What to Do in York with Kids – I’m a practical girl and York tempted me firstly because it’s on the East Coast line, therefore pretty easy to reach from Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh. I didn’t expect to fall for the city quite as much as I did. Olde world charm, horrible gruesome history (which every tour guide I met seemed to relish), a small, compact walkable city, packed with attractions (barely a dull museum in sight) and the food offering is tempting too. Oh, and the shopping is delicious if you can get half an hour or so away from your little darlings.
So below are my personal recommendations of family activities with children in York.
York Castle Museum
The Jorvik Centre gets all the press attention but to my mind the York Castle Museum is the best attraction in York, end of. It’s vast and you can spend hours in here. We did. You really get bang for your buck. And no significant queues either. It covers almost every aspect of the city in fun, engaging ways. From chocolate, to WW1 trenches, the 60’s and the history of toys.
The outstanding features are the cells where actors, portraying prisoners, are projected on the walls. The story of the inmate impregnated by the gaoler was really brought to life by the actress, and moved me more than I expected. Dick Turpin, the renowned highwayman, also features. But the jaw dropping fun is the life-size Victorian street, complete with shops, school rooms, police stations etc. I spent fifteen minutes talking to a Victoria draper! And your tots will love buying sweets from the old- fashioned sweet shop.
York Bike Tours
In second position, are the York Bike Tours, ideal for older children. It’s a great pace at which to see the city. Our tour guide, Andy, was full of enthusiasm and gory history. The journey wasn’t too strenuous but long enough to get us out to the racecourse, the old Terry’s Chocolate factory and Rowantree Park – places we probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise on foot.
Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre recently opened in 2017 after extensive flood damage and it’s the talk of York. The queues are quite a talking point too – a 45 minute queue is impossible with small children. Book ahead or turn up at a quiet time. We nearly punched the sky when we rocked up on Sunday at 4.30pm and saw one (ONE!) couple in the queue ahead of us. Read our guide here on how to fast track the queues.
The excavations and artefacts are the historical gems of the centre but, being honest, they’re not the main attraction – it’s climbing aboard your own wee wagon for a ride through Viking York (AD975) and meeting the animatronics. From Viking slave owners, to cobblers, potters and mums shopping for food, you meet the people, hear their stories and experience the sights, smells and sounds of this period. The ride itself only lasts about fifteen minutes but kids will love it.
I find that children are usually gobsmacked and awed by buildings like York Minster. It’s a place of architectural beauty and religious significance that’s worth a visit for all ages. For older children ascending the tower is an adventure. With over 200 steps it’s quite a challenge, but the views and wind force at the top can literally leave you a bit breathless.
York’s Chocolate Story
You hardly have to drag a child screaming to York’s Chocolate Story. An hour long guided tour, with samples along the way (amazing how chocolate samples change a child’s outlook on life), a ‘make your own chocolate lolly’ station, and tour guides who actively encourage child participation on the tour, make the history of York’s confectionery quite scrumptious.
Take the pace down a notch by setting sail on YorkBoat tours. Kids usually love a boat trip, parents can actually sit down and even buy a coffee or beer for the journey. The riverside views, especially on a sunny day, are so chilled. Our skipper Les’ commentary was full of historical factoids, quirky anecdotes and drumroll style jokes. By the end of the trip we loved his style of humour so much we called him ‘Les the Legend’.
National Railway Museum
If you’re looking for some free activities then you can’t go far wrong with the National Railway Museum. Meet locomotive marvels and indulge in royal train travel. As ‘Thomas and Friends’ prove, trainspotting never gets old.
Walk the City Walls
Another free activity is walking the City Walls. An active way to get a new perspective on the city and its landmarks. Not suitable for buggies obviously, but sling your baby and you’re off!
Go Shopping in the Shambles
A free activity, that may cost you a lot of money, is wandering around the quaint Shopping streets of York, especially the renowned ‘Shambles‘. Our ‘free’ wander ended with some jewellery purchases, Christmas decorations from a vast all-year-round Christmas shop, indulgent toiletries and fudge as souvenirs for those at home. Not quite as affordable an hour as I’d hoped, I blame the architecture.
Eat! The food and drink offering in York is really strong. Betty’s Tearoom is probably the best known York institution, renowned for its afternoon teas. But if you’re looking for something a little more casual and family friendly I’d recommend the Double Dutch Pancake House. It has its own kids menu, and let’s face it, pancakes work for breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon snack or a light dinner, so a great all-round recommendation. I started my day with the Amsterdammer, a bacon and apple pancake with syrup. Go me!
Other things worth mentioning are the ghost tours (the ‘Mad Alice’ one was highlighted to me) and York Dungeon for older children/teenagers, hop on hop off Sightseeing Buses, York Art Gallery, Dig – An Archaeological Adventure, and Rowantree Park to let kids run off steam. I told you, York is an impressive destination. We only visited one museum that disappointed which I obviously haven’t recommended.
Money – I often consider city passes a bit of a rip off but the YorkPass is definitely a solid option, offering free entry into over thirty attractions and tours, as well as shopping and restaurant offers (included discounted dining at the Double Dutch Pancake House mentioned above). One, two or three day passes are available. An adult pass is currently £38 for one day, £50 for two. A child’s pass is £24 for one day, £28 for two. As most attractions welcome under 5’s for free it’s generally a false economy to buy a pass for this age group. Heads Up – You can’t use these passes for ‘Fast Track’ or ‘Book In Advance’ options at Jorvik which is worth being aware of. But once we had these passes we were tourists on a mission!
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