Things to Do in York
Nestling in the embrace of York’s miraculously preserved wall is one of the great medieval town centers of Europe. You can walk the wall itself and then descend to the winding streets including the narrow Snickelways and the Shambles, now considerably cleaned up since the days when its rivers of blood and offal made it a synonym for chaotic mess.
York offers architectural marvels at every turn, the most impressive being the enormous York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, renowned for its outstanding stained glass. Climb the tower for an unparalleled view of the city.
Elsewhere, York's days as a Viking stronghold are brought to life in Jorvik, a reconstructed village. Other must-see sites are the Norman fortifications of Clifford’s Tower, the medieval Merchant Adventurers’ guild hall and the gruesome thrills of York Dungeon, which recreates some of the most violent episodes of the city's history.
This cavernous medieval cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece. Focal points include the 16th-century stained glass Rose Window, which was painstakingly pieced back together following a fire in 1984, and the soaring central tower, the top of which offers panoramic views of York.
This historic site was discovered by accident, when it was scheduled to be destroyed. The oldest parts of Barley Hall date from about 1360, but until the 1980s the house was hidden under a more modern brick façade.
The medieval house was once home to the Priors of Nostell and the Mayor of York. The building has been fully restored to replicate what it would have looked like around 1483. A living museum, many volunteers work in costume to help recreate history. Visitors are allowed to touch objects, even sit in chairs to get a true feel of life in Medieval England.
Clifford’s Tower, a semi-ruined 13th-century remnant of York Castle, is also one of the few Norman relics in a city dominated by Viking influence. Nowadays, Clifford’s Tower is one of the most popular and emblematic sights in York, and the panoramic views from the tower’s ramparts make it an excellent starting point for first-time visitors to historic York.
Having never been widened to accommodate cars, The Shambles has retained its picturesque medieval form. Timber-framed Tudor buildings host tea rooms, taverns, and souvenir shops, and project out at the upper levels—a medieval building technique used to create extra living space.
Set on the site of a major Viking settlement, Jorvik Viking Centre whisks visitors back in time to ninth-century England. Glass floors reveal remnants of the original village uncovered by archaeologists in the 1970s, while a train ride takes passengers past detailed diorama-style displays that recreate typical scenes from Viking life—complete with animatronic figures, a soundtrack, and more.
Castle Howard is one of Britain’s grandest stately homes. Built over the course of 100 years and still home to the Howard family, the castle was famously used as a filming location for Brideshead Revisited. Its 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of elegant grounds are located in the Howardian Hills—an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Once built to protect the medieval city of York, the well-preserved York City Walls have since become an emblematic landmark of the region and an easy-to-access point of introduction for historical York. While only three main sections of these 13th- and 14th-century walls are still connected, following the footpaths and scrambling up the ramparts remains a popular pastime.
Step back in time with York Castle Museum, an informative, interactive destination that will charm history-buffs and families alike. Unique in its depictions of everyday life, both past and present, York Castle Museum is best-known for period reconstructions of historic streets—like the Victorian Kirkgate—and costumed actors who help bring the past to life.
Explore one of the original National Trust properties at York’s Treasurer’s House, an opulent and eclectic 2-story mansion set amid landscaped gardens that has a fascinating history spanning 2,000 years. Highlights include the period rooms replete with historical artifacts, including a Queen Anne bedspread and a blown-glass chandelier, as well as the allegedly haunted cellars.
As the name implies, York’s Merchant Adventurers were merchants. They traded along the English coast, northern Europe and sometimes as far as the Baltic and Iceland, bringing back an assortment of desired goods to York. The city was an important river port and the wealthiest city in Northern England, second only to London for most of the Middle Ages, allowing the merchants to make enough money to build the Hall between 1357 and 1361.
It was ahead of the time, built before craft or trade guild halls were common in Britain. There are three rooms in the Hall, and each served a specific purpose. Business and social gatherings took place in the Great Hall, the Undercroft served as an almshouse caring for the sick and poor, and religious events were conducted in the Chapel.
The Hall has a number of collections; everything from paintings, to furniture and silver. The Company of Merchant Adventurers still use the Hall for meetings and events and hold services in the Chapel.
More Things to Do in York
Located in the center of the city, the Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York. But along with being a home, this historic house is popular with visitors. The Mansion House exhibits an impressive collection of paintings, silver and furniture.
It was designed to entertain distinguished guests and host ceremonies, so a bit of grandeur was a must. Built in Georgian style, the first brick was laid in 1725. But just like building projects today, costs grew. A few craftsmen worked for free in return for citizenship. The Mansion House was completed in 1732, seven years later.
The Mansion House offers a variety of tours tailored to guests’ interests, including a Silver Tour. The Candle Light Tour shares spooky stories and secrets of the house as you explore. Book in advance if interested in a specialized tour.
Step inside the only bullet train outside of Japan, peer into royal carriages, and watch model trains chug around a small-scale landscape at the National Railway Museum. With over one million pieces of railway memorabilia—including steam locomotives and vintage posters—the museum provides an immersive insight into the British rail industry.
With a history dating back to 1835, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is England’s most popular heritage steam railway. The 18-mile (29-kilometer) route winds through the North York Moors National Park, stopping at historic railway stations and affording magnificent views of the rugged moorlands.
Located at Micklegate Bar, one of the four principal gateways of York’s medieval city walls, the Henry VII Experience transports visitors back to medieval era York, following the fascinating story of Henry VII. Housed in the restored 14th-century gatehouse, the museum features exhibits on the legacy of Henry VII, England’s first Tudor King, who defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and went on to rule for twenty-four years.
Highlights of the experience include interactive exhibitions on the Battle of Bosworth and the Tudor ascent to the throne, and a special Tudor Camp for children, with costumes, props, and narration by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary.
With one of the country’s most important regimental collections, York Army Museum offers visitors an immersive insight into 300+ years of Yorkshire military history. Learn about the Royal Dragoon Guards and Yorkshire Regiment through interactive exhibits, centuries-old artifacts, and audiovisual displays.
Aided by spooky special effects and eerie sets, the costumed actors at York Dungeon recount terrifying tales of torture, terror, and murder. Expect laughs, scares, and shrieks as you learn about Viking invasions, witch hunts, and lawbreakers from centuries past.
This 18th-century townhouse offers a glimpse into the tastes, fashions, and daily life of Georgian-era nobility. It began as the home of Viscount Charles Gregory Fairfax and then enjoyed brief stints as a gentlemen’s club, cinema, and dancehall before being restored to its Georgian-era glory.
Like a moment frozen in time, York’s Cold War bunker takes visitors back to an era where the threat of nuclear explosions prompted the construction of this space. The partially-underground bunker is a glimpse into the recent history of the British Cold War, built in 1961 to monitor fallout. It was decommissioned in the 1990s, but remains a reminder of what it is like to live under the threat of nuclear war. Today it is an English Heritage Scheduled Monument and the only ROC control building that can still be seen in operational condition.
With protected rooms across three levels, the air and water filter rooms and decontamination facility are particularly interesting. There are living quarters, a kitchen, and bathrooms, as well as a communication and control room and radiation detectors. Designed to fit up to 60 people and to operate completely separate from the outside world, it’s a fascinating look at an often overlooked period in British history. It’s a worthwhile addition to any tour of the city of York.
Located at Monk Bar, one of the four principal gateways of York’s medieval city walls, the Richard III Experience transports visitors back to medieval era York, following the fascinating story of Richard III. Housed in the 14th-century gatehouse, the museum features exhibits on the legacy of Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet Kings, chronicling his short rule from 1483-1485, and his defeat by Henry Tudor.
Highlights of the experience include an impressive collection of medieval arms and armor; multi-media presentations on the War of the Roses and the Battle of Bosworth; and a children’s area complete with costumes, props, and narration by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary.
With its impressive collection of aircrafts the Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Air Forces Memorial is a must for aviation enthusiasts, located on the old RAF base and WWII bomber command station of Elvington. More than 40 aircrafts are on display at the museum, including highlights like a rare 'Friday the 13th' Halifax bomber, the UK’s only Dassault Mirage Mk.III, an early Avro Anson, and others including a Lightning F6, a Victor K2 and a Nimrod MR2.
As well as housing some of Britain’s most impressive historic aircrafts, the Yorkshire Air Museum features a series of exhibitions chronicling the history of aviation and the role of the RAF during the Second World War. Visitors can learn about life on a wartime bomber station, and admire the collection of RAF uniforms, weapons, and memorabilia, while kids can peek into the wartime control tower, hide out in camouflaged huts, and climb up into the cockpits of Canberra and Jet Provost airplanes.
Beningbrough Hall, an 18th-century former family home occupied by the Royal Air Force during World War II, is one of York’s most important historical highlights. Linger in front of the 100+ portraits that hang inside, courtesy of a partnership with the National Portrait Gallery. Then stroll through the gardens, where staff sometimes offer growing tips to interested visitors.
The Yorkshire Museum chronicles millions of years of Yorkshire history, from the Jurassic period through to Viking and medieval times. Highlights of the eclectic collection include a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite that came crashing to Earth in 1881, the hair bun of a Roman teenager, and a Viking sword.
A giant outdoor maze made from more than one million maize plants is the star attraction at this family-friendly adventure park. As well as smaller themed mazes, York Maze is home to slides, a climbing zone, inflatables, tractor rides, crazy golf, and remote-controlled boats.
From grain to glass, see how traditional ale is created at York Brewery. Located just inside the city walls on Toft Green, York Brewery has been handcrafting real ales since 1996.
The brewery site was built in the late 16th century, and has seen many uses over its history, but now it is home to a 20-barrel brew plant, with six traditional open top fermenters and five conditioning tanks. You can see it all in action, and enjoy four tastes, when you visit.
Groups meet in the brewery taproom, giving you an opportunity to have a taste before heading out on a guided tour. There are plenty of stops along the way to get a good view of the hard work of the Master Brewer. By the time the tour is over you’ll understand how the entire brewing process works.
Please note York Brewery is currently brewing in a temporary location.