11 Attractions For a Great Family Day Out in York (York Holiday Cottages Break Guide)
What can we say about York, in March 2018 the Sunday Times named it “The best place to live in Britain”, describing it as “a mini metropolis with cool cafes, destination restaurants, innovative companies and the fastest internet in Britain”. It is one of the top tourist destinations in the country, normally the first call outside of London and Edinburgh. So just what is all the fuss about?
York is a city stuffed with things to do, loads of fabulous and quirky places to eat and a host of welcoming café’s and pubs (indeed one of its many claims to fame is having a different pub for every day of the year). York has something for everyone, we have focussed on family groups visiting York for the day.
York is a fabulous city to visit for a day as there is absolutely loads to do, whilst it is a relatively small compact city centre, our main advice would be not to try and do too much, pick a couple of key things you absolutely want to do or visit based upon your group and its specific interests, then visit them first thing when things are quieter. You may even be best to split up for a couple of hours in the morning if your interests vary and meet up for lunch in one of the parks or fabulous cafés, then end the day with something everyone will enjoy doing together. Do not forget however one of the best things about York is wandering around its ancient streets and getting lost amid its many treasures.
We think the best way to decide what you want to do in York is having a basic understanding of the history of York so here is a potted version that will hopefully give some inspiration for things to do if you are staying in a York holiday cottage.
York was founded by the Romans and originally called Eboracum, at its peak it was a major Roman city, Constantine the great (the only Roman Emperor to be crowned outside of Rome) was crowned in York in 306AD. There are a number of key Roman remains in the Yorkshire museum in York, however this is probably only recommended for the keener Roman historians and is not really a ‘family’ friendly exhibition. There are few Roman remains left in York and you may well stumble across them on your travels. Our top tips if you are in the right areas would be the multangular roman tower in the museum gardens, (This is a lovely park in its own right, a place to relax in the centre of York which also has the picturesque ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey). There is also a prominent Roman column outside the Minster and the remains of some roman baths, which are displayed as they were excavated behind glass panel inside one of York’s central pubs (Cunningly named the Roman Baths), so it could be an excuse for a quick beer stop whilst taking in the historic remains.
Viking York and the Yorvik Centre
After the Romans came the Vikings and celebrating their stay in York is the Yorvik centre one of the cities’ top attractions and a great place for a family visit. The Yorvik Centre is a recreated Viking village on the original archaeological site, visitors go on ‘ride’ around the village initially travelling back to Viking times via a time capsule countback before arriving in Viking York with all the accompanying sights, sounds and smells. This is an interactive exhibition designed to be fun and entertaining for all the family, you should allow at least an hour and if you fancy the Yorvik, we would really recommend pre-booking a slot as the queues especially in peak holiday time can be enormous.
York was a major city in medieval times and medieval York has shaped modern York, this is this period that is the major attraction to most visitors to York and there are loads of fabulous examples and things to do and see from this period, some of the highlights are below.
Indeed a number of the old medieval bylaws are still in force in York today, so a special warning to our visitors from north of border as it is still legal to shoot a Scotsman within the city walls so long as it is not a Sunday and you use a bow and arrow!
Now onto those medieval wonders;
York Minster is the jewel in the crown, an awe inspiring building visible from all over the city, it is one of the world’s largest cathedrals and North Europe’s Largest Gothic Cathedral. It took 250 years to build (although as there is always a part of it being restored and behind scaffolding you would sometimes be forgiven for thinking building work is still underway). Its internal vault is eight stories high and the front towers are the equivalent of 17 story buildings with the central tower being equivalent to a 21 story building. If you have the energy there is an amazing view from top of 275 steps of the central tower. The Minster is packed with amazing sights and if Cathedrals are your thing you could not do much better, we would suggest you allow an hour inside the Minster. Even if you decide not to go inside (there is now an admission charge) we would recommend a gentle walk around this spectacular building.
As a Contrast to the Minster a must do visit is a walk down the Shambles, York’s most famous medieval Street, originally the home to York’s butchers shops (the associated butcher’s waste being thought to have given inspiration to the saying a ‘what a shambles’). It is believed to be the oldest street in Europe and claims to be the best preserved medieval street in the world being mentioned in the Doomsday Book. It is the spot for one of your iconic York Photographs. The Shambles it is said to be the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Dagon Alley and with a 2 or 3 of shops dedicated to Harry Potter, the kids are sure to be tempted into getting their spending money out.
The City Walls
Our final recommendation would be a walk part of the 13th century City Walls, the longest preserved medieval town walls in England. The full walk is about 2 miles and takes up to two hours, the views of York from the walls are some of the best in the city. You can however you can just walk a section of the walls, our favourite two bits are round the side of the Minster, which gives some great views of the minster or from the top of Micklegate down to the river which has one of the most picturesque photo opportunities looking from the walls down into the city.
The two main industries of Modern York are Chocolate and the modern railways.
York’s Chocolate Story
When it comes to Chocolate being the home of Rowntree’s (makers of the Kit-Kat as well as smarties and Polo mints, it is said that 47 kit-kats are said to be eaten every second), there is also Terrys of York (makers of the famous chocolate orange and Terry’s All Gold). Chocolate making runs through the core of York and a great visit for kids and adults alike is “York’s Chocolate story”, allow an hour for this visit. A joyful guide through the history of chocolate and its links to York as well as plenty of tasting opportunities and even the chance to make your own chocolate.
National Railway Museum
The railways are key to York’s modern history, York was a major rail manufacturing centre and one of the countries key railway hubs. York is home to the National Railway Museum home to the largest collection of railway objects (over a million) in the world. It houses the famous Mallard as well as the only Japanese bullet train outside of Japan. As a national museum entry is free, you need to allow about 2 hours to get around the whole museum (longer if you have a rail enthusiast in the group). The museum is dedicated to the history and indeed future of the railways and is packed full of interesting exhibits including many hands on things to do to keep the kids entertained.
The Castle Museum
The Castle museum one of the main museums in the city, it contains a fascinating exhibition of social history, with examples of how people lived and entertained themselves from Victorian times until today, a history of modern life before the mobile phone. There are recreated Victorian streets and even a prison, there is also an outstanding collection of everyday objects through the ages (a great chance to show the kids what things were like in mum and dad’s and even grandma and grandad’s day), we would suggest you allow about 2 hours to get around the Castle museum.
Other Family things to do in York
There are many other things to in York, we have highlighted some of the things we think would be of most interest to families visiting York.
One of the best family fun experiences to end your day in York is an evening ghost walk. York is reputed to be the most haunted city in Europe, with an estimated 500 recorded ghosts. A spooky tour of these famous ghostly sites by one of the many tours is sure to entertain. Your guide will take you around the main haunted areas and tell ghostly stories, but be ready for the theatrics of his assistants who will be jumping out from a variety of spots to make the whole group jump. There are many tours, the Original ghost walk was the first of its type in the world and has been running since 1973.
There are of course numerous bus trips around York but as the main streets are pedestrianised, if you like a tour around a city, in York we would consider the more relaxed boat tour (especially on a nice day) as the river cuts through the centre of the city of York and its history.
Based upon the London Dungeons, the York version is a scary and fun filled journey through York’s dark past with loads of interactive elements and special effects to bring to the exhibits to life. Normally a winner with the teenagers in the group. It takes about an hour and a half to complete.
Only open in the summer months, this is a carefully planned corn maize with a different maze design each year, it has plenty of child friendly rides and attractions. During the season York maze is the largest maze in the UK if not the world and is great family day out, depending on your skills at finding your way out this attraction could last a number of hours! Great fun for kids and all the family.
Images Courtesy of visityork.org