Updated June 2021
There are loads of things to do in York with kids to suit all ages and interests.
York is a compact, family friendly city and most of York’s attractions are easily visited on foot.
The city of York has a rich cultural heritage and families can visit buildings (and ruins) from the Roman, Viking, Medieval, Georgian and Victorian eras all in one day.
*Please note that many attractions in York currently have Covid restrictions including pre booking only. Please see relevant websites for details*
Table of Contents
Best 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 as is easy to find as no building within the city walls is permitted to be taller than the Minster.
There are regular daily tours of the Minster plus on Saturdays there are tours specifically for children.
Children can borrow ‘Little Explorer’ backpacks which include age appropriate trails, a mirror for viewing the ceilings, binoculars, map and a compass.
York Minster services are free to attend and offer visitors the chance to hear the incredible Minster organ and choir. However, the cathedral will not be accessible for sightseeing during or after a service so to fully explore the cathedral, visit during designated hours.
What to see inside York Minster
Wander the decorated nave, visit the Children’s Chapel or descend into the eerie atmospheric Crypt.
Children can touch archaeological artefacts from Roman and Viking times and dress up in historical outfits in the Undercroft Museum.
Don’t miss the enormous Great East Window which is the largest expanse of stained glass in the world.
Visit the multi sided Chapter House which hosts drop in craft activities for kids during school holidays. Check the York Minster website for details of upcoming events.
Plus, if you have a head for heights adults and children over 8 can climb the 275 steps of the central tower for an incredible birds eye view of York.
Cost – £12.00 for adults with up to four children under 16 with each paying adult. There is a toilet, cafe and shop on site.
Duration – 2 – 3 hours. Tours last one hour.
Local’s tip – Run off excess energy in Dean’s Park behind York Minster.
The park is popular with city workers and is home to the Cathedral Library. It also provides fantastic views of York Minster.
Another great view of York Minster is from Precentor’s Court, a narrow residential lane opposite the Minster’s front entrance.
Walk York’s City Walls
See York from a different perspective by walking the city’s medieval walls which at two miles long are the longest city walls in England.
It take around two hours to complete a circuit but most visitors just walk one or two sections. 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.
Enter or exit the walls at one of the four fortified medieval gateways which are called ‘bars’. Just to confuse visitors, major streets in York are called ‘gates’!
What is there to see on York city walls?
Bootham Bar, opposite York Art Gallery, is the closest bar to York Minster and houses an exhibition about King Richard III.
Walmgate Bar is the only bar to still have its barbican section which is now home to a lovely outdoor cafe.
Micklegate Bar is the nearest to York rail station and houses a museum about Henry VII.
Monk Bar is the ‘must visit’ bar.
It is the largest and most ornate bar and is accessed by steep, cramped stairs which will make kids feel like they are stepping back in time. The 14th century, four storey fortress still has it’s portcullis, medieval arrow slits and murder holes.
Cost – free. Access is by steep, narrow stairs so buggies will need to be carried. Plus, the walls are not enclosed so keep young children close.
There are also several steps along the walls so watch your step at the same time as admiring the views.
Duration – 1 -2 hours
*Due to Covid restrictions, the walls are currently operating on a one way system*
This atmospheric, short cobbled street is famous for its tightly packed together, lopsided, overhanging medieval era 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 the location of the city’s 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.
If you are visiting York at Christmas don’t miss The Shambles; it looks magical adorned with glitter balls and fake snow.
Cost – free. The cobbles give a bumpy ride for pushchairs.
Newgate Market adjacent to The Shambles has public toilets.
Duration – under one hour
Local’s tip – Visit The Shambles as early as you can as it gets very busy.
For a respite from the crowds, pop into Margaret Clitherow’s Shrine, a tiny chapel hidden behind an unassuming wooden door half way down The Shambles.
The chapel is dedicated to York’s only saint who lived with her husband (a butcher) on The Shambles in the 16th Century.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Known to locals as ‘Jorvik’, this is the most popular museum in York.
Jorvik is a small museum housing Viking era artefacts found during a four year dig on this site.
Visitors can see the remains of Viking homes and streets beneath the glass floor of the museum. Plus, 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. Kids will remember how Vikings went to the toilet long after their visit!
Cost – £12.50 for adults, £8.50 for children. Family of four £35.
Visit Jorvik early or late to avoid long queues or book your tickets online in advance. *June 2021 -Tickets can ONLY be booked online in advance*
Duration – 1 hour
DIG is a small, archaeology themed museum and is a fun thing to do in York with younger kids.
Kids can learn about the Viking and Roman eras, sort and examine real artefacts with microscopes and magnifying glasses or pretend to be archaeologists and dig in four specially constructed pits.
Cost -£7 for adults, £6.50 for children, £22 for a family of four. Tickets are cheaper online in advance.
If you are plan to visit DIG and Jorvik, consider purchasing a ‘Double Ticket’ for £15.50/£12.00. Or you can buy a ‘Triple Ticket’ that includes Barley Hall.
Duration – 1 hour
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is one of the best things to do in York with kids and is also the best free museum in York!
The huge museum offers something for everyone and families can easily spend a full day here.
There are two 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 a 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 Stevenson’s iconic ‘The Rocket.’
Wave at the trains entering York railway station on the museum’s outdoor balcony or watch the engineers and restorers at work in the workshop.
Wander ‘The Warehouse’ which is packed with chairs, lights, signals and all other things train related.
There are daily, free science shows which mix education with 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.
Cost – free
Duration – at least half a day
The musuem is a 15 minute walk to/from York city centre but weary legs can catch the museum’s road train which departs every 30 minutes from outside York Minster (Adults £3 each way, children £2).
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
The gorgeous, riverside Museum Gardens is an underrated and free York attraction.
This popular city centre park is ideal for a picnic and a runaround but is also home to the Yorkshire Museum and several other 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 Museum Gardens free ‘Squirrel Trail’ to learn about the different sites in the gardens.
The Yorkshire Museum
This museum is known for its Medieval and Roman era exhibitions and artefacts but our kids enjoy the Jurassic exhibition best.
Under 5’s can borrow Dinosaur Backpacks with age appropriate activities whereas older kids will love the immersive Coral Seas and Deep Oceans section. There is also Virtual Reality dinosaur feeding available.
Cost – £8 for adults, £4 for children.
Duration – 2 hours
York Castle Museum
This is our family’s favourite York museum as there is so much variety.
Situated opposite Clifford’s Tower, York Castle Museum depicts York through the ages. The toy gallery and recreated living rooms from different eras will have adults reminiscing about their childhood days.
There is a moving section on York during the World Wars and I loved the contrasting colourful Swinging Sixties exhibition.
The museum is famous for Kirkgate, a full size replica of a Victorian street where visitors can enter the shops, schoolroom, police station and the pharmacy. Kirkgate ‘residents’ explain what life was like in Victorian York.
York Castle Museum was once the courthouse and prison for York and you can tour the eerie cells where the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was imprisoned.
Hologram prisoners tell visitors about their harsh conditions. Don’t miss the information board at the end of the cells which tells you what happened to the people you ‘met’ in the prison.
Cost – Admission is £12 for adults and £4 for children.
Duration – 2-3 hours
*York Castle Museum is currently running pre booked tours only*
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 but 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 which items they are allowed to touch. Plus, I liked that the museum has free to use sketchbooks and drawing materials dotted throughout the museum.
There are pre-bookable activities such as collage and clay workshops available in the museum’s onsite studio during weekends and school holidays.
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.
Local’s tip – Don’t miss the Edible Wood at the back of the museum, a beautiful garden dedicated to edible plants (no eating allowed)!
English Heritage owned Clifford’s Tower is the remnants of a Norman castle or ‘keep’ which was built on an artificial mound. Today it lies incongruously next to a city centre car park opposite York Castle Museum and The Hilton York.
Steep steps lead to the small, open keep where exhibits explain how the tower was constructed 1,000 years ago. Kids will enjoy the medieval games that are freely available to play with.
A further set of narrow, winding steps lead to the parapet for a fantastic 360 degree view of York. It is always windy at the parapet but the view is worth it!
Cost – Entrance is free to English Heritage members, check out their excellent value for money membership packages here. Up to six children are free with each adult member!
General admission costs £7.90 for adults, £4.70 for children. Family of four £20.50.
Duration – 1 hour
*Clifford’s Tower is due to reopen in Summer 2021 after extensive restoration works*
York Chocolate Story
This entertaining museum explores the long history of chocolate manufacturing in York.
The city was once home to three different chocolate factories, including Terry’s, maker of the chocolate orange. There is still one chocolate factory operating in York today and on a ‘good’ day you can smell melting chocolate in the air.
An engaging tour (accompanied by chocolate freebies) culminates with the chance to make your own delicious chocolate lollipop.
Costs – £15.00 adults, £12.50 for children, £50.00 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, gruesome stories and dark, creepy rooms.
Costs – Online advance tickets are the cheapest option at £15.10 per adult, and £11.95 for children.
Duration – 1 – 1 1/2 hours
Local’s tip – 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.
Award winning York Maze is the largest maze in the U.K and is created suing over 1 million living maize plants.
The popular maze is open from mid July to early September and is one of the best days out in York.
Each year, York Maze is grown to create a different image – previous images have included dinosaurs and Harry Potter.
There are several mazes on site, a playpark, jumping pillow, climbing zone and slides, many of which are under cover. In all there are 20 attractions on site so families can easily spend the whole day here.
Check out the York Maze website for opening hours and tickets. 2021 prices are £18.00 per adult and children over 3 for a standard lfexible ticket. Cheaper, non flexible advance tickets are also available.
Historic houses in York
York’s historic houses are fantastic attractions to visit in York with kids.
The timber framed medieval townhouse, Barley Hall, depicts life in medieval York. Highlights include an ornate banqueting room with replica food and crockery.
Or visit the gorgeous Georgian era townhouse, Fairfax House, which has resplendent, fully furnished bedrooms and dining rooms showing what life was like for the city’s affluent residents.
The quirky Treasurer’s House tucked behind York Minster is not as old as it first appears. The house was renovated in the 20th century 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!
Playgrounds and parks in York
In addition to the centrally located Dean’s Park and Museum Gardens mentioned above, there are tow other city centre parks worth visiting, both of which have playgrounds.
This is the biggest park in York and home to the largest playground nearest the city centre.
Rowntree’s Park is a 10 minute walk from York city centre on the riverside path.
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 is a short ten minute walk from Bootham Bar and adjacent to York YHA.
The park has two large green spaces, a fantastic, spacious 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 that flows through the city centre 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 moored outside Museum Gardens.
The river bank is not fenced and is very steep so keep small children close.
See York from a different perspective by enjoying a commentated river trip with City Cruises. Cruises range from 1 hour day cruises to lunch, afternoon tea, sunset or dinner cruises.
Alternatively, a fun thing to do in York with kids is to hire your own self drive Red Boat.
Prices start from £30 for up to one hour hire, maximum capacity 8 people.
Things to do in York with kids on a rainy day
It’s Yorkshire. It rains – a lot!
York’s museums are a great way to spend a rainy day in York but I have several other local’s tips for things to do on a rainy day in York.
In the city centre, visit the newly opened ‘The Hole in the Wand’ wizard themed, indoor crazy golf centre on Coppergate (near Jorvik).
A 9 hole round of golf for six people takes around 1 1/4 hours can costs £6.99 per person.
Our go to on a rainy day in York is York Explore, the city centre library next to Museum Gardens.
The library is open to all – visitors and residents alike – and offers a chance to slow down and relax with a book in the fabulous children’s section. There is an excellent cafe and public toilets on site.
Or there are two city centre cinemas; Everyman on Blossom Street near Micklegate Bar and Picturehouse Cinema in the heart of the city centre on Coney Street.
On the outskirts of the city are several indoor play attractions.
The Web Adventure Park in Wigginton is an enormous play barn with slides, ball pools, football courts and games as well as an outdoor playpark, small zoo, go karts and climbing zone. We usually spend a whole day here.
The Web Adventure Park is a ten minute drive from the city centre or can be reached on the Number 40 Reliance bus from York city centre.
At Monks Cross shopping park is the brand new Cineworld cinema, an indoor swimming pool and York Motorsports Village with indoor go karting. Catch the Number 9 bus from York city centre or rail station.
Three miles from York city centre in the village of Poppleton is Energi, an indoor trampoline park and the excellent Agility, an indoor fitness park with obstacles courses and an on site cafe.
Both can be reached on the Number 10 bus from York City Centre.
Walking tours in York with kids
Free self guided walking tours
Several York buildings have a cat sculpture on their wall, roof or chimney. These 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 to follow the one hour trail around the city spotting spot 20 cat sculptures on route.
The I Spy Trail from excellent Yorkie website ‘Little Vikings’ is a fun thing to do in York with kids. Download a map in advance here or pick up a printed copy from the Visit York Information Centre.
Free guided walking tours
White Rose Tours start everyday at 11 am from outside York Minster.
The tours last for three hours which may prove too long for little legs but families can join the tip based tour for as long or as little time as necessary.
Alternatively, the Association of Voluntary Guides offer free, no tip tours starting outside York Art Gallery at 10.15 and and 1.15 pm daily.
Treasure Hunt York
We recently completed a fun and interesting trail from Treasure Hunt York using an app on our phone.
The trail was engaging and easy to follow and covered most of York’s attractions and historic sites. We had to hunt for objects or features and were helped along the way with useful clues learning a lot about York in the process.
The trail took us around 2 hours to complete and though I have lived in Yorkshire for 15 years, I saw new things and places on this trail that I had never noticed before!
Check out the Treasure Hunt here. Adults are £9.99 each and children are free.
A walking ghost tour
York is (allegedly) one of England’s most haunted locations and a fun thing to do in York with older kids is to join a night time ghost tour.
Tours last around two hours with entertaining guides relating gruesome tales of how York residents lived and died.
The tours are more interesting than scary and you get to see streets and snickets (alleyways) in York that you may not otherwise visit.
I have joined several of these tours over the years and they are always good fun. Look out for sandwich boards around town advertising time and location of tours or check out the times and prices of original ghost tour here. Expect to pay from £5 per person.
Local’s tip – keep an eye on Groupon as they often have vouchers for discounted ghost tours in York.
York bus tours
York is a compact city that is easily covered on foot and the pedestrianised city centre makes moving around York with kids easy.
But if you wish, you can see the city with a commentated hop on/hop off bus tour.
Tour buses run every 10 minutes between 9am and 5.30 pm starting from Exhibition Square opposite Bootham Bar but the bus can be picked up at any of the 14 stops on route.
Note that the tour buses do not go inside the city walls so some walking is involved if you want to see the major attractions.
Cost – A hop on/hop off tour with City Sightseeing cost £16 adults, £9 children and £35 for a family of four.
Alternatively, take a night time bus tour of York on a ghost bus tour riding on a traditional Routemaster bus.
Billed as a ‘comedy horror experience on wheels’ the tours last around 1 1/2 and operate on a first come first served basis.
The tour does not go inside the city walls and is not suitable for children under 5.
Cost – £16 for adults, £12 for children, £47 for a family of four.
Family Friendly Festivals and Events in York
York is a vibrant city which hosts year round festivals, many of which are ideal for children. But bear in mind that these family-friendly festivals are very popular with tourists and locals alike so York will be busy.
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 (with wooden swords!) or watch the ‘best beard’ competition.
Don’t miss the highlight of the festival which is the 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.
Another highlight of the York calendar is the hot air balloon festival in September.
York at Christmas is a perfect festive family destination. The city hosts a six week long Christmas market, 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!
Check the Visit York website for upcoming festivals and dates.
Day trips from York
York is a fantastic base for exploring the rest of Yorkshire. Yorkshire is best explore by car but you can also reach the Dales, Moors and coast by bus and train.
Day trips by car from York
Families can drive to the Yorkshire Dales in one hour to explore its caves, waterfalls, castles and family friendly hikes.
Visit Skipton Castle, hike the Ingleton Waterfall Trail, explore England’s largest show cave, White Scar Cave or visit the world’s oldest sweet shop in Pateley Bridge.
Read our comprehensive guide to the Yorkshire Dales with kids here.
In the other direction, it is a one hour drive to the Yorkshire Moors which offer fantastic hiking, cycling trails and a ride on the historic North York Moors Steam Railway which featured in the Harry Potter movies.
Or head north to visit Fountains Abbey, Castle Howard or Newby Hall – all three of these estates have fantastic outdoor playgrounds for kids.
The Yorkshire Coast is around 1 1/4 hours by car from York. The coast offers spectacular hiking trails, historic sites such as Whitby Abbey and visiting the Puffins at Flamborough Head.
The coast is best known for its expansive sandy beaches including Runswick Bay which was voted the Best Beach in Britain in 2020. Relax on the beaches or hunt for fossils along this Jurassic coastline.
Check our detailed guide to the Yorkshire Coast here.
Day trips from York by train
Historic Knaresborough (25 minutes by train) has pretty riverside walks, castle ruins and Mother Shipton’s Cave or visit Victorian era Harrogate (30 minutes) and explore the town’s spa history, shops and Valley Gardens.
Further afield, catch the train to to The Deep Aquarium in Hull (1 hour), Scarborough beach (50 minutes), historic Durham (1 hour), or cosmopolitan Leeds (35 minutes) or even Manchester (1 hour 40 minutes).
For more ideas for day trips from York, check out our mega guide to things to do with kids in Yorkshire that contains over 100 places to visit!
York is a fantastic destination for a multi generational trip as there are so many things to do in York with kids that adults will also enjoy.
The city is one of our favourite places to be; we visit York city centre often and there is always something new to see and do.
Before you go, don’t forget to check out our tips for visiting York with kids which includes valuable rainy day ideas and key information such as where to eat and where the public toilets are!
And if you are looking for the best place to stay in York, check out our comprehensive guide here.