The best things to do in York mostly revolve around the city's long history, which it proudly displays. The maze of historical streets in the city centre create the feeling of walking back in time. It’s a place of old traditions and quirky little details that make it a great place to just walk around and explore. Don’t think that the city is just a giant museum, though – it’s a busy, lively place with a lot to see and do throughout the day.

    Be sure to pack some comfortable shoes because the City of York is best explored on foot. The distances between attractions is rarely long, many of the old streets are too narrow for vehicles, and parking is hard to find. To make your first day in York a little easier, take a look at our recommendations for the essential stops on the way.

    What are the best things to do in York?


    The Shambles

    Walk and shop down 14th century streets

    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    The Shambles is one of York’s oldest and most fun streets. The buildings date back to the 14th century and have the iconic overhang of that period, but are now so old that they lean over and virtually touch at the top. Be sure to check out the Shambles Market, which is best explored early in the day, before it gets busy, and get your photos before the very narrow, very popular streets fill up too much. This whole part of York, leading up towards the Minster, is a maze of narrow streets, with interesting shops on every corner. Go explore!


    Jorvik Viking Centre

    Visit York when it was the capital of Viking Britain

    Before York was York, it was Jorvik – the heart of the Viking dominion in England. The city was captured in 866 AD and remained under Norwegian control until 1066 AD. The Jorvik Viking Centre gives you the chance to step back to that time and explore the city as it was under Norwegian rule. It combines archaeological finds with dioramas, making it one of the more fun and immersive museums in York. The centre also organises the Viking Festival every February, which goes a step further and brings the dioramas to life. It’s a busy and popular place, so be sure to head their early to avoid the long queues.

    Location: 19 Coppergate, York YO1 9WT, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1904 615505


    York Minster

    Get a gargoyle’s-eye view of the centre of York

    • History
    • Photo

    Fun fact: an ancient local law ensures that the historical York Minster remains among the tallest building in the city. The Gothic-style cathedral towers over the old part of York, at a height of 235 feet. If you’ve got the energy (and the money to pay the modest ticket fee), climb the 275 steps of the central tower to see the rooftop gargoyles and share their view across the historical streets of York City Centre. Alternatively, if heights aren’t your thing, just enjoy the vaulted magnificence of the interior and the sense of peace it provides.

    Location: Deangate, York YO1 7HH, UK

    Open: Monday – Saturday from 9 am to 4.30 pm, Sunday from 12.45 pm to 3 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1904 557200


    York museum gardens

    Enjoy local culture and history in floral surroundings

    Yorkshire folk are famous for their no-nonsense attitude, and the York Museum Gardens are a great example of this. It’s basically a museum and a garden combined into one beautiful location in York. This staggeringly simple name conceals a real treasure of the city. The city centre gardens contain the ruins of a medieval abbey and those of a historical hospital, as well as an art gallery, an old observatory and a museum dedicated to the history of Yorkshire, dating back to when dinosaurs roamed the area. The delightful gardens themselves are popular with locals looking for a quiet place to relax and enjoy some summer sunshine.

    Location: Museum St, York YO1 7FR, UK

    Open: Daily from 7.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1904 687687


    York City Walls

    Enjoy great views of the City Centre

    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    York has been a walled city since Roman times (about 71 AD), but the striking stone walls surrounding the city centre today were mostly built between the 12th to 14th centuries, around the same time as York Minster. They remain in very good condition and walking the ramparts around the city centre is one of the most enjoyable things to do in York, giving you lovely views across the old town within and the newer areas without. The gatehouses (or “bars”) are especially impressive – particularly Micklegate Bar, to the south. Be careful on rainy days, though, as the stones are very smooth from the many feet that have come before yours.


    National Railway Museum

    See and ride some legendary locomotives

    Just outside the city walls, by the glorious historical York railway station, you’ll find one of the largest collections of rail artefacts in the world. The National Railway Museum is amazingly popular as the mighty machines on display have very broad appeal. You can enjoy the sleek lines of the Mallard, the engineering ingenuity of Stephenson’s Rocket and the piston-pumping power of the famous Flying Scotsman. Take a close look at about 100 engines, including several working steam trains.

    Location: Leeman Road, York YO26 4XJ, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)844 815 3139


    York Racecourse

    Spend a day at the races at the Knavesmire

    • Luxury

    The horse races in York are among the biggest in the UK, in the same league as those at Ascot. Naturally, that means it attracts the same kind of glamour. The big events, like the Ebor Handicap in August, are important features of the social calendar. The course itself has been a feature of York for centuries, and many locals still know it by its pre-medieval name of “Knavesmire”. History buffs should also check out the site where notorious highwayman Dick Turpin was hanged in 1739, by Tadcaster Road.

    Location: Tadcaster Road, York YO23 1EX, UK

    Open: The big race days are between May and October, usually on weekends

    Phone: +44 (0)1904 620911


    Clifford’s Tower

    Enjoy impressive views of and from York’s signature structure

    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    Clifford’s Tower is probably the most iconic structure in York. Also known as York Castle, there have been fortifications on the steep-sided hill near where the rivers Ouse and Foss meet since 1068 AD. This has historically been the administrative heart of the city, with the courts, mint and jail all nearby. The only remaining sign of most of these is the nearby Castle Museum, which is itself an interesting place. The really dramatic bit of this area is definitely the tower, though. You’ll need a good pair of legs to get up the hill, but it’s worth it to explore the old fort.

    Location: Tower St, York YO1 9SA, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)370 333 1181


    Parliament Street

    Check out the markets in the heart of the city

    • Shoppers

    Parliament Street is something of a focal point in York City Centre. This street and the surrounding area forms the central shopping hub. The wide, mostly pedestrianised square is lined with high street stores and cafés, including Marks & Spencer, New Look and Pret A Manger. The nearby Coney Street has a few more big brands while the Shambles Market is a good place to look for some bargains. If there are any special markets or events in York, you’ll certainly find them here.



    Enjoy a refreshing brew at this iconic institution

    Bettys is almost certainly the most famous tea rooms in the UK. At any time of any day, you’ll see people queueing out the door and down the street, just to enjoy sandwiches, scones and cakes with the signature tea blend. The classy setting, modelled off ocean liner levels of luxury, is also a big pull. There are 6 Bettys cafés around Yorkshire, including 2 in York. Some locals (who don’t like the long queue) say there are other tea rooms in York City Centre which are even better than Bettys, so consider shopping around.

    Location: St. Helen’s Square, York YO1 8QP, UK

    Open: Sunday – Friday from 9 am to 9 pm, Saturday from 8.30 am to 9 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1904 659142


    photo by Symac (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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