The sweeter side of York’s history is well known, from charming chocolate makers to legendary locomotives. Lurking beneath the candy-coated surface, though, is a murkier, more murderous past that will make you see the pretty city gates in a whole new light (just imagine them decorated with decapitated heads…). None of this is for younger children, of course, but older kids who find blood and guts funny rather than frightening will relish discovering York’s darker depths. And there’s no better place to do that than The York Dungeon, one of the city’s top attractions, and definitely the most frightening. We went along with two 13-year-olds to see if they’d survive, and they loved it. Here are five reasons we’d recommend The York Dungeon for families with older kids.
1. Impressively immersive entertainment
The York Dungeon experience is unlike any other in the city. Don’t expect to meander around a museum of torture equipment or read boards of boring facts: this is horrible history brought to life. One late Saturday afternoon, a group of around 10 of us embarked on the 70-minute tour back in time, meeting plague doctors and Vikings, torturers, traitors and witches. Each experience takes the form of a themed immersive show with live actors, spine-chilling special effects and a hefty dose of silliness. The quality is excellent throughout, from the acting to the costumes, sets and storytelling; we were impressed, even if some of it was a bit too realistic!
2. It’s funny rather than frightening
Believe it or not, the things that are terrifying about The York Dungeon experience are also what also make it enjoyable: it’s dark, it’s gruesome and it’s disconcerting. We were sprayed with ‘blood’, climbed aboard a rocking stagecoach and had to find our way through a misty maze of mirrors. There are times when we thought we’d never see daylight again! Sounds horrific, but the Dungeon team have done a brilliant job of balancing the dark with the light and making it genuinely amusing. Be warned: audience participation is unavoidable. You can try hiding in the shadows, but you may still find yourself sitting in the torturers’ chair or standing trial! As always, though, it’s better to join in and you’ll have some stories to tell afterwards. We laughed much more than we screamed and were giggling about it all the way home.
3. It’s great for older children
If your kids have reached the age where the suggestion of heading off for a nice walk or to visit a museum is met with a roll of the eyes, The York Dungeon could be just the thing to get them off the sofa and into their shoes. Our eldest (13) is at the point where he needs persuading to lots of places, but he was genuinely enthusiastic at the prospect of heading to the Dungeon. The suggested age recommendation is 8+, with under 5s not allowed, but you’re the best judge of whether it’s right for your child. We have an 8 and 10-year-old who would have found it far too frightening and would almost certainly have asked to leave halfway around. The eldest, who loves Stranger Things and Horrible Histories, revelled in it. It’s dark and full of jump scares and terrible tales – awesome for people who like being petrified, and a literal nightmare for anyone who doesn’t. The Dungeon runs regular child-friendly walking tours aimed specifically at a younger crowd, so look out for those. They’re good fun and nowhere near as scary!
4. It’s York’s history brought to life
They might have swerved a museum visit, but whether they realised it or not, the two teens we took will definitely have learned something about the city’s history from the Dungeon. From the cock-ups of Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plotters to the perils of the plague and the Viking berserkers, there’s a lot to learn (just don’t tell them). We’d recommend buying a guidebook, too, for extra fearsome facts.
5. There’s nothing else like it in York
Where else can you roar like a Viking, sit in a castle prison, be held up by a highwayman, stand trial for crazy crimes and even, if you’re very unlucky, be tortured? There’s nowhere else that you’ll have such an awfully amusing time, and that’s why we’d recommend The York Dungeon for anyone wanting to explore the city’s shady past. For younger kids who don’t want to miss out, do keep an eye out for the walking tours for an altogether lighter, but still gloriously gory, experience.
Good to know
- – Each tour lasts around 70 minutes with no break, so go to the loo first! There are toilets on the premises
- – You’ll have the option to buy souvenir photos at the end of the tour. We love ours – they’re a fab souvenir of a very funny afternoon
- – There’s no cafe but the Dungeon is very central and surrounded by good places to eat and drink
- – Online booking is strongly recommended
The York Dungeon, 12 Clifford St, York YO1 9RD