Best Things to do in York – York is a magnificent city to live in or visit, with so many things to do and see. We have sites of historical importance, beautiful streets, fun attractions, cracking theatres and fab restaurants.
For events, gigs and theatre listings, see our monthly guide to What’s on in York.
York Minster is one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals, and towers above all the rest of the buildings in York. It can be seen on the horizon for miles around. It is a stunning building to visit. You can also explore its undercroft or climb the high central tower for some magnificent views.
Plus, your entrance ticket is valid from a full year from your first visit. “York Minster is the second-largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe and clearly charts the development of English Gothic architecture from Early English through to the Perpendicular Period. The present building was begun in about 1230 and completed in 1472.”
York Minster is included in The York Pass.
See York from a different perspective during a 45-minute or 1-hour cruise on the River Ouse. Relax during a leisurely sail, accompanied by commentary that details the history and culture of York, and enjoy unobstructed views of landmarks such as Clifford’s Tower and the Museum Gardens.
Choose from several departure times to suit your schedule. 45 minutes or 1-hour sightseeing cruise in York See the historic city of York from a different perspective during the cruise.
Clifford’s Tower is very central in York, and situated between the Castle Museum and the Jorvik Viking Centre. It’s looked after by English Heritage so will be included if you have an English Heritage card. “The stunning panoramic views over Old York from the top of Clifford’s Tower, make it the ideal starting point for any visit to the city.
There’s plenty to discover at this imposing tower standing proud on its high mound. It is almost all that remains of York Castle built by William the Conqueror, and has served as a prison and a royal mint in its time. Enjoy unrivalled views of York Minster and the city of York, with its medieval churches and buildings. In the distance you can see as far as the North York Moors.”
Join Mad Alice on The Bloody Tour of York as you wander “the streets and snickleways to historic landmarks. With 2000 years of history, York has fascinating stories of the macabre and the extraordinary. Uncover the tales of the Romans, the Viking invasion and the Plague amongst tales of torture and execution.
The history of the city is brought to life in this award-winning 90 minute tour which is suitable for gruesome little ones. Learn about the city’s most famous son Guy Fawkes and what really drove him to want to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605. Dick Turpin, the famous Highwayman was hanged at York in 1739 but he was caught by sheer luck. Margaret Clitherow, martyr and Saint lived amongst the entrailed and blood-soaked Shambles in the 1580’s.”
Accessibility: Suitable for all ages and fully accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. The walk takes a steady pace around the city. If there are any mobility issues, please talk to Mad Alice at the beginning of the tour who will tailor the tour to be more comfortable. Accompanying carers are invited onto the tour free of charge.
The Bar Walls
The Bar Walls are the thick stone walls that circle the city. They are not entirely complete but are a great (free!) activity to do with older children.
There are steps to climb and not all of the walls are fenced (meaning a drop to one side) so bear that in mind if there are accessibility issues or wild toddlers! You get a view of the city and The Minster from the walls that you just don’t get to see otherwise.
See our detailed post about and map of the Bar Walls here.
Take a Tour
There are lots of different tours to take in York from historic to quirky. You can see York on the open top hop-on-hop-off bus, or take one of the many walking tours around York. Explore York’s past through the buildings and the stories of people who lived here.
How about joining one of our famous ghost walks in the evening (I’ve done many and they are brilliant fun!), we also have a Ghost Bus tour! You can tour York on one of City Cruises’s boats and have lunch or afternoon tea on there. Another tour that sounds great fun is the ‘Bloody York Gin Tour’, which is a two-hour walking and gin-drinking tour – a boozy ghost walk if you will. For more ideas check out What To Do In.
City Cruises and the Hop-on-Hop-off buses are included in The York Pass.
The Magic Hatter is bringing his award-winning entertainment to the streets, with his Wizard Walk of York.
“Magic, mystery, comedy and excitement plus a dash of York’s history…the ingredients for a truly unforgettable experience for all the family!”
Public tours are running on selected evenings, starting from the bottom of The Shambles opposite The Golden Fleece. Pre-booking required. Private tours are available for birthdays, school groups, brownies, cubs and more. A wonderfully whimsical tour that wizard fans will go Potty for!
Wizard Wand Kits are also available, subject to availability. A handcrafted wand and instructions for seven tricks that young witches and wizards can learn at home. Plus a FREE printable certificate!
** Note from Nikki: If you have younger kids with you, there is no better tour for you. We have seen The Magic Hatter many, many times when the kids were little and wholeheartedly recommend him. **
Journey back in time on a hop-on hop-off bus tour of York. Your flexible 24-hour ticket enables you build a custom itinerary of York’s main attractions such as The Stonebow, Clifford’s Tower, Museum Gardens and more. With unobstructed views from the open-top viewing deck and 20 possible stops around town, you have the best of the city at your fingertips. City Sightseeing hop-on hop-off tour of York with audio commentary
10 Castlegate, York YO1 9RG
How would you fancy making your own chocolate bar at York Cocoa Works? We recently visited and did their Manufactory Tour as well as making our own chocolate. It was interesting, informative and great fun!
See our review of York Cocoa Works here.
The Shambles is one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe. Although none of the original shop-fronts have survived from medieval times, some properties still have exterior wooden shelves, reminders of when cuts of meat were served from the open windows.
We have two Harry Potter shops and a Ghost Shop in The Shambles!
The Museum Gardens
Another free activity in the centre of York, the Museum Gardens are a lovely place to explore. On a summer’s day you can bring a picnic here and relax on a bench or the grass. You can also explore the ruins of the medieval St. Mary’s Abbey, or visit The Yorkshire Museum.
“There is so much to see and do including a chance to see inside Yorkshire’s oldest working observatory, wander round the gardens and see the vast botanical collection, spot some of the 40 species of bird within the gardens and visit the award winning Yorkshire Museum, which showcases some of Britain’s finest archaeological treasures and many rare animals, birds and fossils, in exciting new displays.”
York Castle Museum
The York Castle Museum is brilliant, interesting and fun with lots of things to look at and explore. They have Kirkgate, a Victorian street, as well as actual (historic!) prison cells. They also have lovely Christmas events too.
Challenge Yourself with an Escape Room
Here is a fun idea to try something different. York has several escape room companies now and each one has several different themed rooms you can try, from the fun sounding Ministry of Wizards to the spooky sounding Boneyard Cemetery.
Have a look at our list of Escape Rooms in York.
Best Things to do in York
Thor’s Tipi or Sol Ast
Every summer and Christmas time York hosts a unique pop-up Viking bar experience. At Christmas, we see Thor’s Tipi in Parliament Street as an accompaniment to York Christmas Market, You can sip around a roaring fire drinking cocktails or laced hot chocolates.
In the summer, the fun moves to SOL AST in the gardens of The Principal Hotel. Here you can enjoy the alfresco vibe while lanterns swing lazily from the trees around you.
“As well as being full of architectural treasures, York also has a strong association with the world’s most famous wizard. Get an intimate glimpse into the city while visiting places significant to J K Rowling and Harry Potter on a magical walking tour, ideal for fans of the books and movies.
Traveling on foot means you’ll avoid traffic and be able to stop at points of interest without the hassle of parking. Discover easy-to-miss places significant to J K Rowling and Harry Potter Get a more intimate glimpse into York on a walking tour Benefit from the insider knowledge of a guide Explore without the hassle of parking or traffic.
Read more about Original Harry Potter Locations Tour – York.”
See our post about finding Harry Potter in York here.
Van Gogh Immersive Experience
The Van Gogh Immersive Experience, located in York St Mary’s on Castlegate (adjacent to JORVIK Viking Centre) is currently open daily from 10am to 5pm (last admissions). Prebooking is recommended, though walk-up visits are also welcome, including holders of York Pass.
The Van Gogh Immersive Experience is included in The York Pass.
National Railway Museum, York
From steam rides to storytelling, the National Railway Museum has lots of hands-on fun for the whole family. Entry to the National Railway Museum is free.
Beningbrough Hall is around a 15 mile drive from York. It’s a magnificent country house and gardens run by the National Trust. There is lots to do within the house itself, and gorgeous grounds to explore. There is a very fine adventure playground for the kids, gift shop and cafes.
Beningbrough Hall is included in The York Pass.
The Yorkshire Museum
The Yorkshire Museum sits in the heart of York Museum Gardens, in the centre of York. The museum was opened in 1830 by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country.
Reopened on 1 August 2010 following a nine-month £2million refurbishment project the Museum houses five galleries showcasing some of Britain’s finest archaeological treasures and many rare animals, birds and fossils, in exciting displays.
York Art Gallery
York Art Gallery’s collection of paintings spans more than 600 years and works range from 14th century Italian panels and 17th century Dutch masterpieces to Victorian narrative paintings and 20th century works by LS Lowry and David Hockney.
The Mansion House
St. Helen’s Square, York YO1 9QL
The Mansion House is the home of the Lord Mayor of York. “Following a period of extensive restoration, York Mansion House opened fully to the public for the first time in 2018, welcoming visitors from around the world to an inspiring, interactive experience, walking them through the story of York’s past and present.
Housing the city’s incredible civic treasures, and unique gold and silver collections, the dramatic interiors take the visitor on a journey from the grandeur of the State Room, to life below stairs in the restored Georgian kitchen.”
The Mansion House is included in The York Pass.
The York Dungeon brings together an amazing cast of historic characters, immersive sets and surprising special-effects. It’s great fun, comedic, and occasionally a bit grim, but the acting and quality of the place is impressive.
The York Dungeon is included in The York Pass.
Ten Pin Bowling
We have two ten pin bowling alleys in York. Ten Pin has been in place for many years whilst Hollywood Bowl has more recently opened. As well as bowling both have a cafe and arcade.
See our review of Hollywood Bowl here.
Puttstars Mini Golf
Puttstars Mini Golf opened recently and the first time York has had a mini-golf of this size. It’s very modern with great technological scoring and cool holes to play. There are three 9 hole courses, an arcade and cafe bar.
See our review of Puttstars here.
Visit Dick Turpin’s Grave
The infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was tried and hanged in York for horse theft in 1739. His body lies in St George’s Graveyard – the entrance to the graveyard is on the corner of Lead Mill Lane and George Street.
Visit the Theatre
There are several theatres in York. The biggest two are the Grand Opera House which has a varied programme of musicals, plays and tribute acts, as well as a pantomime at Christmas.
The York Theatre Royal has two stages, the main stage and a smaller, more intimate studio. The main stage tends to be plays and touring theatre companies while the studio often has done great children’s theatre. They also have a panto every Christmas.
There are also two out of town multiplexes. There is Vue at Clifton Moor with a modern foyer and all screens with recliner seats.
Cineworld at Monk’s Cross opened more recently and is very modern with a VIP room, IMAX and Screen X.
There are so many festivals in York – we are a big festival city! To name a few there is the Jorvik Viking Festival, York Christmas Festival, the York Festival of Food and Drink and the York Resident’s Festival.
See our list of all the great festivals in York here.
Dine in or out – York Restaurants
We have lots of fabulous restaurants in York from our humble but delicious fish and chips eaten from the paper on a park bench to fine dining in one of our many upmarket restaurants.
Have a look at our post on the best restaurants in York here.
Pubs and Bars
York has a fabulous array of places to drink and socialise. Famously, in our relatively small city you can drink in a different pub every day for a whole year!
Whether you are looking for a wine bar, gin bar or a cosy, traditional pub, York has them all!
See our list of the best Bars in York here.
Wine Tasting, Gin Tasting or Cocktail Making
If you are looking for something different in the evening, why not check out our posts on where you can try wine tasting, gin experiences or cocktail making classes?
Cookery Classes in York
Why not have a bit of fun brushing up your culinary skills? You can try artisan bread making, become a chocolatier for the day, try South East Asian cuisine or learn how to cooked a really good steak.
Have a look at our posts on Cookery Schools in (and near) York.