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Five reasons to climb York Minster Tower with kids

york minster tower

Visiting York Minster with kids is an awe-inspiring experience that you won’t forget, but did you know it can also be a bit of a family workout? Families fit – and brave – enough can embark on the York Minster Tower Challenge, climbing to the top of Central Tower for some of the most spectacular views of York. We did it recently with our 9-year-old and would thoroughly recommend it. Here are our five top reasons to make climbing the York Minster Tower one of the things you do in York with your family.

1. It feels like a grown-up adventure

There’s nothing like being allowed to do something that younger children can’t, and our daughter certainly enjoyed the thrill of confirming to the person at the ticket desk that she was nine years old. The Tower Challenge is only open to children aged 8 and over who are physically able to tackle the 275 winding steps that lead to the top. Groups go up at timed intervals and there’s a short talk beforehand to ensure everyone is comfortable with the climb as there’s no going back once you set off. As a constantly cartwheeling, tap-dancing third child, we suspected that she would tackle the stairs with the agility and determination of a mountain goat, and we weren’t wrong. We stayed at the back of the group so that we wouldn’t hold anyone up, but we needn’t have worried. She did have some concerns about the height, but as most of the climb is enclosed, it feels very safe.

2. It gives you a sense of achievement

With almost 300 steps to tackle, making it to the top of York Minster is no mean feat, especially for children. As a seriously flat city, ascending the tower is one of the few experiences in York where you can embark on a climb, get your body moving and feel brilliant when you finally reach the top. While it might not be the Yorkshire Three Peaks, it’s a big deal for children: reaching the final step gave our daughter a real sense of achievement. There were a few inevitable grumbles on the way up (the car-free version of ‘are we nearly there yet?’) but she was pleased when she reached the top. Getting back down again was easy in comparison, and we were back on the ground before we knew it.

3. The panoramic views are incredible

The climb to the top took us up two enclosed spiral staircases with a short, uncovered section along the roof that connects the two towers. Being at the back of the group, we took it at our own pace, which meant we could stop and take photos without feeling the pressure of having faster climbers in front. It also gave us more time to take in the views along the route, which are just lovely. Between the towers, there’s a great view of the York Minster precinct and across the city; a great spot for watching people going about their day.

The view at the top is even better, with 360 panoramic views across Yorkshire. As locals, we really enjoyed spotting the various buildings and landmarks we know and love, from Holgate Windmill to the churches and bridges. There are handy information boards for visitors so they don’t miss out, either. Even on a cloudy day, we could see further than we’d imagined, so it’s well worth a visit even if the sun isn’t shining. 

4. There are loads of other things to do while you’re there

York Minster kids

Although we were visiting specifically to climb the tower, we had enough time to explore the Undercroft and other York Minster areas while waiting for our slot. The Undercroft is the museum underneath the Minster and is easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. It’s our daughter’s favourite part to visit, thanks to the hands-on activities and easy-to-digest information on the Minster’s history and how its run today. If we’d had time, we would also have done one of the many children’s trails or borrowed one of the Explorer Backpacks (both free) which are a great way for kids to explore.

5. It’s a great location for exploring the rest of York

York Museum Gardens picnic

As York’s most central landmark, it’s no surprise that it’s an amazing location from which to explore the rest of the city once you’re done. We headed straight for an ice cream as a reward for all that climbing, but there are loads of other things to do that are right on the doorstep. Head to the Museum Gardens for a runaround, walk down the famous Shambles, have a peaceful cuppa in College Green (the small green area next to St William’s College), visit the children’s section of York Explore library, have a stroll along the river or even walk or catch the road train to the National Railway Museum where admission is free.

Good to know

  • – Entry to York Minster is free for under 16s and all York residents (take proof of address – we usually take a utility bill).
  • – There’s a charge to climb the tower (£6 per person when we visited) and you can pre-book online. We’d recommend pre-booking as it’s popular.
  • – At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s not one for anybody who’s scared of heights. Although it feels very safe, there is a section where you walk between the towers and it’s more exposed.

York Minster, Deangate, York YO1 7HH

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