York was one of the highlights of our European adventure last year. It's a wonderful city to visit if you have children, with plenty of things to see and do to keep your little ones busy and entertained.
Here are ten reasons why you and your family should visit York.
1. Jorvik Viking Centre The name York comes from the Viking Jorvik. Why? Because the capital of the independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria was captured by a Viking Great Army in the year 866 CE (Christian Era) and became Jorvik, or York. Between the years 1976-81 archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust uncovered the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-age city of Jorvik as it stood more than 1,000 years ago. You can visit this amazing site today and experience for yourself what life was really like in this Viking city in the year 960 CE, at the incredible Jorvik Viking Centre. You and your kids will especially love the time car ride through the old Viking city.
The Jorvik Viking Centre is located at Coppergate Shopping Centre, 19 Coppergate, York. Opening hours are: April October: 10am-5pm (last admission) and November March: 10am-4pm (last admission). At the time of writing, tickets cost £12.50 per adult, £8.50 for children aged 5-16, and £10.50 concession.
2. National Railway Museum Containing centuries of railway history and home to iconic locomotives such as a replica of George Stephenson's pioneering 'Rocket' and the only bullet train to be found outside Japan, the National Railway Museum is heaven to your train-mad little ones. My son absolutely loved this place! Your children will have a blast climbing aboard and exploring the locomotives, going on steam train rides and the miniature railway ride, exploring the model trains, letting off steam at the indoor play area, and shopping for the perfect gift at the fabulous souvenir shop. You can also have fun getting to and from the museum via the museum's road train. The road train travels to and from the Museum and Duncombe Place, next to York Minster.
The National Railway Museum is located on Leeman Road, York. Open from 10am-6pm (summer) and 10am-5pm (winter). Entry to the museum is free.
3. York Castle Museum and Clifford's Tower This truly amazing, award-winning museum showcases over 400 years of York's past. Standing on the site of York Castle which was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068, the museum itself was founded by John L. Kirk and opened in 1938, and is housed in prison buildings which were built on the site of the castle in the 18th century.
Exhibitions at the museum include Toy Stories (which feature a history of children's toys); 1914: When the World Changed Forever, opened in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, The Sixties, and Kirkgate, a recreated Victorian Street, named after the museum's founder.
My favourite exhibition is The Cells, a display about life in the prison that was opened in 2009 in the cells of the old eighteenth-century Debtors Prison. You can visit the cell which very probably kept England's most famous highwayman, Dick Turpin, before he was hung in 1739.
York Castle Museum is located at Eye of York, York. It is in the centre of York, close to Clifford's Tower and the Coppergate Shopping Centre. Open daily from 9.30am 5pm. Entrance fees at the time of writing are: Adult £12.00; Child (under 5) FREE; Child (5-16) £4.00.
Clifford's Tower is all that remains of York Castle that was built by William the Conqueror. The tower stands proudly on a high mound and offers stunning panoramic views over York. Scale the mound's steep steps, enter the castle tower, and step back in time to the age of the Norman conquerors!
Clifford's Tower is located at Tower Street, York, just across from the York Castle Museum complex. Opening hours vary during the year. Please see the website for more details. Admission prices at the time of writing are adults £5.70; children £3.40; and concession £5.10.
Clifford's Tower is owned and managed by English Heritage. Please visit their website here for more information.
4. York city walls
Since Roman times, York has been defended by walls of one form or another. Substantial portions of the walls remain, so that to this day, York has many more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. Your children will love walking along the walls as we did here. We walked from the centre of York along the walls to the National Railway Museum.
The city walls have four main gatehouses or bars. They are called Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar. You can visit the gatehouses today. Inside Monk Bar is a museum devoted to King Richard III. Known as the Richard III Experience , the museum explores Richard's early life, and the battles that raged between the houses of Lancaster and York during the Wars of the Roses.
Below is Bootham Bar. It stands almost on the site of porta principalis dextra, the north western gate of the Roman city of Eboracum.
5. The Shambles
Formerly a street full of butchers and their meat, this charming street with its overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century, is now full of quirky shops and reminded me so much of the famous Diagon Alley in the world of Harry Potter! In fact, if your children love Harry Potter, then they'll absolutely love this street and will practically beg you for a Nimbus 2000 racing broomstick or a pet soft toy owl at the several Harry Potter/magic themed shops along it.
6. York Minster
Since the 7th century, York Minster has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England. The cathedral is open for viewing seven days a week and there are lots of activities and resources for your children to explore the cathedral, such as Little Explorer backpacks. Little Explorer Backpacks can be borrowed for free from the welcome desks and are packed with gadgets to help young adventurers explore the Minster. Your children will also love the Minster's incredible Undercroft Museum with its interactive, digital displays exploring 2000 years of history. Your children can also collect a treasure trail at the welcome desks and go on a treasure hunt around the Minster. And on most Saturdays throughout the year the Minster runs special family-friendly tours from the Children's Chapel.
York Minster is located at Deangate, York.
General viewing times are: Mon Sat 9am 4.30pm, and Sun 12.30pm 3.00pm.
For admission prices, please visit the Minster's website here.
7. Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens
If your kids are mad about dinosaurs (and let's face it, who isn't mad about dinosaurs?), then they will love visiting the Yorkshire Museum and its incredible Jurassic World Exhibition. If they're historic buffs instead, then the Yorkshire Museum has plenty to keep them busy and entertained, such as Anglo-Saxon swords, Roman coins, Viking jewellery, and the Star Carr Pendant, the oldest Mesolithic art in Britain.
After exploring all those dinosaurs and all that history, then why not take them for a run around the gorgeously lush Museum Gardens? Situated on the former grounds of St Mary's Abbey, your children will love exploring the gardens, chasing after squirrels as my son and his friend did, and rambling over the ruins of St Mary's abbey church.
The Yorkshire Museum is located within the Museum Gardens in the centre of York. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from York Railway Station and there are entrances into the gardens from both Museum Street and Marygate.
The Yorkshire Museum is open daily from 10am-5pm. Admission prices at the time of writing are: Adults £7.27; Child (under 5) FREE; Child (5-16) £3.50. For more information, please visit the museum's website here.
8. York Chocolate Story museum
Did you know that the Chocolate Orange and KitKat originated in York? If you and your kids can't get enough of chocolate, then the York Chocolate Story museum is where you'll want to be! York's Chocolate Story museum is an entertaining and informative guided tour through the history of York's most famous chocolate-making families and their finest creations. You'll discover chocolate's origins, how to make it, how to taste it like an expert and even the sustainable future of chocolate.
York Chocolate Story is located at King's Square, York. Admission prices at the time of writing are: Adults £13.50; students/senior citizens £12.95; children (4-15 years) £10.95. For more details, please visit their website here.
Just outside the museum is a gorgeous merry go round which your kids will also love. Chocolate and a merry go round-what York dreams are made of!
9. York Cat Trail
Did you know that York isn't just a city of Vikings and trains and chocolate; it's also a city of cats? Well, cat statues anyway! And if you look closely enough, you'll find them everywhere on buildings all over the city. The original cat statues were placed on buildings to frighten away rats and mice which can carry plague and illness. They were also placed on buildings for ward off wandering evil spirits and generally to bestow good luck and good health. Your children will love spotting these cats when they follow the free York lucky cat trail starting from the Cat Gallery Shop, located at 45 Low Petergate, York.
10. York Sightseeing Cruise on the River Ouse
Flowing through York is the River Ouse. You and your kids will love sailing up and down the river and experiencing York from a different perspective on a one-hour sightseeing cruise by York City Cruises. Afternoon tea and lunch cruises are also available. City cruises depart from Lendal Bridge and King's Staith. For more information, please visit their website here.
Whether your children are mad about trains or mad about chocolate, whether they're dinosaur hunters or cat hunters, whether they love Vikings or prefer the Romans, York is a city they will never forget!