My City: Things to do in York, England (with kids!)

The concept of my new travel series, My City (with kids!), is to help parents visiting various cities around the world – for travel or relocation purposes – to find out all about living in the city from a local parent!

This week I’ve connected with Sinead Camplin from Map Made Memories, a family travel blogger living in York, who is sharing more about her home town and what to expect when visiting York with kids in tow!

All about York

The vibrant city of York is a popular destination for both domestic and international visitors. With a rich cultural heritage, York today bears the hallmarks of its historic past; within this small, walkable city you can visit Roman ruins, Viking remains and buildings and churches from the medieval, Georgian and Victorian eras.

Dominated by York Minster, the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, York is also famous for The Shambles, considered to be one of the most picturesque streets in England. There is something for everyone to enjoy in York, whatever your age.

My home for over a decade, York is a family friendly city due to its small size, welcoming nature and wide range of attractions. With an international airport 45 minutes away and just two hours from London by train, York is an easily accessible destination. The compact city centre is mostly pedestrianised and the main sights can be covered on foot but there are extensive local bus links if you are staying outside the city centre.

Things to do in York, England

A first visit to York should begin at my favourite spot in York, the majestic York Minster. Even after ten years, I still find this building breath-taking. The seat of the Archbishop of York, there has been a stone church on this spot since the 7th Century with the current magnificent church built between the 12th and 15th Century. Walk around the exterior to appreciate the scale, grandeur and intricate stone carving of this wonderful building.

Inside the cathedral, the decorated gothic nave and huge stained glass windows are stunning; the Great East Window is the largest expanse of stained glass anywhere in the world. Don’t miss the beautiful, ornately decorated Chapter House accessed to the left of the cathedral nave. For those with a head for heights, you can climb the 275 steps of the central tower for a birds eye view of York.

Unless attending a service, there is an entry fee for visitors which contributes to the upkeep of the cathedral. Volunteer guides run free, daily tours to share the history and secrets of the cathedral. There are child friendly tours on a Saturday and at other times, children can borrow free activity packs or complete one of the age appropriate treasure trails. A chance to attend a service and hear the wonderful choir and organ should not be missed.

After exploring the Minster, head to the back of the Cathedral to pretty Deans Park, an oasis of calm and one of the city’s hidden gems. Or, just five minutes walk away is the lovely Museum Gardens, a large open park ideal for a play and a picnic. In addition to beautiful flower beds and inquisitive squirrels, there is a small observatory, the ruins of St Marys Abbey and the black and white 15th Century Tudor building, the Hospitium. At the highest elevation in the park sits the excellent Yorkshire Museum with interactive displays on the Roman and Medieval history of York plus an excellent geology section; my children love the dinosaur exhibits best!

See York from a different perspective by walking the city’s medieval walls which can be accessed for free at any of the four fortified medieval gateways called ‘bars’. At two miles long the walls are the longest city walls in England and a complete circuit takes around two hours.

York is famous for its Viking heritage and the archeological discoveries continue to this day. A ‘must do’ in York is a trip to the small but highly entertaining Jorvik Museum in Coppergate. Remains of a Viking settlement were discovered here during the building of the adjacent shopping centre in 1976 prompting a four year long archeological dig. Descend into the modern museum to see the remains of Viking streets and homes beneath the glass floor and to view the artefacts found on this site. Children particularly love the slow moving ‘cab’ ride through a life size Viking settlement which evokes the sights, sounds -and smells – of the Viking era. It is one of the most popular places to visit in York so go early to avoid long queues.

As so much of the city centre is car free, York is a great city to wander – though watch your step on the cobbled lanes of Stonegate and Swinegate!

Explore the narrow alleyways (called “snickets”) which criss cross the city. There are daily free walking tours of the city or, to rest tired feet, hop on an open top (or closed) bus tour. After dark, you can join one for the citys’ famous ghost tours and there is even a nightly ghost bus tour on a black, traditional style route master bus. Any of these tours will bring the history of York to life with engaging stories of how people and individual characters lived – and in the case of the ghost tours – died!

An essential stop on any tour of York is the small cobbled street called The Shambles. This short, but atmospheric street, is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. Characterised by tiny shops, tightly squeezed together with overhanging top floors, a walk down the Shambles is like stepping back in time.

With the unpredictable British weather, York has many options for rainy day sightseeing. Visit the recently renovated art gallery on Exhibition Square or the gorgeous Georgian rooms and fully equipped kitchen of Fairfax House in Coppergate. Children will love pretending to be an archaeologist at the DIG museum or listening to stories about life in medieval York at Barley Hall. Learn about the history of York at the imposing Castle Museum opposite Clifford’s Tower. The Castle museum charts the history of York and includes a full sized, cobbled Victorian street complete with shops you can enter to browse and explore. As it was once the city’s prison, you can also visit the eerie, old cells where the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin was imprisoned.

One of Yorks most famous, and popular, museums is the fabulous, free to enter, National Railway Museum. Housed in a huge site at the back of the city’s railway station, the museum will delight both young and old. Steam, diesel and electric trains are found here with several trains offering the opportunity to climb into the drivers cab and carriages. All periods of rail history are represented from Robert Stevenson’s 1829 ‘The Rocket’ to a redundant carriage of a modern Japanese Bullet Train. There are daily tours, entertaining science shows and a small playground for children. It is a great museum not to be missed.

York is packed with great restaurants, pubs and independent cafes, all of which welcome families. From tiny sandwich shops to the iconic Betty’s Tea Rooms there is something to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Visit one of the city’s many bakeries to try the classic Yorkshire Parkin cake or indulge in a Fat Rascal cake. Or you could have a traditional roast dinner of meat, potatoes and vegetables all wrapped in a battered Yorkshire Pudding from the Yorkshire Roast Company shop.

There is plentiful accommodation in the city ranging from an enormous Youth Hostel to the five star Cedar Grand Hotel, self -catering holiday lets and Airbnbs’. There is also a very central caravan park just ten minutes walk from the city centre along the beautiful River Ouse.

York has an abundance of attractions for any visitor whatever their budget, whatever the weather. No visitor will leave York disappointed!

My City (with kids!) – Sinead from York

How long have you lived in your home town? How old are your kids? I have lived in York for 13 years. My children are 13, 11 and 8.

Our favourite spot to visit as a family in our home town is the Museum Gardens. We love having picnics!

My kids favourite outing in our home town is to the indoor trampoline park, Energi.

The most iconic place in our home town to visit (that the kids will also love) is historic York Minster.

Our favourite family-friendly good weather outing is Rowntrees Park. It is a lovely park with a great playground and cafe.

Our favourite family-friendly BAD weather (indoor) outing is the National Railway Museum.

The best free outing in our home town is walking the historic York walls encircling the city.

Our “insider” tip for visiting our home town is visit our fabulous local bakeries.

The best family-friendly restaurant is Ask, a beautiful Italian restaurant in a huge historic pillared hall.

Be sure to try this kid-friendly local food: a Fat Rascal – a cherry and sultana cake.

The easiest way to get around with kids is on foot, the city centre is mostly pedestrianised.

The best family-friendly neighbourhood to stay in is Bishopthorpe. Walkable distance to town and a great little high street with everything you would need.


Sinead is a travel loving, forty something mum of three wonderful children, based in the north of England. She has explored all over her home country of the U.K. and has been lucky enough to visit 65 countries. Her and her family love travelling and exploring new places, both at home and abroad. Together they have visited 30 countries together. All their travelling is independently organised and on a budget. They agree that family travel may not be easy or stress free, but it is a lot of fun!

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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