A trip to York Castle Museum has been part of my Christmas since I was a little Viking, and now it’s the turn of my children to insist on a visit as part of our family festivities. But we don’t just go for the nostalgia; the museum’s Victorian Christmas experience was voted Best Christmas Experience in this year’s Little Vikings Awards, meaning that hundreds of other York families rate it highly as a great place to go at Christmas with kids.
We visited on a weekend when Father Christmas was in residence and the festive trail was in full swing. This year’s children’s challenge is to find the pieces of a missing nutcracker throughout the museum, before heading to Elf School and meeting the man of the moment. The trail takes you right through the museum and back in time to Christmas past. We love seeing how Christmas has evolved throughout the ages, from the food to the decorations. The Toy Stories Gallery never loses its appeal, and it’s even better at Christmas because you can listen to a Christmas story (and get a clue about the next piece of nutcracker). Watching traditional gingerbread being made in the Castle Kitchen was another highlight, as was tasting it! You can pick up the recipe to attempt to recreate it at home, too.
Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street, looks even more wonderful at this time of year. Decked out in garlands and bustling with residents from the era, it’s an unforgettable experience. If you manage to pass the sweet shop without giving in to pleas for a sugar mouse, you’ve got stronger parenting skills than us (and it is Christmas after all).
We ticked off the final pieces of the nutcracker, solved the mystery and then made our way to Elf School. It was at this point that we realised the full extent of the Castle Museum’s popularity: it was packed! Unsurprisingly for a Saturday in December, many other families had the same idea so we had a half hour wait to meet Father Christmas (it’s worth considering going first thing in the day). But this is no boring old waiting room: it’s a hive of activity, with a range of fun craft activities to get stuck into. We made decorations for the tree, created some little peg dolls and wrote letters for Santa. Because they were busy getting stuck into things, moaning from the kids was minimal but we’d recommend taking a drink in case of pleas for refreshments. The ‘elves’ were really friendly, great at helping the kids with their crafts and organising the visit to Santa.
Before too long it was time to meet Father Christmas, and what a wonderful Father Christmas he is: jolly, fun and full of festive cheer. If your children have any doubts about Santa, this experience will have them believing all over again. We had a good chat and a photo and the children received a little Victorian-inspired gift: a nice memento to remind them of another lovely visit to York Castle Museum at Christmas.
Top tips: Avoid the crowds by arriving early if you can. Remember that buggies aren’t allowed in the museum but you can borrow a carrier if you don’t have one. The one-man show of A Christmas Carol will be showing on Kirkgate on selected dates: take a look at the York Castle Museum website for details.
Father Christmas at York Castle Museum takes place from 10am to 4pm on weekends until 23rd December, Tuesday 11th and 18th December, 21st December and 24th December (closing 1pm). Visit the York Castle Museum website for all the details.