Discover the TOP York attractions! This detailed guide lists the 10 BEST things to do in York England. I've done the research so you don't have to!
York surprised me in the best way possible and I can now say with confidence that everyone should make sure to visit at some point in their lives. Preferably sooner rather than later because if you’re like me, you will want to return.
It took me several trips to the UK to add York to my itinerary. I didn’t know anyone who had visited or heard very much about the city. Since I was traveling from London to Edinburgh on my last trip to the UK I figured now was the perfect time to make a stop since York is conveniently situated between both cities.
After spending two nights here I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t discovered this city sooner and knew I would without a doubt be back. York has charm, a stunning little section of medieval streets called The Shambles, awesome restaurants and cafes, 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 attractions to fill a very busy day or a more leisurely 2-day itinerary. Without further ado, here at the TOP York attractions; the 10 BEST things to do in York England so you can make sure you see it all!
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10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN YORK ENGLAND
1. The Shambles
The Shambles is a tiny street in the center of York and one of my favorite York attractions. It was actually the butcher quarter back 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 one of the best Harry Potter shops I have been to. 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 also have a great selection of merchandise and skip a lot the cheap stuff you find in other shops.
2. Ghost Walk
Are ghosts technically a “tourist attraction” and should they make the list of top York attractions? In 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 questioned 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 the best things 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.
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
The York Minster is one of the most iconic York 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 5:15pm Tuesday-Saturday and 4:00pm on Sunday’s 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”.
4. Walk the Walls
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 8:00am 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. Betty’s Tea Rooms
Many say that no visit to York is complete without taking tea at Betty’s. 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 £35 for the bookable tea, try the cream tea (tea, scones, clotted cream, jam) for £9.95. The scones with clotted cream and jam are my favorite anyway!
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6. Walking Tour
A walking tour is a must on the list of best things to do in York. 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 let by voluntary guides. Unlike other free tours there is no need to tip. These guides love telling visitors about their city. Tours last about 2 hours and depart 10:15 and 1:15 every day with an additional time slot at 6:15 June through August.
Another solid walking tour is YorkTour. The Story of York is the most popular option as it gives a broad history of the city. Tickets are £18 and the tour lasts about 2 hours.
Here are some additional York walking tours.
7. Museums: National Railway Museum, York Castle Museum & 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 the best things to do in York England; 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 Disneylandesque. The main part of the museum entails getting in an actual “ride” that slowly takes you through what life looked like back in the Viking days 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 on 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. If anyone is doing a talk in the exhibit area definitely take a seat and listen. The information they share 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 with an interest 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 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 if was really like to be a prisoner in the 18th century prison buildings.
8. St. Mary’s Abbey Ruins
The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey are one of the top York attractions to enjoy when the weather is nice. 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. Today the ruins and greenspace are a popular spot for locals and tourist to picnic and enjoy some fresh air.
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 tourist 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 also highly recommend returning to Dyls for a glass of wine, coffee, or cocktail. It’s an adorable café 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 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, which is all you’ll need to take it in. 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 sight of the mass suicide of 150 Jews in 1190 and 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 £5.70 entrance fee; it’s not worth it. This is also a popular spot with locals to climb up the mound, take a seat, and enjoy the sunset.
I hope this list of the TOP 10 York attractions helps in your itinerary planning. York should definitely make your itinerary for at least one night and one full day; preferably 2 nights. It’s an easy two-hour train from London and on the way to 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!
See my other United Kingdom posts!
Have you visited this medieval city? let me know your favorite York attractions and what you think are the best things to do in York England in the comments below!
Last Updated on July 30, 2020 by Ashley Friemel