York’s history and culture attract visitors from all over the world. Join them and discover beautiful architecture, fascinating museums, and a host of options for dining and entertainment. Our list of the city’s top attractions will help you get the most from your visit.
1. York Minster
The earliest recorded church on the site of York Minster dates back to 627 B.C. and the magnificent building that stands there today is well over eight hundred years old. Visitors can learn about its long history in an interactive exhibition in the undercroft, a series of chambers beneath the Minster. There are also regular guided tours, including “hidden tours” offering a look at areas usually closed to the public.
As well as its services, the Minster hosts a packed and varied programme of events. Why not soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful place whilst enjoying a concert by the cathedral choir, a candlelit procession or even a craft workshop.
2. York Castle
York Castle is actually a complex of buildings that served various purposes over the course of nearly a thousand years. It has seen fires, explosions, remodelling and was used as a prison until as recently as 1929. Today, part of the castle still serves as York Crown Court, while buildings that were once a debtors’ prison and prison for women are today a museum charting the castle’s history.
Clifford’s Tower is the oldest remaining part of the structure originally built by William the Conqueror. Today it is owned by English Heritage and offers visitors panoramic views of the city from the open-air walk atop its walls.
The Shambles lies in York’s city centre and won the title of Britain’s Most Picturesque Street in 2010. The origins of its name are less picturesque: the overhanging timber-framed buildings originally housed butcher shops, and were referred to as Flesshammel, meaning booth around flesh. Over time, the word was shortened to Shamel, and eventually gave us the Shambles.
Today the street is home to independent shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions and is a great destination for those seeking a touch of retail therapy. Look closely, though, and you can still see signs of its past use – meat hooks remain hanging outside many of the shops.
4. National Railway Museum
Railway and train enthusiasts from around the world come to visit York’s National Railway Museum, the largest of its kind in England. It spans 300 years of history and houses over a million artefacts on every aspect of building, running and using the railways – from travel posters to signalling equipment, station clocks to tickets.
Most exciting, of course, are the locomotives themselves – over 100 of them on display at any one time. They include a Japanese bullet train and the Mallard, the train that in 1938 claimed the world speed record for steam locomotives. It’s a record that remains unbroken to this day.
5. City Walls
York has been defended by outer walls since Roman times and today it has more miles of intact city wall than any other place in England. A walkway along their tops is easily accessed and offers great views of the city, with markers pointing out interesting sights.
The walls are punctuated by six bars, or guardhouses, used in medieval times to extract tolls. One, Micklegate Bar, today houses a museum of Henry VII, while Monk Bar has a museum dedicated to Richard III.
6. York Maze
For an exciting day just outside the city, this corn maze caters to families who are looking for an adventure. With over one million maize plants it is the largest corn maze in the United Kingdom and has over 20 different rides, attractions, and shows.
It is open from mid-July to early September, with a special autumn opening around Halloween.
7. St. Mary’s Abbey
Lying in what are now the gardens of the Museum of York, St Mary’s Abbey was once one of the wealthiest in the country. Founded in 1088 by William the Conqueror to reinforce his hold on the north of England, it was home to around a hundred Benedictine monks and scholars. The Abbey was even mentioned in one of the early ballads of Robin Hood.
Visitors today can see parts of the walls of the nave and abbey church where the monks prayed and sang, and the cloisters where they did their laundry and – unlike in other monastic orders – were allowed to speak to one another. If you can spare the time, the gardens also house a number of other attractions including York Observatory and the Multangular Tower, the best example of standing Roman remains in the city.
8. York Chocolate Story
You may not be aware that York is the UK’s home of chocolate. The Chocolate Story is a three-zoned chocolate factory and museum that tells the story of chocolate making and its relationship to the city and people of York. Visitors can learn about the history of the cocoa bean and the process of creating chocolate, and round off their day by enjoying some signature York-style chocolate treats.
9. River Ouse Cruise
From February through to November, York Boats hosts daily river cruises that highlight different areas of York. Whether you fancy exploring historical points of interest, supping at a civilised afternoon tea, or brandishing your make-believe cutlass on a pirate cruise, there’s a tour for you. The boat has an open top deck to enjoy sunny days, and a warm bar area with refreshments.
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