The Best Things to Do in York, England

The Shambles
TJ Blackwell / Getty Images

One of the U.K.’s best-preserved historic cities, York is a must-visit for history buffs, pub enthusiasts, and chocolate lovers alike. The compact sprawl of medieval streets is home to hundreds of quirky drinking spots, legendary confectionary companies, and plenty of old-world architecture. Get ready for your trip to York with this list of 13 top things to do in this ancient town.

01 of 14

Marvel at York Minster

View of York Minster (Cathedral) from the walls
Maremagnum / Getty Images

Towering over city center, the Minster has dominated York’s skyline since the seventh century. For a small entrance fee you can explore this starkly gothic cathedral, admiring the medieval stained-glass windows and venturing into underground crypts. If you feel like squeezing in a workout you can even climb to the top of the tower—the 275 steps up are well worth it for the panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside.

02 of 14

Sample Sweet Treats


Courtesy of York's Chocolate Story

3-4 King's Square, York YO1 7LD, UK
Phone +44 1904 527765

Candy has long been part of York’s heritage—the city was once home to three confectionary factories, and residents will tell you that you can sometimes still catch a whiff of melted chocolate in certain suburban streets. York’s Chocolate Story celebrates the city’s history of all things sweet, from the founding families to the science behind why chocolate makes us feel so good. You can even create your own handmade treats and learn how to perfect your sugary skills from expert chocolatiers.

03 of 14

Step Back in Time

Jorvik Viking Centre

Courtesy of Jorvik Viking Centre

19 Coppergate, York YO1 9WT, UK
Phone +44 1904 615505

Almost 1,000 years ago, York was a Viking-age city known as Jorvik. Built on the site of the historic city’s excavated remains, the Jorvik Viking Centre allows you to walk through reconstructed streets and explore archeological treasures from 10th-century Jorvik. There’s even a ride complete with animatronic ancient inhabitants to show you the sights, sounds, and even smells of Viking York.

04 of 14

Climb Clifford's Tower

Clifford's Tower, York, England
Hale's Image / Getty Images
Tower St, York YO1 9SA, UK
Phone +44 370 333 1181

Built by William the Conqueror, Clifford’s Tower is the oldest remaining fragment of York Castle. The structure teeters on top of a large mound constructed for defensive purposes, so stretch your legs for a steep climb up. Once you arrive, you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views and marvel at the remains of York’s medieval past.

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05 of 14

Hit a Pub Crawl

Two pints of beer
Adermark Media / Getty Images

In spite of its small size, York is famously home to over 365 pubs—a drinking hole for every day of the year. You don’t have to go far to stumble across old-world taverns, upmarket cocktail bars and a thriving nightlife in the city center. Bag a seat in the beer garden of the Lamb and Lion for great views of York Minster, sip craft ales in a medieval beer hall at the House of Trembling Madness, or enjoy a glass of wine at the picturesque Pivni.

06 of 14

Take a Walk Along the City Walls

Looking Along York City Bar Walls With tarraced Houses / Getty Images
Unnamed Road, York YO1 7LJ, UK

York boasts some of the best-preserved city walls in Europe, and a stroll along the 3.4 kilometers of surviving paths is the perfect way to explore. Gates open at around 8 a.m. daily, and you can join at any of the Bars (the local name for gates that were once the entrance to the city) dotted around the city center. A popular student pastime is the infamous city wall pub crawl, disembarking at each Bar to visit the nearest drinking spot. If you want to give it a go, we’d recommend clambering down at Fossgate to try The Golden Fleece—supposedly Britain’s most haunted pub.

07 of 14

Visit The Shambles

The Shambles in York, England
georgeclerk / Getty Images
The Shambles, York YO1, UK

No visit to York is complete without stopping off at The Shambles, a tumble-down medieval street complete with cobbled pavements and overhanging buildings. Regularly voted the U.K.’s most picturesque street, The Shambles is now home to plenty of independent shops and tiny cafes. Some even speculate that the street was the inspiration behind Diagon Alley, and there’s certainly plenty of magic remaining in its history-imbued charms.

08 of 14

Disover a Dungeon

12 Clifford Street, York YO1 9RD, UK
Phone +44 1904 632599

If you like your ghost stories a little grislier then make sure to schedule a trip to York Dungeons. Expect live action and lots of jump scares as you learn about the dark side of York’s past, from Guy Fawkes to witch trials. You’ll be whisked through 2,000 years of history in a series of rooms, each more gruesome and horrifying than the last, and can even complement your visit with a walking tour of some of York’s most infamous landmarks.

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09 of 14

Go on a Ghost Tour

The Shambles in York UK
Chris McLoughlin / Getty Images

With centuries of history, it’s hardly surprising that York has something of a spooky past. There are plenty of ghost tours to choose from around the city and infinite mysterious tales to hear. The Original Ghost Walk of York offers private and group tours brimming with local legend, or you could even hop on the city’s Ghost Bus for a whip-around glimpse at York’s eeriest spots.

10 of 14

Head to Afternoon Tea

Enjoying English breakfast in York
Sellwell / Getty Images
6-8 Saint Helen’s Square, York YO1 8QP, UK
Phone +44 800 456 1919

Bettys has been something of a Yorkshire institution since 1919, and the famous tea room remains proud of its roots. From its Edwardian wait-staff uniform to the 1930s-style interior, everything about Bettys hails back to another time. You can queue to dine in the downstairs café, or book ahead for a delectable afternoon tea in the upstairs tea room. Either option is an excellent way to absorb the thoroughly old-fashioned feel of a bygone age.

11 of 14

Go Trainspotting

Gary Cralle / Getty Images
Leeman Road, York YO26 4XJ, UK
Phone +44 330 058 0058

Train enthusiasts will certainly be enamored by the National Railway Museum, but York’s transport-themed tourist attraction makes a surprisingly absorbing stop-off for even the most disinterested of train travelers. Holding the title of the world’s largest railway museum, York boasts a collection of famous locomotives from throughout history, as well as a range of exhibitions showcasing the U.K.’s transport past. There’s also plenty for children, with a play area, miniature railway ride, and digital museum treasure hunt.

12 of 14

Relax in a Museum Garden

Tulips With St Mary's Abbey In Background York
Lewis Outing / 500px / Getty Images
Museum Gardens, Museum Street, York YO1 7FR, UK
Phone +44 1904 687687

York has plenty of green spaces to enjoy, but a local favorite is the Museum Gardens, located just on the edge of the city center. Built on the grounds of St Mary’s Abbey, the gorgeous botanical garden surrounds the haunting remains of the abbey’s long-abandoned ruins. Dip into the Yorkshire Museum and sit in the shadow of the city walls in this beautifully preserved open space.

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13 of 14

Explore York's Food Scene


Courtesy of Mannion &Co

From cafés to gastropubs, York has plenty to offer foodies looking for a bite to eat in the city. The Shambles Food Court is a must-visit stop-off for street food lovers, with everything from North African cuisine to galettes and gyros on offer. If you’d prefer a sit-down meal then there are dozens of options to choose from. The Star Inn The City boasts a Michelin-starred chef and riverside views, or for posh pub grub book a table at The Whippet Inn, a steak and alehouse serving up Himalayan pink salt aged T-bones and Basque beef on the bone. For a more laid-back lunch, we’d recommend dipping into York’s independent café scene. Brew & Brownie is the place to go for brunch, and Mannion & Co offers affordable and tasty bistro-style dining in the heart of the city.

14 of 14

Visit Castle Howard

Castle Howard
Jeremy Horner / Getty Images
Castle Howard, York YO60 7BY, UK

If you’re prepared to venture out of York a little, then the spectacular Castle Howard is a must-see county gem. A 30-minute drive from York city center, Castle Howard is a gorgeous stately home with manicured grounds and a beautifully baroque façade. Check out the website for events around the time of your visit—Castle Howard often decks itself out for spectacular light shows around Christmas and hosts concerts in summer.

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The Best Things to Do in York, England