York is a stunning city to visit with children at any time of year, but it’s particularly special at Christmas when the days are short and the lights are sparkling. Here’s our pick of some of the best things to do in and around York that will bring festive cheer to the whole family.
1. Experience a Victorian Christmas at York Castle Museum
The Victorians really knew how to do Christmas, so why not immerse yourselves in their festivities with a trip to Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street at York Castle Museum? See the shops decked out with, er, decs, meet the residents and see if you can resist a visit to the traditional sweet shop. It really comes to life at the weekends as one of York’s favourite Father Christmases takes up residence (limited pre-booking available). This year’s Dickensian Christmas theme means you might meet some of the characters from his famous novels, or even catch a performance of A Christmas Carol on the cobbles.
Every weekend from 16th November – 22nd December 2019 with extra week dates including Monday 23rd and Tuesday 24th December: 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Online bookings only for 10:30am, 11:30am and 2:30pm sessions only. Find out more and book your place here!
2. See it snow in the Shambles!
We’re all dreaming of a white Christmas, but the only place it’s guaranteed is on the Shambles, one of York’s favourite streets. Head down every Friday from 29th November to 20th December 2019 between 5pm and 7pm and see it transform into a winter wonderland! In between snow showers (it’s intermittent), why not tick some presents off your Christmas shopping list? The Potions Cauldron has some great gifts for Harry Potter fans, and there are lots of other lovely shops too.
3. Meet Father Christmas in the woods, on a boat or in an attic…
For younger children, nothing compares to the excitement of meeting Father Christmas in person. Luckily, there’s no shortage of fantastic Father Christmas experiences in and around York. For city centre grottos that you can combine with some Christmas shopping, York’s Chocolate Story has a fantastic chocolate-themed Santa experience. For a wonderful Victorian experience, York Castle Museum’s Father Christmas can’t be beaten. Few children can say that they’ve met Santa in an attic, but Treasurer’s House is hosting this lovely experience for another year. And York City Cruises’ Santa Cruise is so popular that it’s just been shortlisted for Little Vikings Award!
Further afield, Northwood Trail has a lovely Christmas event with a traditional twist, and St Nicholas is also dressed in green at Askham Bryan Wildlife Park. Children can choose their own gifts at Mother Shipton’s and Piglets Adventure Farm, and Castle Howard’s courtyard grotto has the advantage that it doesn’t need pre-booking. Meet Santa in the laundry at Beningbrough, in the conservatory at Scampston or in a festive manor house at Nunnington. At William’s Den, he’ll help you build a bear!
4. Have a festive day out
It’s a lovely time of year for a family day out, whether you’re seeing Santa or not. There are some fabulous Christmas events in York and beyond this year for families, from ice skating at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland to doing the Twelve Days of Christmas walk at The Christmas Experience at Lotherton. The joyful Christmas Masquerade at Castle Howard is a day out to remember.
For coloured lights aplenty, check out Enchanted Brodsworth and Music and Lights at Fountains Abbey. To see how Christmas was celebrated in times gone by, you’re spoilt for choice: go medieval at Barley Hall, Georgian at Fairfax House and York Mansion House, Victorian at York Castle Museum or throughout the ages at Nunnington Hall. And just for fun, get festive with the fish at A Christmas Coral at The Deep in Hull!
5. Watch a festive show
There are some lovely Christmas shows for families in York this year. Pantomime fans are spoilt for choice, with Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal and Snow White at the Grand Opera House York. For younger children, The Storm Whale at York Theatre Royal promises to be a heart-warming audience-pleased.
6. See the lights!
One of the most joyful and festive things to do in York at Christmas is also free! Wait until it starts to get dark and then head into the city to see the lights twinkling (ideally avoiding Friday and Saturday nights!). The lights on the city bars (Micklegate, Walmgate and Bootham) are beautiful and the Christmas trees in St Helen’s Square and Parliament Street are pretty too. While you’re in town, you could warm up at Thor’s Tipi a hot chocolate for the kids and a grown-up drink for the grown-ups. You deserve it!