York, a historic city in North Yorkshire renowned for its rich history, medieval architecture, and cultural attractions. This makes it the perfect place for a family day out or short break, and today we will share “Things to Do in York With Kids”. You think of York and wonder if it is family-friendly, yet there is so much to see and do.
York has so much to offer travelling families with its Roman origins, medieval charm and city walls. Families can marvel at the York Minster and explore its Viking heritage.
Things to Do in York for Families
Is York Good For Kids?
Absolutely! York is a fantastic city to visit with kids. With its rich history, medieval charm, and family-friendly attractions, there is much to see and do. From exploring the National Railway Museum and wandering the enchanting Shambles to enjoying Rowntree Park and taking a boat cruise along the River Ouse, there are activities for children of all ages.
The city’s walls offer a unique opportunity to walk and enjoy panoramic views, while the York Minster and Jorvik Viking Centre provide fascinating insights into the city’s past. With plenty of museums, parks, and interactive experiences, York is a vibrant and captivating family destination.
Getting Into York
York also has great transportation connections, which makes it an easy choice for families as the train comes straight into York city centre and is only a short walk from all the local activities and hotels.
It is possible to arrive in York and not have to walk for more than a mile between attractions all weekend. There are extensive hotels, B&Bs and apartments to rent in the city centre, all within an easy walk of the train station. If you stay centrally, within a mile/20 minutes walk of your accommodation, you can enjoy the following activities:
1.National Railway Museum
Situated just behind the train station, this wonderful national museum is a must! Firstly, it’s free. Secondly, it is enormous. It’s easy to fill many hours when travelling to York with Kids. The rail museum can be a day out alone. (especially handy if it’s raining) Note that although it’s free to get in, you must book tickets online.
Get to explore and peer inside a majestic steam train, electric trains, modern trains, a Japanese bullet train, royal carriages, and famouse locomotives such as the Flying Scotsman. Plus, a miniature railway for the perfect giant’s view of trains in motion.
Families will also enjoy an indoor picnic area, an outdoor adventure playground, indoor soft play and many interactive activities; there is lots to do.
I am not a train enthusiast at all. However, a trip to the National Railway Museum is always as fun for the adults as it is for the children.
The National Railway Museum in York is suitable for visitors of all ages. While younger children may particularly enjoy the interactive exhibits, outdoor play area, and miniature railway, older children and adults can also appreciate the impressive collection of historic trains and locomotives. The museum offers a variety of activities and displays that cater to different age groups, making it a great destination for families with kids of all ages.
2. Wander the Shambles
Families visiting York with Kids will love the Shambles a real-life Diagon Alley right here in the UK; Harry Potter movie fans will go wild for the Harry Potter shop, where you can purchase the all-important wand. Or, indeed, shop Harry Potter to your heart’s content.
Visit the Potions Cauldron, where budding wizards can buy frothy hot chocolate and Hogwarts-themed drinks. Or, indeed, try a magic potion-making class or indulge in cauldron cola, serpent venom and basilisk blood soda.
This historic street is lined with charming, unique shops perfect for browsing and shopping. You’ll find a variety of independent boutiques, a Christmas shop, gift shops, and artisanal food stores; you can even buy your own ghost.
Explore the narrow, cobblestone streets and discover hidden treasures, from handmade chocolates, and Bao Buns to vintage clothing. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs or local products or want to soak in the atmosphere, visiting the Shambles shops is a must-do in York.
3. Chill At Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park is a short walk from York town centre and nestled on the banks of the River Ouse. It’s a fantastic destination for families visiting the city. This beautiful park offers a wide range of activities for kids to enjoy. They will love walking around the park, playing on the playgrounds, and exploring the well-maintained gardens.
There is also a lake to rent boats and have a leisurely paddle. The park is a great place for a picnic, with plenty of open space to spread out and enjoy the surroundings. Whether you want to relax and soak up the sunshine or get active with sports and games, Rowntree Park is the perfect place for family fun in York.
4. Take A Boat Cruise Along the River Ouse
You can’t visit York and not take a boat cruise on the river. It’s a must-do activity for families exploring the city. Hop aboard a boat and enjoy a leisurely cruise, taking in the scenic views of York from the water.
Kids will love being on a boat and experiencing the gentle sway of the river. It’s a great way to relax and see the city from a different perspective. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the beautiful sights along the River Ouse. A boat cruise is a memorable and enjoyable experience for the whole family in York.
5. Kids Will Love Walking the Walls, Surrounding York
An almost complete medieval wall surrounds Central York. You can walk atop the wall (about 2 miles, not buggy friendly, slippery in the rain) and circle the city for free.
Your raised position takes in wonderful views and gives access to the unseen rear of some of York’s most splendid gardens and houses.
You will also find coffee shops and the odd cafe dotted along the walls should all the exertion demand tea and cake! There are numerous guided walking tours of the Walls and other areas of York (I particularly recommend the tour of the famous snickelways!), many are free, and a quick Google search will turn up numerous options.
6. York Minster
The York Minster towers over the centre of York this is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe (alongside Cologne Cathedral in Germany)
York Minster, the towering centrepiece of York, is a magnificent building that showcases the city’s rich history and architectural grandeur. This stunning medieval cathedral will captivate both adults and children alike.
Explore the intricate details of its Gothic architecture, wander through the manicured gardens, and marvel at the historical dramatisations filmed on its grounds. There is plenty to explore inside, and children are given activity books to assist their exploration. A visit to York Minster is a must for any family exploring the city, as it provides a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of York.
7. Take the Kids on A Ghost Tour!
York has a long and bloody past and was once known as the city of asylums. It’s,, therefore, no surprise to learn that there are many ghost stories emanating from the snickleways and churchyards. All good fun; experienced and talented storytellers run the evening tours. However, these are not for the under 10’s.
8. The Yorkshire Museum
The Yorkshire Museum is a fantastic destination for families with kids visiting the city. This museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the history and heritage of Yorkshire, showcasing a wide range of artefacts and exhibitions.
From dinosaur fossils and ancient Roman relics to medieval treasures and interactive displays, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The museum also has a lovely garden where kids can run around and let off some steam. Don’t forget to check out the special events and workshops for children, which provide hands-on learning experiences and fun activities. A visit to the Yorkshire Museum is a must for any family exploring York!
9. York Castle Museum
Visitors enter York Castle Museum into a Victorian shopping street. All the shops are fully stocked with their wares; there are usually character actors dotted around, too, to add to the fun. Other exhibitions on higher floors include WWI, a prison, fashion and chocolate. The Victorian street is, however, always the favourite of our children.
Allow a couple of hours for a visit, and bear in mind that you will need to use a baby sling (which is loaned for free) rather than a pushchair).
10. Dig Is A Great Activity for Kids
Dig is the perfect activity for the budding archaeologist. This archaeological adventure is an interactive children’s archaeology museum that offers a unique hands-on experience. Children can dig and explore in a simulated archaeological site, uncovering artefacts and learning about the area’s history.
While adults may find themselves standing around, children love the opportunity to dig and discover without getting dirty. It’s a fun and educational activity that is sure to engage young minds.
11. Explore the Museum Gardens
The Gardens are busy all year round. The Abbey ruins make the best climbing frames! Plenty of squirrels and birds, all very tame, run around and entertain the children. The Gardens also join up to the gardens of the Art Gallery, which are slightly more formal and contain an edible garden. A very popular spot for a picnic in the summer or a stroll in the winter, hot chocolate in hand (try Mannions or Brew and Brownie, just over the road from the main entrance).
12. Kids Will Love the Jorvic Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre is a historical attraction taking you back to 975AD that immerses visitors in the Viking Age, particularly the 10th century when York was known as “Jorvik.”
It features lifelike exhibits, including a reconstructed Viking settlement and a notable “Jorvik Ride” that takes visitors through a Viking village. The centre highlights archaeological finds from York, offers educational programs and has a gift shop. It’s a must-visit destination for those interested in Viking history and culture.
13. Let the Kids Climb the Stairs to Clifford’s Tower in York
Cliffords Tower, is an iconic landmark for families to visit with kids in York that offers a glimpse into the city’s rich history. Originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, this imposing tower stands on a mound and offers breathtaking 360° views of York’s medieval cityscape.
It is now managed by English Heritage and is open to the public as a historic site. Visitors can explore the tower’s fascinating history, learn about its role in various historical events, and enjoy panoramic views from the top. A visit to Clifford’s Tower is a must for history enthusiasts and those seeking to experience York’s enchanting past.
14. York Dungeons is a Scary Adventure for Older Kids
York Dungeons is a thrilling and scary adventure for older kids and adults. Located in the heart of York, this historical attraction takes you back to the darker side of the city’s past.
Expert actors bring famous and infamous characters to life, and you’ll experience spine-chilling stories, interactive shows, and immersive sets. From the gripping tales of the infamous Guy Fawkes to the horrors of the plague, York Dungeons offers a unique and immersive experience that will leave you both terrified and entertained.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for some spooky fun, the York Dungeons is a must-visit attraction.
15. The Theatre Royal, The Grand Opera House, The Barbican, City Screen Picture House
During the school holidays, all 3 of the theatres usually have children’s production on and City Screen Cinema has special children’s showing every day. The Theatre Royal often offers a children’s activity before one of the shows. City Screen also has a Kid’s Club every Saturday morning, with a half hour craft activity prior to the film then only £2 a ticket for the film.
16. York’s Chocolate Story
A museum of chocolate, what’s not to like?! Tourists are taken on a chocolate tour from the Inca’s spiced coca drink right through to today’s many chocolatey delights, the museum is an interactive tour of various rooms detailing the history of chocolate and York’s involvement in the story.
Every room includes something to taste, much to the delight of the children. At the end of the tour, children are allowed to make their own chocolate lolly to take home and Much (or more likely, within 2 minutes of leaving the building!).
17. Take a Bike and Cycle Along the River in York With Kids
Cycling in York is a fantastic way to explore the city and its surrounding areas with its flat terrain and extensive bike lanes and paths network.
York is a very bike-friendly city. You can bike and cycle along the River Ouse, enjoying the beautiful views and the fresh air. Several cycling routes will take you through the city’s historic sites, parks, and neighbourhoods.
Renting a bike is easy, with many shops and rental services available in the city. So hop on a bike and discover the sights and sounds of York at your own pace.
18. Kids Will Be In Awe of the Van Gogh Immersive Experience
The Van Gogh Immersive Experience in York is a fascinating attraction that allows visitors to immerse themselves in the world of Vincent van Gogh.
This unique experience takes you on a journey through the life and work of the renowned Dutch artist. Through cutting-edge technology and multimedia displays, you can explore Van Gogh’s iconic artwork in a new and interactive way.
The immersive experience provides a deeper understanding of his artistic genius, allowing you to appreciate the details and emotions behind each brushstroke. It’s a must-visit for art enthusiasts and anyone interested in delving into the creative mind of Van Gogh.
19. Visit the Treasurer’s House
The Treasurer’s House in York is a must-visit attraction for history enthusiasts and those seeking to explore the city’s rich heritage. This historic house, located in the heart of York, provides a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of its former owners.
Visitors can wander through the beautifully preserved rooms and admire the stunning architecture and intricate decorations. Don’t forget to check out the haunted cellar, rumoured to be frequented by ghostly apparitions. Visiting the Treasurer’s House is like stepping back in time and experiencing York’s fascinating past firsthand.
Grab a York Pass if You Are Visiting York With Kids
The York Pass is a sightseeing card that offers free entry to over 50 attractions and activities in York and its surrounding areas. With the pass, you can visit popular destinations such as York Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre, Art Galleries, York Castle Museum, and more without purchasing individual tickets.
It also includes discounts on dining, shopping, and additional experiences. The York Pass provides a convenient and cost-effective way to explore the city’s rich history and cultural offerings, making it a great option for families looking to make the most of their time in York.
A Day is Not Enough In York
York is a fantastic destination for a family day out or short break, offering a wide range of activities and attractions that are perfect for kids. From its rich history and medieval charm to its cultural offerings, York has something to offer for children of all ages.
York is a small city, cram-packed with excellent places for families to stay, eat and have fun. You can also read another locals guide to York here