If you’ve ever taken the shortcut through the low little alley between Swinegate and Stonegate (taking care not to bang your head in the process), you may well have walked past one of York’s best attractions without even noticing. Where the alley opens up to become Coffee Yard stands Barley Hall, a grand medieval house that – thanks to a loving refurbishment – is as impressive now as it would have been hundreds of years ago. Inside you’ll find stunning high ceilings, exposed timber frames and rooms decorated as they would have been in around 1483.
So far, so historical. But what’s in it for kids? Would a family trip to an old house just end in tears and shouts of ‘I’m BORED’? Well if I tell you that Barley Hall is one of the JORVIK Group of attractions, you’ll probably guess that children are very well catered for.We headed along with our six, three and one-year old to see if they’d enjoy what Barley Hall had to offer.
The first thing that caught the kids’ eye was the Great Hall, probably one of the most impressive rooms in York. Set up as though guests are about to arrive for a handsome feast at any moment, it’s easy to imagine the great and the good of Tudor times tucking into peacock, swan and other incredible foods. Having decided that eating peacock is definitely not for them, the kids led us upstairs to the main exhibition area. Power & Glory: York in the Time of Henry VIII brings to life the only time that Henry VIII visited York through first-hand accounts, clear and simple displays and dramatisations. While I won’t pretend that the kids got stuck into the detail, our 6 year old was glued to a Horrible Histories episode that was playing and the other two amused themselves with the medieval-themed kids’ books and toys, so we had a chance to look around.
In fact it was only the fantastic medieval-style stage in the next room, complete with kids’ dressing-up clothes, props and even short scripts to follow, that made them move. The two eldest were in their element putting on costumes behind the curtain, discussing the storyline and playing out something that looked quite a lot like The Gruffalo (not the Tudor version) while we sat in the audience. It was a definite highlight of our visit, and something they’d love to do again.
In fact they were so busy doing that that they didn’t have time to colour in and cut out their own puppets or play medieval card games (instructions provided, thankfully). They did enjoy a game of skittles though, as well as having a go at other games in the Tudor schoolroom. Our eldest was intrigued by the information about York’s historic guilds, again brought to life with hands-on, interactive displays at the right height and pitched at the right level for children. Elsewhere, enthusiastic and knowledgeable costumed staff were on hand to bring the house to life and explain what it would have been like to live there.
If you’re looking for something to do with kids in York city centre, we’d highly recommend Barley Hall. There are plenty of fun things for them to get involved in – even our toddler enjoyed playing with the props on the stage and having a go at skittles – with the bonus that the older ones will learn something too. This is one hidden gem that’s worth seeking out.
Don’t miss – The Great Hall, the Tudor schoolroom or the stage.
Good to know – You can have your child’s party at Barley Hall. More details of this and other birthday party ideas for kids in York in our Guide to Children’s Birthday Parties in York. They also have a fantastic Father Christmas experience – read our review here. There’s no cafe but you’re in the middle of town so it doesn’t matter!
Barley Hall (2 Coffee Yard, York) is open daily from 10am to 4pm (November to March) and 10am to 5pm (April to October) – £6/£3/under 5s free/family of 4 £15 – visit the Barley Hall website for more information
Thank you to JORVIK for having us. Much as we love you, we wouldn’t say nice things about you if we didn’t mean it – all our reviews are independent so that families living in and visiting York can trust what we say.