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York city walls
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The 19 best things to do in York

Need sightseeing inspiration? Here’s our pick of the best things to do in York right now, from ghost tours to world-class museums

Written by
Jacob Phillips
Daniel Dylan Wray
Alex Floyd-Douglass

It may be a bit of a travel cliché, but in York, old and new exist in rare harmony. A cultural hub since Roman times, this city maintains a lasting historical charm, with many of our ancient ancestors’ constructions still standing strong. But if you’re after some more modern sights, there’s plenty here for the inquisitive visitor to get lost in, from sumptuous restaurants to buzzing bars and contemporary art galleries (and everything in between).

There are several reasons this city is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in the UK (not least the fact it was recently named one of the world’s friendliest cities), and we’ve tried to include as many as possible in this list right here. Ready to get out there and explore? Here’s our pick of the best things to do in York right now.

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Best things to do in York

Stroll down the Shambles
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Stroll down the Shambles

What is it? Quite possibly York’s most famous street and a firm favourite with Harry Potter fans.

Why go? Take a stroll down this winding road and you’ll be overcome by its quaintness. But wait: The Shambles has a darker past lurking behind its pretty façade. In fact, its very name is the Old English word for slaughterhouse. And those cute hooks on the front of the shops? Originally used for hanging meat. Yum. More fun facts? The wonky-looking timber-framed buildings, many of which date back to the fourteenth century, were built like that so the overhang would protect the ‘wattle and daub’ walls and help keep the meat from going rancid in the sunshine. Scone, anyone?

Don’t miss: Grab a pint at Ye Old Shambles Tavern or go shopping for a new wand at one of the many Harry P-themed stores.

Cruise down the Ouse
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Cruise down the Ouse

What is it? York’s river, which cuts a path through the city before winding up at the Humber Estuary. 

Why go? The Ouse is a picturesque delight with riverside walking routes that are perfect for post-lunch strolls. Follow the river and you’ll catch some of York’s best sights, from the Millennium Bridge to Clifford’s Tower. You can also take regular boat tours or cruises down the river.

Don’t miss: Take the early evening cruise and you’ll be treated to sunset views that’ll give you pause for thought (and photos). The boat comes with a fully stocked bar should you fancy an evening tipple and there’s lively onboard commentary. 

Climb up Clifford’s Tower
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Climb up Clifford’s Tower

What is it? The ruined Norman keep at the centre of York Castle.

Why go? Like lots of this city’s history, this tower’s name has rather gruesome roots: Roger de Clifford was hanged for treason on this site back in 1322. Today the tower offers some pretty spectacular views. At the hill’s summit, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled panoramas over York Minster and the city centre, and, on a clear day, you can see as far as the North York Moors National Park.

Walk along the York city walls
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Walk along the York city walls

What is it? Roman fortifications that once protected the city.

Why go? The Romans did a lot for us. They built roads, thermal baths and left York with the longest walls barrier in the country. Walking the full length of York’s city walls will take a couple of hours, especially if you stop to read the many plaques on the way.

Don’t miss: You can enlist the help of a guide to save a bit of brainwork. Tailored tours ensure you only get the juicy tidbits, while private excursions cut out any possibility of stragglers.

Learn about York’s chocolate history
Photograph: York’s Chocolate Story

5. Learn about York’s chocolate history

What is it? A guided tour through 3,000 years of chocolate history and, of course, York’s crucial role in it.

Why go? To get up to speed on some of the most beloved (and delicious) York-made sweeties. Expect to dive deep into the history of Terry’s, Rowntree’s and more. Oh, and obvs don’t forget to get your fair share of samples from the shop.

Explore York Minster
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Explore York Minster

What is it? A stunning cathedral dating back to the seventh century.

Why go? Pretty much everywhere you go in York, you can catch a glimpse of the splendid Minster soaring over the city. But make sure you go to see it close up. Step inside the cool interiors and admire medieval stained-glass windows, carved stone and sparkling artefacts. We particularly like the underground chambers – you’ll leave with a whole lot of new knowledge of the area’s history.

Don’t miss: Strap on some sensible shoes and climb all 275 steps to enjoy the view from the highest point in York. If you’re lucky you might just spot a peregrine falcon nesting peacefully next to a gargoyle.

Delve into York’s Scandi past at the Jorvik Viking Centre
Photograph: Anthony Chappel-Ross

7. Delve into York’s Scandi past at the Jorvik Viking Centre

What is it? A trip back in time to the days of York under Danish rule.

Why go? This is a chance to delve into York’s Scandi past – and no, we’re not talking hygge here. In 866 (yes, York really is that ancient) the city was invaded by the Danes; this attraction gives a snapshot of what Viking life would have been like. With its moving carriages, life-size dioramas and ancient artefacts, it’s a real trip back in time. Be warned: they even replicate the smells of the ninth century. We can confirm they’re pretty bad.

Don’t miss: Look out for an actual fossilised Viking poo on display. 

Head down to the York Cold War Bunker
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Head down to the York Cold War Bunker

What is it? A relic of York history from the days of the Iron Curtain and the fear of the ever-ticking Doomsday Clock. 

Why go? If you’re tired of learning about Romans and Vikings, then lose yourself in another chapter of history. The semi-subterranean York Cold War Bunker was built in case of a Soviet nuclear attack and, with its blast-proof doors, perspex maps and decontamination areas is described by English Heritage as ‘the most modern and spine-chilling’ of their properties. Tours are led by friendly guides who know their stuff and begin every hour on the hour.

Immerse yourself in the city’s grizzly past at York Dungeon
Photograph: Matt Beauchamp /

9. Immerse yourself in the city’s grizzly past at York Dungeon

What is it? A thrilling, immersive journey through York’s grizzly past.

Why go? Just like its sibling venues in the UK and other parts of Europe, York Dungeon delves into the murkier parts of the city’s past. With a boatload of (terrifying) actors, live shows, special effects and truly horrifying sets, it’s not for the faint-hearted. As you shuffle bravely through the dungeon you’ll come face to face with some of York’s most notorious characters, before heading to the tavern to calm your nerves.

Get spooked on a ghost tour
Photograph: Leeds Fotografica /

10. Get spooked on a ghost tour

What is it? York’s full of ghoulish stories, and a ghost tour’s the best way to find out about them.

Why go? To set your heart racing. Wander along narrow passageways and dark streets to investigate bloodcurdling tales of scandal and death, or jump aboard the Ghost Bus, on which the creepy conductor will fill you in on the city’s grimmest tales. There’s a wide variety of ghost tours running daily here, so if you’re after some scares, York’s the place for you.


What is it? A traditional tea room dating back to 1936.  

Why go? To experience an old-school traditional English afternoon tea – think steaming tea, along with cakes and  sandwiches stacked elegantly on your table – in one of the most beloved and reputable tea rooms in the country. The company has a rich history in Yorkshire dating all the way back to 1919, with the York tea rooms opening in 1936, making it one of the longest-running businesses in the city.


What is it? The largest music and arts venue in York. 

Why go? To see everything from big-name bands to live comedy, as well as a variety of goings-on that span sports, children’s entertainment and community events. It’s a key venue and cultural hub in the city with a rich history of hosting amazing artists. The programme is always stacked, hosting more than 200 events a year and pulling in 130,000 visitors.

Trainspot at The National Railway Museum
Photograph: Peter Austin /

15. Trainspot at The National Railway Museum

What is it? The perfect excuse to get in touch with your inner trainspotter.

Why go? Anyone with a passion for period dramas, history or design will revel in a trip to the National Railway Museum – the biggest railway museum in the UK, no less. Here you’ll find more than a million pieces of memorabilia, including actual trains, mock-up stations and perfectly (and stylishly) restored carriages.

Don’t miss: You can also take a ride on the miniature railway outside.

What is it? A beer-filled tour of local brewery Brew York.

Why go? To sample a sumptuous range of local beers fresh from the place they’re actually brewed. 

Don’t miss: If you love the brew so much you want to take some home with you, then no problem: sign up for Brew York’s monthly subscription box.


What is it? Piglets Adventure Farm. The name says it all, really, though there are plenty of other sorts of animal here too.

Why go? To meet pigs, cheeky goats, cows and donkeys. You can also play some mini golf, walk along a ‘fairytale trail’ and explore rock pools and a beach. 

Don’t miss: The piglet maternity ward, where you can see expectant mums and their piglets.

What is it? Award-winning modern racecourse and gig venue with grandstands and characterful listed buildings.

Why go? For any of the 17 joyous race days between May and October. Not a racing fan? No problem – the racecourse also puts on concerts, fashion events and even a vintage clothes festival. There’s a decent car boot sale here on Saturday mornings, too.

Don’t miss: The Yorkshire Ebor Festival and its smartly-dressed vibe is the season highlight.

Enjoy a comedy show at the Grand Opera House
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / R.M. Calamar

19. Enjoy a comedy show at the Grand Opera House

What is it? A Grade II-listed theatre that was lovingly restored in the ’80s.

Why go? As well as all its historic sights, York also boasts some pretty cool live entertainment venues. Following its ’80s revamp, which saw the theatre’s layout returned to its original period style, the Grand Opera House now puts on an excellent programme of live music, comedy and musicals. 

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