The historic city of York is the traditional county town of Yorkshire and one of the United Kingdom’s most popular tourist destinations, successfully appealing to domestic and overseas visitors alike.
From its rich and storied history and its spectacular architecture to some of the more modern tourist sites, there is no shortage of things for visitors to see and do during their time in the city. In actual fact, York is said to have more attractions per square mile than any other location in Britain, even including London!
With such an abundance of places to explore, and with new attractions being added all the time, it can sometimes be difficult for tourists to know where to begin – even if they have been to the city in the past. Here, we take a closer look at the top 10 things to do in York.
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One of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, York Minster is the city’s foremost tourist attraction, and the stunning building hosts a number of attractions, events, and family activities all year round. However, perhaps the most unique and memorable experience the building provides is the spectacular views from the top of the central tower.
Those who are physically fit enough to climb the steep stairway to the top are rewarded with spectacular sweeping views of the city, and way out into the countryside beyond.
The medieval city walls that surround York are one of its most famous features and walking the length of them remains an extremely popular activity for tourists, especially during the summer months. The walls have had a presence in the city since Roman times and York has more miles of wall left to explore than any other UK city.
A complete circuit of the walls is approximately 4.5 miles in length and takes 1½ to two hours to walk. Those who are slightly more pressed for time, or less mobile, may just wish to explore a short section, such as the stretch between Monk Bar and Bootham Bar.
The award-winning National Railway Museum attracts close to one million visitors every year. It tells the story of the huge impact rail transport has had on British life and showcases a collection of more than 1 million different objects and 100 locomotives, including a working replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, designed way back in 1829.
Visitors can learn about advances in rail technology, watch classic footage, witness theatrical performances and even hop aboard a Japanese Bullet Train. Best of all, the museum is open all year round and admission is free.
For a city tour that anyone can enjoy, why not try the Ghost Hunt of York? Led by a tour guide in Victorian attire, the ‘hunt’ takes groups through the York streets, with entertaining ghost stories being shared along the way. However, there are moments of comedy to lighten the mood, including several opportunities for audience participation.
The tour has won several awards in recent years and takes place every night, starting at 7.30pm, regardless of the weather. There is no need for advanced booking, although private bookings are available for those hoping for a more exclusive experience for their family or group of friends.
Visitors who enjoy a combination of information and entertainment will love the experience of entering the York Dungeon. Detailing the darker side of the city’s history, guests can learn about famous historical figures like Guy Fawkes and Dick Turpin, all through a combination of live performances, rides, special effects and more.
A trip to the York Dungeon is a great family outing and it takes around 70 minutes to complete a full circuit. The route itself is lined with numerous trained actors, all in full costume, helping visitors to fully immerse themselves as they make their way through.
The Shambles is the name given to a famous and beautifully preserved medieval shopping street in the city. Lined by overhanging Tudor buildings, some of which date back as far as the 14th century, the street is extremely narrow by design and the Google Street View Awards named it as the most picturesque street in the whole of Britain.
Its name is derived from the fact that the street was formerly dominated by butchers shops. Yet, today The Shambles is home to a number of traditional boutiques, sweet shops, book shops and cafés, and has become especially popular with visitors seeking souvenirs to take home with them.
The city of York was once under Viking rule and the Jorvik Viking Centre presents this period of history in an accessible way, by recreating the scenery of that time. The main attraction within the centre is a ride, which effectively transports people back in time, showing them what the city looked like and even what it smelled like.
Models of medieval buildings and of people living in the Viking age help to bring the ‘Time Warp’ experience to life. Moreover, an annual Viking festival takes place at the centre every February, and this event includes combat re-enactments and plenty of further entertainment for all age groups.
Throughout the years, factories in York have invented some of the world’s most famous chocolate products, including the KitKat, the Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Smarties. York’s Chocolate Story is a guided tour, which tells the story of York’s relationship with chocolate and even allows visitors to get ‘hands on’ as they progress.
During the tour, visitors will learn the history of chocolate, as well as how to make it. The ‘Factory Zone’ presents guests with the opportunity to create their own chocolate bar to take away with them, while the ‘Indulgence Zone’ provides a great opportunity for some shopping at the end of the tour.
York Maze is widely regarded as one of the city’s best family attractions, providing entertainment for children and adults. The main attraction, the Maize Maze, is the largest maze in the country and is constructed from over 1 million living plants. In total, it spans an area equivalent to more than half a dozen football pitches.
There are various additional mazes to explore, but there are also a number of other activities to try out, including an adventure playground for children, and a number of shows and rides to appeal to the whole family. Furthermore, in recent times, the York Maze has emerged as a popular wedding venue for couples celebrating their special day.
Located on the site of the castle built by William the Conqueror, the York Castle Museum is home to a number of fascinating galleries. These include ‘The Cells’, which explores the old Debtors Prison where Dick Turpin was once kept, as well as a new gallery, created to mark the First World War’s centenary in 2014.
However, arguably the most famous part of the museum is ‘Kirkgate’; an accurately recreated full Victorian street. Every shop on the street is based on a genuine York business from the 19th century, and guides are on hand to provide more information about each of them.