Christmas in York is magical.
From the wooden chalets of York’s Christmas Market, the Christmas lights on the city’s historic buildings to the illuminated majesty of York Minster – York has to be one of the best places to visit at Christmas. It was even voted Most Festive City in the United Kingdom in 2017!
There are lots of attractions in York at Christmas so here is our handy 12 ‘Days’ of Christmas in York guide!
Christmas in York
1.York Christmas Market
The York Christmas Market – or to give it is proper name, the St Nicholas Fair – runs for six weeks during November and December. In 2019, the award winning market is open from 14th November to 22nd December.
York’s Christmas Market is popular with locals and tourists alike. Over 100 alpine style wooden chalets are erected along York’s pedestrianised city centre offering unique and unusual gift ideas.
Choose from home made goods, artisan crafts or specialty food and drink. There are lots of delicious free food and drink samples plus a covered marquee especially for items made in Yorkshire.
Brass bands and carol singers entertain you as you browse the market and there is a fun, festive atmosphere. The market is prettily illuminated after dark.
The market opens at 10 am and stays open till late.
2.Christmas Shopping in York
Christmas shopping in York is easy; the city centre is compact and easily covered on foot with most of the streets and lanes pedestrianised during the day.
Visit the ornate shops of stone flagged Stonegate or the quirky vintage shops of Fossgate.
Don’t miss the 70 plus covered market stalls of the Shambles Market, set in a pretty cobbled square behind the historic Shambles.
Make time to visit the gorgeous Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop on Stonegate or the Nutcracker Christmas shop on The Shambles to pick up a York themed Christmas decoration.
Or take a break from the bustle of Christmas shopping to enjoy a peaceful walk along York’s medieval city walls, the longest city walls in England.
The walls are accessed or exited from four medieval gateways called ‘Bars’ which are located at the compass points of the city.
Micklegate Bar is strikingly illuminated for the Christmas period.
3.Attend a service in York Minster
Attending a free to enter service at York Minster is a wonderful experience at any time of year, but at Christmas, the historic cathedral is truly special.
The festive season begins with a special advent service on December 1st during which York Minster’s enormous advent wreath is hoisted into an elevated position.
Sankta Lucia Day is celebrated on December 7th with a candle lit procession and service.
There are carol concerts and music events throughout advent but the most popular events at York Minster at Christmas are the two ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ services.
The ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ services are open to all and are much loved by York residents. Large queues form to enter the Minster for these services so wrap up warm and arrive early to get a seat.
You won’t regret it!
4.Enjoy the festive displays in York’s historic houses
The beautiful, historic houses of York produce fantastic festive displays.
The Eighteenth Century Mansion House, the home of the current Lord Mayor of York, is transforming into a themed Gingerbread House for the 2019 Christmas season.
View the elegant table decorations and festive food and drink displays at the gorgeous Georgian era Fairfax House on Coppergate. You can have a go at making your own decorations in the recreated basement kitchen.
Or admire the traditional wreaths, green garlands and twinkling Christmas trees at the pretty Treasurer’s House behind York Minster.
In addition to exploring the house, add on a hard hat tour to the Treasurer’s House attic or, if you brave enough, down to the basement which is allegedly one of the most haunted spots in York.
5.See the Christmas lights in York and enjoy a Christmas film
Visit the giant Christmas trees at Coppergate or St Helen’s Square. Wander the pedestrianised city centre which is adorned with wall hanging Christmas trees and light displays.
Don’t miss the festive lights on The Shambles. The atmospheric Shambles – said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter novels – feels like stepping into Christmas past.
After savouring the city’s Christmas lights, wrap up warm and watch a free screening of a festive film at Spark:York.
This popular outdoor community space on Piccadilly was created with shipping containers which host independent food and drink businesses. It is well worth a visit.
6. Sing your heart out at a carol concert
Christmas isn’t Christmas without a good sing along!
Several locations in the city centre host carol concerts during the Christmas period. Join a candleit service at St. Michael le Belfrey (opposite York Minster) or enjoy a classical Christmas at the National Centre For Early Music.
My favourite carol concert in York at Christmas is the Annual Community Concert held at York Barbican. This year the concert take place on Sunday 15th December and is the 62nd year it has been running!
Local choirs, school choirs and bands gather to sing a range of Christmas songs from different genres. The concert is always great festive fun for all the family.
7. Thor’s Tipi
After a busy day of Christmas shopping, visit Thor’s Tipi in the heart of York’s Christmas market.
Take a well earned rest on a sheepskin covered bench in front of a roaring log fire. Enjoy a pint of ale, a glass of mulled wine or creamy hot chocolate.
The Tipi is specially erected each Christmas in York and should not be missed!
8. Go to a Pantomine
A Christmas pantomine is a must do attraction in York at Christmas. Oh yes it is, oh no it isn’t….
Traditional fairy tales are given a cheeky twist in these all singing, all dancing comedy productions.
If you are visiting from another country, do not be alarmed when the audience starts shouting at the actors on stage. The more audience participation in a pantomime the better!
Get ready to boo, hiss and shout out – ‘oh yes it is’ and ‘it’s behind you’ are the classic one liners. Sing along, join in the dance moves and shed your inhibitions!
York hosts several Christmas pantomimes with three theatres within the city centre; The Grand Opera House, the Theatre Royal and York Barbican.
A pantomime is a unique and festive slice of British culture that you will not experience elsewhere in the world.
For something a little different, York Castle Museum are hosting an adults only, immersive production of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’
The production is perfectly located on York Castle Museums famous, full size, cobbled Victorian street, Kirkgate.
The performances are part of the museums 2019 Christmas theme ‘A Dickensian Christmas.’
9. Visit Santa in his grotto
Father Christmas meets children to add to his Christmas Eve list at several locations in York city centre.
He has a cosy chalet on Coppergate and a welcoming grotto at York Castle Museum.
Or visit Santa in the roof of the historic Treasurer’s House or on a City Cruise boat touring the River Ouse.
10. Indulge in a festive afternoon tea
York is full of fantastic restaurants, bars and cafes with many offering festive dinner menus and festive drinks.
For an indulgent festive afternoon tea experience, head to the gorgeous The Principal Hotel, The Grange or the decadent Grand Hotel which is York’s only five star hotel.
For a festive treat, enjoy an delicious afternoon tea at the iconic Betty’s Tea Rooms in the centre of York. This one hundred year old York institution is a hugely popular venue.
Enjoy festive tunes from a classical pianist whilst savouring a Fat Rascal or mince pie accompanied by the best tea there is, Yorkshire Tea. All of which will be served on bone china crockery by bow tied waiters.
11. Go ice skating
Everyone loves ice skating at Christmas; it is magical. In York, there is an excellent pop up rink at the York Winter Wonderland.
York Winter Wonderland is located at the MacArthur Glen’s York Designer Outlet on the edge of York, easily reached by car or by a ten minute bus ride (Number 7 Red Line) from York City Centre.
The illuminated ice rink is centred around a huge Christmas tree. There is a large enclosed festive cafe and fairground rides and attractions. First time ice skaters are welcome, as are families – the rink hosts parent and toddler sessions where penguin shaped stabilizers are available for younger skaters.
After your skate, head inside to the warm York Designer Outlet to pick up a Christmas bargain.
12. Enjoy a festive day trip from York
There are lots of great locations for a day trip from York at Christmas.
Two of the best during the festive season are Castle Howard and Stockeld Park.
Castle Howard is an eighteenth century stately home located 15 miles north of York and it is spectacular at Christmas.
The ornate rooms and hallways of the impressive house are imaginatively and professionally decorated to an annually changing theme. The rooms are resplendent; full of glitter and incredible attention to detail. Carol singers entertain you as you wander around the colourful festive displays.
For 2019, the theme is ‘A Christmas Masquerade.’
In addition, there is a courtyard Christmas market and covered cafe.
If the weather is good, enjoy a woodland walk in the expansive grounds of the estate. Castle Howard is part of the Howardian Hills, a region designated as ‘An Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and there are scenic walks to suit all ages and abilities.
Or head to the fantastic outdoor adventure playground, Skelf Island.
I love visiting Castle Howard at any time of year but is one of my favourite attractions in York at Christmas.
Stockeld Park is an enormous outdoor park a twenty minute drive from York city centre. The park hosts different seasonal themed attractions throughout the year.
Christmas is the biggest and best season at Stockeld Park. You can go ice skating, shop for a Christmas tree, visit Santa, try Nordic skiing or wander through the beautifully illuminated Enchanted Forest.
Or tire out the kids in the extensive adventure playground or get lost together in the pretty Snowflake Maze.
The park is free to enter with tickets available to purchase for the different activities.
Book online in advance to secure the cheapest prices.
If you are visiting York with kids, check out my list of 50 best things to do with kids in Yorkshire.
Spending Christmas in York will undoubtedly get you into the festive spirit!
Whether you eat, drink, shop, skate or sing, York at Christmas is a magical place to create memories.
Have you visited York at Christmas? What were your favourite attractions?