Handpicked City Guide: The Best Things to Do in York

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Best things to do in York - York City Walls

York is the most charming city I’ve visited in England. It’s like stepping back into medieval times, with its winding cobbled streets, magnificent cathedral, classic shop fronts, and dramatic stone walls surrounding the city. It’s a delight to simply walk around, and is also packed with things to do, making it an ideal place for a city break in the UK. Nearly all the main York attractions are within walking distance of one another, and with over 365 pubs, you’ll never be short of a pitstop.

We worked with Jess from The Travelista to make a video and a guide to all the best things to do in York. Here you’ll find the best of what to do in York and our top picks for the best York attractions. We’ve also included our special Bridges and Balloons’ favourites and a guide to the most hip boutique hotels in York.

The best things to do in York

Bridges and Balloons favourites: our pick of the best places to visit in York

  • Head to Brew and Brownie for some of the city’s best cakes and pancakes.
  • And don’t miss the little rascal buns at Betty’s tearoom.
  • Walk down the Shambles for a taste of real-life Harry Potter world.
  • Spend some time browsing five floors of second-hand books at The Minster Gate Bookshop.
  • Try some local produce at the York Farmers Market, held on St Sampson Square on the first Friday of every month from 9am – 4pm.

What to do in York, England

Walk the city walls

The centre of York is surrounded by a magnificent 3.4km circuit of medieval stone walls, the best preserved city walls in England. Walking along the walls is a great way to orientate yourself and get a sense of the city. It takes around two hours to cover the whole circuit, or you can just choose to walk along a section at a time, joining at one of the many gates along the way. There’s a great view of the Minster from the section between the River Ouse and Mickelgate.

Best things to do in York - York City Walls

Climb Clifford’s Tower

The imposing Clifford’s Tower is the last remaining structure of York Castle. It sits on a small hill overlooking the city, and while there’s not a lot to see inside the tower itself, the view from the top is worth the climb. A symbol of the power of England’s medieval kings, the tower was originally built by William the Conqueror before being burned to the ground twice and rebuilt in the 13th Century by Henry III.

Best things to do in York - Cliffords Tower

Best things to do in York - Cliffords Tower

Visit York’s museums

The York Castle Museum is the best place to delve into hundreds of years of York’s history, all under one roof. From recreated Jacobean dining rooms to toy exhibits from the 20th century, there’s an impressive array of collections the are likely to cater to most tastes. I was impressed beyond my expectations. A highlight is a convincing reconstruction of a Victoria street where you can walk into different shops, or simply sit and take in the atmosphere as the scene changes from day to night. Another popular option is the Yorkshire Museum, which has some of the finest archaeological and geological collections in Europe. From the underwater creatures that swam when Yorkshire was beneath the sea to a genuine Roman mosaic floor, the museum covers centuries of history.

Best things to do in York - York Castle Museum

Best things to do in York - York Castle Museum

Best things to do in York - York Castle Museum

Best things to do in York - Yorkshire Museum

Best things to do in York - Yorkshire Museum

Best things to do in York - Yorkshire Museum

Marvel at York Minster

York Minster is the biggest medieval cathedral in Northern Europe, and considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful Gothic buildings. It took over 250 years to build and the craftsmanship is breathtaking; you can’t help but stare and wonder about how they managed its construction nearly 900 years ago. If you have the energy and ability, do climb up the central tower, which will reward you with the highest view in all of York. But do be warned that there are 275 steps, up a narrow and fairly steep spiral staircase.

Best things to do in York - York Minster

Best things to do in York - York Minster

Best things to do in York - York Minster

Best things to do in York - York Minster view from the tower

Experience viking life at Jorvik Viking Centre

History in York isn’t all about the medieval times. In the 1970s, excavations uncovered a Viking settlement beneath the streets. The site of that settlement now houses Jorvik (the Viking name for York), an interactive exhibition that brings to life the 9th-century village. A ride takes you through a smells-and-all reconstruction of the village, complete with disarmingly life-like animatronic characters and an audio guide that describes Viking life. It’s very popular, so book your tickets online if you want to avoid the queues.

Best things to do in York - Jorvik

Best things to do in York - Jorvik

Best things to do in York - Jorvik

Do a tour

If you fancy taking a back seat on the navigation then there are plenty of guided tours of York. Below are some options for seeing the city on foot, bike or boat, and you can find lots more options on Get Your Guide.

Go to the National Railway Museum

Even if you don’t geek out over trains, York’s National Railway Museum, which houses more than 100 locomotives, is so well presented that most will find it interesting. Famous trains you can see include the record-breaking Mallard and the only Shinkansen bullet train you’ll find outside of Japan. There’s also an impressive collection of royal trains, including those used by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. The museum is free to enter.

Best things to do in York - National Railway Museum

Best things to do in York - National Railway Museum

Best things to do in York - National Railway Museum

Best things to do in York - National Railway Museum

Visit York’s Chocolate Story

York has a long history of chocolate making, with both Rowntree’s (now Nestlé) and Terry’s starting there. Six million Kit Kats are produced in York every day – that’s over one billion every year! The best way to explore this history is by visiting York’s Chocolate Story. As well as sharing York’s story of chocolate, the fully guided tour takes you on an interactive journey where you discover the origins of chocolate, how to make it and how to taste it like an expert. You even get to make your own white chocolate lollipop. The venue makes their own chocolates on-site, which you can but in the downstairs shop. And don’t forget to order a hot chocolate at the cafe – it’s been voted the best in York. You can book tickets and a guided tour here.

Best things to do in York - York Chocolate Story

Best things to do in York - York Chocolate Story

Best things to do in York - York Chocolate Story

Best things to do in York - York Chocolate Story

Best things to do in York - York Chocolate Story

Wander the Shambles

The Shambles is York’s prettiest street; it even won the title of most picturesque street in Britain in the Google Street View Awards. The 15th-century sloping buildings nearly touch at the top and the cobbled street is often described as a real-life Diagon Alley. There’s even a Harry Potter shop, but when we were there the queue was an hour-long to get inside! 

Best things to do in York - Visit the Shambles

Best things to do in York - Visit the Shambles

Best things to do in York - Visit the Shambles

Best things to do in York - Visit the Shambles

Best things to do in York - Harry Potter Shop

Best things to do in York - Harry Potter Shop

Explore York’s shops

The Shambles isn’t the only place with cute little shops. There’s also places like Stonegate where you can find the upper-end of high street stores, and Blake Street, home to the colourful Yorkshire Soap Company and an Alice-in-Wonderland-style boutique, The Imaginarium. Just wander around the city centre and you’ll stumble across many unique finds.

Best things to do in York - Yorkshire Soap Company

Yorkshire Soap Company

Best things to do in York - The Imaginarium

Best things to do in York

Best things to do in York

Best things to do in York

Best things to do in York

Stop for a coffee or afternoon tea

York has plenty of cafes where you can take a break from your wandering. Try the modern Brew & Brownie, well-known for it huge pancake stacks and excellent coffee. Or head to the classic Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms where you can get a traditional afternoon tea, complete with one of its famous fat rascal scones – it’s a cross between a scone and a rock cake, and is seriously delicious!

Best things to do in York - Brew and Brownie

Best things to do in York - Brew and Brownie

Best things to do in York - Bettys Tea Rooms

Best things to do in York - Bettys Fat Rascal

Best things to do in York - Bettys Tea Rooms

Explore York’s 365 pubs

York is well known for having more than 365 pubs, one for every day of the year. Two of the most famous ones are The Guy Fawkes Inn, where Guy Fawkes was born and The Golden Fleece, said to be the most haunted pub in York. There’s also a good selection of cocktail bars, including Evil Eye Lounge, which is hidden behind a speciality gin store. And don’t forget to go for a Sunday Roast and try a famous Yorkshire pudding! The Lamb & Lion was Jess’s recommendation, and we can attest to its greatness.

Best things to do in York - 365 pubs - Guy Fawkes Inn

Best things to do in York - 365 pubs - Guy Fawkes Inn

Best things to do in York - Sunday Roast at Lamb and Lion

Best things to do in York - Sunday Roast at Lamb and Lion

Best things to do in York - 365 pubs - Evil Eye Lounge

Drive your own boat down the river

Finally, for a fun way to see the city, you can hire your own little red boat and drive it down the river. The boats cost from £20-40 for one hour, depending on the season. The weather wasn’t great when we hired ours, but it was still good fun, and great to see the city from a different perspective. Book your boat trip here

Best things to do in York

Best things to do in York - Little Red Boat

Best things to do in York

Get outside the city and explore the beautiful countryside

York is surrounded by some of the UK’s most stunning countryside, so if you have time, it’s a great idea to take a day trip outside the city and spend some time in nature. Some of the best places to visit include the Lake District, the Yorkshire Moors, the fishing town of Whitby, and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. If you don’t have a car or don’t fancy driving yourself, some of the tours below are good alternatives.

 

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Where to stay in York – The most hip hotels in York

Best things to do in York - Indigo Hotel

Hotel Indigo

We stayed at Hotel Indigo, just a five-minute walk from the city centre, The modern, hipster-style hotel is beautifully designed with plenty of creature comforts that make for an enjoyable stay. We especially enjoyed the plate of deserts bought to our room on the first evening, plus the extensive breakfast buffet that filled us up every morning. I highly recommend it if you’re visiting York. Rooms start at £ 68. Find the best deals here.

The Parisi Hotel

The Parisi Hotel is a colourful, homely inn, run by two ethically-minded sisters. The breakfast features ethically-sourced produce and eco-friendliness is part and parcel of the hotel. Rooms start at £130. Find the best deals here.

The Black Swan at Oldstead

If you fancy staying in the surrounding countryside, The Black Swan at Oldstead is an ideal choice. Housed in a Michelin Star pub just 30 minutes from the city, the rooms are tastefully decorated in a simple but sumptious style, complete with dramatic freestanding bathtubs and beds you’ll sink into. Rooms start at £250. Book your stay now.

North Star Club

One of our favourite places in Yorkshire is the North Star Club where you can stay in luxurious cabins amid the woodland. It’s just 30 minutes from York and we’ve written a full review of the Yorkshire glamping site here.

Let us know if there’s anything else you’d add to the list.

Also check out our guide to the best things to do in Liverpool and the best things to do in Bristol.

14 thoughts on “Handpicked City Guide: The Best Things to Do in York”

  1. I love the cafes and tea rooms of York! Looks like my kind of a city, totally. I’m not much of a museum person, but I’m sure I’m going to enjoy York’s history in its lanes and streets.

  2. This post makes me want to visit York so much! So many great sounding places to visit and tips on where to eat. I particularly like the sound of the chocolate sorty, York castle museum and the little red boats. Brill post thanks you for sharing.

  3. York hasn’t had over 365 pubs for more than 15 years. I am a bar owner so have a list of every single licensed premise that is a bar or pub in York and there are 290 including hotel bars – so actual pubs would be 230.

  4. Hi,
    Would you recommend a day trip from london or stay a night at York. My family will be in london in mid dec n we like to visit cities like York. Will the shops have short business hours in dec and will the weather be wet? Thank you in advance!
    Regards
    Leighanne

    • Yes, I’d definitely recommend going there. England is used to the cold weather, so deals with it well (a perfect excuse to get cosy) and York will be lovely and Christmassy in December. Shops will ave normal opening hours, and as for it raining, who knows?! The weather isn’t very predictable in England! Have a great time!

  5. I live in Newcastle, about and hour away from york on the train, do you think that this is a good place to go on a weekend away with my mother?

    • Yes definitely. It’s a gorgeous place, good for all ages. In fact, I always recommend it to people travelling with their parents!

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