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Top ten ultimate things to do in York with kids

The ultimate guide to York for families

From Vikings to Victorians, chocolate-makers to history-shapers, York is a city like no other, and it’s the perfect place for family adventures. Where else can you take a ride through a Viking village, climb aboard a famous locomotive, make a chocolate lolly, captain your own boat and stroll down a street that’s straight out of Harry Potter, all in the course of a day? And if you’re staying longer, you’re just a stone’s throw from the incredible scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, the beautiful Yorkshire coast and the wild and wonderful North York Moors. Not convinced? We’ll show you how to enjoy a family trip to York! Here are our top ten things to do in York with kids and why we think it’s a brilliant place for families to visit.

1. There are must-see world-class attractions that kids will love

DIG York

Whether it’s trains that float your children’s boat or they’re into Romans, Vikings or Victorians, there’s a visitor attraction in York that’ll bring it to life. Wonder what life was like in Viking York? At the JORVIK Viking Centre, you can hop on a ride through a Viking village to see (and smell!) it for yourself. Fancy a trip back in time to the Victorian era? Then head to York Castle Museum where you can saunter down Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street, and even pop into some of the shops. For hands-on fun, at Jorvik DIG kids can channel their inner archaeologist and dig in the artificial dig pits while finding out more about York’s history at the same time. The Yorkshire Museum, York Army Museum and Barley Hall are all well worth a visit too. York has some of the best attractions in the world – come and see for yourselves. And if you like it so much that you decide to move here, have a read of our Moving to York Guide for families.

2. There are parks and gardens galore for exciting outdoor adventures

Rowntree Park Reading Cafe

York’s well known for its beautiful medieval buildings, but its parks, gardens and green spaces are wonderful, too. York Museum Gardens is a stunning botanical space in the heart of the city – a perfect place to have a picnic, let the kids run off some steam and spot some squirrels. Dean’s Park is a lovely green space next to York Minster with plenty of benches, and a walk by the river Ouse is a great option with children too. There are a couple of stunning nature reserves a short drive from York – Askham Bog and Moorlands – that are very popular with families and are free to enter. Further afield, Dalby Forest is the perfect place to escape the world and connect with nature.

3. York’s full of fabulous things to do for free

A family trip to York needn’t cost the earth as there are plenty of places to explore for free. The National Railway Museum is a fantastic place to visit, with engines, hands-on activities and a changing programme of events, and admission’s free (pre-book online). York’s city walls are an adventure in themselves, and the best way to get around. There’s no cost to walk them, and you can hop on and off along the way (it’s currently one-way, so plan your route). York’s the perfect size for walking around, and there’s a surprise around every corner. Enjoy the street performers, do the York Cat Trail, explore the snickleways and have a laugh at the silly street names: cost £0!

4. York’s the home of independent businesses (so shopping and eating are unique!)

Little Vikings York - York in lockdown

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker? You’ll find all that and more on York’s high street. A whopping 65% of York’s businesses are independent, so you won’t find an experience like it anywhere else in the country. From indie clothing shops to brilliant bakeries, award-winning restaurants to quirky cafes and hotels, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome – and kids are welcome too.

5. There’s always something fun going on, whatever the time of year

York Ice Trail 2020

York has an inspiring and ever-changing calendar of events throughout the year that are popular with families. The JORVIK Viking Festival, York Ice Trail and York Christmas Festival are great fun and will have you coming back time after time. Keep an eye on the Little Vikings website for the latest news on forthcoming events and activities.

6. Harry Potter fans will be spell-bound!

The shop that must not be named york

Hop on your broomsticks and fly down York’s famous Shambles to see the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Quirky and magical, it’s home to some family-run businesses that kids will love, like The Potions Cauldron. Chat to their resident wizards, book onto their potions experience or grab a butterbeer to enjoy on the go. Whether they’re Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Slytherin or Ravenclaw, Potterheads are bound to be bewitched.

7. There are lovely family-friendly places to stay

The Grand Hotel York

You’ll need more than a day to really make the most out of a trip to York, which means you’ll need somewhere to stay (unless you’re lucky enough to live here). There’s a variety of family-friendly places to stay in and around York, whether you’re treating yourselves to five-star luxury (The Grand, York is just the place), fancy a glamping trip just outside the city (try Jollydays Glamping or The Hideaway at Baxby Manor) or some peace in the countryside (have a look at Woodlands Farm at Thimbleby). The self-contained cottages at Middletons are hard to beat for luxury and location, too. Self-catering is a practical option for families, and there are some lovely family holiday homes on Nunnery Lane where you can enjoy home comforts, spread out and cook for yourselves (House of York have a few options).

8. There’s plenty to do on rainy days in York

Railway Museum York

Families are guaranteed a good time in York even if it rains, as there are plenty of indoor activities. Many attractions are under cover, from York Minster to York Castle Museum, York Art Gallery and the Yorkshire Museum and the National Railway Museum (known as York’s umbrella!). There are two city centre cinemas  – City Screen Picturehouse and Everyman York – and plenty of out-of-town options, from bowling at Tenpin to soft play at The Web Adventure Park’s Creepy Crawlies (check online for the latest on their opening). 

9. Yum! The food is fantastic and families are welcome

Where to eat York

Whatever your kids will – or won’t – eat, there’s a restaurant or cafe in York that will have the whole family licking their lips. If sitting still is a challenge, the Shambles Foodcourt has a lot of great options that you can grab and eat al fresco, from generous crepes to gourmet toasties, burritos, Thai and pizza. If you need a coffee and cake stop, cafes like Brew and Brownie will perk you up for your next adventure. 

10. York’s the home of chocolate – sweet!

York’s Chocolate Story review

York’s history is steeped in chocolate, and there’s still chocolate in the air as the Nestle factory continues to kick out millions of KitKats today. Kids will love York’s connection to everyone’s favourite sweet treat, and if they want to find out more you can visit York’s Chocolate Story where you’ll hear from the chocolate makers and even get to make your own chocolate creation to take home. Scrumptious!

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