York is one of those beautiful English cities that’s incredible to visit. Filled with mountains of history, that warm Yorkshire charm and oodles of foodie haunts, there are literally hundreds of the best things to do in York dotted all across the city. It’s totally quaint and a city you can’t miss in England.
That being said, with so many spots to explore, it can often be proper hard to prioritise some of the very best things to do in York. After all, a trip to the city should be filled with as many of the coolest and best places as possible.
After heading to York on a Microgap (you know, like a mini Gap Year), I wanted to share some of our very favourite little spots that I hope you’ll love.
Take a look, below, at some of the very best things to do in York on your trip. Have the best time!
1.) Climb York Minster
Okay, so no visit to York is really complete without seeing its most iconic building, York Minster. Built well over 500 years ago, it’s one of the largest and most beautiful buildings to visit in all of Yorkshire.
Now, you can obviously admire the beauty of York Minster from the surroundings, but if you want a closer look, head inside and explore the awe-inspiring interiors.
Now, heads up, you will need to pay a fee to enter, but you can save a pretty penny if you purchase a York Pass that allows entry to lots of the main sites in the city. It’s easily one of the best things to do in York and totally impressive.
Also, if you’re looking for a little bit of a challenge, ask at the ticketing counter to climb the tower itself. Yup, it’s just under 300 steps but it’s well worth it for view all across the city.
Just be prepared for some very cosy alleys and stairwells.
2.) Wander The Shambles
Okay, so The Shambles is an area of York that you really can’t miss. It’s easily one of the prettiest streets in all of England and is considered one of the best surviving Medieval Streets in all of the UK.
Honestly, it’s the kind of street that feels like it’s come straight out of a Harry Potter book – it’s so picturesque.
Now, historically, The Shambles was an area where lots of meat was sold, with all the meat waste discarded in the tiny cobbled street. The streets are proper tiny so I can only imagine how smelly that was.
Thankfully, nowadays, The Shambles is filled with little craft stalls, jewellers, tea spots and, more recently, some wizardry shops. Make sure to spend a little time wandering, popping into the little stalls and exploring the nearby markets. It really is one of the best things to do in York.
Also, don’t forget to spend some time exploring the tiny little Snickelways that crisscross York, there like a web of medieval pedestrian routes that make the city so accessible by foot.
3.) Learn to ride a boat
So, if your legs are getting a little weary, pop over to the riverside and rent your very own boat from Red Boats York. After a little safety demonstration (and instructions), you’ll set off on your exploration of the river – all by yourself!
Spend an hour, navigating the waterways and firming up those skills as a sea-faring captain. It’s easily one of the best things to do in York and much easier than I thought.
4.) Drink up at Guy Fawkes Inn
Possibly, one of York’s most famous residents has to be Guy Fawkes?
Now, he’s the guy that tried to blow up Parliament way back in the 1600s and overthrow the government. After filling the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder, he was caught before setting it alight.
Obviously, the English government didn’t take too kindly to this and Guy Fawkes was swiftly hung, drawn and quartered. Each quarter of this body was then taken to the four corners of the country to deter any other would-be attempts.
Once you’re in York, head across to the Guy Fawkes Inn (where he lived), it’s a matter of seconds from York Minster and really easy to visit. Pop in for a pint of ale or a Yorkshire tea. It really is one of the best things to do in York if you want to briefly see a little piece of history.
5.) Gorge at Roots
So, I’ve no shame in saying that one of the best things to do in York is to gorge!
Honestly, it’s one of my favourite places in England for cute little restaurants and snugs that are nestled all across the city.
Now, one place you have to try is Roots, which is totally delicious. Here, the team work on a 3-season menu that focuses on locally sourced produce and seasonal variety.
Just make sure to book a table before you visit, it can get busy (especially on weekends).
6.) Visit Mr P’s Curious Tavern
Remember I mentioned food being amazing in York? Well, Mr P’s Curious Tavern is no exception.
Only around a five-minute stroll from The Shambles, it’s a gouges spot to visit for lunch or dinner. Once you’re here, make sure to try their Whitby Crab, it’s so good!
7.) Visit the York Art Gallery
Perched just off the city walls, the Art Gallery is one of the best things to do in York if you want to see local and international art in one place.
Once here, make sure to explore their temporary exhibitions, explore their massive pottery section and stroll through the main hall. It really is a great place to visit, especially if the weather starts to drizzle.
8.) Walk the City Walls
With a hoard of history (from Roman, Norman and Viking occupation), York is a city that’s best explored by foot.
Best of all, the majority of York’s ancient city walls still exist, lining the centre of the city. Plus, it’s one of the only cities in the UK that still has a standing wall with the original gateways to enter the ancient centre.
If you’re feeling eager, you can actually walk the wall themselves and explore the city limits. For me, it’s one of the best things to do in York and really takes you back to what a medieval York must have been like.
9.) Visit the Castle Museum
So, after taking a ride on the river, or climbing Clifford’s Tower (all close by), make sure to pop over to the Castle Museum that used to be a prison, too.
At first glance, I wasn’t too bothered about visiting and kind of went in with low expectations… How wrong I was! It’s amazing.
Once inside, you get to explore the medieval streets of York in mock-up of the city itself. It’s filled with everything from houses, streets, alleyways and Temperance Halls. It’s well worth spending a little time to explore the history of York and even learn more about the city itself.
10.) Climb Clifford’s Tower
Perched on its own mount, Clifford’s Tower is part of the complex of buildings that make up York Castle.
Once here, head up the mount and enter the Medieval tower to explore the tower from above. Once inside, pop up to the top of Clifford’s Towers (around 40 steps) and survey York from above.
11.) Eat up at Skosh
Another amazing place to eat at in York has to be Skosh! It’s a fusion restaurant that has a heap of amazing dishes that mixes Yorkshire produce and international tastes.
Skosh is almost like a Tapas bar in the fact you can order around 3-4 dishes each and just share between the table. Plus, the food is delicious!
Now, if you do intend on popping by, make sure to give them a call as table space is limited.
12.) Stay at Grey’s Court
If you’re planning a weekend trip to York, there’s no doubt you’ll need a place to rest your head. For us, we decided upon Grey’s Court Hotel that’s so quaint and historic. Smack in the city centre, it is perched as close to York Minter as you could possibly get.
Now, Grey’s Court Hotel has a few different rooms and we decided upon Somerset that had the best view overlooking York Minster itself. Oh, and don’t forget to opt in for breakfast, they smoke their own salmon each night. Yum!
For a little nightcap, pop over to the House of Trembling Madness for one of their local brews.
13.) Afternoon tea at the Countess of York
So, if you’re looking for a different afternoon tea, pop over to the Countess of York (at the National Railway Museum). Perched around 5-minutes from York Central Station, it’s really easy to visit if you’re short on time.
Now, the carriage used to be part of the Orient Express and it’s so sumptuous inside. Fill up on plenty of scones, clotted cream and plenty of Yorkshire tea.
Afterwards, set aside a little time to explore the National Railway Museum too. If you’re a train lover, you’ll find this one of the best things to do in York! That being said, if you’re not into trains, maybe just focus on that afternoon tea. After all, that cake won’t eat itself! 😉
14.) Merchant Adventurers Hall
Nestled in the heart of the city is one of York’s prettiest halls, the Merchant Adventurers Hall that’s steeped in history.
Dating back centuries, you can still head inside and explore the incredible halls, it’s rooms and learn more about the Merchants. It’s a beautiful building that’ll totally sweep you straight back in time. Plus, if history is your thing, you’ll easily find this one of the best things to do in York.
15.) St Mary’s Abbey (Museum Gardens)
Before the time of Henry VIII, St Mary’s Abbey used to be the most significant abbey in the north of England. That being said, after Henry VIII decided to dissolve the monasteries, many of the incredible buildings fell into disrepair and ruins.
Nowadays, you can still visit the ruins of this incredible building that’s in the Museum Gardens. Take a wander around the site, learn more about the Abbey history and stroll through the gardens themselves.
It’s certainly one of the best things to do in York if you’re interested in the medieval history of the city.
16.) Jorvik Viking Centre
As I mentioned, York has a deep connection to Vikings and a city that was once a stronghold for Vikings in England.
Now, you might not see too many Viking warriors roaming the streets but you can certainly pop into the Jorvik Viking Centre that focuses on the history of Vikings in York.
It’s a great little place to visit and the exhibits look so lifelike! Now, as it’s all indoors, I’d recommend saving the Jorvik Viking Centre for a rainy day. After all, the English weather is temperamental at best!