Travel with kids: 10 things to do in York

Recently, the London Mumsteam went to York to explore things to do there with the family. York, a city steeped in history and nestled in the picturesque countryside of Northern England, offers a wide range of attractions and activities to suit every taste. From magnificent cathedrals to mediaeval streets, Viking heritage to ghostly tales, there’s something for everyone in this enchanting city. So, put on your walking shoes and get ready to delve into the wonders of York.

Travel with kids - 10 things to do in York london mums magazine collage

1. Explore York Minster: Begin your journey by visiting the York Minster. No visit to York is complete without a visit to this huge Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe. Marvel at its awe-inspiring architecture, from the intricate stone carvings to the soaring stained glass windows. For a truly memorable experience, climb the central tower for panoramic views of the city and its surrounding countryside.

2. Sleep in Johnny Depp’s room at The Principal Hotel – see our separate review here

hotel review the principal york london mums magazine collage

3. Oliver Bonas Shop on 35 Stonegate: This charming store occupies the former headquarters of a bookshop where the first edition of “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy” by Laurence Sterne was published. Take a step back in time as you browse through the eclectic collection of modern treasures in this historic setting.

4. Walk along The Shambles: Step into a mediaeval world as you stroll along The Shambles, a historic street with timber-framed buildings dating back centuries. This narrow, winding street is lined with unique shops, boutiques, and charming cafes. Fun fact: The Shambles has inspired the creation of Diagonal Alley in the Harry Potter films, and you can see the resemblance when you visit Warner Bros. Studio. The producers spent some time here to research locations before preparing the film setting.

5. Visit the York Castle Museum: Immerse yourself in York’s captivating history at the York Castle Museum. Wander through the museum’s fascinating exhibits, which include reconstructed Victorian streets and a meticulously recreated Victorian street called Kirkgate. Gain insights into the city’s past and learn about the daily lives of its inhabitants throughout the ages.

6. Explore the Jorvik Viking Centre: Travel back in time to the Viking era at the Jorvik Viking Centre. This interactive museum offers a unique glimpse into York’s Viking heritage. Experience a reconstructed Viking village, complete with authentic smells and sounds, and learn about the archaeological discoveries that have shed light on York’s Viking past.

7. Take a river cruise on the River Ouse: Treat yourself to a leisurely boat trip along the River Ouse, which winds its way through the heart of York. Admire the picturesque scenery as you glide past historic riverside buildings and landmarks. Whether you choose a daytime cruise or opt for an evening excursion, this is a delightful way to see the city from a different perspective.

8. Walk the City Walls: Lace up your walking shoes and embark on a journey along York’s ancient city walls. These well-preserved fortifications offer a unique vantage point to admire the city’s historic architecture and take in panoramic views of York’s skyline. As you traverse the walls, you’ll also encounter the city’s four mediaeval gates, each with its own story to tell.

9. Visit the National Railway Museum: All aboard! If you have an interest in trains and locomotives, head to the National Railway Museum. Explore its vast collection of historic trains, from elegant steam engines to high-speed locomotives. Discover interactive exhibits that bring the history of rail travel to life and learn about the pioneering advancements that shaped the railway industry. I took my son there when he was in primary school and he absolutely adored it. 

10. Discover the York Museum Gardens: Seek solace in the tranquil York Museum Gardens, nestled in the shadow of York Minster.


These are just a few suggestions to get you started. York offers a rich blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, ensuring there’s something for everyone to enjoy. 


Exploring the Rich History of York on a Free Walking Tour

Embarking on a free walking tour of York is an excellent way to delve into the city’s captivating history. Led by passionate volunteers from White Rose York, these tours offer an immersive experience filled with intriguing tales and remarkable landmarks. Let’s take a closer look at the highlights and hidden gems awaiting visitors on this fascinating journey through time.

Ancient Beginnings and Roman Rule

York’s historical narrative dates back to 55 BC when Julius Caesar and his troops arrived, eventually leaving Britain untouched for a century. However, in 43 BC, the Romans returned, conquering the southern part of the country, while the northern region remained under the rule of a local Queen. The strategic location of York made it a perfect spot for building a city, and it soon became known as Eboracum, which translates to “place of the yew trees” in Celtic.

Roman Legacy and Mediaeval Gates

York’s Roman heritage is still evident today, as the city boasts numerous remnants of its ancient past. Two Roman emperors met their demise in York, and the statue of Constantine the Great serves as a reminder of this magnificent warrior turned ruler. Notably, the city’s mediaeval gates, numbering four in total, tell tales of both defence and commerce. The gates, known as “bars” from the French term “barriere,” allowed entry into the bustling city.

Mediaeval Intrigues and Conflicts

As we stroll through the charming streets, we encounter glimpses of York’s mediaeval history. A 14th-century tower near the Minster stands as a testament to the city’s Roman past, as it occupies the site of the old Roman city gate, Porta Principalis Dextra. It was through this gate that the Scots often launched attacks on York. Interestingly, a law still exists that permits the people of York to defend themselves by any means necessary if a Scotsman enters the gate armed with a bow and arrow.

Pilgrimage, Tudor Manor, and Royal Intrigues

York holds significance in religious history, as it was an important stop for pilgrims during the Middle Ages. A Tudor manor built by Henry VIII stands as a reminder of the tumultuous times of the Reformation. The city witnessed dramatic events, including the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion against Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Notorious figures like Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, met their tragic ends within the city’s boundaries.

York Minster Magnificence and Secrets

A highlight of the tour is the awe-inspiring York Minster, a majestic cathedral with origins tracing back to 627 AD. The Minster’s construction, completed in 1476, serves as a testament to the city’s devotion to Christianity. Within its grand walls lie captivating stories of naughty priests and their escapades, as well as the stunning Great East Window, which depicts the beginning and end of the world.

Enchanting Streets and Famous Characters

The walking tour takes visitors through York’s enchanting streets, such as the famous Shambles. This narrow, sloping street was once home to thriving fish trade, and its well-preserved architecture offers a glimpse into the city’s mediaeval past. Fans of Harry Potter will be delighted to know that the Shambles served as inspiration for the fictional Diagonal Alley.

A free walking tour of York is a journey through time, weaving together the ancient Roman legacy, mediaeval intrigues, and the grandeur of York Minster. The dedicated volunteers from White Rose York make the experience both informative and entertaining, ensuring that visitors leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the rich history of this remarkable city. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the city with a free expert guide who accepts to be ‘paid’ in beers at the local pub! Life does not get better than that!

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