Museums and Attractions in York.

Written By PhilG

York is a great place for a day trip or short stay. With lots of museums, restaurants, and pubs to explore.  

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Are you looking for things to do in York England? You’ll find all of these things in, or very close to, York city center.

All the attractions on this page are in the city center, except for the railway museum which is a short walk outside of the city wall.

York Pass

If you’re in York for a few days and want to visit several museums and attractions you could possibly save by buying The Visit York Pass. It’s not cheap, so you’ll have to work out how many attractions you want to visit, the combined cost, and the potential saving.

York Residents and Workers

The York Card gives York residents a discounts at a range of attractions and facilities across York.

Jorvik Viking Center

Jorvik Viking Center is possibly the most famous of all the things to do in York.

It’s based on meticulous archaeological research and provides an accurate view of 10th century York. At Jorvik you can experience the sites, sounds and smells of a Viking age town as you ride round a recreated Viking settlement in an electric buggy. And it’s right on the spot where the Vikings lived 1000 years ago!

Jorvik Website

The annual Jorvik Viking festival

Don’t confuse this event with the Jorvik exhibition which is open all year round. York is always fun to visit, but never more so than when the annual Viking festival is taking place in February. You can find out how Vikings fought, ate, traded and lived. A lot of planning and hard work goes in to these events and they usually finish with a great big Viking battle. It’s a good way to find out about York’s history.

Jorvik Viking Festival

The National Railway Museum

Entrance is free to the main museum (you sometimes have to pay to get into special exhibitions held there)

The national railway museum, the largest railway museum in the world, is just a short walk outside the city walls and its free. A huge place with three galleries filed with trains and memorabilia. A magical journey in to railway history, hours of fun can be had here.

The National Railway Museum is one of the UK’s biggest visitor attractions. You will find locomotives and carriages in two main halls as well as several smaller exhibition rooms where you can find out more about the railway and how it works.

NRM Website

York Minster

York Minster is the largest medieval building in England and regarded as one of the four most important gothic cathedrals in Europe. Work started on the building in 1220 and some of the stained glass in the Minster dates from 1320.

If you have a head for heights and you’re fit, you can climb the steps to the top of the tower, 60meters (197feet) above the city, and get a birds eye view of York. If that doesn’t qualify you to be a York Explorer, I don’t know what does.

Beneath the Minster you can visit the undercroft museum and crypt. Can your visit to York be complete with out visiting York Minster, the largest medieval gothic cathedral north of the Alps?

York Minster Website

Treasurer’s House

Treasurer’s House is at the rear of York Minster and maintained by the National Trust. You can join an hour log guided tour but pre-booking is recommended.

Treasurer’s House Website

River Boat Cruses

A 45 minute river trip along the river Ouse starting at Lendal Bridge or Kings Staith. This is nice and relaxing but you don’t get to see as much as you see on the bus tour.

River Cruses

Open top Double Decker bus tour

Why not see the sites from the top of a Double Decker bus?

There are stops close to most of York’s attractions and historic buildings, and bus tickets last all day, so you can hop on and hop off as and when you please.

Bus tour website

York Castle Museum

York Castle Museum covers history from about the time of the civil war, 1642-51, up to modern times. (York played a big part in the civil war.)

Inside the Castle Museum you’ll find re-created streets, courtyards, shops, and homes. The museum building was originally a prison. Highway man Dick Turpin was held in the condemned cell which is still here and you can look around the cell where Dick is thought to have spent his last days. Most of the exhibits are more modern than those in the Yorkshire Museum; both museums are well worth a visit.

You can see a lot in the castle museum but there are also some things to do, in York castle museum you can try lifting armour form different periods of history to see how much it weighed etc.

York Castle Museum Website

The City Walls

Most of the things to do in York are connected with the city’s 2,000 year history,

York is surrounded by some of the finest medieval city walls in England; the walls were built between 1240 and 1340. There’s no charge to walk along the city walls and it’s a great way to see more of the city.

The best part of the wall to walk on is from Bootham Bar (near York city art gallery) to Monk Bar; this walk takes you past York Minster and gives you a good view because you’re on high ground.

York City Walls

A new museum opened in 2022 called City Walls Experience. You can find it at Micklegate Bar.

Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s tower is the castle keep (strong hold) of York’s main medieval castle

The earth mound was made by William the Conqueror in 1069 when York was the second most important city in England. William the Conqueror’s original tower was made of wood but in 1190 anti Jewish riots swept England and York’s Jewish community hid in the tower to avoid the rioters. Some Jews committed suicide and the rest were butchered by the mob. The tower burned down in the riots, possibly set on fire by the Jews to cremate their bodies. The tower you see today was built by King Henry III in 1245. The tower is all that is left of York Castle.

English Heritage Website

Guided Walks

Free, two hour, guided walks run by volunteers

Learn about York’s history and see some of the most important buildings and places in York. With so many things to do in York, it’s easy to miss things. Before I learned about York history I often walked past buildings not realizing how old they were or what their history had been. One of these free walks will help you get started in learning about the city’s history. And they’re free.

Association of voluntary guides Website

The Regimental Museum

Find out about the history of the Royal Dragoon Guards

And the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment. In this museum near Clifford’s tower you can see uniforms weapons and medals on display.

Regimental Museum Website

The millennium riverside walk

Almost in the center of York you can stroll along the tree lined banks of the river Ouse

Then cross over the river on the millennium bridge (bicycles and pedestrians only) and wander back along the opposite riverbank past the park. See, you even have some relaxing things to do in York 😉

The Yorkshire Museum

If you like Medieval Roman or Viking history you’ll like this Museum

The Yorkshire Museum is described as the finest of Yorkshire’s archaeological and geological treasures. The time scale covered by the museum goes from prehistory up to about 1500.You can also see the Middleham Jewel, thought to have been owned by King Richard III’s family, here.

Yorkshire Museum Website

York Art Gallery

York Art Gallery includes determinant and temporary exhibitions. General admission is free but you have to pay to enter special exhibitions. You also need to book an entry time slot. See the art gallery website for details.

York Art Gallery Website

Historic pubs

York has lots of historic pubs, the one in the picture is Kings Arms, and has been used as an inn since the 1780s. But there are lots more to choose from, the Black Swan was the family home of sir Martin Bowes, Lord Mayor of York in 1545, when Henry VIII was on the throne. General James Wolfe 1725-1759 also stayed there as a child.

One pub has the remains of a Roman bath in its cellar and you can see the remains if you like but you have to pay a small charge, the pub is called The Roman Bath, I bet that surprised you 😉

Barley Hall

Barley Hall was built in 1360 as the York townhouse of Nostell Priory. Then extended in 1430 shortly before becoming the home of William Snawsell, a Goldsmith, Alderman and Lord Mayor of York.

At Barley Hall you can experience what it would have been like to live in Medieval England.

York Archaeological Trust bought Barley Hall in 1987 and restored it to its original state as a medieval town house.

Barley Hall Website

Dig, Hands on history

If you want to handle things from Viking times this is the place to go. Dig is ideal for school trips, but the centre is open to everyone in the school holidays. You sort and inspect real finds from real archaeological digs, a unique place.

Dig is setup to cater for school visits but in the holidays anyone can visit Dig, however, you must book a place because only a limited number of people can visit Dig at any one time.

The Dig Website

Merchant Adventurers Hall

Do you like looking around historic buildings?

This is one of the finest in York. No other guild hall in Europe survives with its business room, hospital and chapel intact and still in the ownership of the company which built it. The undercroft was used as a hospital or hospice from 1373 to 1900. It was built before any of the craft or trade guild halls in London or any where else in Britain.

Merchant Adventurers Hall Website

The Bar Convent Living Heritage Center

300 years ago Mother Bedingfield founded the first school for girls in York, it was only the second girls school in the whole of England.

The Bar Convent is now England’s oldest living convent and still has a community of religious sisters still on site.

You can learn more of their story in their year-round exhibition, featuring interactive displays alongside original artifacts.

The Bar Convent also has a cafe learning resources and award winning accommodation.

Bar Convent Website

Fairfax House

Visit this city center Georgian town house and discover how the other half lived. There are several different types of visits and tours available and Fairfax House is right in the center of York, not far from Jorvic.

Fairfax House Website

York’s Chocolate Story

Chocolate has played a big part in York’s history. This attraction covers the history of chocolate and the chocolate brands associated with York, Terry’s, Craven’s and Rowntree’s.

I’ve not been here but there seems to be a guided tour and hands on events. If you like chocolate this might be a fun way to spend an hour.

York’s Chocolate Story Website

Phew! That’s quite a list, even for a York Explorer, but I hope it does give you more than enough to do.