Planning a visit to York?
You’re in the right place.
You probably don’t need me to tell you it’s a magnificent city, and a great choice for a weekend break.
With alot of sights close to the town centre it can be hard to pick out the best experiences.
The great news is that it’s quite compact, so, if you want to, it’s easy to pack alot into a weekend.
But which places to choose?
Well I’m a man who likes to do my research, so on a recent long weekend to York we planned in what we thought was a manageable trip to see all the highlights in the weekend.
And below you’ll find our highlights from our fantastic long weekend in York, which will hopefully make your planning easier.
P.S. We did this all in a weekend! We arrived on a Friday afternoon and left on the Sunday! Amazing what you can fit in 🙂
P.P.S Everything on this list is either free or available on the York Pass (other than the ghost trail, which offers a discount and the afternoon tea)
- Cost: £10
- Opening Times: Mon-Sat 09-1630, Sun 1245-1500
- Website: YorkMinster.org
Visible from almost all parts of the city, there has been a church on this site as far back as the year 627.
It is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second highest position in the Church of England. Despite being the seat of an Archbishop it is not often called a Cathedral, as it was originally a missionary church or ‘Minster’.
It is technically a cathedral too, and it’s full title is ‘Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York’, but is more popularly known as just ‘York Minster’. Not all cathedrals are minsters, not all minsters are cathedrals, but this is both. Not often you get two for the price of one!
Walk The City Walls
- Cost: Free
- Opening Times: 0800-Dusk daily(Weather Dependant)
- Website: York.Gov.UK
Whilst their total length is 3.4km (about a 2 hour walk), you don’t have to do it all at once. The walls are broken up by 5 main bars (gateways), so it’s easy to get on and off the walls at various points across the city.
My favourite part is the northwest corner between Bootham Bar and Monks Bar. It is a fairly short walk (about 20 minutes), but gives incredible views across the back of Treasurer’s House, and is one of the few places in the city you can take a full width photograph of York Minster (my photo above was taken on this walk).
If you want more information about this walk, then visit the amazing Friends Of York Walls website, which will give you a full guide to this walking trail and many others!
Wander through the Shambles
- Cost: Free
- Opening Times: N/A
- Website: HistoryOfYork,org.uk
This is arguably the best preserved medieval street in the entire world!
Shambles is an old term for open air meat markets, and up until the late 1800s there were as many as 25 butcher shops along this street, with the groove along the middle of the street draining the blood away.
These perfectly preserved Elizebethan buildings are also said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series.
Whilst The Shambles itself is quite a small street, it is right at the heart of York and is a perfect place to start your adventures into the surrounding area.
It’s also worth taking the time to visit the Shambles Market in the neighbouring square, which opens daily selling everything from fresh produce to hand-made crafts and second-hand records.
Take A Ghost Tour
- Cost: Adults £4, Kids £2
- Opening Times: 1930 in front of York Minster. Takes just over an hour and is wheelchair/pushchair friendly
- Website: GhostTrail.co.uk
Not only is this a fun way to spend an hour, but it will also get you out into the city after dark and teach you a bit more about York’s long history.
Our guide was Greg, a master in the forgotten art of story telling. He took us around the city and told tales gruesome enough to keep the adults interested, but not too scary to frighten off the kids.
He managed to inter-weave the history of York into his tales, and point out elements of the city that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as the numerous owl statues and black cats dotted along the rooftops.
Not a believer? Check out the shadow over Greg’s head in the photo above. It certainly creeped me out when I was looking back through our snaps!
Visit the York Chocolate Story
- Cost: Adults £12.50, Kids £10, Family £39.95
- Opening Times: 1000-1600 daily
- Website: YorksChocolateStory.com
I’ve got to be honest, when Becca said she wanted to go, I wasn’t excited by the idea, but the Chocolate Story turned out to be amazing!
It is a really innovative and informative experience, with everything from Aztec cinema, interactive talking pictures, hands on displays and our amazing (and very funny!) guide Mark.
Oh, and you get to taste a fair bit of chocolate!!!
You won’t fail to be impressed by what they’re put together here. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours, with enough to keep both adults and kids interested.
At the end you even get to make your own chocolate lolly. You can see my masterpiece on the right hand side, I think I captured a pretty decent likeness of me!
Have Afternoon Tea in an Old Carriage
- Cost: £22.50 per person (£29 for champagne tea)
- Opening Times: Sittings at 1200, 1400 and 1600 daily
- Website: NRM.org.uk
It now has a permanent home at the National Railway Museum, and is available to book for afternoon tea.
Whilst Becca is an experienced hand at afternoon teas, this was a first for me, but either way both of us loved it! We booked for an afternoon sitting a couple of hours before our train back down south, and it was the perfect way to end our time in York.
And with an 86% 5 star rating on Tripadvisor at the time of writing, we are clearly not the only ones who loved this experience!
Book in advance to make you sure you get a table, as they seemed really busy when we were there.
Visit the Spectacular Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
- Cost: Adults £6.50, Kids Free (Under 16)
- Opening Times: Sun-Fri 1000-1630, Sat 1000-1330, Sun closed
- Website: MerchantsHallYork.org
The oak building is getting on for 700 years old!
Stepping inside is like being transported into the CGI of a period movie. It’s easy to imagine this place full of well-dressed people drinking tankards of ale and feasting around a giant table.
There is an incredibly informative audio tour that is part of the entry fee, and will teach you everything your need to know about the rich history of the building.
And whilst we’re on the subject of rich, there is a fantastic coffee shop downstairs selling delicious homemade cakes!
The Quickest way to get your Bearings – Take a Bus Tour!
- Cost: Adults £14, Kids £7. Tickets valid for 24hrs
- Opening Times: 0930-1730 Daily. Total route takes about an hour
- Website: City-Sightseeing.com
It orientates me really well, so I understand how a city is laid out and where I want to get to. They are usually incredibly informative, and help you brush up on the city’s history.
The York sightseeing tour takes you out to parts of the city you’re unlikely to get to on a weekend break.
The highlights of the tour for us were seeing the racecourse, where Pope John Paul II famously gave mass to 200,000 people in 1982, and seeing the clock tower and factories that once were part of the Terry’s Chocolate empire, and are now being turned into luxury apartments.
Without the bus it’s unlikely you’re get out to these sights on a weekend break in the city.
Climb up to Clifford’s Tower
- Cost: Adults £5, Kids (5-15) Free
- Opening Times: 1000-1600 daily
- Website: English-Heritage.org.uk
There has been a castle on the site since 1068, but unfortunately it has long since fallen into disrepair and Clifford’s Tower, the castle’s keep, is the only part left standing.
It perches atop its hill, looking like it could give way at any minute – large cracks running down the walls and at an angle that suggests an impending surrender to the pressures of gravity. Despite this, it seems to be in good health, with English Heritage controversially planning to renovate the site over coming years.
There’s not much to see inside, but the views across the city make it a worthwhile trip. It’s not for the faint of heart though, with slippy, narrow, uneven staircases taking you to the top of the tower.
Have a Pint at a Roman Bath!
- Cost: Adults £3.50, Kids £2
- Opening Times: 1100-1700 daily
- Website: VisitYork.org
It was the Romans who founded York back in AD71, when 5,000 men of the ninth legion set up camp here, and under this pub you can get a glimpse into their world.
For a small fee you can view the remains of the bath and cold room, and get a detailed tour of the bathhouse itself and the Roman history in York.
And for the childish amongst you, the local reenactment group store their kit here, so you are free check out the fashion trends – Roman style! (Ahem…. check exhibit ‘A’ to your right!).
Jorvik Viking Centre
- Cost: Adults £11, Kids £8 (this gets you a 12 month ticket!)
- Opening Times: 1000-1700 April-October, 1000-1600 November-March
- Website: JorvikVikingCentre.co.uk
It is more like a theme park than a museum, as the bulk of the experience is on specially commission carts, taking you through Viking village life as it was at 1730, 25th October AD975.
It is an immersive experiences, with the sights, sounds and smells of Viking living brought to life in front of you.
You can’t help but have admiration for what they’ve done here. It would have been easy to present all the finds from the various digs around York in another stuffy museum (though you can see these after the cart ride).
Instead they chose to bring Viking-age Jorvik to life, a captivating experience for all ages.
It is thoroughly worth a visit, though expect a wait at peak times, as they can only accept limited numbers due to the capacity of the carts.
York Castle Museum
- Cost: Adults £10, Kids are free with a paying adult
- Opening Times: 0930-1700 daily
- Website: YorkCastleMuseum.org.uk
It’s an eclectic mix of exhibits: from the great wars, through the swinging sixties and even a section dedicated to old children’s games.
It is interesting, but certainly not the complete history of York I was expecting!
There is one exhibition which makes this museum well worth visiting though….
The most famous and spectacular part is Kirkgate, which is an indoor re-creation of a Victorian street. Opened in 1938, it has become the most iconic part of the museum and is worth the price of entry for this alone.
The National Railway Museum
- Cost: Free!
- Opening Times: 1000-1800 daily
- Website: NRM.org.uk
Amazingly it is free, meaning you can take in as much or as little of it as you like without feeling too much pressure.
The standout exhibits are:
- A fully restored Flying Scotsman
- The only bullet train outside Japan
- The Mallard, holder of the world speed record for steam locomotives, set in 1938
- A replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, the template for steam trains going forward
- The capsule which transported Tim Peake to and from the International Space Station (not strictly rail-related, but I’m sure they knew that!)
Over to You!
Anything I’ve missed off this list?
Any secret sights of York that you feel need adding?
Drop them in the comments below to share your favourite places in York with the world!
Useful Tools for Booking Your Sabbatical
I always use Skyscanner or Agoda alongside Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best price. I use Google Flights to save a route and monitor price changes and a combination of Skyscanner and Agoda to get the cheapest tickets.
If you are in the UK I would also highly recommend signing up for Jack’s Flight Club to get incredible flight deals sent to your email inbox every week.
When booking accommodation I always start with Booking.com as they generally have the best range and prices. I also regularly use Airbnb for longer stays and apartments in cities (use this link for £25 off your first stay). For a different experience try signing up to Housecarers for free house-sitting opportunities (get 10% off membership with this link).
Travel insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost, but when a flight gets cancelled, injury occurs or you damage a piece of gear you’ll regret not paying in advance. I’ve used World Nomads for two sabbaticals and (after badly damaging a hire car in Laos!) found the claim process to be simple and transparent.
Getting from the airport to your destinations is an added stress after a tiring flight, so take the guesswork out and pre-book with JayRide.com. Their prices often beat the local taxis and I've found them to be reliable and easy to use.