York really is a top destination to travel to with kids. Not only is there an abundance of interactive museums and activities, but the often gruesome history and connections to the magical world of Harry Potter are a sure win too! Add into the equation that York is a very compact city making it the perfect size for little legs and I’m starting to wonder if there is a more ideal city break for children?
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I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to York’s best family attractions and all the things to do in York with kids. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these ideas or if you have any more activities to add to the list!
- 1 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND
- 2 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST MUSEUMS IN YORK FOR CHILDREN
- 3 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST OUTDOOR ATTRACTIONS
- 4 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: BEST ATTRACTIONS OUTSIDE OF THE CITY WALLS
- 5 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: FOR OLDER KIDS
- 6 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST OF THE REST
- 7 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: CHILD-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS
- 8 THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: WHAT WILL YOU DO?
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND
York Hop On Hop Off Bus
If you’re visiting York with kids it’s a good idea to take advantage of the Hop On Hop Off Bus service. Yes, York is a small city but if you want to pack in as much as possible, you need to make sure your kids save their energy and you’re getting around everywhere as fast as you can! There is live commentary on board too so you can learn about the sights as you travel.
A boat cruise is a great way to see the sights away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Kids will love sitting outside on the open top deck and adults will enjoy listening to the entertaining commentary.
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST MUSEUMS IN YORK FOR CHILDREN
One of the best things to do in York with kids is to pay a visit to some of the incredible museums. There are over 10 museums in and around York to choose from and most are fully immersive and interactive, making them perfect for younger visitors. I’ve detailed some of the best options below.
It’s worth noting that nearly all of the museums have an entry fee. If you’re thinking of visiting more than one, it’s worth looking into The York Pass as you will likely be able to save some money.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Jorvik Viking Centre really tries to bring history alive by recreating, not only the sights and sounds of Viking York but also the smells. In fact, the smell is one of the first things that hits you even before you enter the museum! The most entertaining part of this museum for kids is the ride in the ‘time cart’ which will take you on a ride back to the 10th century and a tour through Viking York. Afterwards, once you’ve been transported back to the present day, a visit to the interactive museum showcases some of the artefacts that have been uncovered by archaeologists from the Viking era. Cleverly done, it really does help bring history to life by linking archaeological finds with the people that may have used them.
The time cart takes around 30 minutes. Allow approximately 1.5 hours in total for your visit.
Website: Jorvik Viking Centre
National Railway Museum
A hands on museum dedicated to all things train related. It sounds like heaven to any train obsessed toddler, right? But don’t worry if not all of the family are quite as enthusiastic about trains – this museum really does cater for all. I for one really enjoyed my time here and I would definitely not class myself as a train enthusiast in any way!
Kids and adults alike will enjoy marvelling at the size of the trains on display, peering through the windows of the royal carriages and stepping aboard a Japanese Bullet Train. The museum is free to enter but for a small cost, you can take a ride on a miniature railway or experience a ride on a steam locomotive. And if those little legs can’t quite manage the short walk back into the city walls, you can’t beat travelling the short distance on the museum’s road train which drops you off by York Minister.
If you want to see everything, I’d allow around 2 hours for your visit.
Website: National Railway Museum
York Castle Museum
Another museum, another chance to travel through time. This time, it’s to a Victorian Street, complete with shops stocked full of Victorian wares and costumed actors who can tell you about times gone by. Daily talks and tours are also available lasting about 20 minutes. There are other exhibitions including one about the history of fashion and another about WWI, but for the children, it’s the magic of Kirkgate, the Victorian Street which is the main reason this museum is one of the best things to do in York with kids.
Allow around 2.5 hours for your visit.
Website: York Castle Museum
This really is a museum with a difference. Fully interactive and hands on, children are given a taste of what it’s like to be a real life archaeologist. Trowel in hand, they will dig around in four specially prepared indoor excavation pits filled with exciting Roman, Viking, Medieval and Victorian artefacts. A fully trained archaeologist is on hand throughout to give a full briefing and answer any questions. Such an exciting and fun way to make history appealing to kids, DIG is well worth a visit.
Allow around 2 hours for your visit.
Website: DIG York
York Chocolate Story
Show me a kid who doesn’t like chocolate. Most children would JUMP at the chance to go to a real life chocolate factory, and that’s exactly what we have here with York’s Chocolate Story. Kids can learn all about the history of chocolate, why York is known as ‘The Chocolate City’ and – arguably the best part – make their own chocolate lollipop!
You can buy tickets in advance to skip the queue.
Allow just over an hour for your visit.
Website: York Chocolate Story
Visit a stunning medieval house, carefully renovated to capture how it may have been to live in medieval England. The displays and exhibitions are carefully designed with children in mind and the information is fully accessible for younger learners. The best thing about this museum, however, is that you are positively encouraged to touch the objects, sit on the furniture and really get involved with the artefacts. This certainly gives it a pretty unique edge – great for bringing history to life!
Allow around 1 hour for your visit.
Website: Barley Hall York
Save Some Money With The York Pass
If you think you may want to take advantage of the Hop On Hop Off Bus and visit a few of the museums you’ve read about above, then it’s definitely worth considering The York Pass.
The York Pass offers two different options:
- The York City Pass – lasts for one day and gives you free entry into 25 city-centre attractions
- York & Beyond Explorer Pass – lasts for 2, 3 or 6 days and gives you free entry into over 50 attractions in York and beyond.
Both options include a free meal at ASK Italian.
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST OUTDOOR ATTRACTIONS
Parks in York
If there is one thing York is not short on, it’s green space. Perfect for getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a while and surrounding yourself in nature, visiting a park has to be one the top things to do in York with kids. My top tip? Make use of York’s many fantastic eateries and stock up on some delicious grub so you can enjoy a picnic in the park.
Museum Gardens are the easiest to get to. As the name suggests, the gardens are situated in the grounds of York Museum on the site of the old Abbey. There’s plenty of wildlife here to keep children entertained and it’s perfect for a picnic on a sunny day or a relaxing walk in the winter. The gardens don’t have a play area, but kids will love exploring the old abbey ruins. There’s also an edible garden within the adjoining gardens of the Art Gallery.
Dean’s Park is another park easily accessible from within the city walls. A lovely, quiet spot just behind York Minster, it’s another great place to take a picnic, and in summer months, you can buy ice cream and a soft drink from the little refreshment stand. It’s an ideal place to go for some quieter things to do in York with kids and it has the bonus feature of having amazing views of York Minster.
5 minutes from the centre in a car or a 20-minute walk will get you to Rowntree Park, a 20-acre park on the outside of the city walls. It’s a great place to spend a few hours, whatever the season. Rowntree Park features a lake, café, children’s play area, toilets as well as basketball and tennis courts and lots of space to run around!
Little Red Boats
This has to be one of the top picks for things to do in York with kids. Children will love being captain of their own little red boat on the River Ouse. The boats are so easy to steer that children can give it a go themselves (under adult supervision of course!).
Food and drink can be taken on board, so why not take a twist on the traditional picnic in the park and have one aboard your own little red boat instead! And make sure you look out for the Two Hoots Ice-Cream boat which is usually moored up by Millennium Bridge. There’s definitely something quite exciting and novel about stopping to buy ice-cream from a boat!
There can be long queues for boats during peak seasons. If you want to avoid the queues and cruise straight to the front (who doesn’t?!), I would recommend booking your little red boat online in advance.
Walk the Walls
The walk around the walls is relatively easy, but bear in mind it can get slippery in wet and icy weather. I’d also recommend using a carrier rather than a pushchair as it’s really not very pram friendly. Despite these minor issues, it’s a pleasant walk that the whole family can enjoy. The walk takes in some fantastic views of the city and York Minster, and, should little legs get tired, there’re plenty of places to stop off along the way for cake and light refreshments.
York Cat Trail
York is an incredible city to just wander around with no particular agenda, marvelling at the history that surrounds you. But if all that wandering gets a little boring for the kids, give some purpose to your walk by following the York Cat Trail. The trail starts in The Shambles and is completely free. Just call into York Glass in The Shambles for a map or download one here.
The York Cat Trail is a great way to explore the city whilst hunting down the various cat statues that sit tucked away on top of buildings. There are various beliefs as to why the cats are there – some believe they were placed there to scare off disease spreading vermin whilst others swear their purpose is to ward off evil spirits and protect the people of the city. Whatever the reason, it’s a fun way to see the city, admire the sights and keep the whole family entertained.
York is known as the City of Festivals and, as you might expect given that title, the city hosts its fair share of festivals throughout the year. Many of these will appeal to children including the York Ice Trail (usually around early February), Jorvik Viking Festival (mid-late February), the family friendly Fossgate Festival in the summer and the York Christmas Festival. It’s worth keeping a look out on VisitYork.org to see what new and exciting festivals are coming up!
A visit to York isn’t really complete without a stroll down The Shambles. Despite starting life as a street full of butchers shops, awash with blood and the stench of raw meat, it’s cleaned up its act and done alright for itself. These days, the Shambles is one of the most visited streets in the UK and any fantasy loving kid is going to love it. Here’s why:
- It was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the famous Harry Potter books
- There are not one, but THREE whole shops dedicated to Harry Potter
- You can enter a secret room and make your own magic potion at the Potion Cauldron, 9 ¾ The Shambles.
- The York Cat Trail starts from here – call into York Glass for your map
- Walking through The Shambles, it’s very easy to get lost in the magic and pretend you’ve just been transported back in time
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: BEST ATTRACTIONS OUTSIDE OF THE CITY WALLS
Boasting the largest corn maze in Europe and one of the biggest in the world, the York Maze is a fun day out for everyone! And it’s not just all about the giant corn maze either. There are mazes to crawl through, illusion mazes to mess with your mind, mazes that involve not just finding your way out, but cracking codes too…. And as if that’s not enough, there’s a climbing zone, a crazy golf course and remote control boats to name just a few of the other attractions.
Allow around 5 hours in total if you want to visit all the attractions within the York Maze site. Food and drink are available on site but you can also take your own picnic and eat at one of the picnic benches.
Top Tip: Make sure you check the website before you go. The York Maze is only open between July – September each year.
Entry is free with The York Pass.
For an action packed day out in York with the kids, it’s worth checking out Castle Howard. Around 30 minutes drive outside of the centre of York, Castle Howard is far from being just another stately home. Swing, slide, run and climb in the most incredible adventure playground you’ve ever experienced and, if that doesn’t get your heart racing, see if you can hold your nerve during the treetop adventure that crosses over the Great Lake. There’s plenty of places to relax too if all that adventure gets the better of you. Take a picnic to one of the designated picnic spots or buy your lunch from the Boathouse Café and sit overlooking the calm waters of the Great Lake.
Piglets Adventure Farm
A good option for those with younger children, Piglets Adventure Farm is just 15 minutes from the centre of York and offers both indoor and outdoor fun. There are lots of opportunities to meet and pet adorable animals of all sizes (think horses, pigs and goats as well as rabbits and chicks!) and still have time to hop on a tractor ride to the indoor area where kids can burn off some energy jumping on hay bales in the play barn.
Make sure you check opening times on the website as the farm closes for visitors over the winter months.
Askham Bryan Wildlife Park
This place is only open on weekends and during school holidays but is well worth considering as an activity to do in York with kids if you happen to be visiting at these times.
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: FOR OLDER KIDS
There are numerous ghost walks to choose from but most will follow a similar format. Both theatrical and entertaining, the chilling stories told on these walks will definitely appear to older children. However, it’s worth noting that most walks are over an hour in length, take place entirely outdoors, and don’t start until 8 pm. Probably not one for the under 10s.
Ghost Bus Tour
If comedy horror is your thing, then you’ll love the York Ghost Bus.
Step aboard an original 1960s double decker bus and learn about the darker side of York’s most famous landmarks. Led by actors, it’s a fun and entertaining way to learn about the spooky side of York’s history.
You can book your tickets here.
Led by actors, the York Dungeon is a truly immersive experience taking you back through only the most gruesome parts of York’s early history. Guaranteed to make even the bravest jump, the York Dungeon is not recommended for children under the age of 8, and any child under 5 will not be granted entry. Children under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult aged 18+.
Allow 75 minutes for the experience.
Harry Potter Walking Tour
An absolute must for any Harry Potter fans, this 2 hour walking tour combines the history of York with visits to Harry Potter filming locations, costume reenactments and video clips from the movies. There are quizzes and games, complete with an electronic scoreboard so you can show off your superior Harry Potter knowledge and earn points for your house. Amazing fun and a truly magical experience.
Book in advance so you don’t miss out!
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: THE BEST OF THE REST
A great option for something to do in York with crafty kids, Rainbow Ceramics encourages you to let loose your creative side and decorate a ceramic item of your choice. Once complete, your painted masterpiece will be glazed and fired, ready to collect in approximately 1 week. Alternatively, if you’re just visiting York for a short period, they are happy to post your items to you.
York Minster has gone to great lengths to ensure that a trip to the impressive cathedral is as fun for children as possible. Children are invited to grab a Little Explorer backpack, containing items such as binoculars and a magnifying glass, to help them unearth the secrets of the building. There are also treasure hunts to take part in and, on Saturdays, a family friendly tour packed full of fun facts about the Minster.
Entry is free with The York Pass.
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: CHILD-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS
There are many restaurants and cafes in York that will gladly welcome families through their doors. Sure, there are plenty of chain restaurants to choose from (ASK Italian offer a free meal to York Pass holders), but there are some independent places well worth your time too! My personal favourite has to be the Brew and Brownie (those peanut butter brownies are just divine!), but others equally worth checking out are the café inside the train museum (a very novel experience – sit on a makeshift platform next to the Royal Carriages) and, if you want a special treat, Betty’s Children’s Afternoon Tea is an absolute must!
THINGS TO DO IN YORK WITH KIDS: WHAT WILL YOU DO?
York really is a fun and fascinating place to visit no matter what age you are! Despite being written with children in mind, most of the activities listed here will keep the whole family entertained.
Have you tried any of the activities mentioned here? Have I missed anything out any exciting things to do in York with kids? Let me know in the comments!