheap tickets won’t show up because they haven’t been released yet! How ridiculous is that? Nowadays, they don’t automatically make the cheapest tickets available for all advance customers, there’s actually a narrow window of opportunity, so you might be getting penalized for buying tickets too far in advance!

Second, those advance tickets often sell out quickly (especially to regular travellers who snap them up the day they’re released which is exactly 9 weeks in advance of the travel date).

Third, many people don’t plan their travel that far ahead of time. A few years ago, you could get a one-month advance ticket or a two-week advance ticket and get decent prices compared to an anytime single or day return. There was even a three-day advance ticket once upon a time! Now? The whole system is so broken it’s insane.

So whether you’re a planner or you live life by the seat of your pants, you’re probably getting ripped off for the cost of your UK train tickets. But there are still things you can do to reduce your train ticket costs for journeys within Britain:

Check what railcards you are entitled to buy

This is absolutely the first and most important step in saving money on a train ticket. Unless you are travelling alone and aged 30-60, there’s probably a railcard that will net you about 1/3 off your travel. You usually pay about £30 for the year (or £70 for three years) and the savings can mean this pays for itself after just one long-distance or big family rail journey!

Instead of family tickets, senior tickets, and other discounts at the point-of-sale of the tickets, train tickets in the UK don’t work like that (why would they? That would make sense, and nothing about British train travel makes sense, as the rest of this article will show). Instead, you need to buy an advance railcard and then book your tickets with it. Be sure to have the railcard with you when you travel or you have to pay full price (so keep the tickets with the railcard if possible and take the lot for your journey).

The railcard options are:

16-17 Saver Railcard (gets you 50% off travel if you’re the right age)

16-25 Railcard (gets you 1/3 off off-peak travel when you’re this age)

25-30 Railcard (same as 16-25 railcard; I don’t know why the two are not just combined into a 16-30 card to be honest)

Disabled person’s railcard (1/3 off peak AND off-peak travel for you and a carer/friend)

Family and Friends Railcard (great for group bookings, this gets you 1/3 off for up to 4 adults and 60% off for up to 4 children). You only need ONE family and friends railcard for your booking, not one per person.

Network Railcard (perfect if you live in the South East, this covers 16 of the home counties and London. You get 1/3 off for up to 4 adults and 4 children). However, if you can get the family and friends railcard, the discount is better than the network railcard, and the family and friends one covers the whole of Britain. Again, you only need ONE Network Railcard for your booking, not one per person.

Senior Railcard (1/3 off for the over 60s)

Two together railcard (1/3 off for you and one other person) This card has no age restrictions or other requirements so anyone can get this card as long as you’re travelling on the train with someone else.

Veteran’s Railcard (discount and terms unclear). This card is for anyone who has served at least 1 day in the UK forces (including territorial/reserves) or anyone in the merchant navy who has seen active duty on UK operations.

With so many cards to choose from, there is probably one that can get your ticket price down.

What if you can’t get a UK railcard?

If you aren’t eligible to get a UK railcard, look into whether you can get an Interrail or Eurail pass if you’re coming from another country (or if you have a foreign passport). If you’re doing a lot of traveling in a short amount of time, this could save you hundreds compared to the cost of individual tickets. The Interrail pass is for Europeans. The Eurail pass is mainly for Americans.

The terms and conditions are very specific to your individual situation so read all the info thoroughly. You may still need to pre-book tickets at the train station (don’t pre-book via Trainline or anywhere else online if you have an Interrail/Eurail pass as it won’t work properly and you may end up paying full price for the tickets which puts you back to square one).

With or without a railcard, another good way to reduce the cost of your ticket is to split the journey (ideally on the same train).

What is journey splitting?

Due to ticket pricing algorithms, it is often more expensive to buy a ticket from a main city to another main city (or tourist destination). There might be another train station right next to your usual one where prices are cheaper. For example, if you’re travelling from Stoke on Trent to Derby, it could be cheaper to get a ticket from Stoke to Uttoxeter, then Uttoxeter to Derby. As long as the two tickets together cover your full journey on the train, this is fully legal and allowed.

There are sites that can help you find the best price for splitting your journey, otherwise, you can “overbook” your ticket.

What is overbooking?

Overbooking is booking a ticket for more stops than you actually wanted to travel to. Bizarrely, it can sometimes be cheaper than a shorter journey. This works best with day tickets or day returns due to the way ticketing works.

Say you wanted to go from York to Leeds. The trainline goes Nether Poppleton, York, Leeds, Bradford (I’m simplifying the stops here). It could be cheaper for you to get a ticket from Nether Poppleton to Leeds, or from York to Bradford, or from Nether Poppleton to Bradford. Put all of these into your train ticket booking site (such as National Rail Enquiries) to find the cheapest ticket, then get on/off at your usual stops. So you could buy a ticket that starts at Nether Poppleton, but still get on the train at York. As long as your ticket is valid for the whole journey, this is allowed.

Does this work with ticket barriers?

I have never had a problem using a ticket at ticket barriers but it depends on the ticket type and how rigid your journey times are.

With an anytime single or day return, if you’re on a train with a long stop, e.g. York to Manchester, and you get off at Leeds to grab a McDonald’s then get back on the train for the rest of your journey, you would need to go through the ticket barriers to get to McDonald’s. The day ticket (anytime single) or day return would allow you to do this. The same would apply to an over-booked ticket, for the same reason. The ticket barrier doesn’t know why you got off the train, but it should know that the ticket is valid.

Instead of being classed as an “anytime single” or “day return”, some tickets are classed as a “this journey only ticket”. These might not register correctly at the barriers for a different station to the ones where the journey begins and ends, so trying to get on at a later station can be a little more risky, but a reasonable ticket guard would check your ticket, see it’s valid for the train at the platform, and let you get on.

Avoid London if possible

Many tickets are more expensive if they include “London Terminals” (the big train stations in London). This includes travel via King’s Cross, Marylebone, St. Pancras, Waterloo, etc. If you can organize your journey avoiding these stations, you can probably bring the price down significantly.

For example, let’s say you’re travelling from Newcastle (Upon Tyne) to Bristol Temple Mead. Instead of going Newcastle to London on one train then changing at London to get to Bristol, you could specify a different route on your ticket booking to avoid London. So you could travel Newcastle to Birmingham New Street then Birmingham New Street to Bristol Temple Mead and it would work out cheaper (for this specific journey, this route is also quicker, and there’s usually a direct Newcastle-Bristol train that you could travel on, depending on the time of day you were travelling).

Some tickets even say, “avoiding London terminals” on them. If yours says this, you have got a cheaper ticket that hasn’t had the “London surcharge” applied to it.

Nice ideas, but what if you’re travelling TO London?

If you are trying to travel to London, you will probably be looking at the most expensive train tickets in the UK. No one knows why. The pricing of tickets to or from London doesn’t make any sense when you think about rules of “economies of scale” or “supply and demand” but there we go.

Travelling to or from London, you have two options to reduce your ticket cost, depending on where you live and whether you drive (or can get a bus) or not.

Your first option is to drive/bus to the edge of London, park at a train station such as Luton/Leagrave, Slough, Croydon etc then get just your TfL ticket for the overground/underground to reach your final destination.

The other option is, you could book your main train ticket to the edge of one of the TfL zones (the areas of London are broken up into zones and underground/overground tickets are priced according to which zones you’re going to) then use your debit card or oyster card to finish the journey. Paying separately like this can work out cheaper for some people, it depends on where you’re trying to go and what the cost for the full ticket is.

Overall though, get one of the railcards mentioned above to cover your main journey, then prepare to still bend over and be screwed a bit by the London train ticket prices.

Do also consider alternatives to the train (such as the bus) in areas of London where this is feasable. Some areas, especially at peak hours, the bus takes longer than just walking due to traffic, but other areas, such as Twickenham or Southwark, the bus is a reasonable and cheap alternative. I actually had a decently fast bus ride from Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square during the middle of the day last time I was in London, though, so don’t rule this out even in Zone 1!

Will these methods add to my journey time?

Not if you were travelling that way anyway. If you were going into London, at some point you would have to change from a mainline train to an underground/overground train anyway, so you might as well do it in the cheapest possible way.

The TfL network has clear and transparent fixed prices for the different zones whereas the mainline (longer distance) trains tend not to have transparent prices–and that’s where you want to avoid getting ripped off. In my own experience the main thing that adds to journey time is transfers, so if there’s a lot of walking such as between a train station and an underground station, or from a station to a bus stop, then a wait for the next mode of transport, it can take ages.

But if you’re splitting a ticket and staying on the same train, or getting off the mainline one stop early and getting the underground, you shouldn’t have a noticeable difference in journey times. Use a journey planner to help you decide (Google’s one can be shockingly inaccurate), and make sure to include all the places you want to stop/change so you can get a realistic timing.

Conclusion:

There is a lot you can do to reduce the price of a train journey in the UK. It seems counter-intuitive to pay £30 extra for a railcard, but if it saves you £100 on a £300 booking, it’s absolutely worth it!

If you have any other (legal) methods to get train costs down, let me know in the comments.

9 Prehistoric sites you can day trip from York

The county of North Yorkshire has some pretty fantastic prehistoric sites. The City of York itself doesn’t really have anything but within an hour’s drive, there’s lots to see. If you want to visit Neolithic monoliths, Iron Age ceremonial mounds, Bronze age stone circles or prehistoric art in the form of cup and ring marks, you’ve found the right article.

I haven’t included most of these in my big list of 54 day trips from York, because I know a lot of people aren’t that interested in prehistory (I don’t understand them at all). The best part is, all of these are free, all you need is petrol money and lunch. If you’re not sure when each time period was, or its key features, you will find info below under the heading, “some dates”.

Because this is a travel article, I haven’t included some key North Yorkshire sites which archaeologists find important, such as Star Carr. This is because what makes these sites important is beneath the ground, while they’re being dug for the 4-12 weeks of digging season once a year. The rest of the time, you can’t see anything except the soil of the farmer’s fields covering them up. They are usually on private land, too. All of this makes it not practical or worthwhile to visit them in a day trip.

Places to see prehistoric stuff

I’ve included the nearest town so you can get an idea for where they are, because isn’t it really annoying when people just rattle off the names of prehistoric sites in the middle of nowhere and one could be in Cornwall while another is in Aberdeen.

Thornborough henge, nr. Ripon: A triple henge of three stone circles close to one another, along with a huge mile-long cursus (two ditches side by side creating a sort of pathway). At one point, it was apparently used for jousting and was known locally as “The Charging Ground.” The site is Neolithic, from at least 4,000BCE. Findable on Google Maps, but be aware extensive quarrying has taken place in the environs and the landscape beyond the stones therefore isn’t safe to free-explore.

Rudston Megalith, nr. Bridlington: I’ve talked about this one in my other article on day trips from York, because if you’re heading out toward Flamborough Head or Bempton, this is well worth a shufty. It’s an 8m tall megalith single-standing stone which is in a churchyard in the village of Rudston. If you’re into megaliths, you might want to make a day of it. Findable on Google Maps.

The Devils Arrows, nr. Boroughbridge: This is a small circle of three tall megalith standing stones. Dating to the late Neolithic, it is thought there were four or five stones originally. The tallest of the three is 7m high, and a Victorian excavation discovered it was buried a further 1.8m below the ground. According to local folklore, these are three actual giant arrows thrown by Old Nick himself in a spectacularly poor attempt at destroying the village of Aldborough. Founded in Roman times, Aldborough didn’t exist until thousands of years after the stones were put here. More likely, the legend sprung up around the superstitious time of the witch hunts and stuck. You can find it on Google maps.

Harwood Dale, nr. Ravenscar/Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Probably the nicest stone circle to photograph on this list, at 14m around you can fit a nice amount of stones into one shot. Bronze Age Harwood Dale is locally known as the Druid’s Circle. It is not, however, a typical circle. It is a Bronze Age burial cist, a stone-built box shape where human remains would have been buried. There are three upright stones in the centre. Two more cup-and-ring marked stones from the vicinity were taken to Scarborough Museum in Victorian times and the rest of the site was seemingly forgotten. More details and a map reference here.

Ramsdale Stone Circle, nr. Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire: Only three stones make up this tiny stone circle, which makes it fascinating and easy to look at in its entirety (unlike gigantic circles such as Long Meg and Her Daughters, in Cumbria, or Avebury, in Avebury). It has been suggested that the three stones once formed part of a burial cairn, or that they were originally a larger stone circle, but the truth is that no one knows. More info and map reference here (not marked on Google maps).

Simon Howe, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: This visually intriguing stone circle has a more recent addition, in the form of a modern cairn like the ones you see at the top of many mountains frequented by ramblers. It’s due south of Goathland (where you can also find the Mallyan Spout waterfall). I have attempted to add it to Google Maps so hopefully it will be more findable for other people. If not, get the map reference and inspiring photos here.

High Bridestones, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: While you’re here, the road above Goathland also has two more Bronze Age sites. High Bridestones is four standing stones and they are thought to be what is left of two circles that have been joined together. North of it sits Low Bridestones. Get the deets here.

Brow Moor Carved Stones, nr. Ravenscar, N. Yorks: The rock art at Brow Moor is incredible. These stones were carved in the Bronze age and they are highly striking, speckled with lots of small dots (cups) and some bigger circles (rings) and even concentric circles known as double rings. If you’re into prehistoric rock art, this is a worthwhile day out. Photos and map reference here.

Blakey Topping, nr. Scarborough, N. Yorks: This intriguing and mysterious site has been suggested to be a sacred hill. From the top, you can see another potential sacred hill to the southeast (Howden Hill). A sacred hill is a relatively new class of ancient monument, and there’s no consensus yet on whether they exist or not. Blakey Topping has four standing stones at the top.

Legend has it that Blakey Topping was created by Wade the Giant, who was angry at his wife Bell and scooped up soil from the Hole of Horcum to throw at her. Blakey Topping was created where the soil landed, along with some other local hills. Looking at the shape of the hill and how it fits into the landscape, it is clearly a man-made hill, with a very uniform shape and a flat top typical of Iron Age earthworks, although it could be older. Well worth a look and there are loads of walking guides if you DuckDuckGo Blakey Topping hill. Photos and map reference here.

Some dates:

Neolithic: 4000-2500BCE Britain transitioned from a marine-based diet to livestock farming. Inland settlements became more permanent as the same land could feed people year-round with domesticated cattle. Stone tools still the norm.

Bronze Age: 2500-800BCE Metallurgy was invented and bronze could be forged into shapes to take the place of stone tools. Archaeologists have found many ceremonial burials from this period.

Iron Age: 800BCE to 43AD Iron smelting replaced bronze, allowing metal production to be faster and the tools to be better as iron is harder than bronze. Iron age forts abound in the English landscape but for most of them, all that remains is a big hill with no trace of what it looked like, because stone wasn’t used widely for building until the Romans arrived.

The Romans arrived 43AD, bringing an end to the stone monuments and circle building traditions of the past and eventually blanketing England in Christianity. Also started writing stuff down and calling it “history”.

5 places where you can see Roman remains in York (3 are free)

York is a city famous for its rich history. However, York’s Roman past can be hard to find on your first trip to the city, as most of the historic buildings are younger. Here is a list of five places where you can see some real Roman remains in York (three of them are free) and a little bit of York’s Roman history!

The Roman city of York was founded in 71AD as an outpost fort and later a city called Eboracum. The Roman Empire was quite late to Britain. Rome had colonised Spain in 206BC, the Greeks in 146BC and France in the 1st century BC, yet they didn’t manage to take Britain until 43AD. Only Germany was conquered later- a defeat that ultimately led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, but that’s a topic for another time.

The Romans extensively colonised the south of England, but their presence in the north was less established, because of the perpetual threat from the Picts in what is now Scotland. Additionally, the cost of over-extending the Roman Republic was starting to take its toll on Rome’s ability to defend itself in every direction, due both to money and manpower.

When the Roman Empire went into decline and withdrew between 405 and 420AD, York remained populated, and ultimately grew into the city you see today.

It is estimated that only two per-cent of ancient Eboracum has been excavated. This is because the city expanded enormously during the medieval period and a lot of this was built over the remains of the older, Roman city.

I love discovering aspects of a city’s past, especially somewhere like York where there’s so much of it. Here are five places with Roman remains that you can find yourself (three are free) on your York adventure, plus a sixth bonus statue that isn’t Roman, but it’s of a Roman Emperor.

Roman Baths

The Roman baths are, funnily enough, situated beneath the floor of the pub Roman Bath. What you will see here are the excavated remains (you can’t take a bath here). You will spot them immediately on entering the pub.

If you’re wondering, the type of bath here was most likely a balneae, a small public or private bath, not a grand Imperial thermae. This bath was used by the Roman army which occupied York, and was probably built by them. The remains of other Roman baths have been found around the city, but the ones at Roman Bath pub are the only ones that you can go and see. If you visit, remember this is a pub and a business. You don’t need to pay entry, but you can support the bath by buying a drink.

Roman Column

An 8m tall column sits outside the Minster. It was one of many which supported the Basilica–a huge Roman building. The Roman Column was discovered in 1969, during excavations around York Minster. It was raised and left on display near where it was found. It was donated to the city by the Dean and Chapter. Unfortunately, the builders made a terrible mistake and it is, in fact, upside-down.

To find it, head to the main entrance of York minster. From the entrance, locate the black metal gates that can be used to close the road. The column is on the right of the railings, near the school. Free access 24/7.

The Basilica

More of the Basilica can be seen in the Undercroft of York Minster, where the foundations have been excavated. The Basilica was built in 100AD, only 29 years after Eboracum was founded. It was a huge civic building intended for use as a courthouse and other public functions. Usually, basilicas were sited next to a forum, but none has been discovered in York, yet (also missing: York’s Colosseum).

You can visit the Undercroft by going inside the Minster and buying a ticket. There are three different areas of the Minster with separate tickets; be sure to get a ticket specifically for the Undercroft to see the Roman remains of York’s basilica.

The Roman wall

The Romans built walls around many of their settlements. Most archaeologists will tell you walls are there to keep invaders out, but Bar-Yosef put forward an alternative idea in 1986 which deserves more attention; walls can be used as a flood defence and to prevent mud flows damaging the city. Walls also keep people in. It is much easier to control a population when they can’t simply get up and leave, and it’s also easier to find criminals and to accurately collect taxes inside a walled city.

Most of the Roman wall actually lies beneath the Medieval wall you can walk on. The Roman remains are tucked within the embankment that holds up the Medieval walls. But in a little green area, beside a car park on Museum Street, there’s an exposed area of the original Roman walls. From the art gallery, walk to the gate of King’s Manor and don’t go inside. Instead, go left along the pavement toward the theatre (don’t cross the road).

The Roman wall is immediately on your right.

The Yorkshire Museum

Of course, you’re going to find a lot more of York’s Roman artefacts if you visit a museum. The Yorkshire Museum holds quite a collection of small finds, including the reconstructed Coppergate helmet (which the reconstructors got wrong, I believe the museum now goes into detail on this). There are also Roman sarcophagi and other large items like a mosaic floor and a wall fresco. I think a better way to present the past is to do what they do in Athens and leave it in-situ but put protective glass over it, so the past becomes part of today’s buildings, retaining the context of where they were found. However, this is why I don’t work in a museum.

So there you have it. Five places you can see York’s Roman past.

And the sixth (not quite Roman)…

As a bonus, check out the statue of Constantine outside the Minster. This isn’t a Roman find, but was created later to memorialise the Emperor due to his ties with the city. His father Emperor Constantius is one of two Roman emperors who died in the City of York (the other is the African-Roman who became Emperor of Rome, Septimus Severus). Constantine the Great (pictured below) was the first Christian Emperor of Rome, legitimising the religion in 312AD and paving the way for its widespread acceptance in Europe.

CC Zero

10 Alternatives To Betty’s Cafe in York

Yes, Betty’s Cafe & Tea Rooms is a big deal. It’s one of York’s most iconic eateries. Their Easter display alone is legendary. People have been talking about the stunning art-deco interior since the days when this building was a dance hall.

However, because of its success, there is always a huge queue and you might not have time to wait. You can book a table in advance if you’re organised. In spite of how long you might have to wait, some people have said they were given a specific length of time to actually eat or drink, so you absolutely cannot linger over your tea here. It’s also quite pricey. Of course, this is reflective of the quality and the fact they are so popular (and York’s crippling business rates). But it’s definitely out for travellers on a budget or a tight schedule, or people who want (or need) to take their time over their food. They also don’t do any vegan sweets/cakes which I didn’t think was great in 2008 and definitely isn’t amazing in this day and age.

People say no visit to York is complete without going to Betty’s. Whether or not that is true, I think these indie alternatives to Betty’s will also give you a fab, unique and unforgettable experience.

If you’re looking for a cosy place to get a cup of tea and maybe a little cake or lunch in York, these independent alternatives will be right up your street:

Lucky Days, 1 Church Street, York: This quirky eatery has a really fun addition– you can roll a dice and if you hit the lucky number, you get your order for free! And, I can attest to the fact they will honor that, as I got a free cup of tea here once by successfully rolling. This place is also quite laid back on weekdays and lets you linger over your tea if you need to.

The Attic, 2 King’s Square, York: Up a flight of stairs, so not ideal for disabled visitors, but The Attic has delicious gourmet tea blends and a cosy atmosphere. Ideal if you’ve just battled your way through The Shambles and need to recharge.

Bennett’s Cafe And Bistro, 30-32 High Petergate, York: This cosy cafe has Victorian decor and is overlooked by York Minster. I’m not sure if there’s a more scenic place in York to get a cup of tea.

Mannetti’s, 5 Lendal, York: A cafe serving impressive lunches and delicious coffee, definitely a perfect alternative which is sure to appeal to the Betty’s crowd.

Forty-Five Vinyl Cafe, 29 Micklegate, York: A unique, laid-back cafe away from the madding crowds that will appeal to music-lovers as they also offer live music (currently, videos). Going here is a real experience and you won’t want to leave!

Partisan, 112 Micklegate, York: Head up Micklegate and you will find this cafe with stunning decor and an equally impressive menu. Whether you’re after coffee, cakes, lunch or breakfast, Partisan will not disappoint.

Spring Espresso, 45 Fossgate, York: Intriguing light-roasted coffee and Chinese teas are available here alongside a great lunch menu and homemade cakes.

York Cocoa House, 10 Castlegate, York: Not a fan of coffee or tea? Prefer hot chocolate? This is the place to go. Hot chocolate and chocolate-based food available here. Also hand-crafted chocolate bars. Perfect for the chocolate-lovers. Even Vegan ones.

Molly’s Tearooms, 41 Stonegate, York: Craving tea and some traditional home cooking? Molly’s has you covered. Try the soup, it’s top-notch.

Madhatter Tea Rooms (aka Teddy Bear Tearooms), 13 Stonegate, York: A beautifully-decorated, quirky, Alice in Wonderland themed cafe offering tea and afternoon tea (with the cakes and such), as well as a selection of little snacks. Perfect for the young and the young-at-heart.

There are of course tons of other excellent independent cafes in York, but I’m recommending places I’ve tried-and-tested and which I know will give a great experience for people specifically looking for a hot drink and a cake or a light bite. Got a favourite? Let me know in the comments!

*Obviously following Covid rules, some places may not be able to accommodate you, or may be offering different fare than usual.

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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10 Most Iconic Shops In York

Over the years, a great many businesses have been opened in York but subsequently closed. York is a hotbed of tiny independent shops often selling things that are unique or which you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Many of these shops burn brightly, but briefly. York is a city where a lot of people go for the shopping, and some shops have become iconic within the city… [read more]

10 Free Things to do In York

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7 things to do in York with young kids

York is not known for being the most child-friendly of places. From posh restaurants that don’t appeal to little ones, to shops with displays of expensive, brittle ornaments pouring off the shelves, to uneven pavements and kerbs that are definitely not pushchair-friendly, to zero play areas anywhere within the walls where kids can let off steam, this city can be stressful for parents of young children. However, there are things you can do with your preschoolers that they will enjoy:

Follow The Wiggles Trail:

Okay, I totally invented this one, but if your children are fans of The Wiggles, you can take them on the short (perfect for small legs) Wiggly Trail and let them sing the classic songs from the TV show Ready, Steady, Wiggle when they reach all the spots on the trail. The best part? The walking will tire them out! I have full details and a map in this post. Oh, and it’s also free!

Visit DIG:

If your child is old enough to hold a spoon and follow simple instructions without attempting to eat every non-food object they see, they will probably love DIG. It’s an interactive sort-of museum where children can do play-archaeology indoors without actually getting dirty. It’s really educational and super-fun. Entrance on St. Saviourgate behind Stonebow.

Jorvik Viking Museum

Do I need to introduce this one? This is what you’re going to York for, right? If not, you need to know any trip to York is incomplete without going to this essential museum. Entry is not cheap, and you may have to queue if you don’t book advance tickets, but this place is worth it. There’s a ride where you get to see Viking scenes then a museum-type area with re-enactors who can tell you all about what life was like in Viking times. Children will love this.

Looking for somewhere to sit down?

Once you’ve done some big touristy stuff at Jorvik and Dig, or between them, you might be thinking about heading over to the York Museum Gardens. However, it’s across the other side of the city centre, so it might take a while for very little legs to get there, so if you’re at Jorvik with preschoolers, that’s a great starting place to go to Tower Park, instead, which is where my Wiggly trail begins. Follow the trail toward King’s Staith then you’re perfectly situated to go and find some lunch at one of York’s many cafés or restaurants, then head back toward The Shambles for a trip down a real medieval street.

The Harry Potter shops in The Shambles

If you have school-age kids, instead of heading to Tower Park, wander toward The Shambles, York’s most picturesque and original medieval street. The first two shops are both Harry Potter-themed and children who are fans of the films or books will find these fascinating. The Shambles itself will be quite busy in the middle of the day, so plan for it to take about 10 minutes to get down this small road. At the other end, head out into King’s Square and you will find…

York’s Chocolate Story

This is a chocolate museum. Did you know both Rowntree and Nestle are headquartered in York? This museum tells the history of York’s chocolate-making industrial past and has lots of bright and colourful displays for children.

After York’s Chocolate Story, keep going past the Minster and through a bar (gate) in the walls, and you will reach…

The fountain at Exhibition Square, Museum Street:

This fountain has lots of jets of water and is tons of fun for little ones who can splash their hands in the edge of the water and also watch the water jets. At night, the water is lit up with coloured lights. Be water safe and never leave children unsupervised near water. From here, head down a little alleyway/footpath to the left of the big railings of King’s Manor. This path will take you straight into…

York Museum Gardens

This is a great place to feed squirrels, and is a big open space where children can run around and play, although for some reason, there’s no actual play park. The Museum Gardens are open daily until 5pm and includes the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, a Benedictine abbey that’s fun to see up close. If you have a picnic, this is the perfect place to have it. Free entry. If it rains, why not step inside the museum, instead (museum not free)?


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5 Best Pubs inside York’s Walls

With so many pubs to visit in York, how do you know which ones to prioritize? You can’t really go wrong with any pub in York, they’re all fantastic (there’s so much competition, they have to be), but these are the very best pubs that you should really go and see:

Roman Bath

Sounds like… a bath? Nope. This is a pub. They are also a live music venue. Built on top of an original Roman bath. The columns are still visible and there’s a glass floor where you can see the remains. Incredible. And often busy. But still an essential visit on any York trip.

House of the Trembling Madness (Stonegate)

This is a traditional medieval building where you can go and drink. If it’s a quiet day, you can also get a seat and eat a meal here. Don’t want to pay to look around the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall? Go here instead and buy a drink. Absolutely incredible setting. They are open all day and late into the night. Famously, they don’t take reservations and if you go at peak times, you will probably need to drink standing up. But the sheer amount of people who do this is testament to the fact it’s worth it. There is a second House of the Trembling Madness on Lendal, now. I haven’t been there so don’t know what they’ve done with the place but the original is top notch.

The Golden Fleece

This pub has quite a decent capacity compared to some of the others inside the walls. This place is dripping with history (and a ghost…) but it’s still retained its character as a normal pub where you can hang out with your friends or family. It’s also highly rated as York’s most haunted pub, although I’ve been in there about a dozen times and I’ve never seen anything spooky. In fact, I suspect a lot of the bad reviews for this place are people who think ghosts are there to perform for them on cue (weird). Still, well worth a gander.

The Duke of York

This oak-beamed medieval pub is on the end of the Shambles in King’s Square, so if you go on a Monday around 7:30pm it’s the absolute best place to have a pint and catch a glimpse of the Ebor Morris, who dance traditional English folk dance in the square once a week. You can’t find much better than that for entertainment. It’s a Leeds Brewery pub, so you’ll be supporting local Yorkshire brewing when you visit, too.

The Black Swan

This one dates back to the 15th Century, and it’s a pub with rooms. They serve a range of real ale and have food available, too. Situated inside the walls on Stonebow, it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the most historic parts of York and they often have live music from local bands. What I really like about The Black Swan is you get to eat and drink like a local, as very few tourists make the short walk over to this part of the city, so you can soak up the real Yorkshire ambience in this true hidden gem.

Of course, with the number of pubs in York, I’m sure lots of people will be wondering why Pub X or Pub Y didn’t make this list. It’s true that you can’t really go wrong with any pub in York, but if you’re here as a visitor with limited time, these are the five pubs you really need to experience.