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The compact city of York in North Yorkshire remains popular among visitors, blending the old and the contemporary to offer a wonderful destination for a short break. It’s also a great stopover on a longer trip to Yorkshire, especially as the city’s rail station has direct trains to and from London, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Newcastle, among others. In this guide, we bring you a selection of things to do in York, so you can plan an enjoyable trip to this charming, historic (and some say haunted) city.
Dating back to the seventh century, the imposing York Minster draws visitors from around the world who come to marvel at the medieval architecture and the stunning stained glass, as well as to appreciate the religious and historic significance. The minster remains an active church with regular services, but it is also open to the public to explore, with tours available. Tickets must be booked ahead. Find out more:
Located close to the train station, York’s Museum Gardens offer a haven from the bustle of the city. Here, you can enjoy the tranquil open space of the lovely riverside park and discover the Roman ruins. The gardens are also home to the Yorkshire Museum (reopening in spring 2022) and are adjacent to York Art Gallery. Entry to the gardens is free. Find out more:
If you’re spending a night or two in York and enjoy live entertainment, take a look at what’s on at York Theatre Royal. The venue hosts a mix of classic and contemporary shows, as well as one-off talks and performances. You might also like to spend an evening at the Grand Opera House York, which again features an eclectic mix of drama and musicals. Find out more:
When the weather’s fine, a gentle cruise along the River Ouse can be a wonderful way to pass an afternoon. Sit back, relax and enjoy seeing the sights of the city at a gentle pace while learning a little about its rich history. As with many of York’s other attractions, cruises can be popular during the summer months, so booking ahead is advised. Find out more:
Given its maze of winding streets, old buildings, and disused Victorian tunnels, it’s maybe not surprising that York has a reputation for being haunted. Indeed, there are lots of tall tales about all kinds of spirits and apparitions that continue to make their presence felt across the city. If you want to find out more, enjoy one of the evening ghost walks that take you around the city’s most popular ‘haunts’. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, this is certainly a fun way to spend an evening in York. Find out more:
Rivalling York Minster as the city’s most popular attraction, Shambles is a picturesque street of buildings, many of which date back to the 13th century. Originally home to mostly butchers shops, you can now find all kinds of interesting independent retailers, as well as quaint eateries. Be sure to spend some time exploring the alleyways leading off Shambles, as well as the outdoor market. Our tip? Come early in the day to stroll the narrow streets and take your photos, as once the shops open, it gets busy! Find out more:
Another of the best things to do in York is to enjoy the elevated views from the City Walls, which offer a circular route around the city centre. The walkway is open to the public and freely available within the opening hours (8am to dusk), with various access points, so you can climb the steps and enjoy all or part of the City Walls. It’s worth noting that the walkway is not accessible for wheelchair users, and it is closed during inclement weather, such as ice and high winds. Find out more:
Embrace the city’s dark side at The York Dungeon. Explore the scary underworld in the company of actors who bring the history vividly to life. Be sure to visit the torture chamber to meet the torturer himself, enjoy an encounter with Dick Turpin, and discover The Curse of The Witch. As you might have guessed, this immersive and interactive attraction is not for the faint-hearted! Find out more:
Discover York’s Viking history at the popular JORVIK centre, which stands on an actual Viking site explored by archeologists. Discover the artefacts, enjoy the temporary exhibitions, and learn all about this fascinating period of history with an evocative ride around a meticulous reconstruction of the Viking-era city. This attraction gets busy, especially with school parties, so plan ahead and book your tickets online. Find out more:
From traditional pubs to fine dining, York boasts lots of great places to relax over a drink or a meal. You can also find quaint tea rooms and cafés, as well as high street chains, so you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty while you’re here! To enjoy an authentic hospitality experience, we would recommend a visit to one of York’s historic pubs and inns, such as Ye Olde Starre Inne on Stonegate, the Golden Fleece York on Pavement or the Old White Swan on Goodramgate.
If you want to explore beyond the city, you might like to visit York Racecourse, which hosts fixtures throughout the season, as well as live music and other events. The racecourse is located outside the city, close to lovely Rowntree Park and near to the Designer Outlet York (see below), so you can plan an enjoyable day out within easy reach of central York. Find out more:
You can shop till you drop at the huge McArthur Glen Designer Outlet York. Located a few miles south of the city, the mall features a wide selection of popular retail outlets, as well as plenty of food and drink options. There is lots of free parking and the mall is served by regular buses. From the city centre, you can pick up the number seven bus from Fishgate for the 15-minute ride to the Designer Outlet. Find out more:
The award-winning York Castle Museum celebrates the city’s diverse history, with a recreation of the Victorian street Kirkgate and the chance to explore York Castle Prison. You can also see the impact on the city of the First World War and the swinging sixties. Combine your museum visit with a climb up to the adjacent Clifford's Tower, a 13th-century castle offering panoramic views of the city (due to reopen in April 2022). Find out more:
Finally, if you like steam trains and would enjoy learning about England’s rich engineering heritage, the National Railway Museum is a must-visit attraction. The museum features a collection of exhibits, events, activities and galleries all devoted to trains and rail travel. The Flying Scotsman also pays a visit from time-to-time, so it’s worth checking the schedule if you’d like to catch a glimpse of the iconic locomotive. Find out more:
If you’re heading to York or the wider Yorkshire region for some spa relaxation, here are some nearby venues to consider:
Bannatyne York, Nether Poppleton, Yorkshire: Enjoy a relaxing spa day and maybe a reinvigorating workout at this Bannatyne health club and spa located close to the city centre with easy public transport options. The facilities include a lovely swimming pool, state-of-the-art-gym, steam room and Jacuzzi. Book now.
Oulton Hall, Oulton, West Yorkshire: Boasting a great countryside location near to the city of Leeds and around 40 minutes by car from York, this superb hotel, spa and golf resort promises rest and relaxation. Enjoy facilities including a heated indoor pool, spa bath and fitness studio. Book now.
Aldwark Manor Estate, York, North Yorkshire: Around a 30-minute drive from the city, this imposing hotel, spa and golf resort is set amid 185 peaceful acres. Unwind in style with facilities that include a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. Book now.
Imagine Health and Spa at the Dower House Hotel, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire: Make the most of your time in North Yorkshire with a visit to charming Knaresborough, about 30 minutes from York. This delightful spa hotel offers a range of pampering packages, with facilities including a swimming pool, crystal steam room, and monsoon shower. Book now.
Rudding Park, Harrogate, North Yorkshire: Indulge in a luxury spa experience at this upmarket resort located in equally upscale Harrogate, around 30 minutes from York. Enjoy a pampering spa day or overnight break, with facilities that include a swimming pool and the charming Roof Top Spa and Garden. Book now.