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Things to do in York with kids

City of York coat of arms

In the Autumn we went to York, UK for the day, to visit one of the top York attractions, Jorvik Viking Centre. You can read about it here. We spent a bit of time exploring some of the other things to do in York with kids and while we didn’t manage to see and do everything, we came away with a wish-list for next time. Here are some York tourist attractions that you should add to your bucket list.

York places to visit: Jorvik Viking Centre

Family playing a game at Jorvik Viking Centre
Visitors to York ride in a ‘time capsule’ through a reconstructed Viking village.

Jorvik Viking Centre is on the site of the Coppergate Dig, an archaeological project that ran from 1976 to 1981. Archaeologists and historians unearthed skeletons, jewellery, and even a piece of fossilised Viking poo. The Viking museum opened in 1984, and as well as some of the thousands of pieces of metalwork, bones, and artefacts from Viking life found in Coppergate, in Jorvik Viking Centre you can ride in a ‘time capsule’ through a reconstructed Viking village, where 31 eerily realistic animatronic figures move around, shout, talk and sing. It’s a fun learning experience, and you can read about our visit to Jorvik Viking Centre here.

Jorvik Viking Centre address: Coppergate Shopping Centre, 19 Coppergate, York YO1 9WT

Jorvik DIG

We didn’t get to Jorvik DIG on this trip, but it would make a good complement to the Viking Centre. If you buy a ticket to the Viking Centre and DIG, you receive a big discount. Barley Hall is also included in the offer. DIG is a hands-on experience for kids, with excavation pits modelled on the real Coppergate Dig. Trainee ‘diggers’ search in four indoor excavation pits, filled with replica Roman, Viking, medieval and Victorian finds.

Jorvik DIG address: DIG, St Saviour’s Church, St Saviourgate, York, YO1 8NN

Barley Hall

Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval town house, with exposed wooden beams and replica chairs and objects from the fifteenth Century. Visitors can sit on the chairs, handle the objects, and make themselves at home, with staff dressed in period costume to help. Barley Hall is part of the Jorvik Group, and discounted tickets are available for people who book visits to the Viking Centre and DIG.

Barley Hall address: Coffee Yard, Off Stonegate, York, YO1 8AR

Free things to see: walk down York Shambles

The Shambles York
The Shambles is a busy cobbled street overhung by timber-framed buildings.

If you have any Harry Potter fans in your family, they’ll immediately recognise the Shambles. It’s the street that inspired the design of Diagon Alley, in the Harry Potter films! It’s easy to see why. The timber-framed buildings (some dating back to the 14th Century) hang over a narrow street crammed with shops selling Harry Potter curios and other knick-knacks. There’s nothing as exciting as a real-life Ollivanders wand emporium, but we did have fun peering inside the potions shop.

Shambles address: Shambles, York, YO1 7LZ

potions shop in the Shambles, York, England
The Shambles inspired the designers of Diagon Alley, as seen in the Harry Potter films.

York Castle Museum

A visit to York Castle Museum feels like being transported back into the past. Visitors move through zones designed to recreate different eras from the last 400 years of York’s past, like the world renowned Victorian street Kirkgate, spooky cells complete with prisoners, and scenes from the swinging sixties. York Castle Museum holds regular family days with activities for kids, especially in the school holidays.

York Castle Museum address: Eye of York, York, YO1 9RY

Free York attractions: walk along the City Walls

York City Walls
Visitors can walk along York City Walls free of charge.

York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. York was encircled by walls from Roman times, but the City Walls that you can see these days date back to the Medieval era. The walls are free to access, and once up there you can peer at the pedestrians below, imagining yourself as a lookout. In spring, the dried-up moat is covered in pretty daffodils. A walk round the walls takes about 2 hours, but you can get on or off at one of the six access gates (or ‘Bars’) along the way. A couple of these feature attractions that you need to pay to access: The Henry VII Experience in Micklegate Bar and The Richard III Experience in Monk Bar.

Friargate Theatre

Here at the Pigeon Pair and Me, we love a decent theatre show (you can check out this feature to see which theatres we recommend in our home town of London). Although we didn’t visit Friargate Theatre on our visit to York, it’s one we’d definitely like to go to. The small 100-seat studio theatre and 50-seat cafe-style performance space, hosts some entertaining performances, and although they’re not all suitable for children, the Riding Light Youth Theatre based there does some cracking work with young people.

Friargate Theatre address: Lower Friargate, York, YO1 9SL

York Minster

York Minster
York Minster is a beautiful, elegant building.

The magnificent York Minster cathedral dates back to the 7th Century. With exquisite, handcrafted stone and an unrivalled collection of medieval stained glass, it’s an awe-inspiring monument to Christianity, and a beautiful space. Children can explore York Minster with treasure hunts, interactive digital displays and a Little Explorer Backpack, featuring a torch and mirror, magnifying glass, and compass.

York Minster address: Deangate, York YO1 7HH

The York Dungeon

The York Dungeon is an immersive experience, which might be a bit spooky for younger kids, but is great fun for older children. Like the London Dungeon, actors dressed up as chracters from the city’s past, like Vikings, Tudors, highwaymen and victims of the Great Plague. Interactive shows like The Courtroom, York Castle Prison and The Torture Chamber involve visitors in action-packed scenes from the past. Don’t worry, though. There’s no actual torturing!

The York Dungeon address: 12 Clifford St, York YO1 9RD

Free attractions in York: National Railway Museum

Mallard steam train in National Railway Museum York
The collection of trains at the National Railway Museum includes a Mallard.

Locomotive fans will love York’s free National Railway Museum. Visitors can check out charismatic steam trains, like the Mallard, Stirling Single and Duchess of Hamilton. A Japanese bullet train and a Eurostar train display cutting-edge rail technology, and there’s a ride-on miniature train for the little ones, as well as an outdoor play area.

National Railway Museum address: Leeman Road, York YO26 4XJ

Brew York

Brew York microbrewery York
Brew York’s light interior was a welcoming space for children.

Brew York is a microbrewery in the centre of York, set up by two friends who shared a passion for beer and brewing. We visited during the day, and the light, warehouse-style space was welcoming to children. A couple of very small tots were running about when we were there. Brew House serves a wide variety of beers and ales, from the light and fruity (Grapetini Peach Bellini beer, anyone?) to dark, chocolatey malt. Visitors can buy take-out tins in the Brew York shop, and the bar serves food.

Brew York address: Unit 6, Enterprise Complex, Walmgate, York YO1 9TT

How to get to York England

We travelled by train to York while we were staying in nearby Harrogate. It was a quick, easy journey and York’s central station is a beautiful place to arrive at, with a large, curved, glass and iron roof. Direct rail links bring you from London, Edinburgh, and Manchester in around 2 hours. Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds/Bradford airports are within easy reach and the ports of Hull and Newcastle are both less than two hours away.

girl on train
We travelled by train from Harrogate to York.

If you’re going to be spending time in York, it’s worth considering buying a York Pass, which lets you get in to over 45 attractions in York, and nearby. You can find out more about the York Pass here.

Find out about things to do in other Yorkshire towns by checking out these features:

Things to do in Harrogate, north Yorkshire

Pictures to make you fall in love with Harrogate in Autumn

Harrogate Turkish Baths and Health Spa

This feature may contain affiliate links, where I gain commission if you click through and make a purchase. Some images are from Pixabay.

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things to do in York, England with kids

4 Comments

  • Plutonium Sox
    March 10, 2020 at 9:53 am

    What a fab day out. We haven’t been to York since having the children but I really look forward to taking them, and especially visiting the Jorvik Viking Centre. I bet it’s great for getting them interested in history.
    Nat.x

    Reply
  • Newcastle FamilyLife
    March 12, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    I love York and normally visit often as it is not far from Newcastle, although I haven’t been for a couple of years. I am planning on taking the children in the summer so will have to check out some of these places as now they are a bit older I think they would enjoy them as they were toddlers last time we took them x

    Reply
  • Stuart Fahy
    March 14, 2020 at 10:48 am

    I haven’t been to York for a long time, even though it’s so close to my hometown. There’s a lot to do and it’s a very pretty city with a lot of history. Next time I go I’ll definitely make sure to check out some of your recommendations.

    Reply
  • Baby advisor
    April 12, 2020 at 11:44 am

    What a fun things to do! Looks like a great place to visit York historical and modern too. What some amazing adventures and some wonderful memories.

    Reply

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