13 Things to Do in York

The Shambles believed to be the inspiration for J.K.Rowling’s Diagon Alley

York is a historic walled city located in the northeast of England. This picturesque and vibrant city is a perfect size to explore for the day and has plenty of exciting things to see and do. Here 13 things to do in York that will keep you entertained for hours.

1. York Minster

The impressive York Minister is the second largest gothic style cathedral in Northern Europe and is well worth a visit when in York. It took over 250 years to build York Minster, with construction starting in 1220 and was finished in 1472.

York Minister is 72m high and boasts impressive views of the surrounding city. For general admission into the Minster, it costs £12 for adults, £9 for students and children go free. To visit the tower as well as general admission it cost £17 for adults, £14 for students and £5 for children.

2. National Railway Museum

Discover all things railway at the National Railway Museum. Ride on the miniature railway, take a simulator train ride, build your own LEGO steam locomotive and much more. The perfect York activity, especially if you have kids.

Entry: FREE but you must book a slot in advance

Location: Leeman Rd, YO26 4XJ

3. York City Walls

The York city walls encase the old part of the city and are 3.4km in length. In fact, York’s city walls are the longest city walls in England. York’s walls were built in the 13th century and are the perfect place to explore the city from up high. The city walls can usually be accessed from 8AM to 5PM.

This cute little hand drawn map provided by York Walls is helpful for getting your bearings.

The York Art Gallery is free for all and a great way to while away an hour or so especially on a rainy day. From paintings to pottery there is plenty to discover inside the art gallery. Some of the current exhibitions include: ‘Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings’, ‘Pictures of the Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-E Prints’ and the ‘Yorkshire Tea Ceremony’.

Opening hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11AM – 4PM

Location: Exhibition Square, YO1 7EW

5. Enjoy a Shopping Spree

There are plenty of shops in York from the new to the old. From clothes to chocolate shops there are plenty of places to peruse. Some shops like White Stuff have a rather artsy interior that’s worth entering the shop to see! York is not massive, but does house the usual shops, H&M and Zara as well as a plethora of boutiques, fairtrade shops and quirky interiors to rummage through.

6. The Mansion House

The Mansion House occupied by the Lord Mayor of York

This picturesque building has been the residence of the Lord Mayor of York since 1732 and continues to be so today. Located in St Helen’s Square this early Georgian style house can also be viewed from the inside. Once inside you can discover the quirks and stories of this Mayoral residence

General admission to the house is £6.50 for adults, £5 for over 65’s and students, and £3.50 for children over the age of 5.

7. Walk Along the Shambles

This tiny shopping street of York, otherwise known as the Shambles is one of most well preserved historic shopping streets in the entire of Europe. With authentic cobbled streets and buildings leaning in on each other from both sides of the lane, the Shambles will no doubt leave you feeling as if you just tapped a brick on a wall and entered into Diagon Alley. The street was historically designed to be narrow so that the meat that used to be sold there wouldn’t be hanging in direct sunlight. Today there is not a dangling carcass in sight, but you will find interesting boutiques, cafes and even a shop selling Bāo zi.

8. Harry Potter Fans Get Your Galleons Ready

Talking of shopping, if you’re a Harry Potter fan then you best prepare your gold galleons and silver sickles because there are a few Harry Potter shops with plenty of goodies to stuff your trunks with. Most notably ‘The Shop That Must Not Be Named’ is well worth a visit. I, an unashamed self-proclaimed Harry Potter nerd and expert was positively tantalised by the small details in the shop. Including the ‘park your broom’ sign out front. I love shops like this because the staff are always genuine fans. I had a funny exchange with one staff member. I was busy looking at the wands that were displayed on this velvety purple board on the wall. Then this guy comes up to me and says “did you know they actually turn to reveal more wands”, I slightly sarcastically replied “Wow, like real magic” and he, not picking up on the sarcasm, exclaimed in pure passion and delight “Yes exactly, its brilliant isn’t it!?” Bless him, he also probably spent his entire childhood reading nothing but Harry Potter on monotonous repeat.

9. Cruise Along the Ouse

A cruise along the Ouse sounds enticing simply because of the rhyming, but in all honesty it’s a nice way to view the city of York from a different perspective. The River Ouse flows for 84km through York to the Humber estuary. Hop aboard one of the City Cruises sightseeing tour boats to learn all about the history of York whilst taking in the sights. These tours set off from King’s Staith Landing just a 3 minute walk from our next destination, the Jorvik Viking Centre.

10. Jorvik Viking Centre

The Jorvik Centre provides an insight into life in 10th century York, during the Viking Age. Discover some rare Viking artefacts, explore the site of the Coppergate dig and travel back in time to discover what life was like for people during this time. The Jorvik Centre is a great place to take the kids for a spot of history and educational fun.

Entry: Adult £12.50, Senior/student £10.50, Child £8.50

This entry is actually treated as a donation and entitles you to 12 months free admission from the date of payment  

Location: 19 Coppergate, YO1 9WT

11. Eat Lunch at Lucia’s

After all that morning wandering you may just be ready for some lunch, so why not head to the pretty and pink Lucia’s. Located on 13 Swinegate, YO1 8AJ, this is a perfect spot for lunch. There are indoor and outdoor tables, perfect for escaping the COVID crowds. It’s a sizable restaurant with two downstairs indoor seating areas, an outdoor space and a cocktail bar upstairs. We sat outside for COVID reasons and it was plenty warm enough as they had blankets and outdoor heaters. For lunch there was an a la carte menu and a lunch set menu. I had the steak ciabatta which was enormous but delicious and just £10, my mum had the fillet of sea bass also for £10 and my nana had king prawn starter as a main for £8.95. In total our bill for 3 lunch meals, 2 coffees, a coke plus their 10% service charge was £41.58.

12. Cliffords Tower

Proudly standing on top of a small hill Clifford Tower is all that’s left of York Castle. York Castles construction began in 1068 by William the Conqueror and Clifford’s Tower was built by Henry III in 1245. Whilst you cannot go inside Clifford’s Tower at the moment due to conservation works, you can still explore from the outside. Ticket and pricing information is currently unavailable due to the construction.

Location: Tower Street, YO1 9SA

13. Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate

Dare you to say it five times…

Now don’t get too excited as this is literally just a street sign. But you have to admit that Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is well worth a picture. What’s more its located on the street next to the Shambles so you don’t have to trek across town just to see this rather long named street. The street name dates back to 1505 where is was previously called Whitnourwhatnourgate, but over the years has transitioned into Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Rather quirky!

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