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Ten best things to do in York with kids – Must-see museums and more

national railway museum york jubilee

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to attractions and museums in York, with wizards, Vikings and Victorians all waiting to meet you. Whatever your children are into, there’s somewhere for them, from the world-famous JORVIK Viking Centre to one of the best railway museums in the world, the National Railway Museum. Some of them are free and they’re all under cover, so they’re a good choice if you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day in York, and some are free too. Without further ado, here are our must-see family attractions in York, and some of the best things to do in York with kids.

1. Step back in time at York Castle Museum

York Castle Museum Kirkgate

York Castle Museum is a Little Vikings Award-winning destination and one of the best things for families to do in York. You’ll find yourself stepping back into York’s past, from Edwardian living rooms to 1970s kitchens to the swinging sixties. The jewel in the museum’s crown is Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street, which is a memory-making place that children adore. Walk down the cobbles, visit the shops and soak up the (very convincing) atmosphere. Why not treat them to something from the sweet shop (opening hours vary)?

Good to know – There’s also a brilliant Toy Stories gallery where you can see toys from the past, and you can explore the old prison too. There’s easily enough to see to spend a couple of hours here. Keep an eye out for special activities during the holidays, especially at Christmas. Buggies aren’t permitted in the museum because of access restrictions, but you can leave your buggy in reception and borrow a baby carrier free of charge.

Facilities – Cafe, toilets, baby changing

Address – York Castle Museum, Tower Street, York YO1 9RY

Website – Visit the York Castle Museum website

2. Explore York’s chocolate history at York’s Chocolate Story

York's Chocolate Story, King's Square

No visit to York is complete without discovering a bit about York’s chocolate history, and York’s Chocolate Story is just the place. Join a timed guided tour to explore the history of chocolate, from the discovery of the cocoa bean thousands of years ago to the world famous chocolate-making families of York. Visitors are taken around in small groups by a knowledgeable guide who brings it all to life (and hands out the occasional taster, of course). Towards the end of your visit you’ll have a chance to make your own chocolate creation and watch a chocolatier at work. It’s great fun for adults and children alike.

Chocolate-lovers who want to know more about their favourite indulgence – and our favourite city – will love this place. As it’s fully guided, you’ll have a better time if you’re with children who can understand a bit of what’s being said (or will at least stay fairly quiet – perhaps with a bit of chocolate as an incentive!).

Good to know – Expect your visit to last about an hour, depending on whether you can pass through the café without stopping for a fancy hot chocolate. You’ll save money by booking online, and will also guarantee your time slot. There are regular discounts for York residents – check the website for date details. Keep an eye out for special activities at Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

Facilities – Cafe, toilets, lift access for buggies/wheelchairs

Address – York’s Chocolate Story, 3-4 King’s Square, York YO1 7LD

Website – Visit the York’s Chocolate Story website

3. Meet the Vikings at the JORVIK Viking Centre

JORVIK Viking Centre

If it’s Vikings you’re after, this is THE place to visit in York (and indeed the world).  With an updated ride experience and state-of-the-art galleries showcasing its unique collection of 1,000-year-old artefacts, visit JORVIK Viking Centre to discover York’s fascinating Viking legacy. Travel around 10th century York, experiencing what it was like living in the city. The sights, sounds and even the smells of the Viking age are brought vividly back to life as you journey back 1,000 years (there’s even the option for a children’s commentary on the ride so kids can hear what life was like for children back then). Get up-close with some of the most beautiful and rare Viking artefacts in the world, from delicate earrings and socks to frying pans and padlocks and even a fossilised Viking poo! Dig deeper into the Viking story of York using the latest in cutting-edge technology located throughout the centre and the opportunity to handle real artefacts.

Good to know – During the holidays the queue can look alarming, but it moves fairly quickly. Your best bet is to book in advance and bypass the queue entirely. Pre-booking online, or by calling 01904 615505, is advisable. Don’t miss JORVIK’s child-focused attraction, JORVIK DIG, a five minute walk away.

Facilities – Toilets and lift. No cafe.

Address – JORVIK Viking Centre, 19 Coppergate, York YO1 9WT

Website – Visit the JORVIK Viking Centre website for more details

4. Discover magnificent York Minster

York Minster York with kids

Iconic York Minster is a must-see on a visit to York. There’s loads to see and do, from staggering stained glass windows to the most magnificent view of the city from the very top (if you can manage the steps!). Churches aren’t always the most exciting experience for children, but the Minster team has done a great job of engaging younger visitors.

What could otherwise be a frustrating experience for little ones can be transformed into an exciting one by picking up one of the Explorer Backpacks from the information desk. An I-Spy game, giant magnifying glass, telescope and puzzle pack really get kids interested in what they’re seeing. It’s a great idea and means that everyone can enjoy a visit to this spectacular place. Older children (8+) will enjoy a walk up the tower for the views from the top.

Good to know – You’ll need to seek out the backpacks at the information desk but it’s well worth doing if you’re with small children. York residents get in for free, but you’ll need to show your York Card or other proof of address. Deans Park (just out the front of the Minster) is good for a runaround or picnic afterwards. There are regular fun holiday activities that are well worth checking out. And don’t miss their carol services during December, especially the Crib Service if you’re with younger children. It’s really special.

Facilities – Toilets, baby changing, no cafe

Address – York Minster, Deangate, York YO1 7HH

Website – Visit the York Minster website for more details

5. Enjoy the engines at the National Railway Museum

National Railway Museum York things to do with kids york

The National Railway Museum is one of York’s top attractions, and one of the best things to do in York with kids. It’s a multi Little Vikings Award-winner for Best Attraction and Best Rainy Day Destination, so have it up your sleeve on those soggy days! It also happens to be free to enter. Home to iconic locomotives and an unrivalled collection of engineering firsts, the National Railway Museum celebrates the past, present and future of innovation on the railways. Get up close to icons of the rails including Mallard, the world’s fastest steam locomotive. Discover how high-speed rail travel began and journey back in time to experience the working life of a station. Explore over 200 years of history and find out how railways shaped our world. There’s a small indoor play area for younger children, and an outdoor play area too.

Good to know – Admission is free, making it one of the best things to do in York for free. You’re also welcome to take your own food, which keeps costs down. It’s wise to pre-book your tickets online, and note that it gets particularly busy on wet weather days. Keep an eye out for regular holiday activities.

Facilities – Two cafes, toilets, baby changing, lift access.

Address – National Railway Museum, Leeman Rd, York YO26 4XJ

Website – Visit the National Railway Museum website

6. Have a round of wizard golf at The Hole in Wand

Hole in Wand York wizard golf

Young wizard fans will love The Hole in Wand, York’s newest family attraction. Can you find the missing Gargoyle Grobblenook at The Hole In Wand Wizard Golf? Visit the World’s most magical golf course in York’s Coppergate Centre and take on 9 magical golf holes. Along the way there will be bubbling cauldrons, magical portals and a giant picture frame where you become part of the painting. Can you do a Light Spell to illuminate the way in the dark hole?

At the end of your adventure, you’ll find out if you have the magical powers of a Serpent, Basilisk, Unicorn or Wizard and every player will receive a magic potion gift to take home (and you’ll hopefully find Grobblenook!). After a magical 9 hole adventure, you can relax in the Wizard Tavern with a Cauldron Cake, Uni-pop-corn or a chocolate frog. It’s good fun and great value.

Good to know – The course is best suited to children who are old enough to wield a golf club safely, although shorter clubs are available for younger players and all ages are welcome. It can get busy at peak times, so book ahead and maybe try a quieter time if you don’t want to feel rushed.

Facilities – Toilets, cafe

Address – The Hole in Wand, 14-16 Coppergate Walk, York YO1 9NT

Website – Visit The Hole in Wand website

7. See the city from a boat with City Cruises York

City Cruises York boat York May half term

City Cruises York has a range of river cruises for you to keep your children entertained all year round, and it’s a great way to see York the city from another perspective. The river Ouse is one of York’s biggest and best attractions, and no visit to York is complete without spending some time walking by it or sailing on it! Their daytime sightseeing cruises sail nearly all year round and offer a unique view of our wonderful city. With a live commentary delivered by the captain, you’ll hear about York’s rich history, see some of its famous sights and might just be treated to a bit of Yorkshire humour too. Fancy taking charge of your own boat? Their fleet of fourteen self-drive boats is perfect for your own family outing exploring the river. Don’t worry shipmates, no experience is required as you will be given full instructions, a map and life jackets for your children. Bring a picnic and watch the world go by.

Good to know – You can even save money at off peak times with a special Little Vikings City Cruises York discount – find out more here. There are seasonal cruises that are perfect for children and families, including the famous City Cruises York Santa Experience in December, their most magical cruises of the year. Buggies are permitted onboard but may need to be folded and wheelchair access is available on some vessels at the King’s Staith Landing only. Under 5’s sail free.

Facilities – Toilets and cafe on board the cruise boats

Address – City Cruises York, King’s Staith, York YO1 9SN

Website – Visit the City Cruises York website

8. Walk York’s medieval walls

York city walls daffodils

There’s no better way to see York from a different perspective than to walk the city’s medieval walls – and it’s free! We particularly love the section from Bootham Bar that takes you behind York Minster and Gray’s Court Hotel. The walls are elevated enough to give excellent views of almost the whole of the city centre – and beyond – but not so high as to be terrifying! Peep through the slit windows, keep lookout from the battlements and get inspiration for fort-building at home from the incredible bars (these are the gatehouses to the city: Micklegate Bar, Monk Bar, Bootham Bar and Walmgate Bar). It’s history brought to life, and a memorable experience for the whole family.

Good to know – Although there around two miles of walls to explore, the circuit isn’t intact. This means that you’ll have to drop off into the city and walk a short distance to pick the walls up at the next point. There are sections that don’t have handrails and can feel precarious to anyone who isn’t comfortable with heights, so it’s better suited to older children who can reliably walk in a straight line than to unpredictable toddlers. Unfortunately, this isn’t a buggy-friendly walk, so baby carriers are the best option if you’d like to try it with a little one. Sadly it’s not accessible for wheelchairs.

Facilities – None!

More info – The opening and closing hours vary throughout the year and depending on the weather, so do check before you travel (https://www.york.gov.uk/CityWalls)

9. Get a bird’s eye view of York from Clifford’s Tower

Clifford's Tower York

With over 800 years of history and boasting one of the best views in the city, Clifford’s Tower has long been one of the best places to visit in York. English Heritage, keen to conserve the landmark and protect it for future generations, has invested £5 million to completely transform the interior. What now awaits is a remarkable, modern experience that honours the building and brings its stories to life.  Once you’ve conquered the first set of steps up the hill and entered the building, you’ll see a series of staircases and hanging walkways leading up to the top. There’s plenty to see on the way up, from the beautifully restored royal chapel to the royal toilet, built for Henry III! Nothing amuses kids more than an ancient loo, so that’s a big tick for younger visitors. Ten metres from the entrance is a stunning new roof deck with 360 degree views of the city, no doubt set to be the most photographed rooftop view in York. It’s ideal for a big game of I spy: see what you can spot, from boats pootling along the river to the magnificent York Minster.

Good to know – It’s worth considering an English Heritage membership if you think you’ll go back more than once and/or visit other EH sites during the year (Whitby Abbey, Helmsley Castle, Rievaulx Abbey and Scarborough Castle are nearby). There are no toilets (no, you can’t use the royal one!), but the nearest ones are just across the car park in the Coppergate Centre. There’s a charge, but the nearest free ones are on the top floor of Fenwick (Coppergate).

Facilities – None

Address – Clifford’s Tower, Tower Street, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9SA

Website – Visit the Clifford’s Tower website

10. York Museum Garden and The Yorkshire Museum

The yorkshire museum

If there’s one museum in York that you’ll hear locals talk about but never find in the guidebooks, it’s The Dinosaur Museum. Obsessively adored by local children, The Dinosaur Museum is in fact better – and more boringly – known among grown-ups as The Yorkshire Museum. For a relatively small museum, The Yorkshire Museum packs a punch. Set across a modest three floors, it’s a whistlestop tour through Yorkshire’s history, from prehistoric times to the Romans and beyond (for more recent history, visit York Castle Museum). Jurasssic Yorkshire – the dinosaur exhibition – is usually the most popular area for kids.

Set in the heart of the Museum Gardens, the Yorkshire Museum is in the ideal spot for exploring York. The gardens themselves are stunning, with squirrels to spot, ruins to admire, space to run around and there’s even an ice cream and coffee van for refuelling. It’s close to lots of other excellent places in York for families, from Explore York Library (great children’s section, good cafe), York Art Gallery (hands-on activities, lovely cafe), City Cruises York for a trip along the river and York Theatre Royal (family-friendly cafe, regular children’s shows). It’s also very close to all the sights, shops and cafes of York city centre so you can make a day of it.

Good to know – There’s no cafe, but there’s an ice cream van and coffee van within the gardens. You are also just a short stroll from many nice places to eat and drink (have a look at our guide to the best places to eat and drink with kids in York here). York children benefit from free admission, and under-fives go free too. Adult tickets are valid for one year.

Facilities – Toilets, baby changing, lift

Address – The Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens, Museum Street, York YO1 7FR 

Website – Visit The Yorkshire Museum website

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