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. As well as cool bars and a pub for almost every day of the year and amazing amounts of festivals! We also have a list of things to do with kids in York.
Many of the below attractions are included in the York Pass. Have a look at our review of the best way to see more for less money.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 now have four Harry Potter shops and a Ghost Shop in The Shambles!
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.
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.
Visit York’s Harry Potter Locations
York has lots of Harry Potter associations as well as one of the scenes from Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone being filmed here. From Harry Potter shops to staying in a wizard themed apartment, have a look at York’s Harry Potter connections.
See our post about finding Harry Potter in York here.
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.
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 York Dungeon
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.
Ten Pin Bowling
We have two ten pin bowling alleys in York. Ten Pin has been in place for many years whilst Hollywood Bowl opened in the summer of 2020. As well as bowling both have a cafe and arcade.
See our review of Hollywood Bowl here.
Puttstars Mini Golf
Puttstars Mini Golf opened in the summer of 2020 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 four cinemas in York. There are two in York City Centre, the Everyman, and the City Screen which is in the city centre on Coney Street, overlooking the river. There are also two out of town multiplexes. There is Vue at Clifton Moor that had a major refurbishment in 2019, with a new modern foyer and all screens with recliner seats. Cineworld at Monk’s Cross opened in December 2019 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. Or you could go international with Chinese, Italian, Indian or even Korean food. We have some amazing places for brunch or afternoon tea too.
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?