There are loads of things to do in York with kids that adults will enjoy just as much as the kids.
The historic city is a fantastic destination for a family trip and as York is a small, compact city, the major York attractions can be visited on foot.
York is a fascinating city with a rich cultural heritage – you can visit buildings and ruins from the Roman, Viking, Medieval, Georgian and Victorian eras all in one day!
Things to do in York With Kids
The largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe may not sound like a fun York attraction to visit with kids but the Minster has worked hard to make the cathedral a welcoming and engaging attraction for children.
York Minster lies in the heart of the city – you will easily find the iconic cathedral as under city law, no building within the city walls is permitted to be taller than the Minster.
Children can borrow free ‘Little Explorer’ backpacks which include age appropriate trails, a mirror for viewing the ceilings, binoculars, map and a compass.
Plus, every Saturday there are free tours of the Minster specifically for children starting from the aptly named Children’s Chapel.
Don’t miss the enormous Great East Window which is the largest expanse of stained glass in the world or the eerie, atmospheric Crypt.
At the Undercroft museum children can see and touch archaeological artefacts from Roman and Viking times and dress up in historical outfits.
Visit the beautifully decorated, multi sided Chapter House which hosts craft activities for kids during school holidays. No advance booking is necessary. Check the York Minster website for details of upcoming events.
If you have a head for heights (and the weather is good!) adults and children over 8 can climb the 275 steps of the central tower for an incredible birds eye view of York.
One of the best things to do in York is to attend a service at York Minster. Services are free to attend and offer visitors the chance to hear the incredible Minster organ and choir. The cathedral will not be accessible for sightseeing during or after a service.
After your visit, run off excess energy in pretty Dean’s Park behind the Minster. The park is home to the Cathedral Library but also give picture perfect views of York Minster.
Cost – £11.50 for adults with up to four children under 16 with each paying adult. Toilet, cafe and shop on site.
Duration – 2 – 3 hours
Walk York’s City Walls
See York from a different perspective by walking the city’s medieval walls. The walls are two miles long and the longest city walls in England.
Enter or exit the walls at one of the four fortified medieval gateways called ‘bars’. Just to confuse visitors, major streets in York are called ‘gates’!
A circuit of the walls takes around two hours to complete but most visitors just walk one section. The most popular section – and the most scenic – is from Bootham Bar to Micklegate Bar which winds past York Minster, Dean’s Park and the Treasurer’s House.
Bootham Bar is the closest bar to York Minster and is home to an exhibition about King Richard III. Micklegate Bar has a museum about King Henry VII and Walmgate Bar is the only bar with a cafe.
Kids will love the cramped, atmospheric entrance at Micklegate Bar and will enjoy viewing its portcullis, archer slits and gruesome murder holes.
The walls are quiet and peaceful to walk but are not enclosed so keep young children close. Access at all the Bars is by steep, narrow stairs so buggies will need to be carried. There are also several steps along the walls so watch your step at the same time as admiring the views!
The city walls is one of our favourite places to visit in York.
Cost – free
Duration – 1 -2 hours
The Shambles is an atmospheric, cobbled shopping street famous for its tightly packed together, lopsided, overhanging buildings.
It has been voted ‘Best Street in Britain’ and is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies!
In medieval times, The Shambles was full of butchers shops – look carefully and you can still see the meat hooks hanging above the shop front ledges where the raw meat was once displayed.
Visit The Shambles early or late as it gets very busy! Pop behind The Shambles into Newgate Market for food, drink and public toilets.
If you are visiting York at Christmas don’t miss The Shambles – from glitter balls to fake snow, it looks magical!
Cost – free
Duration – under one hour
Jorvik Viking Centre
Jorvik is the most popular York museum. It is a small, engaging museum housing Viking era artefacts found during a four year dig on this very site.
You can see the remains of Viking streets and homes beneath the glass floor of the museum and a range of remarkably well preserved artefacts explain how the Vikings in York lived and died.
The highlight of the museum is a historical ‘cab’ ride through a life size Viking settlement which evokes the sights, sounds and smells of the Viking era. After visiting Jorvik, kids will remember how Vikings went to the toilet!
Visit Jorvik early or late to avoid long queues or book your tickets online in advance.
Cost – £12.50 for adults, £8.50 for children. Family of four £35.
Duration – 1 hour
DIG is a a fun thing to do in York with kids as the small, archaeology themed museum is specifically aimed at younger children.
Kids can learn about the Viking and Roman eras, sort and examine real artefacts with microscopes and magnifying glasses or pretend to be archeologists and dig in four specially constructed pits.
Cost -£7 for adults, £6.50 for children. Tickets are cheaper online in advance.
If you are plan to visit DIG and Jorvik, consider the ‘Triple Ticket’. This includes Jorvik, Dig and Barley Hall and costs £18 for adults, £12.50 for children and £50 for a family of four.
Duration – 1 hour
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is one of the best things to do in York with kids as well as the best free museum in York!
The museum offers something for everyone and families can easily spend a full day here.
There are two huge halls crammed with gleaming train engines and carriages of every size and colour, several of which kids can climb up to, into or even underneath.
Don’t miss the enormous section of the Channel Tunnel with its Eurostar nosecone or the chance to sit in a Shinkansen carriage, the only Bullet Train outside Japan. Admire the luxury of the Royal Train carriages and see a replica of Stevensons iconic ‘The Rocket.’
Go to the outdoor balcony to wave at the trains entering York railway station or watch the engineers and restorers at work in the workshop. Wander ‘The Warehouse’ packed with chairs, lights, signals and all other things train!
There are daily, free science shows which are both educational and fun. Kids will love seeing Barbie shot out of a cannon.
Take a short ride on a steam train (£4) or a miniature railway (£3).
There is a cafe and restaurant on site, a picnic area and a small playground.
The musuem is just outside the city walls and takes 15 minutes to walk to from York city centre.
Alternatively, you can catch the museum’s road train which departs every 30 minutes from outside York Minster (Adults £3 each way, children £2).
Cost – free
Duration – at least half a day
The Yorkshire Museum
The Yorkshire Museum is in Museum Gardens, a five minute walk from York Minster.
The fascinating museum is packed with hands on, interactive exhibits about York’s Roman and medieval past. There are period costumes to try on and craft activities during the school holidays. There is also an excellent dinosaur section.
There are regular events for children and families and you can download age appropriate trails from the website in advance of your visit.
Cost – £8 for adults, children 5 – 16 £3.50
Duration – 1 hour
After visiting the Yorkshire Museum, allocate time to explore the gorgeous Museum Gardens – an underrated, free York attraction.
The popular city centre park is ideal for a picnic and a runaround but also has several attractions.
Explore the 12th century photogenic ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and the black and white 15th Century Tudor building, the Hospitium.
Visit the tiny 19th century Observatory, the oldest observatory in Yorkshire and see the oldest Roman ruins in York, the 2,000 year old Multiangular Tower. Download the gardens ‘Squirrel Trail’ to learn about the different sites in the gardens.
Kids will love Museum Gardens wide open spaces, colourful flower beds and the woodland storytelling circle.
York Castle Museum
York Castle Museum is my favourite York museum. Situated opposite Clifford’s Tower, the Castle Museum depicts York through the ages.
The museum is famous for ‘Kirkgate,’ a full size replica of a Victorian street. Kids can enter the shops, schoolroom, police station and the pharmacy where Kirkgate residents explain what life was like in Victorian York. Kirkgate even has a fantastic old fashioned sweet shop.
The toy gallery and recreated living rooms will have adults reminiscing about their childhood days and there is a sobering section on York during the World Wars. I love the colourful Swinging Sixties exhibition.
York Castle Museum was once the courthouse and prison for York and you can visit the eerie cells where the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was imprisoned.
The creative use of hologram actors inform visitors about the harsh conditions suffered by the prisoners. Don’t miss the information board at the end of the cells which tells you what actually happened to the people you met in the prison.
Cost – Admission is £12 for adults and £4 for children.
Duration – 2-3 hours
York Art Gallery
With a priceless art and ceramics collection spanning over 500 years, York Art Gallery may not immediately strike you as a child friendly attraction! However, the York Museums Trust has worked hard to make this recently renovated building accessible to families.
Permanent exhibits are helpfully labeled ‘just look’ or ‘hands on’ so kids know what items they are allowed to touch. Plus, I liked that the museum has free to use sketchbooks and drawing materials dotted throughout the museum.
During the school holidays, pre-bookable activities such as collage and clay workshops are available in the museum’s onsite studio.
Don’t miss the Edible Wood at the back of the museum, a small but beautiful garden dedicated to edible plants (no eating allowed)!
There are toilets and an excellent cafe on site.
Cost – £8 for adults, £3.50 for children
Duration – 2 hours
If you are planning to visit the Yorkshire Museum, York Castle Museum and York Art Gallery, consider purchasing the Yorkshire Museum Trust Card or the YMT. It is cheaper than paying three separate entrance fees.
Cost – A YMT card costs £25 for adults, £15 for children.
English Heritage owned Clifford’s Tower is the remnants of a Norman castle or ‘keep’ which was built on an artificial mound and lies opposite York Castle Museum.
Steep steps lead to the small, open keep where exhibits explain how the tower was constructed and used 1,000 years ago. Kids will enjoy the medieval games that are available to play on the floor of the keep.
From the keep floor, a set of narrow, winding steps lead to the parapet for a fantastic 360 degree view of York. It is always windy at the parapet!
Cost – Entrance is free to English Heritage members. For none members, admission costs £5.90 for adults, £3.50 for children. Family of four £15.30.
If you like visiting historic properties such as Clifford’s Tower, English Heritage membership is worth considering. As up to six children are free with each adult membership, it could save you a lot of money over one year. Check out their other properties in Yorkshire here.
Duration – 1 hour
York Chocolate Story
York Chocolate Story explores the long history of chocolate manufacturing in York.
The city was once home to three different chocolate factories, including Terry’s (chocolate orange ) and there is still one chocolate factory operating in York today. On a ‘good’ day you can smell melting chocolate in the air!
An engaging tour (with occasional chocolate freebies) culminates with the chance to make your own delicious chocolate lollipop.
Costs – £13.50 adults, £10.95 for children, £44.95 for a family of four.
Duration – 1-2 hours
The York Dungeons
This York attraction is not recommended for children under 8 – or the faint hearted!
A 75 minute tour consists of ten live ‘shows’ in which actors humorously describe and reenact York’s terrifying and gruesome history.
Be prepared for sudden loud noises and dark, creepy rooms!
Costs – Online advance tickets are the cheapest option at £10.17 per adult, and £8.97 for children.
Duration – 1 – 1 1/2 hours
If you are travelling to York by train, you can visit the Days Out Guide to purchase a 2 for 1 voucher for York Dungeons.
Historic Houses in York
York’s historic houses are well worth visiting with kids with each historic attraction offering an engaging, educative visit.
The timber framed medieval townhouse, Barley Hall, depicts life in medieval York. Highlights include an ornate banqueting room with replica food and crockery.
The gorgeous Georgian townhouse, Fairfax House, has resplendent fully furnished bedrooms and dining rooms showing what life was like for the affluent in the Georgian era.
The quirky Treasurer’s House tucked behind York Minster is not as old as it first appears. The house was renovated in a medieval era style to showcase the historical collection of its owner.
The residence of the current Lord Mayor Of York, the centrally located The Mansion House, is over 800 years old. Visitors can admire the collections of silverware, ceramics and mayoral ceremonial items as well as fully furnished rooms. Don’t miss the excellent kitchen downstairs which hosts daily, live cooking demonstrations – Georgian style!
This park is the biggest in York and is a 15 minute walk from the city centre along the River Ouse.
The landscaped, spacious park is ideal for ball games and picnics and there are toilets and an excellent cafe on site.
There are two age appropriate playgrounds, a lake, tennis courts and a skateboard track.
This lovely, landscaped 14 acre park a short ten minute walk from Bootham Bar.
The park has two large green spaces, a fantastic playground, rock garden, medieval garden and a gorgeous wildflower meadow.
There are toilets, parking and a mobile cafe on site.
The River Ouse
The River Ouse is lined with a pushchair friendly, paved riverbank popular with joggers, cyclists and walkers.
Stroll along the Ouse, watch the rowers and enjoy a delicious ice cream from Two Hoots ice cream boat.
The river bank is not fenced and is very steep so keep small children close.
See York from a different perspective and enjoy a leisurely, commentated river trip with City Cruises. Day and evening short cruises are available.
Alternatively, a fun thing to do in York is to be your own captain and hire your own Red Boat for up to 8 people. Prices start at £30 for one hour.
The Cat Trail
You may notice that many York buildings have a cat sculpture on their wall, roof or chimney. The cats were originally added to frighten away birds but soon became a signature part of York architecture.
Pick up a free Cat Trail from The Cat Gallery on Low Petergate or download one in advance and follow the one hour trail around the city to spot 20 cat sculptures.
York is a compact city that is easily covered on foot but if you wish, you can see the city with a commentated open top bus tour or a hop on/hop off bus tour. Note that the tour buses do not go inside the city walls.
For budget conscious families, there are free, guided, walking tours daily.
Starting at 11 am from York Minster, White Rose Tours last for three hours including a half way break. Families can join the tip based tour for as long or as little time as you like.
Alternatively, the Association of Voluntary Guides to the city of York offer free, no tip tours starting outside York Art Gallery at 10.15 amd and 1.15 pm daily.
Cost – A hop on/hop off tour with City Sightseeing cost £16 adults, £9 children and £35 for a family of four.
Take a night time ghost tour of York
York is (allegedly) one of England’s most haunted locations and a fun thing to do in York is to join a night time ghost tour that bring nervous visitors to York’s most haunted spots. All tours last two hours and entertaining, knowledgeable guides bring the gruesome history of York to life with engaging stories of how York residents lived and died.
The tours are not particularly scary but are interesting and fun. You also get to see streets and snickets in York that you may not otherwise have visited. I have joined several of these tours over the years and they are always good fun.
Alternatively, tired feet could opt for a ghost bus tour riding on a traditional Routemaster bus. The tour does not go inside the city walls and is not suitable for children under 5.
York Family Friendly Festivals and Events
Wrap up warm for the ice sculpture trail in February and watch talented sculptors create on the spot ice carvings.
Enjoy the week long Viking Festival in February which attracts ‘tribes’ from all over Europe. Kids can try sword fighting (wooden swords) or watch the ‘best beard’ competition. Don’t miss the highlight of the festival, the rousing noisy parade of tribes through the city centre.
Learn about York’s Roman era by visiting the living history camp at the Eboracum Roman Festival in June.
York at Christmas is a perfect festive family destination. The city hosts a six week long fabulous Christmas market, a giant city centre tipi, carol concerts and pantomimes. The city is covered in lights and Christmas trees and The Shambles has fake snow if Yorkshire weather hasn’t produced the real stuff by then!
Tips For Visiting York With Kids
Getting to York
Do not drive into York city centre. City centre car parking is limited and expensive.
Use one of the city’s four Park and Ride schemes located at each compass point to the city – Poppleton Bar (west), Rawcliffe Bar (north), Monks Cross (east) and Askham Bar (south). Up to three children travel free with each paying adult (£3.50 return).
York is a great city to visit by train. It is just two hours from London or Edinburgh by train and from York railway station it is a short ten minute walk to the city centre. Or use a Park and Ride bus service.
Getting around York with kids
York is small and can be easily covered on foot. Plan your sightseeing in advance in order to group sights together to avoid criss crossing the city.
For example, visit York Minster, Museum Gardens and the National Railway Museum.
Another day visit The Shambles, Jorvik, Clifford’s Tower and York Castle Museum.
The city centre is mostly pedestrianised so you will need to find a perimeter road to access bus routes or taxi ranks.
It is a pushchair friendly city. However, many of York’s building are old with small rooms and narrow, stepped entrances. You may be asked to fold your buggy or pushchair at smaller cafes or restaurants.
Rainy days in York with kids
Rainy days are perfect museum days!
Or stay dry at two York cinemas – Picturehouse on Coney Street and Everyman on Blossom Street. Both cinemas offer significantly discounted children’s movies on Saturday mornings and during school holidays.
There are soft play areas on the fringes of York such as the huge Creepy Crawlies at Clifton Moor.
Families with older kids could visit the excellent Energi Trampoline Park or Agility, both in Nether Poppleton.
Public toilets in York
Fee paying public toilets can be found in Coppergate near Jorvik and in Newgate Market behind The Shambles as well as in most city centre car parks.
Free – and clean – toilets can be found on the top floor of Marks and Spencers, on the ground floor of Brown’s Department Store and on the first floor of Fenwick’s in Coppergate.
Places to eat in York
York is packed with bakeries. Pick up a hot or cold lunch for a picnic from Cooplands, Thomas’s or Gregg’s. Gregg’s on Pavement has a seating area.
The independent Sandwich Shop on The Shambles is one of the cheapest sandwich shops in York or try the street food available in Newgate Market.
Or for something different, indulge in take away ‘Yorkie Pud Wrap’ from the York Roast Company on the corner or Goodramgate an Low Petergate. It is what it says it is – a full roast dinner wrapped like a fajita in a giant Yorkshire pudding!
Several pizza restaurants offer discounts for children including ASK which is houses in a beautiful building on Blake Street. Search vouchers sites such as Groupon for their latest York deals.
Don’t discount York pubs which are welcoming to dining families. Our family favourite is the Market Cart in Newgate Market which serves delicious pizza to booths on their second and third floors. The top floor has fantastic views of the market and York Minster.
For a treat …
There is no better place to visit in York than the iconic Betty’s Tea Rooms.
This 100 year old tea room in the heart of the city centre is like stepping back in time. Enter the art deco cafe to be served by bow tied waiting staff on bone china crockery whilst being serenaded by a classical pianist.
Betty’s cakes are irresistible but their breakfast, lunches and dinners are also fantastic.
You cannot pre-book for Betty’s you will have to turn up and queue but it will be worth it.
Where to stay in York with kids
Families should stay as close to the city as possible to minimise walking or time spent on public transport.
Few accommodation providers in York offer free, onsite parking.
If you stay outside the city, try to stay near a rail line or close to a Park and Ride scheme to avoid the need to drive into the city centre. Note that most Park and Ride timetables finish early in the evenings.
Self Catering York accommodation
Check out the high quality, self catering family accommodation provided by YorGuest.
The accommodation is great value for money and as the company is owned by experienced property managers who are also York residents, you know that the accommodation you book has been vetted and is regularly checked.
Budget accommodation in York with kids
Family rooms are great value for money at a Travelodge hotel. Their Micklegate site is an ideal choice if you are visiting York by train as it is a ten minute walk from York rail station and a five minute walk to the city centre. The Piccadilly site is a five minute walk to the city centre.
Both sites offer a light breakfast box but unfortunately there are car parking fees at both places.
Premier Inn York
The budget chain has two city centre sites and several on the outskirts of York. Their most central site is on Blossom Street, five minutes walk from York rail station and a ten minute walk through historic Micklegate to York city centre.
There is an onsite restaurant and parking costs £13 for 24 hours.
The hostel is situated in Clifton Green and offers family rooms with or without an ensuite bathroom. Families can walk into York via the car free riverside path (15 minutes) or can catch a bus from Clifton Green to the city centre.
This large, new hostel on Micklegate which offers ensuite private rooms for up to four people. It is located in a grand Georgian house and is not your average hostel!
Safestay York is a ten minute walk from York rail station and just five minutes into York city centre. Micklegate is a lively location at night so you may want to request a quiet room.
Mid range accommodation in York with kids
The Bar Convent
For something different, why not stay in England’s oldest convent?
The Bar Convent opposite Micklegate Bar offers en-suite family rooms for three people including breakfast. The convent is five minutes walk from York Rail station and a ten minute walk to York city centre. There is no parking on site but there is long stay parking a two minute walk away.
Dean Court Hotel
This hotel has one of the most enviable locations in York – right in the heart of the city centre directly opposite York Minster.
The hotel offers ensuite family rooms for four and one room for five. There is valet parking for £20 per day.
This four star aparthotel is ideal for families hoping to keep costs down by self catering. Family rooms come with kitchenettes including a fridge and microwave. There is complimentary Wifi and cots provided.
The hotel is a one minute walk to Walmgate Bar and a ten minute walk to York city centre.
This centrally located hotel is directly opposite Clifford’s Tower and York Castle Museum. There is a restaurant on site with children’s menus and cost available on request.
This hotel is just outside the city walls and a ten minute walk to the city centre. This family friendly chain has a heated indoor pool for York’s rainy days and a hot breakfast included in their very competitive room rates. Highly recommended!
Holiday Inn York
This sprawling hotel is a little further away from York city centre but offers families fantastic value for money. Children under the age of 17 stay and eat for free – at anytime of the day!
It is a 20 minute walk to York city centre but there are several buses you can catch. The Holiday Inn is adjacent to York Racecourse and the Knavesmire and is a fantastic choice if attending an event at the racecourse.
Tip – If you stay here, visit the National Trust owned Goddard’s House a few doors away. It is one of York’s hidden gems!
The Churchill Hotel
This hotel is a gorgeous Georgian mansion a short ten minute walk from Bootham Bar and York Minster. The hotel offers a variety of family rooms (with proper beds for everyone) and an on site restaurant.
Luxury York accommodation
The Grand Hotel York
Family accommodation doesn’t get more luxurious than The Grand Hotel, York’s only five star hotel.
The hotel is a two minute walk from York Railway Station and a five minute walk to the city centre. There is an excellent restaurant on site as well as a luxurious spa and swimming pool.
There is also a catering school on site where families or individuals can sign up for full day or half day cooking courses. You do not have to be a hotel guest to book these courses.
Airbnb’s in York with kids
Check out our useful guide on staying in an Airbnb with kids here.
Few Airbnb properties offer onsite parking, some will provide parking permits for space to find yourself whilst others are located near long stay car parks. Make sure you read the small print carefully.
Family Caravan Parks in York
The most central caravan park in York city centre that allows children is the York Rowntree Caravan and Camping Club Site.
The site is adjacent to Rowntree’s Park on the bank of the River Ouse and short ten minute walk to the city centre.
A hard standing pitch with awning costing £39.40 per night for two adults. Children are an extra £3.90 per child per night.
Family Campsites in York
There are no city centre campgrounds so camping families will need to stay on the fringes of York.
Check out the gorgeous wooded site Nurseries Caravan Park at Askham Bryan, Naburn Lock Caravan Park in Naburn or Ashfield Touring Park in Dunnington. All of these campsites are on, or near, a direct bus route into York.
Interested in days out near York? Want to explore the stunning Yorkshire Dales, the windswept Yorkshire Moors or the north coast’s sandy beaches? Check out my list of the 50 best things to do with kids in Yorkshire.
Have you visited York? If you have any other tips for what to do in York with kids I would love to hear from you!