A visitor’s guide to the best things to do in York, England – top attractions, the best tour and free activities.
Last year, I spent a weekend in York. And quite honestly, it’s one of my favourite cities in England.
It’s got an old world charm while still offering the best of modern life. It’s quaint without being hokey, and has a whole load of interesting history. And also some cute dogs.
While I shared a daily rundown for both Saturday and Sunday at the time, it made sense to pull together a bit of a guide for anyone planning to visit York in the near (or not so near!) future. Quite a few of the paid attractions are free with a YorkPass, and if you’re considering this option, check out my post on whether a YorkPass is worth the money.
So for a run down on eight of the best things to do in York (according to me, and I’m always right) in one handy place…read on, my friends…
The first stop of our weekend in York; Clifford’s Tower is all that remains of the medieval York Castle – built by William the Conqueror. Perched on top of a hilly mound, the walkway around the top offers some pretty epic views of the city.
Inside, as well as the wall walk, you can learn a bit about the history of the castle – and play around with some toy swords, like the responsible adult that you are.
Clifford’s Tower, Tower Street, York, YO1 9SA
Opening times: 10am – 4pm (autumn/winter), 10am – 6pm (spring/summer)
Admission price: Adults £5.40; Children £3.20; Students & Seniors £4.90. Free with an English Heritage Membership or YorkPass.
A total must-visit! It’s that big ol’ cathedral that sits pretty in the centre of the city, and the inside is even more spectacular than the outside.
The site as a church dates back to the 4th century; but as a cathedral, York Minster was completed in 1472. Since then, much restoration work has taken place, and the level of intricate detail that can be found on every wall and ceiling is absolutely enthralling.
The Undercroft Museum is a fascinating look into the building and site’s history, and if you want some unbeatable city views, you can brave the 275-stair tower climb.
York Minster, Deangate, York YO1 7HH
Opening times: 9am – 4.30pm (Mon-Sat), 12.45 – 3pm (Sun).
Admission price: Minster Only: Adults £11; Children free with an adult; Students & Seniors £9. Free with a YorkPass. Minster & Tower: Adults £16; Children £5; Students & Seniors £14.
York’s Chocolate Story
If you like chocolate (which I definitely do…a lot), then this is an obvious one not to miss. York’s Chocolate Story takes you on a tour of the area’s history in chocolate making, telling lots of stories…and offering out plenty of tasty samples. Yesssss. The tour itself is really lively and informative, with fun, chocolate-obsessed guides. Uh, dream job, anyone?!
At the end of the tour, everything goes hands-on! You can make your own chocolate lollipops (which didn’t last long enough to come home as souvenirs…) and then watch a demonstration from a master chocolatier. Which, of course, meant MORE SAMPLES.
York’s Chocolate Story, King’s Square, York YO1 7LD
Opening times: 10am – 4pm
Admission price: Adults £12.50; Children £10; Students & Seniors £11.50. Free with a YorkPass.
Bloody Tour Of York
One of my favourite things to do in any city is explore its seedier underbelly – and York has plenty of that to go around. Led by ‘Mad Alice’, the Bloody Tour of York visits some of the city’s most iconic sights, and tells the gory, grisly stories behind them.
Tales of crime, executions, plagues and murder will leave you with a whole new perspective on York’s history…and it’s also a steal at just a fiver!
Tour times: 6pm (Apr – Oct 6pm & 8pm) – to pre-book email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Admission price: Adults £5; Children £3.
York Castle Museum
Honestly, York Castle Museum had been lower down on my list of things to do in York than some of the others on this list. But after visiting, I definitely recommend checking it out.
The museum offers a variety of different exhibitions – from Yorkshire homes throughout the ages to childhood toys and eras of fashion. The recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate, was perhaps the most impressive – offering shops and building fronts that you can actually go inside. Each shop is based on a real local business from between 1870-1901. Like a really cool interactive history lesson…with sweets.
York Castle Museum, Eye of York, York, YO1 9RY
Opening times: 9.30am – 5pm
Admission price: Adult £10; Children free with an adult; free with a YorkPass
Possibly one of the most Instagrammed streets in England, The Shambles is a beautifully old-fashioned looking street in the centre of the city. The buildings that line its cobbles date back as far as the 14th century, with overhanging upper floors and beams of timber.
A highlight for fans of all things magical is The Shop That Must Not Be Named, dedicated to…you guessed it, all things Harry Potter! Top tip for Potterheads: get there early, as the small space often has a queue snaking round the corner.
Opening times: Street’s open all the time; shop hours vary (but y’know, usual kinda shopping hours)
Admission price: Free (apart from all the cute things you buy, obviously…)
We’d actually heard about the Treasurer’s House on our Bloody York Tour, because apparently it has some spooky stories attached. No ghostly sightings to report on our visit; but I CAN report that the house is pretty lovely to look around.
The historic house was, unsurprisingly, home to the holders of the position of Treasurer for York Minster until 1547, when the position was abolished. In the 1890s, collector Frank Green restored the property, and it’s now owned by the National Trust, with plenty of Frank’s original collections still remaining.
Treasurer’s House, Minster Yard, York YO1 7JL
Opening times: 11am – 4.30pm
Admission price: Adults £8.10; Children £4.05; free with a National Trust Membership or YorkPass
York City Wall Trail
A perfect way to end a weekend break in York, wandering round the City Walls showcases how bloody gorgeous this city is.
The medieval city walls were mostly built in the 13th century, circling historic York. The full route takes around 1hr 30 – 2hrs, showing off gateways, gardens, towers and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.
Opening times: 8am – dusk
Admission price: Free
Guide to the Wall Trail
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