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. It hasn’t, though, always been the most enjoyable of places to go, especially with children. We can’t be the only ones who’ve shimmied around the top of the tower, one eye on our children and another on our increasingly white knuckles, while trying to take in the vista.
But that’s all in the past. 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.
We were lucky enough to have a preview of the transformation before it opens to the public on 2nd April 2022 and were hugely impressed by it. Scaffolding gone and stonework glistening, Clifford’s Tower stands proudly upon the grassy bank again, more striking for the love and care that have been shown to it since the project began. Here’s what to expect if you decide to visit once it opens its doors again (and we really think you should).
Buying your tickets
First things first: tickets. Tickets are available to buy online, or from the new Piaggio (rickshaw) at the bottom of the hill. English Heritage members go free, and under fives are free too. A family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) is £21, while a single adult family with up to three children is £12.90. Clifford’s Tower is also included in the York Pass.
Climbing the steps
Parents of small children don’t like steps: fact. Indeed anyone with mobility issues will be challenged by the steep 55 steps that lead from the large, newly laid paving area up to the front door. English Heritage have worked with a variety of access groups to make visiting the tower as accessible as possible within the constraints, with animations of the tower interior at the base of the steps so that visitors who can’t access the site can see what it’s like. There will also be hand-held tactile maps available, and a braille interpretation.
For those who can manage the steps, making your way up the mound is now much easier. There are brand new handrails, as well as resting points on the way up, which are a great addition that younger (and older) legs will be grateful for. Taking a buggy is not an option unless (a) you can carry it up all of the steps and (b) you don’t mind being unable to access the vast majority of the tower. For babies, we’d highly recommend taking a sling/baby carrier if you have one.
Inside the tower
If you’ve visited before, we’d bet good money that your first reaction will be ‘wow’. It’s almost unrecognisable, with a series of staircases and hanging walkways leading up to the top. There’s plenty to see on the way up, and much of it for the first time, 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. And fans of a tidy home will admire what remains of the 17th century toiletry cupboard.
Up on the roof
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.
Before the transformation, we’d race to get down to the ground again because walking around the top of the tower with children felt unsafe (it wasn’t). Now we’d happily stay up there for ages and watch the world go by. There’s plenty of seating and tons of space to move around, so we could relax and take it all in.
Is Clifford’s Tower worth visiting with children?
Yes, absolutely. Whether you’ve visited in the past or you’re considering a first-time trip, we would wholeheartedly recommend Clifford’s Tower. The history, and the views, are unique in York, and the whole experience has become considerably easier for most families to navigate.
The views from the top are unmissable, but make sure you also have a seat on one of the listening seats where you can hear local residents bring fictional characters to life, each representing a different chapter in the tower’s past.
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).
- – There’s no cafe, but you are very close to lots of places to eat and drink, from Rustique to York Cocoa Works, Dyls and all of the city centre cafes and restaurants
- – Clifford’s Tower is very close to many other attractions, including York Castle Museum, Fairfax House, The Hole in Wand and JORVIK Viking Centre