With its picturesque streets, thriving cafes and bars, and rich history, York is packed with things to see and do and is understandably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.
It’s also a perfect place to visit as a family, as the city has plenty of things to do to keep kids entertained, from learning about its past with immersive experiences to trying out samples at the York Chocolate Story.
York is also one of the best UK city break locations by train, as its busy station has plenty of rail routes that make it easy to travel to from many other parts of the country. So, it should be at the top of your list of places to visit.
You can also learn about the many day trips from York that offer a variety of exciting excursions, from exploring the coast to visiting nearby cities.
Whether you’re planning a long break in the area or just stopping by for a day, it’s important to plan ahead so you can fit in everything you want to do. If you’re in need of inspiration, here are some of the best things to do in York with kids.
1. Visit York Minster
For over 1000 years, York Minster has been one of the most important religious centres in the north of England, and today it’s still a marvel of architecture that’s worth visiting.
Kids will love exploring the different parts of the cathedral, including the two crypts and the Undercroft Museum, in which you can learn more about the Roman history of the city.
2. Take a walk along the city walls
With some of the most complete city walls in the UK, walking around these medieval defences is a fun way to see the city from a different perspective.
At 3.4 kilometres long, the walls can make for an interesting circular walk, but you can instead just pick a few sections to explore.
The walls provide a great way to navigate and see different parts of the city. You can also read about the other best walks in York if you want to explore other areas of the city on foot.
3. Go on a ghost walk
Not only is York full of history, it’s also home (supposedly) to many ghosts. For a guided walk through the city that’s full of spooky stories, consider booking with one of the many ghost walk providers.
If you have brave kids, this can be a fun way to learn more about the city while being entertained by the chilling stories that are usually based on truth.
4. Explore the JORVIK Viking Centre
One of the major attractions in York is the Jorvik Viking Centre. The standout feature of this interactive museum is a ride through the reconstructed streets of Viking-era York, full of the sights, sounds, and smells of the past, as well as some surprisingly realistic animatronics.
After the ride, the museum houses various displays and you can find out more from the staff wearing authentic Viking clothing. Jorvik is definitely one of the best things to do in York with kids who like history.
5. Visit the National Railway Museum
Whether or not you’re interested in trains, the National Railway Museum is a fascinating attraction to spend a couple of hours at. And, best of all, there’s no entry fee, making it one of the best free things to do in York.
The impressively large exhibition spaces house dozens of trains, from steam locomotives to modern bullet trains. Kids can climb aboard many of these trains and see demonstrations, such as a real turntable in action.
6. Go on a boat tour of the River Ouse
York is situated on the banks of the River Ouse, and taking a York City Cruise boat tour is a fun and relaxing way to see the city from a different perspective.
With a live captain’s commentary, it’s also a great way to learn more about the city and be entertained while being off your feet.
7. Play at the York Maze
For a fun day trip just outside the city, York Maze offers plenty of activities to keep kids entertained when it’s open in the summer.
The giant outdoor maize maze is just one of the attractions at this location. There are several other mazes, as well as obstacle courses, climbing areas, and plenty of other activities.
8. Climb Clifford’s Tower
This English Heritage location was originally built by William the Conqueror and has been at the centre of much of York’s history.
With a recently-added roof deck, the tower now offers full 360-degree views of the city’s skyline, allowing you to spot other historic sites like York Minster.
Climbing the tower in the evening to get views of the city while the sun is setting is also one of our favourite things to do in York for couples.
9. Visit the York Castle Museum
Across from Clifford’s Tower is York Castle Museum, which displays over 400 years of York’s history in one location.
The museum is best known for the recreated Victorian street, one of the oldest recreated indoor streets of its kind. All the shops and businesses along it are named after real businesses found in York during the late Victorian period.
With costumed guides ready to tell you more, kids can have plenty of fun exploring the street and the rest of the museum. They can also try on period costumes to feel even more immersed in the local history!
10. Take a trip to the York Chocolate Story
One thing that York is famous for is chocolate and confectionary, with the likes of Terry’s and Rowntree’s having been based in the city. To find more out about this tasty part of York’s history, take a trip to the York Chocolate Story.
Even if the history isn’t so interesting to kids, they will love learning about how chocolate is made. Plus, they can even try some delicious samples and take part in a chocolate-making workshop.
11. See a range of birds at the York Bird of Prey Centre
Take a drive north up the A19 and you can visit the York Bird of Prey Centre. This popular attraction is home to a collection of birds of prey, including owls, eagles, and falcons.
Kids can watch the birds flying and see them being fed and trained, and they can even have a go at handling a bird themselves.
Along with flying displays and handling sessions, you can also book experience packages to make for a special day out.
12. Go to York Dungeon
As an activity for older kids and teenagers (the recommended age to visit is 8 years and older), the York Dungeon offers an immersive experience where you can learn more about the city’s dark and thrilling past.
If you’ve been to similar attractions before, such as the London Dungeon, you’ll know what to expect: costumed actors lead you through various sets as they tell you chilling stories of the city’s history.
From tales of ghosts and Vikings to plague and Guy Fawkes, be prepared to get spooked!
13. Walk down The Shambles
There are few places in the UK that feel more like you’re stepping into the past than The Shambles in York. This medieval street is filled by tourists during weekends, so if you want to get a good picture make sure to arrive late or visit out of season.
Not only is it just a cool street to walk down, but the multiple Harry Potter shops will also keep any kids entertained.
If you’re looking for lunch, the Shambles Market is just through a small alleyway and offers plenty of tasty food options.
Free things to do in York with kids
If you’re visiting York on a budget and are looking for things to do without spending, some of the activities already mentioned are completely free. Here are the best things to do in York with kids that don’t cost a thing:
- Walk along the city walls. These are publicly accessible and you can spend as long as you want on them.
- Visit the Railway Museum. As one of the best museums in York, it’s amazingly free to enter. You may be asked to make a donation.
- Explore The Shambles. This narrow medieval street is a must-see sight in the city.
- See York Minster. Wandering around the outside of this incredible cathedral is worth doing no matter where you’re visiting from. However, if you’re a York resident or a student at the University of York or York St John, you can also get free entry inside!
Overall, York is an excellent destination for families with kids, with activities and attractions that cater for a range of interests and will ensure that everyone is kept entertained. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or just having fun, there’s something for everyone in York.