York’s bursting with so many things to do with kids that it can be hard to know where to start, especially if you’re short on time. One place that always makes it into our top picks for families – and a favourite with Little Vikings readers- is York Castle Museum, a place that ticks plenty of boxes for visitors of all ages. Why do we love it? Well, it offers a unique experience that you won’t find elsewhere in York and it’s handily located in the heart of things, a very short walk/toddle from many other family attractions in the city. Here are our five reasons why York Castle Museum is an excellent choice for a family day out.
1. It brings history to life
A museum dedicated to history might not sound very exciting, but you won’t find dusty glass cabinets or board after bored of stuff to read. Instead, the Castle Museum brings the past alive through vivid and immersive exhibits. As well as the world-famous, meticulously recreated Victorian street, there are prison cells, recreated living rooms from hundreds of years ago, and even a nostalgia-inducing kitchen from the 1970s. The attention to detail is remarkable, allowing families to step back in time and experience what life was like in ‘the olden days’ (which, according to our children, is any time before the year 2000).
2. You’ll visit a Victorian street
One of the highlights of the York Castle Museum – and the bit that everyone will remember for years after your visit – is its authentic recreation of Kirkgate, a bustling Victorian street. This one-of-a-kind experience allows families to immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and smells of a bygone era. Children can wander through the shops and marvel at the displays of vintage toys, clothing, and household items, from brooms to hats. If they’re lucky (it’s not open every day), they can even step into a traditional sweet shop and buy a treat to enjoy (sugar mouse anyone?). Walking through the street, you can interact with costumed guides who bring the stories and characters of the Victorian era to life. On our last visit, we chatted to the pharmacist who regaled us with interesting facts about Victorian remedies (and made us feel very grateful for the wonders of modern medicine). It’s not all about the Victorians, though. Our girls love the colourful, musical exhibition dedicated to the 1960s, and our son always insists that we don’t miss the World War 2 area. Unless they’re feeling brave, they all skip through the darker prison area for fear of being locked up!
3. There are plenty of hands-on activities
Throughout the museum, there’s a range of hands-on activities that keep kids engaged throughout their visit (we usually stay at least a couple of hours by the time). From trying on historical costumes to handling old objects, there are numerous opportunities to get involved and learn through play. Keep an eye out for special activities throughout the year, as there are often holiday workshops, trails and other events that are always great fun. At Christmas, the period rooms and Kirkgate are transformed into a festive wonderland, decorated as they would have been at the time. It’s a lovely time to visit and must if you’re in York in December.
4. There’s a toy gallery
The Toy Stories exhibition showcases toys through time and is just as enjoyable for wistful adults spotting the things they used to play with as it is for kids. From traditional wooden dolls and tin soldiers to vintage board games, Buzz Lightyear and even a carousel, it’s a joyful celebration of the playful side of life from years gone by.
5. Tickets are valid for a year (and York kids go free)
If you need an extra reason to visit, how about this: your entry ticket is valid for an entire year, so you can return as often as you like. What’s more, lucky local families benefit from the fact that all York kids can enter for free (take proof of address). It’s all good news for families with children who, like ours, enjoy their visit so much that they want to go again (and again and again).
Good to know
- Pre-booking preferred (and you’ll skip the queue) but not required
- Cafe and toilets available
- You can’t take a pushchair around the museum but you can leave it and borrow a baby carrier
- There are many other attractions within a 5-minute walk, including Clifford’s Tower, York Army Museum, Fairfax House, JORVIK Viking Centre and The Hole in Wand.
York Castle Museum, Tower St, York YO1 9RY – https://www.yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk/