Introducing guest blogger Sinead from Map Made Memories
The historic city of York in northern England is a great destination for a family trip as there are attractions to suit all ages and interests. The city has a rich cultural heritage and you can experience the Roman, Viking, Victorian and Georgian eras – all in one day!
York is a compact city which is easily covered on foot. With great discounts available for families, it is also an affordable family destination. York is just two hours by train from central London and three hours from Edinburgh – let’s explore the 10 best things to do in York!
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of local parents
No other building inside the city walls is permitted to be taller than this cathedral so you cannot miss it! Up to three children under 16 are free with each paying adult and once inside, there are regular tours with special family-friendly tours every Saturday. Plus, children can borrow for free a Little Explorer Backpack with age-appropriate trails and activities inside.
The ornate gothic cathedral is beautiful both inside and out. Children enjoy spotting the intricate, characterful gargoyles on the outside and marvelling at the largest expanse of stained glass in the world on the inside! Explore the eerie crypt, visit the excellent Undercroft Museum and see the highly decorated Chapter House. Anyone over 8 years old can climb the 275 steps of the central tower for a fantastic birds’ eye view of York.
York City Walls
York’s medieval city walls are two miles long and are the longest city walls in England. The free to walk walls can be accessed at any of the four imposing medieval stone gateways known in York as ‘bars.’ The walls provide wonderful views of the city, particularly the section that winds its way behind York Minster.
Cliffords Tower is the remains of a Norman ‘keep’ or fort. It is a slightly lopsided open roofed tower on an artificial hill right in the city centre! After climbing the very steep entrance stairs, explore the history of the keep before ending your visit with a short climb to the escarpment for a 360-degree view of York.
Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre is the most visited museum in the city. It charts the history of the Vikings in York and displays artefacts found on this site during an archeological dig. Everyone’s favourite section of the museum is a historical ‘cab’ ride through a recreated Viking village with real sounds – and disgusting smells!
Visiting The Shambles is like stepping back in time. This lopsided, dark and gloomy cobbled shopping street was once the home of the butcher’s shops of York. If you look closely you can still see the hundreds of years old meat hooks hanging from the shop windows. Harry Potter fans must walk The Shambles as it is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.
York Dungeons is a very different type of museum! In an entertaining 90-minute tour, real actors and computer graphics relate gruesome tales from York’s macabre past. It is only suitable for older children and teens – and those who don’t scare easily!
Museums of York
In such a small city there are a number of excellent museums to choose from. The free to enter National Railway Museum is a local favourite. We love travelling by train so it is the perfect museum for our family!
On a huge covered site, the museum houses gleaming carriages from railway history including Stevensons ‘The Rocket’, a royal train carriage and a nose cone of the Eurostar.
There is a small outdoor playground, a miniature railway and fun science shows throughout the day. The Yorkshire Museum has excellent exhibits on the Roman and Viking history of York. Our kids love the section about dinosaurs and Yorkshires Jurassic coast.
York Castle Museum is my favourite museum in York. The museum charts the more recent history of York such as life in York during the World Wars. It includes a life-sized recreation of a cobbled Victorian street with real shops that you can enter.
The shopkeepers talk about their daily lives and work. York Castle Museum used to be the courthouse and prison for the city of York so don’t miss the eerie cells of the old prison where you can hear the tragic tales of the prisoners including the infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin.
York’s Chocolate Story
York has a long history of chocolate making and there is still one chocolate factory in production today. On a good day, you can smell the melting chocolate! The York’s Chocolate Story explains this history with an interesting and engaging tour which ends with a chance to make your own decorated chocolate lollipop!
York Art Gallery
An art gallery may not immediately spring to mind as a child-friendly attraction but our kids love York Art Gallery. Throughout the gallery, there are sketchbooks and colours for kids to draw the art and sculpture they can see. There is an art studio which regularly runs free or low-cost drop-in art workshops at weekends and school holidays.
York parks and playgrounds
York has some wonderful parks and playgrounds. Pretty Deans Park is a peaceful park lying directly behind York Minster with fabulous views of the cathedral. The Museum Gardens (home of the Yorkshire Museum) is a great place for a runaround. The lovely gardens also house an observatory, the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, the 15th-century Hospitium plus an original Roman tower!
A short fifteen-minute walk alongside the River Ouse will bring you to Rowntrees Park, much loved by local families. The park has two age-appropriate playgrounds, tennis courts, skateboard track and a large pond. It is a great location for a picnic.
York is a vibrant city which is great to visit at any time of year. There are year-round festivals and events which families will love such as the Ice Sculpture trail in January, the Viking festival in February and the child-friendly fringe festival in July. You will never be stuck for something to do with kids in the beautiful city of York.
About the Blogger
Map Made Memories is run by me, Sinead, a travel mad U.K based mum of three. Our family of five have visited 33 countries together and have no plans on stopping! Map Made Memories aims to show that affordable family travel is possible and fun!
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