Headed to England and wondering what to do in York? Hit all the top tourist attractions with my detailed guide of the 10 BEST things to do in York, England! This charming city will win your heart and you'll be glad you included it on your itinerary.
York surprised me in the best way possible. I can now say with confidence that everyone should make a point to visit. Preferably sooner rather than later, because if you’re like me, you'll want to return.
It took me several trips to England to add York to my itinerary. I didn’t know anyone who had been or heard very much about the city.
2019 was the year I finally made it to York. Located between London and Edinburgh, York made for a convenient stop since I was traveling between those cities anyway.
I've already returned twice since my first trip to York and plan to keep coming back. York has charm, a stunning little section of medieval streets called The Shambles, a wonderful restaurant and cafe scene, good shopping, a reputation for being the most haunted city in England, and a very interesting Viking past.
Add York to your next England itinerary and you’ll be glad you did.
There are enough York tourist attractions to fill a very busy day or a leisurely 2-day itinerary.
Without further ado, let's discuss what to do in York, England!
This map shows everything on my "What to do in York" blog post. Click the icon in the very top left to see a list view of each pinned location. Click the top right button to enlarge the map. Click the star to save to your own Google Maps account. To access this map once saved (after clicking the star), open Google Maps (on your phone/computer/tablet), click the menu button, go to "your places", select "maps", and you will see this map listed.
- Blue - 10 BEST York tourist attractions
- Red - restaurant, coffee, and pub recommendations
How many days in York are ideal?
Before we get into what to do in York, England, let's discuss how many days in York are ideal.
I personally am over the days of rushed travel. It was great in my 20s, but I now prefer to do each place justice and would rather have too much time in a city than too little. 2 nights in York are best in my opinion.
This ensures you have two full days of sightseeing. Assume you'll have the afternoon to explore the day you arrive, the entire next day to sightsee, and then the morning (possibly) afternoon to enjoy the city the day you leave.
One day is sufficient if you're tight on time. You can get a good taste of the city and do everything on my list of what to do in York, England in one day.
Some guidebooks and websites recommend doing York as a "stopover" between London and Edinburgh. In reality, this would be extremely rushed. It also means you will only experience the very crowded afternoon in York. My favorite times in York were the morning and evening when the day trippers departed.
In summary, spend a minimum of 1 night in York. 2 nights in York are best if your schedule allows.
1. The Shambles
One of the most picturesque York tourist attractions
The Shambles, a tiny street in the center of York, is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing what to do in York, England.
The Shambles was actually the butcher quarter in the 16th century. Meat was on display for customers to peruse and the street was quite nasty. All the trash, meat drippings, and sewage were dumped on this street and slowly trickled its way down to a pond of disgust at the end of the street. Thankfully The Shambles you see today is quite different.
What it lacks in size it makes up in character. The narrow cobblestoned street is lined with leaning Tudor-style buildings with a distinct medieval charm. If you’re looking for that Instagram shot, this is your spot.
Go early in the morning and late at night when you have a good chance of having the entire street to yourself. Some of my favorite moments in York were walking up and down The Shambles after all the day trippers vanished.
The Shambles also makes my list of the best things to do in York, England because it has an awesome Harry Potter shop.
I stepped through the doors of The Shop That Must Not Be Named and immediately thought “finally, a Harry Potter shop done properly”. If you’re a Harry Potter fan this is a must. The attention to detail in this store makes for a fun visit even if you don’t buy anything.
They have a great selection of merchandise and skip a lot of the cheap stuff you find in other shops.
Another famous shop is The York Ghost Merchants. They sell one thing... little ghost figurines. The line was out the door last time I visited
All in all, The Shambles is one of my favorite and most beloved York tourist attractions.
2. Ghost Walk
Are ghosts technically an “attraction” and should they make the list of what to do in York, England? In my book they do! I’m a sucker for ghost stories and walks and it would be a dream come true if I actually caught a ghost on camera. One day…one day.
Did you know York is officially the most haunted city in England…and considered by many to be the most haunted city in the world?
It doesn’t surprise me knowing the history of York. York was a Roman provincial capital, a Viking trading center, the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and the northern capital of Henry VIII’s Anglican church.
With its long history, it is said that over 500,000 people are buried in the historic core…which is quite substantial given how small the walled inner city is. There are 140 recorded ghosts and over 500 recorded hauntings. If that doesn’t put a ghost tour at the top of your list of what to do in York, England I don’t know what will.
If you want to go for a ghost hunt, this is the place to do it. Join a walking tour to learn some of the stories. Shadows of York was perfect as the group was small, there were no lame “jumper outers” to scare people, and the guide gave some insightful information on the history of York as well. The price is right at £13.50.
Check out The Bloody Tour of York - Tourism Award Winner 2022 for a more theatrical tour or this private ghost tour if you want something tailored to your interests.
If you’re really into ghosts I suggest researching the haunted sites of the city before you visit as there are too many to fit in one tour. Visit those sights during the day to get acquainted and then come back at night, with a friend of course, and take your time wandering and taking pictures on your camera to see if you record anything unusual.
3. York Minster
One of the most famous York tourist attractions
The York Minster is one of the most iconic York tourist attractions. The York Minster you see today was built around 1080 and took 400 years to complete. It’s a breathtaking masterpiece and the largest Gothic church north of the Alps. Tickets are £11.50 for entrance to the cathedral, Undercroft Museum, and a free guided tour.
I highly recommend upping to the £16.50 ticket that includes the tower climb. You’ll climb a total of 275 steps and be rewarded with views overlooking the city of York and the green countryside. Visit at 5:15 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 4:00 pm on Sundays to attend one of the free Evensong services (where the service is sung by the choir).
Walk down Precentor’s Court road to get the best Instagram spot and a chance to enjoy awesome views of York Minster without a million people around you. It’s a very short street and can also be found right behind the bar called “The Hole in the Wall”.
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4. Walk the Walls
Photographers should put this at the top of their list of what to do in York, England
One of the most popular things to do in York, England is to walk the city walls. They are actually the longest medieval walls in England, being just over 2 miles in length. You’ll get splendid elevated views of the city below. The easiest entrance is at Bootham Bar (Bootham Bar [Gateway] in Google maps).
Entrance is free and open from around 8:00 am until dusk. Walk counterclockwise towards and behind York Minster until you reach the Monk Bar gateway. This is the most scenic stretch. Plan on 2 hours if you want to walk the entire stretch of the city walls at a leisurely pace.
5. Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms
Many say that no visit to York is complete without taking tea at Bettys. I highly recommend booking your afternoon tea in advance as the line is often out the door.
Request a seat by the window as it’s fun to watch the foot traffic outside.
If you don’t want to pay £39.95 for the bookable tea, try the cream tea (tea, scones, clotted cream, and jam) for £13.50. The scones with clotted cream and jam are my favorite anyway!
6. Walking Tour
A walking tour is a must on the list of what to do in York, England. Between the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings, this city has a lot of history to offer and is best learned on a walking tour.
Join one of the free walking tours led by voluntary guides. These guides love telling visitors about their city. Tours last about 2 hours and depart at 10:30 am and 1:15 pm every day with an additional time slot at 6:15 pm June through August. Tour sizes are limited, so I recommend booking in advance.
Additional popular tours:
7. Museums: National Railway Museum, York Castle Museum, and Jorvik Viking Center
York has several unique museums that go beyond art and artifacts. If you have kids in tow, these museums should be at the top of your list of what to do in York, UK; especially the National Railway Museum as it has some great kids programs and a treasure hunt app to make the visit more family-focused.
Which museum you visit depends on your interest. I have a Viking heritage so my top pick was the Jorvik Viking Center. Yes, it’s a bit Disneyland-esque. The main part of the museum entails getting on an actual “ride” that slowly takes you through what life looked like back in the Viking days. The ride is complete with moving figures and smells.
The museum took information and articles that were found on archeological digs to recreate what the Viking village looked like that was located in this exact spot. The exhibit after the ride is interesting too as they’ve found a lot of items that bring light to how the Vikings lived.
Take a seat and listen if anyone is doing a talk in the exhibit area. The information shared is pretty interesting. I highly recommend buying your tickets online in advance as the line can get long.
The National Railway Museum is obviously for those interested in trains. It’s the biggest railway museum in the world and very well done. You can climb onboard historic carriages, learn how the railway system shaped our world today, and experience the working life of a station. What makes this York tourist attraction even better is that it’s free…though a £5 donation is suggested.
If you love learning about how people lived back in the day the York Castle Museum is for you. The centerpiece of the museum is Kirkgate; a recreated Victorian street complete with cobblestones and shops that actually existed in Victorian York.
Costumed guides are available to tell you about each shop. Interesting exhibits include Shaping the Body, which charts fashion, food, and diet over the past 400 years; Toy Stories, which displays popular toys from the last 150 years; and the York Castle Prison, which brings to life what it was like to be a prisoner in the 18th century.
8. St. Mary’s Abbey Ruins
One of the best York tourist attractions for a sunny day
The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey are one of the top York tourist attractions to enjoy when the weather is nice. The grounds around the ruins are a popular spot for locals and tourists to picnic and enjoy some fresh air.
The Abbey was first built in 1088 and was the largest and richest Benedictine establishment in northern England. It was closed and destroyed during Henry VIII’s reformation of the church.
As you look at the ruins, imagine how breathtaking this city was when York Minster and St. Mary’s Abbey mirrored each other.
9. Ouse River
The Ouse river is a perfect escape from the city for a jog or bike ride. It’s very safe as there is a steady stream of active locals and tourists and the path is lit at night. You might even see a rowing team or two glide by. As you enjoy the views think about how this river is one of the main reasons why the Romans founded York.
A good place to start is by Dyls cafe, next to Skeldergate Bridge, and then continue north along the river.
I highly recommend returning to Dyls for a glass of wine, coffee, or cocktail. It’s an adorable cafe with a great patio overlooking the river; perfect at dusk so you can watch the sky change colors at sunset.
10. Clifford’s Tower
Last but not least on the list of York tourist attractions is Clifford’s Tower. You’ll immediately recognize this sight as it’s featured in many photos of York, which makes the tower worth a quick stop.
The original structure on the mound was a wooden Norman building and was constructed in 1068 by William the Conqueror. The stone building you see today is the final version that was built by Henry III and is all that’s left of York’s castle.
Clifford’s Tower is also the site of the mass suicide of 150 Jews in 1190 and is supposedly one of the haunted sights of York with its gruesome history.
Climb the steps and take a peek inside but don’t bother paying the £9 entrance fee; it’s not worth it.
Bonus: where to eat in York
- The York Roast Co. - trying a York Pudding is a must. This spot is famous for the YorkyPud™ Wrap.
- Partisan - great brunch/lunch spot with a local vibe
- Brew & Brownie - great brunch, coffee, and lunch spot. They have the BEST pancakes.
- Gatehouse Coffee - my favorite coffee shop in York.
- The Blue Barbakan - fantastic Polish restaurant
- House Of The Trembling Madness - medieval bar that perfect for drinks and snack boards.
- The Old White Swan - traditional pub fare including fish and chips, meat pies, bangers and mash, etc.
I hope this list of what to do in York, England helps in your planning. York should definitely make your itinerary for at least one night and one full day; preferably 2 nights.
It’s an easy 2-hour train from London and 2.5 hours from Edinburgh.
Since you’ve read to the bottom of this post you already know the best things to do in York, England so the planning is pretty much done! I hope you enjoy this city as much as I did!
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What to do in York | TOP 10 Tourist Attractions
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