You’ve just dropped your bags at your hotel or apartment, or you’ve spilt out of the train or car into York city centre, kids in tow, but there’s no time to rest. There’s a whole city to explore, but where to start? Look up, and there’s your answer: York Minster. No visit to York is complete without a look around this beautiful cathedral, and it’s definitely not just for grown-ups. Don’t be fooled by the imposing exterior: York Minster is very family-friendly, and absolutely recommended as an inspiring place to visit for the whole family. Here’s why York Minster is one of our must-see attractions, and how to make the most of your visit with children.
1. It’s an incredible, iconic building
A trip to York without visiting York Minster would be like visiting Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Standing proud above the city and visible from the Yorkshire Moors to the Dales, it’s a Yorkshire icon that’s been part of York’s community since the 7th century and is still thriving today. To miss out on visiting it would be to miss out on a huge part of York’s history. As locals ourselves, we walk past the Minster several times a week but it never fails to take our breath away. As admission is free for residents, we visit occasionally – often during the summer holidays and usually for the Christmas Crib service – because we know that there are always new things to see and hands-on activities for children.
2. The Explorer Backpacks are excellent
It might be a historic building, but York Minster has a modern, warm approach to younger visitors; there’s no tutting at toddlers or eye-rolling as you roll your buggy in. The team at York Minster have created a visitor experience that engages children in what could otherwise be an overwhelming environment. Our top tip is to make sure that you borrow an Explorer Backpack for your child; just ask at the ticket desk or pick one up. Each backpack has a selection of items to spark children’s imagination and help them get closer to the detail of the cathedral, from a torch to magnifying glass and a pair of binoculars. There’s a tape measure for measuring and some pencils and paper for sketching. Our children (12, 10 and 7) all thought that the backpacks were brilliant, although there was the inevitable squabbling over who got to use the torch. Sadly the peace and reverence of the Minster didn’t really rub off on them, but they did have a quiet moment as we lit a candle for a loved one, so there’s hope…
3. Entertaining children’s trails keep everyone happy
If you’re the organised type, you might like to know that there are some children’s trails available to download from the York Minster website. As every parent knows, children love a trail and it’s a brilliant way to get them really looking at what’s around them and to encourage them to keep walking. The Monty the Monkey Trail is excellent for younger children, with things to spot and some simple facts about the building, while the Treasure Hunt Trail is fun for older children, with ten places to visit and treasures to spot. The Dragon Quest is particularly good for young knights: see how many dragons you can spot in York Minster and find out more about the legend of dragons! There’s also a Sculpture Trail that tells you a bit more about the Minster’s sculptures. We hadn’t printed out the trails before we visited, so it was great that they were available within the backpack. We chose to do the Dragon Quest and really enjoyed it, and next time we’ll try the Treasure Hunt Trail. Find all of the trails here.
4. There are hands-on activities in the Undercroft Museum
There’s so much to see in the main body of the Minster that we almost forgot about the Undercroft Museum as it’s quite tucked away. It’s well worth seeking out, though, and was actually our children’s favourite part of our visit. This underground exhibition tells the story of York Minster’s history, from Roman soldiers to how the building was made and the artefacts that have been discovered over the years. There are plenty of hands–on activities that children can have a go at, as well as digital displays that bring the building to life.
We also had a look around the new exhibition in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee that explores the links between the Minster and the Royal Family. The children were less interested in the history, but thoroughly enjoyed dressing up as a monarch and cuddling a corgi for a photo! They liked making their own mini-crown, too.
5. Look out for regular holiday activities
There’s always plenty to do within the Minster, but that’s not all: there are regular holiday activities in Dean’s Park – York Minster’s very own park – too. Keep an eye on York Minster’s website and social media for details, or subscribe to their newsletter. When we visited there was a clay activity where you could create your own royal bust for a small charge (£2.50). Our youngest was keen to get stuck in, making a queen that has been pride of place on the mantelpiece ever since. For older children (8+), it’s worth mentioning that you can pay extra to climb the steps of the York Minster tower. It’s not for the unfit or faint-hearted, but it is well worth the effort (our eldest did it when he was 8 and he was fine).
Good to know
- – Pre-booking is recommended for York Minster; not only will you secure tickets, but you will be able to skip the queue!
- – York residents visit for free; just take proof of address such as a utility bill (you will also skip the queue)
- – Tickets are valid for 12 months, so keep hold of them and visit again!
- – Under 16s visit for free with a paying adult
- – There is baby changing available and York Minster is breastfeeding friendly
- – There’s no cafe at York Minster, but there are lots of lovely family-friendly cafes and restaurants nearby