York is one of the UK’s favourite short break destinations and with its mix of historic buildings, great attractions and a flourishing food & drink scene it’s easy to see why. You can discover the city’s best attractions (and some out-of-town ones as well) with a York Pass Sightseeing Card which gives entry to York’s top sights as well as host of discounts and added extras – giving a great value break in this beautiful city. The more places you visit, the more money you save so to help you out, we’ve picked some of our favourite York sights and attractions that you really shouldn’t miss during your visit.
The heart of York, dominating the city skyline for nearly 600 years (and still the tallest building in the city), York Minster is one of the finest cathedrals in Europe and definitely York’s most iconic landmark. Built near the centre of the old Roman settlement of Eboracum, the Minster took nearly two hundred years to build and was completed in 1472. Explore the Roman and Norman foundations in the crypt, marvel at the magnificent and ornate stained glass or take a trip up to the top of the tower (if you can brave the 275 steps) for amazing views across York.
The best way to take in all of York’s top sights is with a City Sightseeing Tour. Departing from outside York Art Gallery, you can hop on and off all day while you explore York. With stops near Museum Gardens, Micklegate Bar, Clifford’s Tower, Merchant Adventurer’s Hall and York Station, the tour is great for getting around all the York Pass attractions as well as providing an entertaining and informative commentary on York’s 2000 years of history.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Since it opened in 1984, Jorvik has proved to be one of York’s most popular attractions, as well as being well known throughout the country. An archaeological dig in central York during the 1970s unearthed extensive remains of the old Viking settlement of Jorvik including timber buildings, textiles and metalwork. Jorvik Viking Centre has recreated Viking-era York including shops, market stalls, workshops and houses so visitors can experience the sights, sounds and smells of old Jorvik. Some of the best finds from the dig are also on display including coins, clothes and pottery.
York Museums – Castle Museum & Clifford’s Tower, Yorkshire Museum
York is blessed with several great museums, all of which are included with the York Pass. Explore York’s social history at the Castle Museum which features a replica of a Victorian street complete with shops and houses, exhibitions on vintage toys & games, fashions and York’s chocolate history. York Castle once housed the city’s prison and you can still explore the cells, complete with stories from some of their previous occupants including notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin. Just outside the Castle Museum stands Clifford’s Tower; this small keep is all that’s left of York Castle which was first built in 1068. Although little more than a shell remains, it’s still worth a visit for the views from the walls.
On the other side of town, in Museum Gardens, you’ll find the Yorkshire Museum which tells the story of York’s past with fascinating examples of archaeological discoveries from the city’s Roman and medieval periods. In March 2018 a brand new dinosaur exhibition is due to open, with special guest Sir David Attenborough attending the opening ceremony!
York’s Chocolate Story
York’s economy was built on chocolate for nearly 300 years with large companies such as Rowntree’s and Terry’s providing employment for thousands of local people and putting York at the centre of the UK’s sweet treat industry. Trace the history of chocolate and its production in York across three floors in York’s Chocolate Story (and of course there are lots of samples along the way!)
For those seeking the bloody side of York’s history (and there’s lots!), head to York Dungeon near Clifford’s Tower. Via a series of live shows featuring actors and immersive sets you’ll meet infamous characters such as Guy Fawkes and Dick Turpin. It’s not for the faint hearted or young children but there’s always a touch of humour and you can recover at the end with a coffee or something stronger in York Dungeon’s brand new bar, Ye Olde York Inn.
Hidden away down an alley off Stonegate lies Barley Hall, a medieval town house which was originally built in the 14th century. The building lay derelict for many years until it was rediscovered and restored during the 1980s. Barley Hall now gives visitors some idea how a well-to-do York family may have lived during the city’s medieval heyday. There are also visiting exhibitions, currently a display of costumes from the BBC historical series Wolf Hall.
Henry VII & Richard III Experiences
These two small museums are located in two of York’s historic gatehouses; the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate near the station, and the Richard III Experience at Monkbar near the Minster. Both tell the story of the rival monarchs and feature displays of armour, information about famous battles such as Bosworth Field and information about York during the Wars of The Roses.
York Cold War Bunker
Okay this one is outside the walls, in fact you’ll need to drive or get a bus out to Acomb, but it’s definitely worth the trip and this is truly a hidden gem; many York residents don’t even know it exists (I guess that was the whole point!) The bunker was once home to the men and women of the Royal Observer Corps who’s job would have been to track the extent of radioactive fallout in the event of a nuclear attack. It’s a chilling reminder of a tense time in our recent history, brought to life by domestic settings such as dormitories and canteens alongside hi-tech communications and monitoring equipment. Visits are by guided tour only and last one hour.
Surely Britain’s only visitor attraction located in a former Prisoner of War camp? Eden Camp is just a short drive from York near the town of Malton on the A64. The huts which once housed Italian and German POW s now contain exhibits and recreations of life during World War Two. Highlights include a bombed out street (complete with smoke and burst water pipes), a sinking German U-Boat and a music hall theatre.
One of Britain’s finest stately homes, Castle Howard is located just off the A64 on the way to Malton. Featuring magnificent gardens and spectacular rooms, Castle Howard has featured as a filming location for television and film and makes and ideal place to escape the bustle of the city and relax amid manicured gardens or even indulge in afternoon tea. The house closes during winter so check their website for more details before planning your trip.
The picturesque village of Helmsley lies on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, about 45 minutes drive north of York. The medieval castle still towers over the town although the keep is now largely ruined. You can still see the outline of the chapel and outbuildings, walk around the moat and see inside the civil war era manor house. While you’re in Helmsley, why not visit the National Centre for Birds of Prey on Duncombe Park estate or the nearby Riveaulx Abbey – one of northern England’s most magnificent monastic buildings.
If all this has put you in the mood for a short break in York, check out the great selection of hotels in Super Break’s home town!