If you are looking for a great day out in the UK with your family, be sure not to miss out on a visit to York. This ancient walled city in North-East England, founded by the Romans, makes a perfect getaway, with an incredible history and architecture. Families have plenty of great choices, and here’s our pick of 14 fun and exciting things to do in York with kids.
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Lead your tribe around this vibrant city, from Roman ruins to medieval streets, Georgian townhouses to modern glass buildings. It truly is one of England’s most beautiful and interesting cities. There is lots on offer and plenty of things to do in York to ensure that you have a fantastic time with the whole family.
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Family-Friendly Things to Do in York
DIG is a hands-on archaeological adventure giving kids the chance to become trainee ‘diggers’ and discover the most exciting artefacts from 2,000 years of York’s history.
With four special in-door excavation pits, all based on real-life digs in the city and filled with replica Roman, Viking, medieval and Victorian finds, children can pick up a trowel and explore how people lived in these times. For little diggers, there’s a special area where children can dig, play, handle objects and listen to stories that bring history to life.
An Archaeologist is on hand to answer your questions on your finds and help you piece together what it would have been like to live in past. Kids can really get hands on with history and actually touch finds from real archaeological digs, including pottery, bone and even antlers!
Created from over one million living, growing maize plants, the award-winning York Maze is not just the largest maze in the UK, it’s a fun-filled day out in the country.
With a different maze design every year, the maze will baffle visitors both old and new, so a visit each year can provide just as much fun as the previous year. Find your way around the maze and collect the clues to solve the puzzle. Then relax and enjoy the great cafe and BBQ while the kids enjoy all the activities on offer.
With over 20 different rides, attractions and shows to enjoy, the kids definitely won’t be bored! There are huge play areas to keep the kids busy all day long. Bump along on a tractor trailer ride, or whizz round the track on the electric quad bikes, tackle the Kernel’s House of Cornfusion, putt your way to success at the crazy golf, or even try your hand at pig racing! For calmer activities, the kids can play in the sand or the water area or get creative on the mural wall. Set out early to make the most of this super family day out.
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The Yorkshire Museum is a dino-tastic adventure where you and your family can take a trip to a museum with fantastic exhibits about the old capital of the North and its intriguing history.
Learn about how York of old has affected modern day Yorkshire. If the giant creatures of Jurassic times are a family favourite, then at the Extinct: A Way of Life exhibition your kids can marvel at fossilised dinosaur bones, and learn about creatures past and present that didn’t make it to the 21st century.
At the extinction exhibit you can walk over real dinosaur footprints enclosed in glass casing, and your kids can weigh themselves to see which dinosaur they match the closest in kilograms. Exhibitions are often changing and every time you visit there will be something new to keep everyone entertained.
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York has plenty of ghost stories – are you are willing to test your nerves? York Dungeon offers a live-action journey through some of the darker parts of York’s history, and you’ll get to meet characters such as highwayman Dick Turpin and renowned plotter Guy Fawkes. The actors are great and the exhibits are suitably gruesome!
This attraction isn’t advisable for under-10s, but entry is at parents’ discretion. Booking your tickets online is advised to get the best prices. The Dungeon is also part of the Merlin group, so if you have a Merlin annual pass then your entry is free.
Piglets Adventure Farm
Get your wellies over your trotters and discover that there’s a lot more to Piglets Adventure Farm Park than just pigs (although they are certainly a “pig” part of the attraction). Meet goats, guinea pigs, cows, donkeys and pigs, and you can also get to feed and pet some of them too!
Ride the tractor or the pink barrel train for a taste of farmer fun, dig up the giant pigs in the sand pit, and don’t forget to check out Truffles farmhouse and barn. If you and the family like a little friendly competition, then why not test your strength and skill on the ‘Olympig’ obstacle course, before enjoying (or not) jumping the on a large inflatable pillow!
If the weather isn’t on your side, you can discover the undercover Bale Play Baaarn, and climb the straw bale mountain, race friends on ride-on tractors, brave the drop slides, monkey about on rope swings, and mess around in the dig’n’play corn pit. The child-friendly café serves a varied menu if you need to recharge, or you can carry on the family fun with a game of crazy golf.
The National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is a transport lover’s paradise and houses over 100 locomotives from the 19th century to the present day. Kids of all ages will love it and adults will love the entrance price – it’s free!
Begin by looking at some of the old Royal steam trains that ferried Queen Victoria and King Edward about. Everything is as opulent as you’d expect – Victoria’s carriages look like a miniature palace, decked in blue silks with golden trim. But King George’s carriages, built for touring the country in the Second World War, are much more rustic.
The modern age is showcased in the main hall where a large shinkansen is displayed, including a carriage that you can walk through. There are trains from all ages and countries in this large hall, including the 15-foot high Chinese locomotive – and don’t miss the Mallard, the fastest steam engine in the world. For very little ones there is a play area and there are plenty of interactive displays for older children.
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Derwent Light Valley Railway
Continuing on the same train of thought (get it!) is the Derwent Valley Light Railway, which is also known as The Blackberry Line, a heritage railway line running on about half a mile of the original track.
Fancy a step back into the Wild Wild West? They have just the coach for you: Sylvia – a wide-windowed observation/verandah coach and attraction in itself!
Kids and adults are also able to use their imaginations and become Station Master at the ticket office, situated inside the unusual and lovely station building. The day ticket for Murton Park also allows you to go between the Derwent Valley Light Railway and the many other attractions at Murton Park, as often as you like on the day. This includes popular family favourites such as The Yorkshire Museum of Farming or a visit to the full scale reconstructed Viking Village.
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York Minster is an immense gothic cathedral and so spectacular inside that any notoriously difficult to impress family member wont fail to be wowed! Allow plenty of time to walk around on the ground floor and pick up a map at the information desk so you don’t miss anything. If you have small children, pick up an Explorer’s Pack complete with I-Spy challenge, binoculars, torch and mirror, compass and map, coloured pencils and paper and tape measure to entertain them on the way round the cathedral, or download a family trail from the website before you visit.
You can also get hands on in the Undercroft Museum. See the remains of an original Roman barracks through glass floors beneath the Minster and touch archaeological remains uncovered over the centuries, including objects from York’s Viking past. Use the interactive displays to explore 2,000 years of history at the site or get in character with outfits from the dressing up rail.
You can also go up into one of the towers to get a great view over York – be warned though, there are nearly 300 steps and this isn’t suitable for under-8s. York Minster also runs dedicated family activities, especially in the holidays so check the website to see what’s on.
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York Museum Gardens
York Museum Gardens are a great place to let the kids blow off some steam after visiting York Minster. These gardens have plenty of open space for the kids to enjoy and some beautiful flowerbeds to admire too.
Within the Gardens, you’ll find some fascinating ruins that were once part of a Roman fortress and a medieval hospital. In the centre of the Gardens you’ll find the remains of St Mary’s Abbey. This beautiful building was begun nearly a thousand years ago on the orders of William the Conqueror and became one of the most important Benedictine monasteries in the country. The medieval hospitium, where visitors to the now-ruined Abbey would have stayed, is one of the other buildings that can be seen inside the gardens, alongside the York Observatory.
This lovely garden is perfect for a picnic, but there are also riverside pubs here if you don’t want to pack your own lunch. There’s also a special treat for all the geocachers out there, as the museum recently introduced its first geocache garden!
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York Castle Museum and Clifford’s Tower
York Castle Museum is one of Britain’s leading museums of everyday life. It shows how people used to live by displaying thousands of household objects, and by recreating rooms, shops, streets and even prison cells.
The museum was named after the former York Castle, which stood on the site. It is best known for its recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate, which combines real shop fittings and stock with modern sound and light effects to evoke an atmosphere of Victorian Britain.
Elsewhere are plenty of displays, including historic toys, fashion, armour, weapons, tools, printing presses, cooking utensils, farming equipment and much more. The museum’s past as two prison buildings is explored in York Castle Prison, where visitors come face to face with ex-prisoners including highwayman Dick Turpin, who was hanged in 1739 for horse stealing. The real stories of the prisoners and staff are told in sometimes gruesome detail, so watch out for that if your kids are a bit sensitive.
Clifford’s Tower is the largest remaining part of York Castle. The castle is long since gone, but Clifford’s tower once had a chapel and apartments inside. It was also used as a prison – Dick Turpin was held here before he was executed.
If you climb up the steps to the top of the tower, you’ll be rewarded with a great rooftop view over York. It is worth noting that this is not accessible for buggies or wheelchairs.
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Jorvik Viking Centre
Another historical museum that covers a different phase of York’s history is the Jorvik Viking Centre, just a short walk from Clifford’s Tower. York was known as Jorvik during Viking times, when many people came from Scandinavia and settled in the area.
At the Viking Centre, a ride takes you through a reconstruction of Jorvik populated with 22 new animatronics based on real people across the recreation. It’s a day out full of surprises and there really is something new to see around every corner. Bear in mind that to keep the experience as authentic as possible, it does smell a bit ripe – the aroma of dung is very lifelike!
York’s Chocolate Story
Salivate over York’s 300-year history with chocolate and unwrap the history behind many of the much-loved and well-known chocolate brands at York’s Chocolate Story.
Watch as expert chocolatiers make delicious treats – you’ll even get to sample a few! This interactive experience allows you to get hands-on as you wander through the exhibition that tells the stories of sweet makers from back in the day.
You will also learn how chocolate is made, how it is transformed from bean to bar and then have a go yourself! If you haven’t had your fill from the samples, then enjoy more chocolate delights in the café, not forgetting to pick up extra treats for home from the shop on the way out.
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York City Walls
York City Walls look like ancient battlements – which, of course, they were. York has always had defensive walls of some sort and today there are 3.4 km remaining. Walking the walls is a must-do activity as you’ll get some great views of the city.
As well as the views of York, the most interesting features of the walls are the bars, or ancient gates. One of them, Walmgate Bar, has the only remaining barbican. There are several different routes to take and you can find them on the website before you visit. There are also several places to get off for a drink or to rest tired little legs. Remember to keep the kids close, especially when it’s busy, as some parts are steep.
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