York is a beautifully preserved medieval city in the north of England that is well deserving of a place on anyone’s UK travel itinerary.
You could easily spend three or four days walking the ancient streets, admiring the incredible architecture and visiting the huge number of attractions. With plenty of options both indoors and outdoors you can happily visit York at any time of year, which is pretty handy given that England does like to rain on occasion.
We’ve tried to keep the selection quite varied so that whether you’re looking for museums, history, architecture or something to do with the kids, then this list will have you covered.
Top things to do in York (from a local’s perspective)
This is not a list of absolutely everything to do in York because there really is a lot to do, so if there is something that we have missed that you do think should be in this video then please do let us and any other viewers know in the comments down below.
1. York City Walls
We’re going to start this list with my personal favourite thing to do in York and that is to walk the City Walls. The York walls are the most complete example of medieval city walls that you will find still standing in England today.
The walk is over two and a half miles long although this does include a few breaks in between where you will need to cross roads. These breaks do mean that you can easily enter and exit the walls at different points so you don’t have to do the full walk if you don’t want to.
As you walk the walls you will get great perspective over the city buildings and beautiful gardens, spot interesting brass markers on the floor and pass by gate houses, known as bars, which are tall towers which acted to defend the city.
Not only are these walls a great way to spend an hour or two getting a feel for the city but walking the city walls is free. There are a couple of small museums along the wall on Henry VIII and Richard III that you can visit for a fee, but to just pop up and go for a stroll above the streets there is no charge.
Not only does York have the best preserved medieval city walls in the country but it also has arguably the best preserved medieval street in the country too.
2. The Shambles
The Shambles is a narrow cobbled street lined with old crooked leaning buildings and one of York’s most photographed streets, giving off Diagon Alley vibes!
It is sometimes said that there is a point where the top floors lean so close together that supposedly you could actually shake hands through the window with the person across the street from you – we have never actually tried this!
The Shambles used to be home to several butcher shops and you can still spot the meat hooks attached to the shop fronts.
The pavements were raised so that the sloped cobbled streets formed a channel for butchers to be able to dump the blood and waste from their shop to be washed away.
Fortunately the street is much more sanitary today and is now filled with shops and places to grab something to eat.
York is a great place to indulge your sweet tooth. You can start right here on The Shambles with a visit to York’s longest established artisan chocolatiers. Monk Bar Chocolatiers create over 50 types of luxury handmade chocolates.
If fudge is more your thing then try visiting the Fudge Kitchen. Their creamy fudge is so nice and comes in lots of different flavors and if you time your trip just right you might even get to see them making some of the fudge right there in the store.
Shambles Kitchen is an ideal stop for anyone who likes slow cooked meat. Their popular pulled pork sandwiches are absolutely delicious.
Another excellent option for sandwiches is the York Roast Company where you can grab yourself a roast dinner-inspired sandwich. You can even get to your meat, roast vegetables, stuffing and gravy served up inside a yorkshire pudding wrap.
For some more varied options head to Shambles food court over at Shambles market for some street food.
Pizza, crepes, hot dogs, thai dishes, burritos and more, you’re bound to see something that you like the look of, and when you’re finished you can take a look around the market stalls.
3. York Minster
Next on our list is a must do for your trip and that is to visit the iconic York Minster. This incredible building is one of the largest cathedrals in northern Europe. It took around 250 years to build and really is a sight to behold.
If you like you can admire the minster from the outside, but if it’s within your budget we would recommend paying the £11.50 admission fee to go inside and see more of the medieval stained glass and intricate carved stonework.
Your admission also includes an informative tour from an extremely knowledgeable guide who will talk you through the history, architecture and stories behind the Minster. In addition to the main entrance fee you can also purchase an add-on if you would like to climb the 275 steps to the top of the minster tower.
Once you’re back outside if you pop into the adjacent Dean’s park you can get some lovely views of the minster from another angle.
While we’re talking about paid attractions we want to mention the York City Pass. Once you have decided what attractions you would like to visit, make sure you work out ahead of time whether or not you would save money by purchasing the York Pass rather than paying for attractions individually.
If you buy the pass it allows you free entry into many attractions in and around York but depending on your plans it won’t necessarily work out cheaper.
4. Cliffords Tower
While in York you can visit Clifford’s Tower sitting on a great mound in the city centre. This 13th century stone tower is all that remains of the Norman Castle.
Once inside you can learn about the dark, tragic history of the tower. You can also walk around the top which was once used as a vantage point for the castle guards – this has recently been renovated to enhance the experience for all visitors.
From here there are some terrific panoramic views over the city and on a clear day you can see as far as the North York Moors.
Admission is approximately £6.50 for adults £3.90 for children, or free for English Heritage members.
5. York Castle Museum
Close to Clifford’s Tower is York Castle Museum which is housed inside old prison buildings (you can even peek into one of the prison cells!).
For £12 admission you can explore various immersive exhibitions from the history of children’s toys to world war one, but the highlight of the museum is the recreation of a victorian street where you can explore narrow alleyways complete with period shops and living spaces.
Not only is York Castle Museum a fantastic attraction but it is also said to be one of many haunted locations in York, which takes us to our next activity: explore haunted York. York claims to be the most haunted city in Europe and with a dark history and over 500 ghostly sightings recorded so far it’s not really a surprise that many people think York is worthy of this title.
You may want to join in one of several ghost walks where you will be guided through the ancient streets and recounted ghoulish tales of the city’s past.
Alternatively you can explore York’s darkest history at York Dungeon where you’re taken through several different interactive shows with enthusiastic live actors and special effects.
It’s really good fun. If all the spookiness is making you thirsty then you could stop by one of several of York’s haunted pubs which takes us to the next point on our list.
Visit one of York’s unique drinking holes. You’ll be spoiled for choice as York has more than 365 pubs meaning that you could visit a different pub every day of the year without visiting the same one twice.
We’ll start off with one of those haunted pubs that we mentioned. The Golden Fleece, which was formerly a high-class medieval inn and coach house, is one of the oldest and most haunted pubs in York.
Said to be home to several resident ghosts you could see Lady Alice Peckett roaming the corridors or one-eyed Jack in the bottom bar wearing his red coat.
And even if you don’t see any strange happenings on your visit it’s still a lovely old pub to stop in for a pint.
For a spooky free visit.. well, probably, you never know when in York… then you might want to try Pivni.
This pub is set in a cozy 16th century half-timbered townhouse and has a good selection of real ales and craft beers.
Another great option for beer lovers is the House of Trembling Madness. Make your way up the narrow staircase to the tiny upstairs medieval tavern. Here you’ll find high ceilings, old wooden beams, a wall filled with mounted taxidermy and a warm cozy atmosphere. We enjoyed the beers they have on offer and the food, while being limited in choice, has in our experience always been pretty tasty.
If it’s cocktails you’re after then stumble just a couple of doors down the street to Evil Eye. This colourful bar and gin shop has a huge menu of classic and signature cocktails, and having tried many concoctions from here over the years I can honestly say that every drink I have had has been absolutely delicious and often pretty strong as well.
6. Museum Gardens
Next on our list is York Museum Gardens. These botanical gardens are a peaceful oasis in the centre of York and we find they make a really nice break from the crowded streets.
As well as being free to enter and beautiful all year round, the gardens are also home to the ruins of Saint Mary’s Abbey.
The abbey was first built in 1088 by William the Conqueror and was once the richest abbey in northern England. However as Henry VIII dissolved monasteries throughout the country St Mary’s Abbey, like so many others, fell into disrepair.
These incredible ruins are now a highlight of the gardens and you should try to factor some time into your trip to take a stroll here, especially if the weather is on your side.
York, previously renamed Jorvik, was first invaded by the vikings in the year 866. They settled in and ruled over the city for around a century.
7. Jorvik Viking Centre
If you’re interested in learning more about viking history, archaeology and what viking life would have been like, then you can visit Jorvik Viking Centre.
The fun dark ride which takes you through the sights, sounds and smells of a replica viking village, so you really get a feel for what life was like during the viking times.
The staff are incredibly knowledgable and the whole experience is interactive, making it perfect for people of all ages, who are guaranteed to enjoy every moment.
We recommend pre-booking as the Jorvik can get busy during peak times (you often see a queue forming outside).
8. National Railway Museum
Near York train station is the National Railway Museum, which is the largest museum of its kind in the country.
Even as someone who isn’t particularly interested in trains i still thought this was a fantastic attraction in York and well worth visiting.
The museum has a huge collection of locomotives of various types from different periods in history.
I particularly enjoyed being able to peer inside the royal carriages, walk through the 1970s shinkansen, otherwise known as the bullet train, and being able to actually walk underneath one of the locomotives.
The museum is completely free to enter with a suggested donation and is open from 10am until 5 or 6pm depending on the time of year.
Take a stroll down the paved banks of the picturesque River Ouse and watch the birds and the boats go by.
If you like you can join the short cruise on an open decked sightseeing boat, or if you would rather do the driving yourself you can hire a small boat for up to one hour.
If you like a good street name then you’ll love spotting some of the names of the streets in York.
The most famous and most peculiar is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. This is the shortest street in York and in 1505 was known as Whitnourwhatnourgate which translated to what a street. The more eagle-eyed among you may notice when walking around York that there are small cat statues dotted around various buildings.
It is thought that originally cat statues were placed on buildings to ward away evil spirits and to frighten away rats which carried the plague and other illnesses.
A fun and free activity is to pick up a map from York Glass, located on The Shambles, or download the map to your phone and follow the trail, trying to spot the different cats hidden around the city.
9. York Air Museum
If you do have time for a day trip from York then we would recommend York Air Museum.
Today it is one of the largest independent aviation museums in the country and houses historic aircrafts, vehicles and fascinating exhibits within restored original World War II buildings.
10. York Chocolate Story
If you love chocolate, and who doesn’t right? Then York’s Chocolate Story is the perfect place to visit. You can see how chocolate is made, taste test some freshly made pieces and delve into the history of how chocolate first made it to the UK shores.
It’s ideal for the whole family and very interactive so you won’t feel like you’re walking round a museum.
We hope you enjoy your stay in York and get to visit some of the most popular sights. Let us know what you go up to in York below.
Why not consider the York Pass that allows you to access all of the exciting attractions York has to offer?