What to do in York with your family? What should you see in the most picturesque city in England? Let’s find out 10 wonders in York that will leave you and your children speechless, making you feel a child again!

Are you planning your family holidays and England is your choice? Thus, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit the most picturesque cities in Yorkshire. York has is own style. Shops, streets, and stands will get you carried back in time.
Walking through Shambles, one of the most typical streets in the city will make you experience the unique scenario of Harry Potter. If you go down the Roman Bath’s stairs, you can find out the ancient Roman thermal baths and get dressed as a legionary. Walking on the ancient walls that surround the historic city center of York, among towers and merlons, you will feel as a real Medieval knight. Visiting the Viking Museum, you will be involved in a typical XX century atmosphere.

There you have 10 attractions in York that you cannot miss if you travel with children. Some of these are completely free for everyone, and children can enter several museums without paying.

1. On the ancient walls of York

city walls of York

Let’s follow the steps of the legionaries that years ago used to walk along these stone walls built to defend the city from the enemies. The oldest part of the York walls dates back to Roman times. Then, the city wall was rebuilt and amplified. In the 19th century it was almost destroyed, leaving room for large streets, but fortunately preserved thanks to the help of the intellectuals of the city who recognized its important historical value, among whom we meet William Etty.

Even today, along the crenelated walls, we can see guard posts, towers, “bars” i.e. fortified gates, escape routes and loopholes. From the walls, you can even admire amazing glimpses on the city: flowery gardens, historical buildings, and the majestic York Minister Cathedral.

Children do love walking the walks, entering the towers, crossing the narrow corridors, dreaming about a Robin Hood adventure. Along with them, you will be carried back in time.

3,4 km long, the amazing York walls, are the longest Medieval city walls in England.

The path along the walls is free. To walk the whole route, you will need two hours. You can also walk them partially, finishing your route whenever you want to, and visiting several interesting points that worth the visit. Such as, the Richard III & Henry VII Experiences, that are located next to two important gates in the city (Monk Bar and Micklegate Bar). There are two small museums (which are not free) that tell you the story of a Medieval York during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, they also have children playgrounds.

You can download the maps of the city here.

2. Just like in a Harry Potter’s film

a man walking in the Shambles

Shambles is the most picturesque street in York and one of the most beautiful shopping streets in Europe. Walking on the stone street, surrounded by old buildings made of wooden and plaster, ancient signs and vintage showcases. At some point, the streets get really narrow and if you open your arms you can touch the walls of the buildings that delimitate the area.
It once was the market street, where people used to buy animals, meat, and fish..this street should have been so crowded that even today the word “Shambles” is used as a synonym of “mess”.
Nowadays, walking around the Shambles, we are involved in a typical atmosphere characterized by the smell of tea– that you can taste in every shop. Unfortunately, greengrocers, fishmongers, butcher shops and pubs have disappeared, but the city is still charming.

The houses’ shapes, the showcases, the signs… every single thing in this city carries us in a Harry Potter movie scene when he goes to the city for buying its necessities for the school. For this reason, one of the shops in the Shambles, sells magic wands, cloaks and famous sweets such as chocolate frogs and jelly slugs.
There is another famous shop that sells Christmas decorations throughout the year!

3. Discover the Jorvik Viking Centre

The Jorvik Viking Centre museum is the perfect chance for a trip back in time, in the 10th century. Once you enter a big room you will find a transparent pavement that will give you the chance to admire finds of the Viking civilization, that occupied the city. Right after we get on a train. This adventure involves the five senses: we can see the Vikings village and their daily activities while listening to the people’s voices, smelling the city perfumes, the fumes of the chimneys, the perfumes of the market and the smell of dung. This is an adventure in the past, that leave children speechless! You have to pay to enter the museum (further information here).

4. The charm of the railway station

inside of the railway station of York, with the locomotives that are about to leave

Children are fascinated by the railway stations, even because they only get the chance to see the locomotives, the speed, trains that leave and come, the passengers who go and come back. But York’s train station is truly special. We are talking about a Victorian building which dates 1877 and it is just beautiful, with columns, showcases, and decorations. When it was built it was the biggest railway station in England. Its fascinating platforms hosted one of the most important scenes of the first Harry Potter film. Next, to the station you will find the National Railway Museum, among ancient locomotives, thousands od mock-ups, posters and old photos. The entrance is free for everyone.

5. A dive into York’s history

one of the typical narrow streets in York

How was furnished the house of a British lady in the Georgian heydays? And the house of a peasant from the Moorland? How used to live a typical British family at the beginning of the 20th century? How have lifestyles, children games and hobbies changed throughout the centuries?
The York Castel Museum answers these questions. It is a museum that involves young and elderly people. In one of the rooms, two housekeepers -one from the 19th century and one form this century- have a confrontation about their habits.

As soon as you enter the museum you will have the chance to walk around a renovated Victorian street, along with its shops that sell clothes, candies, watches, and hats. Go for an adventure in the dark paths, among the poorest families. You can also visit a school, the police station and the prisons. The museum was built thanks to John Kirk, a collector of rare items of those times who in 1935 decided to give them to the city of York. Everything that you will see in this museum is authentic.

6. The Chocolate City

pieces of chocolate that people can taste inside the chocolate museum

Do you like chocolate? If the answer is yes, the York Chocolate Story (admission fee) is an experience that you cannot miss! Entering this famous chocolate shop in the historical city center of York, you will understand why York is known to be the “Chocolate City”.

A really nice guide, that reminds of Willy Wonka, will take you to an amazing adventure in this place, tasting delicious chocolate. It was discovered in Mexico by the Mayans, and it was considered to be the sacred drink with therapeutic properties. You can add to this Mayan drink either water or pure chocolate or peppers.

Right after, the chocolate gets famous all over the World, after discovering America, and it arrives in York. Thanks to a funny pictures gallery that literally speaks with our guide, we can find out more about the industrials of York who created an empire thanks to the chocolate business.

The interactive museum tells us more about the stages of production of chocolate and tells us the history of chocolate in the city through historical pictures, publicity and the product design, such as the famous “Kit-Kat”, who was born right here.

In conclusion, we can also participate in the production of chocolate and decorate a big chocolate candy. During the whole visit, you can also taste different types of chocolate. A unique and tasty experience!

Curiosity: the chocolate that you see in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was produced by Rowntree’s, one of the most important chocolate factories in York, which was built by Nestlé and produced more than 3 billion KitKats per day.

7. Like knights, to the conquest of the Clifford’s Tower

Clifford's tower on the top of a green hill

York carries us back in time, to the knight times…The Clifford’s Tower is what remains of the Medieval Castle of York when the city was the most important of Northern England.

It is located on the top of a green hill. We have to go upstairs just to the entrance of the tower (admission fee). In the backyard, our children will find wooden swords, old games, hats and cloaks to drees just like an actual knight. You can continue going up the stairs to reach the summit of the tower. There you have a unique view!

It was built in the 18th century to dominate the city of York, during the Middle Age it was used to protect and defend the royal treasury. During the 19th century, it fell into ruin, and in 1935 it was completely covered by weeds and vegetation. Then, it was used as a prison. It has massive stolen walls, merlons and loopholes. We now are in a truly medieval atmosphere.

8. York Gardens

York Gardens with trees, a huge meadow and a cathedral on the background

York is characterized by an unspoiled nature where you can see ducks, squirrels, and other animals while relaxing and sunbathing in a park.

Not to be missed: The Garden Museum, with the ruins of an ancient monastery surrounded by greenery and nature.

9. Like an archaeologist

In the center of York, the ancient St. Saviours Church, has been transformed into a museum (admission fee) where it is possible to simulate archaeological research. You can try out the different activities that an archaeologist does: digging parts of a Roman city, discovering Vikings items or the rests of a Victorian house. You can also see the main archaeological finds in York over the past 25 years. An incredible experience that will fascinate evert passionate about archaeology.

10. The old charm of York

Typical shopping boutique in York selling typical items

The entire city of York is an attraction for children and adults. The small streets are full of typical shops and colorful showcases. The shops maintain their true architecture and furniture. The stands sell fresh lemonade, hand-made scented candles, ice-cream, and candies. The street artists, who perform in around the city, are one of the favorite attractions for children, mostly on sunny days!

Author: Alessandro Gallo

I am Alessandro Gallo, currently student of “Linguistic Intermediation for the Tourism and the Enterprises” at the University of Trento, in Italy. Tourism is such a relevant topic for me, not only from an academic point of view but also from a personal one. I do am interested in sustainable solutions and travels.
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