Looking for things to do in York today, this week or during the holidays? Great news, you are in the right place as we have all of the best attractions and events to keep you and your family entertained.
The guide is broken down into easy to use sections which provide useful information and links to pages with more details or direct to attractions and event websites for easy booking.
So sit back, grab your favourite drink and lets find something new for you to enjoy in the capital of Yorkshire, with or without the kids!
Things to do in York
The Shambles which date back to the 14th century, consists of narrow, cobbled pedestrianised streets which can get a little busy in peak seasons. However, if you go early enough in the morning or wait till a little later in the day, you can enjoy the higgledy piggledy timber framed buildings overhanging the narrow streets in relative peace and quiet.
The meat hooks hanging outside the buildings remind you that these were in fact mostly butchers shops, which is where the Shambles got their original name, “The Great Flesh Shambles.” The shops are now home to every imaginable type of shop you can think of including places to eat which is great as you may find that time passes quickly as there is so much to see.
York Minster is one of the finest examples of a medieval cathedral in the country and if you enjoy medieval gothic architecture, it is a real treat. One of the things we love about the Minster is that it is not huge but big enough to be extremely impressive.
You almost stumble upon it as it is tucked away at the top of the shambles, just inside the city gates. Walking out of the cramped cobbled Shambles and into this large open area provides a welcome relief and a fantastic view as you approach.
If you get a chance, head down into the crypt underneath the main altar to see the remains of the original Norman church which the existing Minster grew from in the 12th century. Enjoy the magnificent medieval stone carvings, stained glass windows, and if you are brave enough, the steep narrow stairs that lead to superb city views.
National Railway Museum
You do not have to love trains to enjoy the National Railway Museum but if you do, you are in for a treat because this is not simply one of the best attractions in York it is the best railway museum in the UK! Admission is free and there is so much to see and do that you can easily spend an entire day in the museum, so having a choice of 3 places to eat whist you are there, helps a lot.
Some of the exhibits are set in the old roundhouse of the York engine sheds and the museum is a stones throw from the main East Coast train line and York train station so everything feels really authentic but still modern and well laid out. Have a look at a Japanese Bullet train, a Eurostar train, steam and diesel strains and they even have cutaway engines to see, which are huge! When you first arrive, be sure to find out the times of the demo’s and talks which take place around the museum (watch out for timetable changes) so you truly get the most out of your time there.
The National Railway museum in York is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern England and free for everyone, so be sure to include it on your travel itinerary the next time you visit York.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Although York dates back to around 7000 B.C. it was the Roman’s and then the Vikings which put it on the map. Vikings settled in York from 800 to 1050 A.D. and the city has truly embraced the Viking culture ever since, well at least in the last 50 years!
The Jorvik Viking centre is truly a must for any visitor and I remember going as a local kid on a school trip when it first opened and being amazed as I found myself in a Viking settlement, with all the sights and smells. You start in a time car (slow rollercoaster) that takes you back through a Viking street market, and over the course of about 20 minutes travel through historical recreations that are complete with sounds and smells.
When you complete your travel through time, you then get the opportunity to talk to Vikings (obviously actors) who are happy to explain every part of Viking life, apparently there were no dragons! Take your time to examine the exhibits which show artifacts dug up from the Jorvik site and pickup some great things in the gift shop. Definitely, one of the most fun things to do in Yorkshire and should be on everyones itineraries.
A great way to break up the day from all the walking is to take a 45 minute cruise on the River Ouse, this provides a great opportunity to relax and enjoy sights and countryside that you would not normally see, whilst all the time entertained and informed by the audio narration.
For some reason, I never did this myself until a few years ago and would now recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great couple of hours relaxing and taking in the sites. Be sure to have a look at the River cruise website to see if they have any specials coming up during your visit, including holiday events, ghost cruises and fantastic evening cruises.
JORVIK Viking Festival
Now the largest Viking Festival in Europe, the famous JORVIK Viking Festival is an annual celebration of York’s Viking heritage across the whole of the city. If you have never been before, it is fantastic fun for all the family, with so many activities and events taking place all week long.
When is JORVIK Viking Festival?
JORVIK Viking Festival is held every February school half term.
What is on offer?
The festival is full of family events, guided walks, battle re-enactments and lectures attracting over 40,000 people every year from all around the world, many who return year after year to take part in festivities and enjoy the amazing atmosphere. Make sure you do not miss the festivals free grand finale with the burning of the boat and fireworks, no matter your age, you will love it.
What to do in York this weekend
York Art Gallery
York Art Gallery is in Exhibition Square, five minutes’ from the Minster and opposite Bootham Bar, the northern gateway on the city walls. It is about 15 to 20 minutes’ walk from the Railway Station.
The Marygate car park is the nearest, only five minutes walk from the Art Gallery and has 350 spaces, so enough for everyone. Marygate car park is just off Bootham (A19 road), which is the main road into the city from the north of England. For more car parking information please click here.
Address: York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York, YO1 7EW
Contact: 01904 687687; yorkartgallery.org.uk
Prices: adults £7.50; children (16 and under) free with adult
Opening times: daily 10am-5pm, except December 25 and 26 and 1 January
York’s Chocolate Story
York is not just about the Roman’s and Vikings, it is about the Chocolate as well. York has a great history and an even greater chocolate history and story which you need to discover when you next visit York.
Did you know that Cadbury’s, Fry’s, Terry’s and Rowntree’s/Nestle are all part of Yorks wonderful mouth watering 300 year history? There is so much chocolate to discover and unwrap that your mouth will literally be watering.
During your visit, watch as York’s world famous and renowned chocolatiers make these delicious treats and then, the best part, try a few samples. But that is not all, as you get to be hands on and enjoy the history and stories of what today are world wide brands.
Ever wondered where chocolate comes from or where it is made? Here you get to see chocolates transformation from bean to bar and most importantly, have a go yourself!
The cafe offers everything chocolate for you to experience and enjoy and you can always stock up in the shop on your way out to make sure that the rest of your visit to York does not lose its chocolate goodness.
During your visit, you will experience;-
- York’s interactive history of chocolate
- Lots and lots of chocolate samples
Address: Kings Square, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 7LD, England
Contact: 01904 527765; http://www.yorkschocolatestory.com
Prices: Adult: £11.50, Senior/Student: £10.50, Child (4-15): £9.50, Family of 4 (max. 2 adults): £39.95, Family of 5 (max. 2 adults): £47.95, Under 4’s: Free
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 10:00 – 17:00. Closed 25 and 26 December and New Year’s Day.
Whats on in York this week
York MotorSports Village
With a wide selection of racing packages to suit all ages at North Yorkshire’s only indoor Karting circuit, the MotorSports Village is a must for all motor heads and anyone who wants to have some fun, especially as it is weather proof! Children from 4 years old can find their ‘racing feet’ in a fun, safe, and easy-to-drive electric F3 ‘Junior’ kart. Children of 8 years and older can have great fun on the F2 petrol karts and children and adults 13 years old and over have the F1 ‘Pro’ fleet to get to grips with.
Just as you would expect, MotorSports Village make safety their number 1 priority and are members of the National Karting Association (NKA).
In addition to the Karting packages, the MotorSports Village have the North of England’s only driver training race simulator which is the same as used by F1 and other racing drivers. The F1 Rfactor allows you to have the opportunity to get in the cockpit of an F1 racing car and drive on some of the best international Grand Prix tracks. Come and see if you can beat Hamilton around Silverstone or Vettel around Hockenheim?
Spectators are always welcome and can enjoy all of the action from the comfort of Bar Enzo, there is a fully licensed coffee and wine bar. At Bar Enzo, spectators can watch all of the action on four screen Tag Heuer timing displays, enjoy the action in the simulator from the driver’s view point or simply sit back and relax with a cup of coffee, tea, soft drink or a glass of wine or beer.
So, if you’re planning a stag or hen weekend, child’s birthday party, planning to entertain clients or just want to challenge friends to find out who is the best driver, then why settle not come and have some fun with York MotorSports Village?
Address: Kathryn Avenue, Monks Cross, York, North Yorkshire, YO32 9JS, England
Contact: 01904 673555; http://www.ymsv.co.uk/
Prices: £17.50 per person
Opening times: Monday to Friday 11:00 – 20:00, Saturday 09:00 – 21:00, Sunday 10:00 -19:00
Energi Trampoline Park York
Trampolines, kids love them. Now imagine a massive sports area covered with them, what could be better than that? Obviously nothing! It is trampoline heaven.
- Jump across the trampoline park into foam pits
- How far can you go on the Cardio Wall
- Enjoy the basketball hoops or perhaps a dodgeball game
- How fast can you complete the timed assault course
Kids parties are welcome as are adult hospitality parties and fitness classes, please get in contact to for more information.
What can you do at Energi Trampoline Park York?
- Adult fitness classes and hospitality events
- Teen disco each Friday night
- Toddler sessions and sessions for children with additional needs
Address: 3-7 Rose Avenue, York Business Park, Nether Poppleton, York, North Yorkshire, YO26 6RU, England
Contact: 01904 360500; http://www.energileisureparks.com/york
Prices: prices start from £4.95, please see website for the full price list.
Opening times: please see website for details for daily sessions.
Kids activities in York
Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens
If you are looking for free things to do with kids during the holidays then the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens offer lots of family fun and not just fossil’s. Along with York Castle, the Yorkshire museum provides a great opportunity for little ones to burn off some energy running around and exploring the gardens and ruins.
Located next to Lendal Bridge, the main river bridge between the Railway Station and the Minster. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk from the Railway Station and there are entrances into the gardens from both Museum Street and Marygate.
The nearest car park is on Marygate, which is five minutes’ walk and has 350 spaces. Marygate is off Bootham, the A19, which is the main road into the city from the north. For more car parking information please click here.
Address: Museum Gardens, York, YO1 7FR
Contact: 01904 687687; yorkshiremuseum.org.uk
Prices: admission free for under 16’s; adults £7.50; concessions £6.50 (tickets give repeat entry for a year)
Opening times: daily 10am-5pm, except December 25 and 26
For more kids activities in York ideas, including playgrounds and play areas, please take a look at our dedicated kids activities in York guide, we are sure you will find some fun and interesting kids activities in York the next time you visit.
Days out in York
York Dungeon is a journey through more than 2000 years of York horrible history in 75-minutes. With an amazing cast of theatrical actors, stages, scenes and special effects, the Dungeon introduces you to an exciting and truly unique walkthrough experience that has all of your senses on alert, see, hear, feel and smell! It is hilarious fun and sometimes a little bit scary which adds to the experience.
You will laugh and scream, but you will definitely love it. What to look forward to:
- The York Dungeon is now Bolder and Better than ever before
- 10 laugh-out-loud shows
- Laughs, screams and cutting-edge storytelling
The Dungeons is the black comedy of attractions; dark, atmospheric and very very funny.
You follow the story of York’s darkest, dirtiest history throughout 10 live shows and 9 live actors. It is based on real history (well the exciting bits anyway) where you get close up and personal with characters from York’s deadly past, including the traitorous Guy Fawkes and the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin.
You will experience and enjoy 360° sets, full of authenticity and theatrical storytelling, including a check-up from the resident plague doctor, learn about the legend of The Golden Fleece and get lost in the Labyrinth of the Lost. If you are looking for a unique and fun activity which you are going to remember, this is sure to provide a great day out for everyone and should be on your itinerary!
Address: 12 Clifford Street, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9RD, England
Contact: 01904 632599; Click here to visit York Dungeon’s website
Prices: £16.95 per person
Opening times: daily but please call the attraction directly to avoid disappointment.
Afternoon Tea in York
With so much to see and do, you might need a break to relax and give your feet a rest. One of the best ways to do this is to visit one of the many tea rooms that York has to offer. The most famous tea room in Yorkshire and all of the Yorkshire Dales has to be Bettys who have a fantastic menu and something for everyone, even if you do not like tea.
Betty’s is not the only place you can get afternoon tea in York, there are many wonderful tea rooms, all over the city, but below are some of our favourites, if you really pushed us to choose.
- Little Shambles Tea Room
- Molly’s tearooms York
- Little Betty’s York
If you plan on visiting a few of the attractions or taking a city tour during your day trip or romantic getaway, we would definitely recommend that you take a look at the York Pass as it offers incredible value with over 36 tourist attractions included in the price of the ticket, including all of the popular ones.
Travel, Shopping and Restaurant Discounts
Not only are you going to visit all of the best tourist attractions, but with York Pass you will also get discounts on travel, shopping and restaurants! I know, great huh.
If you plan on travelling out of York to see the sights then Europcar has you covered with free car rental upgrades to all pass holders. Or perhaps you fancy taking it a little slower, grab a discount off bicycle hire at York Cycle Tours. Maybe that sounds a little too much effort, if so, there are discounts on your taxi fares with Streamline Taxis. However you plan to get around, York Pass has you covered.
Looking for a little retail therapy? Your Pass includes exclusive discounts at various shops found in York city centre. Or if that is not enough choice, how about using your travel discounts and heading to York Designer Outlet where you can shop at more than 120 famous brand stores. This alone makes the pass worth its weight in gold!
Well, with all that travel and shopping and most importantly sight seeing, you are no doubt feeling a little peckish. Fear not, your Pass has you covered once again with discounts at various restaurants and cafés for a variety of food and drinks.
FREE entry to 36 attractions:
Your Pass allows you free entry to 36 attractions in and around York (including Whitby), the full list is below:
- The Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre
- Barley Hall
- Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens
- Byland Abbey
- Captain Cook Museum Whitby
- Castle Howard
- Clifford’s Tower
- DIG – An Archaeological Adventure
- Eden Camp
- Fairfax House
- Goddards House & Gardens
- The Henry VII Experience
- JORVIK Viking Centre
- National Railway Museum – Road Train
- Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
- National Centre for Birds of Prey
- North Yorkshire Moors Railway
- Rievaulx Abbey
- The Richard III Experience
- The Roman Bath
- Scampston Walled Garden
- The Mansion House
- Treasurer’s House
- York Army Museum
- York Art Gallery
- York Brewery
- York Cold War Bunker
- York Castle Museum
- York’s Chocolate Story
- The York Dungeon
- York Maze
- York Minster
- Murton Park – Yorkshire Museum of Farming
- Yorkshire Museum
- York City Sightseeing
So basically, if you plan on seeing a few of the attractions, take some sightseeing tours on the hop on hop off bus, indulge in some shopping or eat during your visit to York, buy tickets for the York Pass. It will save you a LOT of money.
Price: Adult 1 day £38, 2 days £50, 3 days £65 – Children 1 day £24, 2 days £28, 3 days £35. If you buy the 3 day pass you can use it on any 3 days within a 6 day period which makes it superb value for a longer stay or for touring Yorkshire.
Contact: 01904 550099; yorkpass.com
If you are planning on staying in York during your visit, you will need to find a bed and breakfast (York B&B) or hotels in York city centre or within the city walls. There are tons of hotels in York to choose from at all price points, so have a good look around and you are sure to find the perfect fit for you.
Personally at What To Do In, we use sites like Booking.com to help us find the best deals on hotels in York and bed and breakfast choices wherever we go. After all, why do the hard work, when they can do it for you, we say!
So, do yourself a favour and check them out and find a great bargain so you can relax as you explore Yorks attractions.
One last thing before I leave you. It amuses me that if you search for ‘York meaning’ in Google, the Collins dictionary’s listing is at number 2 with its definition of the meaning of York as ‘to bowl or try to bowl (a batsman) by pitching the ball under or just beyond the bat’. If you are looking for the cricket term, great. If you are looking for the city… try another dictionary.
Another reason why the great walled city of York, Eboracum as the Romans named it and Jorvik as the Vikings called it, is a truly wonderful place to visit!
If you are still unsure of things to do in York, why not take a look at more of Yorks attractions and events in our other York tourism and travel information guides:
- Top 10 free things to do in York
- Kids activities in York
- Whats on in York
- What to do in York Today?
- York tourist information guide
- 20 Must See Points of Interest in York