With more attractions per square mile than any other UK city, you’ll be spoilt for choice with fun things to do in York. Whether you want to take in the majesty of the iconic York Minster, marvel at masterpieces at York Art Gallery, experience the thunder of galloping hooves at York Racecourse or discover the city’s grisly past at the York Dungeon, there’s an attraction to suit everyone. If you’re only in York for a short time, make sure to tick these must see attractions off your list!
Don’t forget, you can save money on top York attractions by buying an official discount pass at yorkpass.com.
Or for those looking outside of York, we are ideally located for a whole host of venues. You could try Hull (UK City of Culture 2017), historic Beverley Minster and its famous markets. If the seaside is more your thing, then we are also ideally located for spooky Whitby, Scarborough and Bridlington. Or if an adrenaline rush is what youre looking for, there is the Elvington Racetrack where you can race the days away.
For more ideas visit yorkshire.com/places/east-yorkshire
Highlights of a tour include the Minster’s impressive stained glass windows, most notably the Pilgrimage Window (dating from about 1312) resting above a stunning dragon’s head, depicting Peter surrounded by pilgrims along with unusual details such as the funeral of a monkey. Also of interest is the Treasury, with its interactive galleries portraying the building’s colorful history from its Roman roots to today. Displays include more than 2,000 years of remarkable artifacts found nearby that provide an insight into the cathedral’s important role over the centuries. And if you’ve got a head for heights, York Minster’s spectacular medieval Central Tower – the highest point in the city – involves a climb of 230 feet up 275 steps and offers a close-up view of some of the cathedral’s most interesting decorative features, including its pinnacles and gargoyles. Once outside, all that hard work will be rewarded with superb views of York’s historic city center.
Location: Church House, Ogleforth, York
The Medieval City Walls
A walk along York’s medieval city walls leaves a lasting impression of this beautiful city. Built mainly in the 14th century, the walls incorporate some of the city’s original Roman structures and total some three miles in length. Four of the old gates have been preserved: Walmgate Bar, Monk Bar, and Bootham Bar, all with their original portcullis, and Micklegate Bar with its three knights. The stretch of wall between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar offers excellent views of York Minster. (If time permits, pop into the Richard III Experience in Monk Bar and the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar, with their fascinating take on the lives of two of England’s best-known medieval kings.)
Location: Monk Bar and Micklegate Bar, York
Located between Fishergate and Skeldergate Bridge, York Castle was built of wood by the Normans in 1068. The oldest remaining part is Clifford’s Tower. Constructed in the 13th century as a replacement for the wooden fortress, it was named after Roger de Clifford, executed here in 1322 as leader of the Lancastrian party. It was also infamous as the place where the king would put those he had executed on display. Today, the castle is popular for its stunning views.
Location: Tower Street, York
York Castle Museum
York Castle Museum offers a marvelous insight into the English way of life throughout the centuries. Highlights include Kirkgate, a perfect recreation of a Victorian street, complete with shops; Toy Stories, a history of children’s toys; and a Victorian parlor and 17th-century dining room. Another fascinating exhibit is The Cells in the old Debtors Prison, including the former Condemned Cell once occupied by highwayman Dick Turpin (the site has in fact been a place of incarceration for more than 1,000 years, with the York Crown Court still holding those accused of serious crimes). Afterwards be sure to check out the museum’s database of former prisoners and victims going back hundreds of years for mention of any relatives!
Location: Eye of York, York
One of York’s biggest tourist attractions is the Shambles, a narrow 14th-century thoroughfare with lovely overhanging timber-framed buildings. Once known as “The Great Flesh Shambles” for its numerous butcher shops and stalls (meat hooks can still be seen outside many shop fronts), the area is now a mix of shops, restaurants, tearooms, and boutiques. The Shambles is also where you’ll find five of York’s fascinating Snickelways, a collection of small streets and winding footpaths connecting the old city.
Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre in Coppergate documents the daily lives of the Vikings in 9th-century York, or “Jorvik.” The site includes reconstructions of Viking dwellings and medieval workshops and is built above the remains of 1,000-year-old wooden houses. The museum also hosts on- and off-site reenactments, as well as opportunities for young and old alike to dress up and play Vikings (without, of course, any of the pillaging).
Location: Coppergate, York
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum has an impressive array of locomotives and carriages dating from 1820 to the present day. Among the many exhibits in the Great Hall, laid out like an old-fashioned railway station, are a Victorian mail train from 1838, turn-of-the-century freight and steam trains, and luxurious Edwardian Pullman carriages. Also on display is a collection of Royal Trains, including carriages once used by Queen Victoria. If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the daily demonstrations of the facility’s vintage turntable for an up-close look at how these massive machines were turned around. The museum also boasts more than a million artifacts ranging from posters to paintings, along with more than 1,000 hours of unique recordings relating to Britain’s rich railway history.
Location: Leeman Road, York
An easy 30-minute drive northeast of York is majestic Castle Howard. Set amid 1,000 acres of parkland and richly furnished with antiquities and treasures, family-owned Castle Howard is undoubtedly one of England’s most spectacular country estates. This magnificent Palladian mansion – famous as the backdrop for acclaimed TV drama Brideshead Revisited – was built for the third Earl of Carlisle by dramatist-turned-architect John Vanbrugh. Its many elegant rooms contain paintings and carvings, period furniture, and costumes, as well as valuable vases and statues. The grounds are on a scale to match the house, with an impressive family mausoleum, an obelisk, a pyramid, and the lovely Temple of the Four Winds. And, of course, there’s the spectacular fountain at the front of the mansion, perfect for the ultimate “selfie.”
Location: The Estate Office, Castle Howard, York
Yorkshire Museum & Gardens
Along with its superb geological and natural history collections, the Yorkshire Museum contains many important Roman and Anglo-Saxon archaeological artifacts. It’s also where you’ll find the 1,000-year-old Cawood Sword, the best preserved such Viking weapon in the world. Medieval sculptures and utensils are exhibited in St. Mary’s Abbey. Be sure to spend time in the lovely – and free – Museum Gardens. Extending across some 10 acres in the heart of the old city, this beautiful garden is home to more than 40 species of birds, as well as trees, shrubs, and flowers under the ruined walls and arches of the medieval St. Mary’s Abbey. Recently expanded, the gardens now include an Edible Wood and an Artists Garden, an outdoor gallery with rotating exhibits.
Location: Museum Gardens, York