York is an ideal destination for a weekend break with kids. It is easy to reach by road or rail and the historic city is packed with family-friendly attractions for all types of weather boasting a diverse range of both indoor and outdoor activities. York is a small, compact city and with most of the city centre pedestrianized, it is easily covered on foot. The itinerary below is grouped into geographical areas to minimize walking distances and to maximize valuable sightseeing time! Thanks to Sinead Camplin of Map Made Memories for this contribution.
Things to Do in York with Kids
York Weekend Break: Day One
Start your day at the iconic York Minster. The Minster lies at the heart of the city and towers over its skyline, you can’t miss it! Entry is £11 for adults but children under 16 are free. There are free tours of York Minister regularly throughout the day, and on Saturdays, there are special tours for children. Families can borrow ‘Little Explorer’ backpacks packed with child-friendly, age-appropriate trails, treasure hunts, and useful items such as binoculars and a map to keep small hands busy.
The Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York and was built between the 12th and 15th Century. It is stunningly beautiful inside and out. We regularly attend events at the Minster and I will never get bored of seeing it.
Visit the enormous Great East Window which is the largest expanse of stained glass in England, the ornately decorated Chapter House and the atmospheric Crypt and the Undercroft Museum. Adults and children over 8 years old can pay extra to climb the 275 steps of the Minster’s square central tower for an incredible view over the city.
Sweet Stop for dessert in York
A five-minute walk from York Minster is the gorgeous York Cocoa House. Stop here for a delicious hot chocolate and chocolate cake. You can also attend a chocolate tour, take part in a chocolate making workshop or have a go at making your own chocolate lollipop!
Museum Gardens and the Yorkshire Museum
A one minute walk from your well-earned break at the York Cocoa House is the lovely Museum Gardens, ideal for a noisy runaround after visiting a cathedral! Explore the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, the 14th Century black and white building, The Hospitium, and the gardens’ tiny observatory. Or just run off some steam on the expanse of grass!
Looming over Museum Gardens is the excellent Yorkshire Museum, a family-friendly museum full of hands-on, engaging interactive exhibits about York’s Roman and Viking past. Children will love the section on dinosaurs found in the Yorkshire region.
National Railway Museum in York (NRM)
From Museum Gardens to the NRM is about a 15-minute walk, passing over the River Ouse and under York’s famous city walls en route. Alternatively, return to the Minster and catch the NRM road train right to the front door of the museum. The road train – which departs every 30 minutes from outside York Minster is £3 each way for adults and £2 for children.
The free to enter NRM is enormous and will keep you busy for the rest of the day! There are two huge halls crammed with spotless train engines and gleaming carriages of every size and color. The exhibits range from past to present and include a section of the Channel Tunnel, a Shinkansen carriage, and Stevenson’s historic ‘Rocket’. There are examples of early, open-roofed trains and a luxury carriage once used by the Royal family.
For families, there are fun science shows throughout the day (children will love Barbie being shot out of a cannon!) and a small outdoor playground. You can also take a short ride on a steam train (£4) or a miniature railway (£3).
York City Break: Day Two
Your weekend itinerary for York starts at The Shambles which in the past has been voted Britain’s Best Street. The Shambles is a short, narrow, cobbled shopping street famous for its lopsided overhanging buildings. It is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series!
Due to its small nature, it gets very busy with tourists so go early! Challenge children to spot the meat hooks still hanging from the shops – this is where meat was displayed in medieval times!
York Chocolate Story
At the head of The Shamble is York Chocolate Story, an entertaining museum dedicated to the history of chocolate making in York. Tours explain the history of chocolate, how it is made and its long association with York. Generous freebies will help children to focus their attention!
The tour ends with a demonstration of truffle making and the chance to make your own chocolate lollipop. Kids will love it! Entry fees are £12.95 for adults and £10.50 for children and family tickets are available.
Betty’s Tea Room
Weave your way through the pedestrianized cobbled shopping streets of Low Petergate and Stonegate, past talented buskers and street performers to the heart of the shopping district and St Helen’s Square. The grand pink house here is home to the current Lord Mayor of York.
Grab a snack from any city centre bakery – there are a lot! – or for something more indulgent visit the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms and enjoy tea and cake from the bow-tied serving staff. Indulge in a Yorkshire classic, a Fat Rascal cake! You won’t be able to resist once you see it!
Jorvik Viking Centre
Walk down pedestrianized Parliament Street or adjacent Coney street to reach Coppergate, the home of the Jorvik Viking Centre, one of the most popular York attractions. This museum showcases Viking era artifacts that were found on this site during a four-year archaeological dig. The museum is small enough to keep the interest of even small children and children of all ages will love the historical gentle theme ride through a life-size recreation of a Viking settlement. This is a very busy museum particularly in peak season so book online in advance to avoid long queues. Admission costs £12 for adults and £8 for children.
Continue through Coppergate, past the Georgian mansion Fairfax House, to reach Clifford’s Tower, the remains of a Norman keep on an artificial hill (in the middle of a city centre car park!). A set of steep stairs lead upwards to the open keep where small exhibits explain how the tower was built and utilized. There are several medieval era games laid out for children to play. You can access the top of the keep by a very narrow, winding stone staircase. The view from the top is worth all the steps!
If you have any time – or energy! – remaining, visit the excellent York Castle Museum opposite Clifford’s Tower or head to the nearby River Ouse for a relaxing boat trip along the river.
There are so many fun, family-friendly things to do in York that you will be spoilt for choice in your weekend break. Any trip to York will make you want to return again another day.
*All photos courtesty of Sinead Camplin with exception of lead image.