Review: Christmas at York Museum Gardens

We’ve been looking forward to the opening of Christmas at York Museum Gardens for months, so we jumped at the chance to check it out with our kids – and a few others for good measure – the night before it opened. A newcomer to the local festive scene, the idea is to experience York’s much loved gardens as you’ve never seen them before.

It all begins at York Art Gallery, where a tree-lined tunnel leads into a twinkly village area with a range of winter warmers on offer, including the all-important mulled wine. Having the entrance where it is gives visitors a good opportunity to see the gardens at the back of the Art Gallery – it’s a lovely space that not everyone knows about. We managed to ignore demands from the kids to have a go at hooking a duck (one of a couple of fairground options), and steered them towards the main event instead.

Presumably the little 12 Days of Christmas trail, which leads into the gardens themselves, is designed for a leisurely festive saunter. Our kids had other ideas though, careering through it and out into the gardens, where they came to a surprised stand-still. The huge illuminated Christmas tree frames caught their eyes first, and they spent ages playing hide-and-seek in their shadows. From there, it was onto the illuminated spheres, which were fabulous. The kids did seem tempted to treat it as a huge ball pool though, so we had to keep a beady eye on them, especially given how dark it was.

Next stop, and the children’s highlight, was the illuminations on the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. The changing playful festive scenes are clever, and definitely caught the kids’ imaginations. It’s a treat to see the iconic ruins in an entirely different light. By the time the kids allowed us to move on, they knew exactly what was going to happen next because they’d watched the sequence so many times!

The Yorkshire Museum was looking festive too, smattered with snowflakes and bathed in blue The glittering tunnel of light gave us some great photo opportunities, too.

The youngest one (3) enjoyed trying to play Jingle Bells on the musical tree stumps, as did the adults. We waved to Santa on the way past his workshop, but didn’t stop to chat as this isn’t a Father Christmas experience as such. The kids were slightly bemused by this: when they see Father Christmas, they expect presents! When we explained that they’re going to be seeing Santa elsewhere, they were fine and carried on with enjoying the lights.

Just when we thought we’d finished, we made our way round the side of the library to see a garden of fire torches. We could have toasted a marshmallow, but we’d already stayed longer than we’d expected and the little ones were starting to flag. You could do the whole walk in far less than the two hours we spent there, but we enjoyed taking in all the lights at a relaxed pace, catching up with our friends and letting the children spend as long as they wanted running about and taking in each of the installations.

It would be unfair of us to give a definitive Little Vikings verdict, given that we visited during what was essentially a dress rehearsal and there may well have been changes since. Hopefully the route of the trail is clearer now, as we found ourselves going in the wrong direction occasionally, and it would be good to have slightly more interaction from Father Christmas. Younger children may get more from it than older ones, but the nine year old in our party had as much fun as our pre-schooler. Minor niggles aside, we really enjoyed the evening and left feeling far more festive than we had when we’d arrived. Christmas has definitely arrived at the Museum Gardens.

Christmas at York Museum Gardens runs until January 1st 2018, from 4.45pm to 9.30pm daily. Find more details on the website


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