Taking just 250 years to build, York Minster is a mightily impressive building and the dominant landmark in the city. One of Northern Europe’s most beautiful Gothic cathedrals, it’s grand proportions are matched only by the quality of it’s craftsmanship. Containing the largest concentration of medieval stained glass in England, the vast east window is believed to be the biggest area of stained glass anywhere in the world. Ticket price includes a free guided tour.
The Shambles York
Officially the most picturesque street in Britain, this street of timber framed shops is high on the list of things to see in York. Dating back to the later medieval period, The Shambles used to be home to York’s butchers and it’s sloping cobbles would’ve been awash with the by-products of their trade. The name itself is believed to come from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘sceamel’ and referred to the wide shelves on which the butchers displayed their wares.
Jorvik Viking Centre York
The Jorvik Viking Centre York is probably one of the best known of York’s tourist attractions. Nearly thirty years ago archaeologists excavated the site and revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of Viking-age York. In the process they recovered thousands of artefacts the most spectacular of which was an exquisitely-preserved Anglo Saxon helmet, now on view in the Castle Museum. The site is now a visitor experience that aims to authentically recreate the look and feel of a Viking city.
If you’re planning on doing some serious sightseeing in York you may want to pick up a York Pass. Available for either one, two or three days, this pass entitles you to free entry to more than 30 great attractions in and around York.
National Railway Museum York
You don’t have to be a train enthusiast to enjoy the National Railway Museum York. They’ve got over 200 years of rail history under one giant roof. There’s iconic locomotives, lovingly recreated stations and over one million objects. They’ve got Mallard – the world’s fastest steam locomotive – a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket as well as a ‘Series 0’ Shin-kansen, or a Japanese Bullet Train to you and me. The best thing of all? Its free to get in (which makes it one of my favourite attractions in York!).
Rather than being a straightforward museum, York Dungeon offers an immersive 75 minute experience complete with theatrical actors, 360 degree sets and special effects. Various tales of gore have been plucked from the history of York to make up the different sections; so there’s bloodthirsty invaders, a torture chamber and death by hanging. Genuinely horrifying acts of cruelty have become fun for all the family.
York Castle Museum
Housed in a former prison, York Castle Museum has over 400 years of York’s history on display. The home of Kirkgate, a reconstructed Victorian street, the museum also has other period rooms including a Victorian parlour, Jacobean dining room and a 1950s kitchen. You can even visit the cells where it is speculated that Dirk Turpin was once held. The most recent addition is the new exhibition 1914: When The World Changed Forever, opened to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.
York City Walls
Walking the city walls while you’re in York is a must. Incredibly well preserved, they are the longest stretch of medieval walls in any city in England. At just over 3 kilometres long, to complete the whole circuit takes between 1 1/2 and 2 hours – although you can just walk shorter sections if you’d prefer. They are open every day and close around dusk (which obviously varies by the seasons). If there’s been a cold snap they might also be shut due to ice. One of the best free things to do in York.
Richard III Experience York
Located in Monkbar, York – part of the city walls – this small museum explores the life of England’s last Plantagenet King. Despite being found in a Leicestershire carpark, Richard III was from the House of York and had considerable support in the city. His short reign was brought to an end by his rival to the throne Henry VII and the museum explores the turbulent history of this period and its most famous battles.
Henry VII Experience York
On the opposite side of the city to Monkbar, in Micklegate Bar, you’ll find the Henry VII Experience – the companion museum to the Richard III Experience. The first Tudor king of England, Henry VII founded one of the most famous royal dynasties in history – passing the crown on to his son Henry VIII. On his arrival into York, he would have travelled through Micklegate Bar which has for almost a thousand years been the gateway through which serving monarchs have entered York.
Yorkshire Museum York
Situated in the Museum Gardens, the Yorkshire Museum York relaunched in 2010 with much fanfare. Housing an impressive collection of archaeological and geological artefacts, there are now also family friendly interactive displays and film elements. There are a number of different sections including ‘Roman York – Meet The People of The Empire’, ‘Capital of The North’ (about Anglian and Viking York), and ‘Extinct: A Way of Life’ (complete with stuffed animals). Great place to visit if you’re looking for things to do in York with kids.
York Art Gallery
Recently refurbished and expanded – at considerable expense – York Art Gallery now holds the largest collection of British studio ceramics anywhere in the UK. If pots aren’t your thing, there are collections of paintings by Italian Old Masters as well as more contemporary work from 20th century artists. In the Upper North Gallery artist in residence Mark Hearld has curated an exhibition of miscellaneous stored objects and artefacts many of which have never been on public display.
York’s Chocolate Story
York’s Chocolate Story offers an entertaining and informative tour through the tastiest part of the city’s history. You’ll learn about the famous families who built their fortunes on chocolate, their most famous products, as well as the secrets of chocolate making. After all this talk of chocolate you’ll then be funnelled through into the downstairs shop where you can buy as much of the stuff as you want. They also offer private hire options for hen parties and corporate groups.
Clifford’s Tower York
One of York’s most popular tourist attractions, Clifford’s Tower is part of York Castle which was originally built by William the Conqueror as he sought to bring the whole country under his control. The earliest fortifications were of wood construction; the present tower was rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th century. The tower takes it’s name from Roger de Clifford who was executed for treason and hanged from the walls during the reign of Edward II.
Fairfax House York
Just a short walk from The Castle Museum York, Fairfax House is one of the finest Georgian townhouses anywhere in the country. Its grand proportions and impressive stuccowork are complimented by a superb collection of period furniture, clocks and artwork. Originally the winter home of Viscount Fairfax, the house is today open to the public and visitors can explore the day to day life of high society in eighteenth century York.
York Army Museum
The York Army Museum is actually two museums in one. It houses the regimental museums of both The Royal Dragoon Guards and The Yorkshire Regiment. It tells the stories of both these historic regiments of the British Army and has 80 showcases of military artefacts collected over the last 300 years. No tanks though unfortunately.