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There are many fun things to do in York, so your trip will be filled with exciting activities. Whether you’re looking for architectural beauty, historical significance, ghost or goblins, this town has it all.
Located in North Yorkshire, you can expect beautiful scenery from every angle. This lowland area is best known for their pubs, tea rooms and, of course, the bell towers of mediaeval origin.
The city was raised on Roman roots and has come a long way since Vikings and many others occupied the land.
As interesting as this city is, it can also be quite daunting to travel without knowing what to do.
Whether you’re looking for a fun day trip to York or hoping to stay awhile, this guide has you covered. Keep reading to learn more about where to stay, where to eat and what fun things to do in York UK.
The history of York is a lengthy one. It dates back to around 7000 BC during the Roman period before it was dubbed a city of England.
The land itself was inhabited by Celtics, Angles, Vikings and even Northumbrian Kings throughout the years.
The city’s history is as complex as it is long since it contains multiple stories of conquest, civil unrest and tidbits of information that will leave any history buff on the edge of their seats.
Your experiences in York will reveal a more profound history to you. But understanding the history beforehand can deepen an appreciation for your chosen activities.
Best Things to Do in York UK
If you’re looking for fun activities, York has something to tantalise the taste buds of every traveller.
From exploring history museums, nature and gardens to a lovely ghost walk at midnight, there are so many activities to do in York you may want to extend your stay.
1. See York Minster
As far as must-see places to go, York Minster is one of the top tier additions that just should not be missed. If you’re a lover of architecture and adore cathedrals, then this one is a no-brainer.
It’s also pretty great for a quick look around as the mediaeval space brings to life the Roman and Viking history that this city is known for.
You can either see both the tower and the Minster or just the Minster if you’re with kids or anyone too frail to climb all those stairs.
The Tower, however, requires you to be 18 years or older to climb up to the highest point in all of York. The central tower boasts magnificent views, and the Minster provides an indescribable atmosphere.
Head down to the Undercroft Museum, the gift shop or simply enter the Minster for free to attend a church service, light a candle or pray.
2. See The Shambles
There are certain York activities that will have you feeling like you’ve just stepped off the set of a Harry Potter film.
While the actual movie wasn’t shot here, many people have confused The Shambles with the set of Diagon Alley from the Philosopher’s Stone.
This old mediaeval street has unique architecture, like the timber framing on each building. The Shambles was previously used as a slaughterhouse and butchery. The last remaining butchery closed down circa 1885.
Currently, you can still see the shelving used in the past that displayed the meat, but instead of beef, you’ll find bookshops, restaurants, a wizard shop and so much more.
3. Do a Ghost Tour
With a ton of daytime stuff to do in York, here’s something that may keep you out of sleep. Explore the dark side of this quaint city by adventuring into the night on a bus, listening to ghost stories.
While this isn’t exactly for the faint of heart, it is an interesting way to end off a busy day exploring museums. Especially since some aspects of this tour are filled with ‘dark’ humour.
Learn all there is to know about the eerie elements of the city’s greatest attractions. If you’ve got a keen sense of imagination and a penchant for the sinister, this ghost bus tour should definitely be added to your itinerary.
4. Visit Clifford’s Tower
If you’ve decided to take a walking tour of York, you’ll most definitely come across Clifford’s Tower. It is one of the most adored landmarks in York, thanks to its history and significance.
The tower has been rather versatile in the past. William the Conqueror built the castle, but it was also used for more sinister matters.
During your tour, you’ll hear about a massacre that took place in 1190, the role it played in the war with Scotland and how it transformed into new courthouses.
Clifford’s Tower has around nine centuries of compelling history. There are also Instagram-worthy panoramic views towering over the south side of the River Foss.
5. Go on An Ouse Cruise
What’s posher than a lovely afternoon tea along a river? Or maybe you’d prefer to see the sights in style? Well, one of the fun things to do in York exists right on the Ouse River.
An Ouse cruise allows you to view the world of historical York from a whole new perspective.
Since the Ouse is well-known for flooding during the rainy seasons, it’s best to take advantage while the waters are calm (and low).
6. Have Afternoon Tea
If you prefer something extra English, try a cup of your favourite tea on the afternoon tea cruise.
Here you’ll be spoiled with tasty sandwiches, cakes and of course – a pot of warm tea. Oh, did we mention that they serve some delectable scones as well?
7. Castle Howard
The Castle Howard is a fabulous castle grounds opened to the public for a ton of thrilling activities during the summer.
In the house, you can listen to talks as your marvel at the stunning interior designs. You’ll find that there are various exhibitions and displays available as well as unique collections and archives for you to venture through.
Outside in the gardens, you and the family can check out the walled or woodland garden as well as various temples and monuments. If you’d like, you can also learn about their wildlife and conservation efforts.
Be sure to check the schedule as they do routine maintenance during the cold season.
8. Yorkshire Museums and Gardens
Right alongside the River Ouse, you’ll find the beautiful botanical gardens and within it, the Yorkshire Museum.
The biggest drawcard is the distinctive beauty and element of nature from the gardens set against the mediaeval backdrop of St. Mary’s Abbey.
If you’re a sucker for some satisfyingly pruned shrubbery, love the feeling of old wise trees surrounding you or simply need a break to smell the roses, this is a noteworthy escape.
Not only is it a wonderfully Instagram-worthy location but it offers you a place to sit back, unwind and dabble in the dirt before heading off to the Yorkshire Museum.
9. Visit Breezy Knees Garden
In the flower garden of Yorkshire, you’ll get to see a true English garden. On these 20 acres stretch of land, you’re privy to all kinds of wonderful flora.
There’s an award-winning garden to tempt you and a specialist nursery to satiate your green-fingered fantasies.
On the eastern outskirts of York, the Breezy Knees Garden also has a cafe for a quick morning coffee or a lovely lunch in the summer sun.
Enjoy homemade pastries, delicious cakes, friendly staff and a wide range of blooms no matter the season.
10. Follow the York City Trails
Most of the activities in York involve a certain level of walking. This particular one takes you two miles around the ancient monument known as the City Walls.
These are England’s longest town walls and display the beautiful construction techniques used in the 13th century.
The City Wall trails cross over the River Ouse and Foss while encompassing the city. This free activity takes around two hours to complete, give or take some time to relax in the museum gardens.
11. York Maze
If you’ve ever imagined yourself amongst one million living maize plants, then the York Maze is pretty much your best photoshoot opportunity in York. Here, you can wander through (and hopefully out of) the largest maze in the United Kingdom.
While this is one of those activities that cater to your inner child, it’s best enjoyed with a couple of beautiful people by your side and someone that has their bearings.
There are also over 20 different rides and a couple of really great attractions for you to explore before calling it a day. There are tons of candies for your sweet tooth, interesting slides and a carnival.
12. National Railway Museum
This museum is the perfect stop for anyone interested in engineering and locomotives. While the museum seems best for the younger kids, there are ample activities and tons more to be learned for older visitors too.
Their collections will take you through years of locomotive history. Here, you can learn all about the pioneers that pushed the pedals of the industry to the relatively newer sustainability theories and developments.
13. Jorvik Viking Centre
Who doesn’t love a good Viking story? Well, the story of the Jorvik Viking Centre is just as intriguing. Between historical digs, a little bit of time travel and floods, the story of the Vikings will shine on through this museum.
On your trip throughout the Viking Centre, you’ll learn about the lifestyle of the Vikings. This includes who they were, what they ate, flora and fauna from that early mediaeval period, and plenty more.
You can discover everything your favourite TV show won’t tell you here. If you’re curious about the Old Norse language, here’s where you’ll catch a glimpse of it. Or, maybe you want to know why these Scandinavian warriors are called Vikings?
Either way, the Jorvik Viking Centre is an enlightening experience for anyone who chooses to visit.
14. Explore the River with Self-Drive Red Boats
While the River Ouse already features on this page, it’s beneficial to the more adventurous travellers to know that you can hire a boat and become your very own captain for an hour.
If you’re looking to trek through the waters that the Vikings themselves once used and later on discover more of the land from where they came, this trip is pretty perfect for you.
The best part about this is not the sights or the boat itself; actually, it’s the possible picnic that you can enjoy while coasting across the river. It’s one of those extra romantic things to do in York for couples.
15. Explore York’s Chocolate Story
Out of all the fun things to do in York for adults, why shouldn’t chocolate be on the list? For the budding chocolatier or just the average chocolate lover, York’s Chocolate Story is a chocolate wonderland.
You can learn how to make chocolate and the history behind the most prominent names to hit North Yorkshire. You can also discover the future of chocolate and how it takes its role in a sustainable future.
And once you’ve finished soaking up all the knowledge they have to share, why not go ahead and explore the KitKat exhibition?
Here, you can discover and create some bespoke orders as a meaningful gift for a special person or simply indulge in a master class on the chocolate itself.
What’s life without some really good food? Black pudding, Nidderdale lamb, black sheep beer and Yorkshire curd tart are just some of the delicious treats you can hope to enjoy during your trip.
The menu at York restaurants ranges from all-time classics to some exceptional vegan favourites as well.
If it’s a great piece of steak that you’re looking for, the Corner Grill House has you covered. It is also quite a romantic place with an air of occasion buzzing about.
While the atmosphere is vibrant and intimate, the quality of food is the winning ticket. So, be sure to try out their set menu cooked to absolute perfection.
The ribeye, pork medallions and sea bass have been a long-standing top choice with a delicious sticky toffee pudding to end off your evening.
Despite being a grill house, the restaurant does cater to vegetarian and vegan patrons. Even though the menu is quite limited, it’s still a delicious treat for anyone who enters.
What’s a trip to York without some typical Yorkshire treats? At Arras, you can explore the tastiness intertwined with British and European cuisine.
This foodie haven features a selection of courses that you can indulge in.
You can expect freshly baked bread or creative canapes to start you off. The Kitchen Menu features a scallop dish that is almost sinfully delicious and an unrivalled cheeseboard.
They’re even featured in the Michelin Guide, so you can rest assured that they’re exceptional. If you’re not sure which of their tasty menus to choose from, the kind and knowledgeable staff will guide you through the process, ensuring that you have the best experience here.
If you’re looking for a filling breakfast, light lunch or afternoon tea, DCH Restaurant offers beautifully presented options with delicious, well-cooked components.
Their afternoon tea is highly recommended with the usual sandwiches and finger desserts, accompanied by colourful macarons and buttery scones to boot.
Be sure to book in advance as the restaurant also serves the hotel guests. So, space may become an issue, especially if you’re a spontaneous diner.
If you’re missing your mother’s cooking, the Ebor Inn will try and solve that. This pub and grub style restaurant serves the best of local cuisine made with love.
Their steak pie and chips need to be on your bucket list. You’ll also have to squeeze in their homemade Yorkshire if you can. Or simply opt for their roast. Either way, you’ll be rolling out of there aptly satisfied.
While this place is adored by locals, it may not be where you want to sit down for a quiet meal. This pub will have you in the deep end of English culture while you meet locals at the table next to you and dive into the dish in front of you.
True York experiences comprise at least one meal true to British traditions. You have to stop at Thompsons for fantastic fish and chips. This fast-food restaurant specialises in seafood and, of course, won’t disappoint.
You can expect fresh fish covered in a light and decadent batter, with crispy chips, mushy peas and gravy. It may be best to experience it at the restaurant as they don’t do too well with deliveries.
Whatever you choose, this traditional establishment offers you good service, great food and spectacular portion sizes.
After the day is done, you’ll have to find somewhere to rest your head. With some unique stays like the Jorvik House and luxury as sweet as the Hilton, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this town. Here’s a quick list of the best places to stay in York, England.
At the Jorvik House, you’ll find modernity and comfort come to play in this beautiful 1750’s Georgian townhouse. These luxury rooms are just five minutes from York’s most prominent attractions and the main shopping district.
Experience the celebrated Yorkshire charm in these uniquely designed rooms. Each one is decorated to provide you with a quiet retreat, furnished with the best amenities.
Wake up in Egyptian cotton sheets and lather yourself in luxury bathroom products before heading out to explore the elements unique to York.
The Jorvik House also offers wonderful facilities for parking, in-house breakfast and a wonderfully equipped floor-to-ceiling library for a quiet night in.
If you’re looking for classic English luxury, The Grand, York is a wonderful place to find it. The decor is elegant, the rooms are spacious, and the hospitality is as classic as Yorkshire pudding.
This luxury 5-star hotel and spa offer patrons a space to unwind, whether you’ve chosen to stay in York for a good old fashioned holiday or if work is why you’re here.
Treat yourself to traditionally British cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients at The Rise restaurant, terrace and bar. You can also enjoy a cup of afternoon tea at The Grand with optional Prosecco or gin and tonic.
The Judge’s Lodging is a quick walk away from York Minster, The Shambles and the city wall trails. This wonderfully decorated home will leave you feeling like royalty and well-pampered.
Here you can find the usual creature comforts like decadent breakfasts, afternoon tea and a visual treat in the form of old-fashioned decor.
The hotel is a Grade I listed building that shows its value through its quirky character and modern interiors. The Judge’s Lodging is a special place for relaxation.
Whether you’re capping off at the bar before bed or enjoying your favourite roast on a Sunday, this hotel will cater to you – hand and foot.
Imagine blankets on your lap during chilly nights while you’re sipping your favourite drink or pug-faced pillows keeping you company while you read your favourite book. Well, that’s just some of what to expect when you’re at the Churchill Hotel.
Experience true lavishness with strawberry macaroons and dragon fruit slices neatly placed on a platter for your delight. Or, cool champagne and strawberries to satiate your thirst after celebrating the special occasion.
Here you can find elegantly decorated rooms, bright colours that pop against the dark mahogany backdrops and spacious living areas to call home, even if just for a few days.
This pet-friendly bed and breakfast offers you an experience second to none. There is breakfast made to order, preparing you for the day ahead, and complimentary bikes for the avid explorer. At the B + B York, you’ll find a home away from home in the heart of Yorkshire.
You can expect a full Yorkshire breakfast every morning made from quality local produce. It is one of the biggest draw-cards of this lovely establishment.
The rooms themselves are cosy and made even more delightful by the small luxury touches dotted around. Think hospitality tray, king-sized bed and your furry friend to cuddle alongside you in a private luxury suite.
In York, things to do are usually in close proximity, and that’s why staying at a nearby hotel works out so well. Principal York is within walking distance of the National Railway Museum, the Memorial Gardens and the York Railway Station.
From the hotel, you can catch a glimpse of the York Minster and the rest of the city from the comfort of your bedroom.
The rooms mix comfort, modernity and tradition in their decor to provide you with a safe place to finish a quiet cup of tea before bed.
Spend your days exploring the local area, cooling off in the swimming pool or steaming up a sweat in the sauna. Be warned though; Principal York looks after their guests so well that you may forget to actually leave the hotel.
York is not just surrounded by arable land and fertile soils. There are also a ton of things to do near York, some of which may include a little bit more adventure than you’d expect from Moorlands.
Regardless of your reasons for leaving York, the adventure continues. For the best day trips from York, think Haworth, Doncaster, Durham, Saltaire or Sheffield.
You can experience the open air and farmlands with a day trip to Yorkshire Dales. Throughout the journey, there are waterfalls to be chased, sheep grazing and castles to be admired.
If you’re looking for market towns and moorlands, a trip to Whitby and the North York Moors National Park will leave you in awe as you wander off the beaten track.
York is located on the outskirts of northeast England. It’s around 27.5 miles away from Leeds, the nearest major city, and falls within North Yorkshire. You’ll find it situated at the convergence of the Ouse and Foss rivers.
It is encircled by highways such as the A1237 as well as the A64, which makes it an easy-to-reach destination for travellers from all around the United Kingdom.
If you’re heading to York from Manchester or Liverpool, you can expect around an hour and a half or two-hour drive respectively. If you’re visiting from the capital city of London, Leeds is around a 209-mile trip away.
There are lots of ways to travel to York. Whether you prefer a car, train, bus or even ferry, your journey is covered.
If you’re coming off an international flight or just want to beat traffic, there are four airports surrounding York.
You can catch a flight to Manchester, Humberside, Sheffield or Leeds. With Leeds Bradford International Airport being so close by, you can catch a train to York from the Leeds train station.
Travelling by rail is one of the most cost-effective ways to travel to York. Leaving from a neighbouring city like London, Manchester and Nottingham will take you under two hours.
You can expect trips under three hours if you’re travelling from Edinburgh, Liverpool and Birmingham.
For those who prefer to take their journey into their own hands, you can also get there by car.
This may be a little bit more expensive, but you’re guaranteed a bit of freedom. Be sure to follow the M1/M62 motorway network straight into York.
Now that you’ve figured out what to do in York, you may have a couple of extra questions. Keep reading to find the answers you’re looking for.
In short, yes. The beautiful historical town is definitely worth a visit, coupled with all of the activities in York; you can’t go wrong.
Whether you’re into history or architecture, you’ll find this city to be quite charming. Even if those aren’t your favourite things in the world, the food, people and culture will make your trip just that much more enjoyable.
A York City Pass will allow you to try as much as you want to within a day or two (depending on the pass option you choose).
It is worth the purchase if your main reason for visiting is to explore the sights. It’s also a great purchase if you’re struggling with your itinerary and looking for a quick fix for the best things to do in York.
A day out in York has the potential to be amazing, whether it’s raining or not. This is when a York pass truly comes in handy as you can explore the things to do in York’s city centre as well as all of the museums.
If you’re sitting down somewhere wondering which things to do – York beckons to share a rich history with a vibrant atmosphere.
Don’t forget to explore the thrilling ghost tour, unique history museum, National Railway Museum and Breezy Knees Garden.
While a York pass will keep you sane by planning the day for you, there are a ton of benefits from creating your own itinerary. Regardless of what you decide to do in York, there are wonderful experiences awaiting every kind of traveller.
Be sure to check your transport options and opening times ahead of visiting in order to ensure a safe, smooth and exciting trip.
Once you’ve seen it all, check out some of the other travel destinations in England.