York is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in England. Known for its long history, some of the top things to do in York include diving head first into immersive experiences about its rich history. It also has a great social scene, beautiful scenic sights, and a chocolate-related past for you to discover.
I have lived in the city for 5 years and have spent much of my time finding out the best things in York. And today, I’m sharing with you the top attractions York has to offer.
With this roundup, you’ll discover the top 20 things to do in York. There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a local looking to try something new or a new visitor looking for something fun to do over the next few days.
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Quick Guide: Top 3 Things to Do in York
Don’t have time to read all the 20 best things to do in York? Here’s a quick round-up of the top 3 things you should see in York:
Budget Saving Tip: The York City Pass
If you’re in York for a couple of days and want to see all the best things in York, check out the York City Pass. Once you’ve purchased the pass, it gives you free access to over 20 of the best attractions in York. It also gives you discounts on many other activities in York such as day trips, escape rooms, ghost walks, City Cruises evening tours and more.
The pass is valid for either 1, 2, or 3 days of sightseeing, so you can choose which pass best suits your travel needs.
For a full list of what the pass includes and to check prices and availability, check out the York City Pass here
Here are 20 Top Things to Do in York
Here are the 20 best things to do in York. These are attractions and experiences you don’t want to miss out on. With this list, you can make sure you get the most out of your stay in York!
1. National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is a firm favourite for many people visiting York. It is located just behind the station, making it a great first stop on any trip to the city. You’ll have a great time exploring the vast array of displays, including the only high-speed Japanese bullet train outside of Japan.
In the Great Hall, you’ll find legendary items from the past 200 years of railway history including the Mallard. The Mallard is a notorious engine that achieved the steam speed record in 1938, which is still to be beaten.
Once you’ve visited the railway museum, head into town using the railway museum road train. A fun way to travel through york, this is included in the York City Pass.
2. River Cruise
If you come to York on a warm, sunny day, be sure to check out a river cruise along the River Ouse. If you’re on a family holiday, check out the daytime sightseeing cruise, or if you’re on a romantic couple’s getaway, maybe the early evening cruise would be more your style.
With these cruises, you can get a different perspective on York. As the cruise takes you along the River Ouse, you’ll travel upstream towards Clifton Bridget on the northern outskirts of the city before coming back downstream to Millennium Bridge.
This activity is available with the York City Pass. Or check out availability for individual cruises in York here.
3. Ghost Bus Tour
Whilst a ghost walking tour is another great thing to do in York, the Comedy Horror Show is an experience unlike any other. Travel around on a 1960s Roadmaster bus for this theatrical and entertaining ghost bus tour.
Enjoy about 75 minutes of ghostly fun as you get to hear some of York’s sinister past. It is delivered so that the history is both bone-chilling and humorous. It is sure to be an entertaining and unique evening.
4. York Chocolate Story
You may not know this, but York is the UK’s chocolate capital. At the York Chocolate Story, you’ll be taken on a tour of chocolate, from how it’s made to the iconic brands that began in York, including Rowntree and Terry’s.
And, for the best part, when the tour is over, you will get the chance to try making your very own chocolate. Then, once you’ve had a try yourself, sit back and watch as the professional chocolatiers show you how to really make art from chocolate.
5. Self Driving Boat Rental
If you want to get on the water but a cruise isn’t for you, why not rent your own self-driven boat? With up to 8 passengers, this is a great way for a family or group of friends to get out and enjoy the River Ouse.
Explore the River at your leisure, and don’t worry if you’ve never driven a boat before. They’re incredibly safe, and you’ll get full instructions on how to operate the motorboat. What better way to spend an hour on a sunny day?
6. York Castle Museum
If you want to dive head first into York’s history, the York Castle Museum is the place to go. The museum displays thousands of objects covering over 400 years of York’s past.
One of the standout exhibits at the York Castle Museum is the famous Kirkgate, a fully reconstructed Victorian street. As you wander through its cobbled lanes, you will encounter a variety of shops and businesses that were once part of everyday life in Victorian York. From the old-fashioned sweet shop to the traditional apothecary, each establishment offers a fascinating insight into the customs and practices of the time.
Whether you are a history buff or simply looking for an engaging and educational experience, the York Castle Museum is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in York. Its immersive exhibits, rich historical artefacts, and captivating atmosphere make it a must-visit attraction for locals and tourists alike.
This activity is available with the York City Pass.
7. York Dungeon
If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience in York, make sure to visit the York Dungeon. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for a spine-chilling adventure that combines history with entertainment, then this is the place to be. Get ready to step into the shadows and discover the dark secrets that lie beneath the streets of York.
Be prepared to be greeted by a cast of talented actors who will guide you through a series of interactive shows. You’ll witness the horrors of the Black Death, come face to face with notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, and might even find yourself accused of witchcraft.
The Shambles is York’s most famous street and a must-visit sight. Known for its crooked houses towering above the cobbled streets, you’ll find independent shops combined with Harry Potter down here. The Shambles is thought to be the inspiration for the movie set of the fictional street in Harry Potter, Diagon Alley.
However, if you look beyond harry potter you can find some beautiful and unique shops. Ever wanted a clay ghost? The Ghost Merchants is the place to get one. Pop by the Alchemist to see a giant sleeping dragon, or pop down the side ally to discover many food vendors selling many different types of street food.
A word of warning from a local, it gets incredibly busy down here. It’s not unheard of to have queues from multiple shops blocking up this already very small street. It’s best to make the most out of rising early and get here ahead at the beginning of the day to beat the tourist rush.
9. Spark Containers
If you’re after a break from walking and history (my brain would be pretty fried by now too), head over to Spark. Spark is made of stacked industrial containers converted into restaurants and a few shops. There’s an outdoor seating area at its centre for you to sit back and enjoy your food.
This is a great way to support small, local independent start-ups. After being in Spark, many of the businesses are able to move into larger holdings and become a more permanent part of York’s restaurant scene. My current favourite restaurant is Clucking Oinks, which serves the best friend chicken in York.
If you’re travelling to York in winter, don’t worry. Each season they convert the outdoor seating into a fully covered and heated area. You still get the feeling of being outside without having to worry about the weather.
I would recommend ordering your food and drink through the QR code on your table. Whilst you can order at the bar, the drinks come from three different vendors depending on what you’re ordering. It usually ends up just being easier to have them delivered to your seat.
10. Dark History Walking Tour
There are plenty of walking tours to take in York. Being quite compact, it is such a walkable city, and you can see all the best attractions in a relatively short amount of time.
However, if you’re after something a bit different, check out this Dark History Walking Tour. As you might imagine from a city so old, there are a lot of tales to be told that aren’t so cheery to hear.
On this dark walking tour, you’ll discover all about the grim truths of murder, torture, and death that happened in York. They’ll take you as far back as 2000 years ago, so be prepared to be truly freaked out by the realities behind York’s mysterious alleyways and snickelways.
11. York City Walls
York’s city centre is surrounded by medieval walls which you can walk for around 2 hours. It’s a great way to see the city from a slightly different level. You can start your walk from any of the entrance to the wall, but a good place to begin if you’re already in town is near the Museum gardens.
There are 4 sections of the wall for you to explore. Check out this map and audio guide to make the most out of your walk.
My only word of warning is that there will be moments when you have to go down onto the street level and walk in between the sections. Keep an eye on the map to see where you need to reenter the walls.
12. York Minster
The York Minster is the largest gothic-style cathedral in northern Europe. It took over 200 years to be completed, and renovations continue to happen on the cathedral today.
As you can imagine, there’s plenty to see in the Minster. But to make the most out of your visit I would recommend taking advantage of the free guided tours. The tours run regularly on Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm.
The York Minster’s Central Tower is also the highest point in York. You can climb the 275 steps to see incredible panoramic views of the city. Get up close to the medieval stonework and gothic grotesques. Please note that access to the tower requires an add-on to your original ticket.
13. Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre, aptly named after the Viking name for York, is perhaps one of the most famous museums in York. Celebrating its bloody but brilliant Viking history, the Jorvik Viking Centre is an interactive and authentic learning experience that’s great for everyone. And when I say authentic, I mean it so prepare for some bad smells!
The centre is built on top of one of the most famous discoveries of modern archaeology: the houses, workshops, and backyards of the Viking city of Jorvik. Now, you can travel through a reconstruction of the Viking streets and experience life in 10th-century York.
If there is one museum to visit in York, I would pick the Jorvik Centre. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it anywhere else in the world. You can really get a feel for what life used to be like, and it’s a great way to learn more about York’s incredible history.
This activity is available with the York City Pass.
14. Axe Throwing: The Hilt Axe Experience
Ever looked at a game of darts and thought this would be so much more fun if it was with axes instead? Well, you’re in luck. In York, you can get into the Viking spirit at Hilt Axe throwing experience.
Whether you’re a seasoned axe juggler or a complete beginner, you’ll enjoy this game. You’ll be given 20 minutes to warm up and practice your best throws, coached by a professional to make sure you’re good to go.
Two players will then throw their axe at the same time at a scored target, and after however many rounds you play, the player with the total highest score wins.
And there’s the added bonus of food and drink options available before and after your session. Ever wanted to try some traditional mead? Celebrate your win with a triumphant victory drink!
15. Museum Gardens and the Yorkshire Museums
Just a short walk away, you’ll find the York Museum Gardens. There’s a lot to do here, from handling owls and birds of prey to exploring the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. You’ll also find a surviving section of the Roman fortress wall and Roman Multangular tower. Take a moment to explore the beautiful green oasis before heading to the Museum.
At the Yorkshire Museum, you’ll discover a lot about the city you’re visiting. Go back 150 million years to find out about the lost giants discovered in Yorkshire. You can see the dinosaurs and sea creatures that once roamed, with a life-size plesiosaur, rare fossil remains including that of embryonic ichthyosaurs, and CGI techniques to bring the exhibition to life.
If you’re interested in York’s Roman history, make sure to stop by the Ryedale Hoard. This exhibition contains some of Yorkshire’s most significant Roman objects, including a 1,800-year-old bust of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Make sure to book in advance to get a discount on the price. Alternatively, this activity is available with the York City Pass.
16. Mansion House
Situated in the heart of the city, this stunning Georgian building offers a fascinating insight into the history and grandeur of York. As the official residence of the Lord Mayor, it is not only a symbol of power and authority but also a treasure trove of exquisite architecture and opulent interiors.
One of the highlights of a visit to the Mansion House is the chance to explore the cellars. These underground chambers were once used for storing wine and other provisions, but now they house a fascinating exhibition on the history of the house and its inhabitants.
This activity is available with the York City Pass.
17. Cliffords Tower
If you’re planning a trip to York, then visiting Clifford’s Tower is a must! It is one of the top things to do in York and for good reason.
Whilst it’s a small building, this iconic landmark stands proudly in the heart of the city, offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area. As you climb to the top of the tower, you’ll be treated to breathtaking vistas of the historic city walls, York Minster, and the picturesque River Ouse.
The tower itself has a rich history, dating back to the 11th century, and it played a significant role in the tumultuous events of York’s past. Perhaps its darkest history is that it was the site of one of the worst antisemitic massacres of the Middle Ages.
Make sure to add Clifford’s Tower to your itinerary, not only for the beautiful views, but to experience the important place this building holds in York’s history.
This activity is available with the York City Pass.
18. Cat Hunting
One of the more unusual things about York is that it is covered in cats. Not real, live cats, but statues of cats. They have been in the city for around two centuries, however, some of the statues removed due to rot are thought to date back to medieval times.
Originally, the cats were placed on buildings to frighten mice who carried the plague but are also generally thought of as good luck charms.
If you’re staying in a local hotel, you can often find a leaflet with a map of the cats of York. Alternatively, pop into Waterstones and get yourself a copy of The Mysterious Cats of York.
This walk is a great way to add a bit of charm to your walk as you hunt for cats in the building windows.
29. York Maze
An exciting and unique thing to do in York is to head over to the York Maze. This incredible attraction offers a fun-filled day for all ages, making it a must-visit destination.
The York Maze is not your typical cornfield maze. It’s a massive labyrinth that covers an impressive area of over 15 acres. With its intricate design and challenging paths, it’s the perfect place to test your navigational skills and have a fun day out with your friends or family.
If you’re visiting York in October, make sure to check out the York Maze Hallowscream. During this time of the year, they turn the maze into spooky horror shows. Prepare for actors primed to jump and scare you. They also have small funfair rides and Halloween themed drinks. It’s not for the feint hearted, but makes for an excellent scary evening.
20. Roman Baths
Whilst the cellar of a pub seems like a strange place to have a museum, that’s where you’ll find the Roman Baths Museum in York. This museum is rather bite sized, with just 3 rooms for you to explore but it is an experience all the same.
Just 5 meters before, the remains of the Roman bath house were found in 1930 when they were digging for a new cellar. Now, you’ll find metal walkways above the ancient ruins that will take you through to the Trepidarium (warm room), Caldarium (hot steam room) and Frigidarium (cold plunge room).
For just £3.50, this is a fun little place to visit, and won’t take much out of your day. That is if you’re not tempted to stop for a pint on your way out!
This activity is available with the York City Pass.
Where to Stay in York
Whilst York is known for being a more expensive city, especially for the North, there is a range of accommodation to suit all budget needs. Here are three options for you to choose from depending on what kind of stay you’re after.
If you’re looking for the best budget hostel in York, look no further than Astor York. This charming hostel offers affordable accommodation without compromising on quality.
When you arrive at Astor House, you’ll be greeted with a warm and friendly atmosphere. The staff are always helpful and ready to assist you with any queries or concerns you may have.
The rooms are clean and comfortable, providing a cosy retreat after a long day of exploring the beautiful city of York. Located just a 20-minute walk from the city centre, Astor House is the perfect base for exploring all that York has to offer.
Clementines Town House is a charming hotel that offers everything you need for a comfortable and enjoyable stay in this historic city. The staff are all incredibly friendly, and go out of their way to make sure you have the perfect stay.
The rooms are tastefully decorated, providing a cosy and inviting atmosphere. Yet there is a unique and quirky touch to the decor, from abstract paintings to decorative wallpaper.
The hotel is centrally located, at just a 10-minute walk from the town centre making it easy to explore all that York has to offer. Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, Clemintines Townhouse is the perfect choice for your stay in York.
Best Luxury Option: Grays Court Hotel
For the ultimate luxury experience in York, take a look at the magnificent Grays Court Hotel. This historic property is renowned for its impeccable service, stunning architecture, and opulent interiors.
From the moment you step through the door, you’ll be transported to a world of elegance and indulgence. The rooms are beautifully appointed, with every detail carefully thought out to ensure your comfort and relaxation.
Whether you choose a suite or a standard room, you’ll be treated like a royal guest throughout your stay. Grays Court Hotel truly deserves its reputation as one of the best luxury hotels in York.
I like to book all my accommodation through Booking.com or Hostelworld. I find they give me the most consistent deals and are the easiest platforms to navigate.
Things to Do in York FAQs
Is York worth visiting?
Absolutely! It is one of the most beautiful historic cities in the UK. There’s so much to see here despite it being a relatively small city. You can learn from a number of fun and interesting museums (no boring ones here!) and enjoy many of our pubs and restaurants as you go.
What is York famous for?
York is known mainly for its iconic architecture. From the second largest gothic cathedral to the stunning Victorian train station, there’s a lot to see here. York also has a huge Viking heritage, and a lot of bars and festivals like to celebrate the Vikings.
York also has a great Christmas market. It is one of the best cities to visit at Christmas, and the old town buildings lend well to that cosy Christmas atmosphere.
How do you get to York?
The best way to get to York is by train. York is very central in England with a great train network connecting it to all the major cities. It is just 2 hours from London, 1.5 hours from Manchester, and 2.5 hours from Edinburgh. This makes it a great place to stop if you’re doing a mini tour of the UK.
I like to book all my train tickets through Trainline. Not only do they do a split saver discount, but you can sink your online login with the mobile app so you can quickly access your tickets at all times.
How long should you spend in York?
The minimum you want to spend in York is 2 days. Whilst it would be possible to visit York on a day trip, you’ll have to cut out a lot of the top attractions. If you can afford to spend longer, you definitely should.
A 5-day trip would mean you get to see all of York’s best attractions and have time to relax and enjoy its many pubs and restaurants.
How do you get around York?
Your is a very small city, and you can reach most of the top attractions on foot. However, if you get the York City Pass, the Hop-On-Hop-Off city bus is included free of charge. This might make it easier to quickly bustle between attractions if you’re trying to fit a lot into a short stay.
If you don’t want to get the York City Pass but are interested in the bus, check out individual prices for the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus here.
What is the best month to visit York?
York gets incredibly busy during the summer months, so you’ll want to avoid it during peak summer. However, it makes a great destination in late spring or during winter.
In the winter, you’ll have the added bonus of the Christmas market and many other Christmas themed pop-ups throughout the city. In late spring, you can take advantage of the outdoor activities on this list. You can also enjoy the many lovely beer gardens York has to offer.
Is York a safe city to visit?
York is one of the safest cities in Europe. It makes for a great destination for both families and solo travellers.
The Wrap-Up: Top Things to Do in York
York is a charming city filled with incredible sights and activities. With this list of the top things to do in York, you are sure to have an unforgettable visit.
From exploring the historic York Minster to strolling along the medieval city walls, there’s no shortage of amazing things to do in York. Immerse yourself in the rich history of the city by visiting the Jorvik Viking Centre or take a leisurely walk through the picturesque Shambles.
Don’t forget to indulge in some incredible food at Spark, or enjoy a relaxing boat ride along the River Ouse. With so much to see and do, your time in York will be filled with adventure and memories that will last a lifetime.