Top 10 things to do in York holiday cottages

Top 10 things to do in York

Julie Smith 24 February 2022

York is one of the UK’s most popular cities to visit thanks to its well-preserved historic buildings, beautiful green spaces, and a spot at the confluence of the Ouse and Foss rivers.  

You’ll find charming cafes and lovely shops dotted around secret alleyways, lively cocktail bars located along cobbled streets and fine dining restaurants like Andrew Pern’s The Star Inn The City overlooking the river.   

The city lies between the North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds so is surrounded by lovely countryside and there are lots of things to do in York. We have compiled ten of our favourite things to do in York to help you plan ahead for your next short break or holiday. For more holiday inspiration, read our guide to the best things to do in Yorkshire and start planning your perfect getaway to this beautiful part of the world.

Explore York Minster

Things to do in York - York Minster

This stunning York Minster is one of the most easily recognisable buildings in the city and well worth at least one visit. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and as well as viewing the stunning architecture and stained glass of York Minster, you can also choose to climb the central tower which gives one of the best views of the city. Highlights of York Minster include The Great East Window which is the UK’s largest single piece of medieval stained glass and the St Cuthbert Window, which is one of the largest surviving narrative windows in the world.

There are also a number of fun trails for children to follow around the church, and underneath York Minster is The Undercroft which takes visitors through 2,000 years of York history with interactive chambers and ancient artefacts.

It’s also worth visiting Treasurer’s House, a Yorkshire National Trust site which is tucked behind the Minster. The elaborately decorated townhouse features 13 period rooms and a glorious garden which has the best view of York Minster in the city.

Step back in time at Jorvik Viking Centre

Things to do in York - Jorvik Viking Centre

As you may already know ‘Jorvik’ is the old Viking name for York and the Jorvik Centre celebrates the old Viking heritage of this city, transporting visitors back in time with some of the sights (and smells) that you would have seen around 1,000 years ago. It reopened with a bang a few years ago after a multi-million pound renovation and the recreated village is more realistic than ever before with special ‘time capsules’ bringing you up close to the various Vikings. Other highlights of Jorvik include a glass floor allowing you to look down into the original dig site and lots of original Viking artefacts on display. 

The Jorvik Group has added even more York things to do in recent years including DIG, where little ones can hunt for historic treasures in specially designed excavation pits, and Barley Hall which is a restored medieval townhouse which hosts a range of exhibitions throughout the year. 

Have a flutter at York Racecourse

Things to do in York - York Racecourse

A visit to York Racecourse is one of the best things to do in York if you're on a getaway with friends. It's the perfect chance to dress up in your finery, drink a glass or two of something chilled and have a little bit of a flutter on the horses. 

Highlights of the Racing Calendar include The John Smith’s Cup (usually the second week in July), the Music Showcase Weekend at the end of July (past performers have included Tom Jones and The Corrs) and the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival in October.

There are three different stand options to choose from at York Racecourse: 

  • The Clocktower Enclosure is open air so perfect for a sunny day and is the place where you can bring along your own picnics and refreshments.
  • The Grandstand and Paddock has a mixture of indoor and outdoor seating areas with access to the parade ring so you can see the horses up close before the race.
  • The County Stand is the premier enclosure at York and comes with a dress code and access to the venue's most exclusive Champagne bars and seating areas with a prime view of the action.  

Enjoy a tasty treat at Bettys Tea Room

Things to do in York - Afternoon Tea

You’ll be spoilt for choice if you fancy a spot of tea and cake in York as there are plenty of tea rooms to be found dotted around the city’s cobbled streets. Bettys is the most famous tea room in town - it has been serving cakes and pastries to the people of York since 1936 so has definitely perfected the art of afternoon tea. 

The interior of Bettys York was inspired by the Queen Mary ocean liner and we think the Lady Betty Afternoon Tea that is served here is an experience worthy of royalty, with delicate sandwiches and exquisite cakes served on the finest bone china and washed down with an optional glass of Champagne.

It’s also worth sampling a Bettys Fat Rascal, which you can also get to take away. These plump fruity scones are a Yorkshire classic and go down very well with a nice cup of tea. 

Other York tea rooms include:

Discover the depths of York Dungeon

A visit to York Dungeon is the thing to do if you fancy delving into some of the darkest parts of York’s past. You’ll be taken back through around 2,000 years of history with gruesome exhibits and live interactive shows and can explore the dark and terrifying dungeons for yourself.

There are around ten different live shows to enjoy during a visit to York Dungeon, which is child-friendly during its regular opening hours, with a more terrifying adults-only event each Saturday night.

During your visit to York Dungeon you’ll come face to face with Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes, see spooky shenanigans at The Golden Fleece pub and spend time at the York Plague House. There’s also a witch trial to get through, a torture chamber to endure and a date with the York executioner - a visit here is not for the faint hearted!   

Learn about York’s Chocolate Story

Things to do in York - York Chocolate Story

York has a fantastic heritage of making chocolate with treats like Kit Kat, Smarties and Aero all first developed here. The city is still home to a large Nestle factory as well as lots of independent chocolate shops. York Chocolate Story is dedicated to all things chocolate and will take you through the rich history of chocolate making in the city with exhibitions, interactive displays and stories from the past. Find out why Yorkshire is the UK’s candy capital.

There are also guided tours of the chocolate-making process with the chance to sample some of the delicious final products, an on-site café where you can relax with a luxury hot chocolate and a shop where you can stock up on sweet supplies for the journey home.  

Other great places in York for chocoholics include:

  • Monk Bar Chocolatiers which has a little shop on The Shambles where all its artisan chocolate is hand-made in small batches.
  • York Cocoa House which runs a range of chocolate workshops and has an on-site cafe where you can enjoy a chocolate indulgence afternoon tea. 
  • Tempt which is a plant-based chocolatier which produces a range of vegan artisan chocolate

Admire the view from the York City Walls

Things to do in York - York City Walls

York is famous for its 13th-century walls which wrap around the city and, at around 3.4 km long, are the most complete example of medieval bar walls to be found anywhere in the UK. You can access the walls at any of the four major gates (Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate) and then walk on them for some great views of the city. 

Look out for brass pavement markings which show the route between the wall walks and various information boards which will tell you more about the history of York. Access to York City Walls is completely free; it’s a good way to see some of the famous sights from another perspective and immerse yourself in some of the rich history of York.  

Daffodils bloom during March and April on the sloping ramparts beneath the walls, making spring a great time to visit the city, and there are more free floral displays to enjoy at York Museum Gardens and Deans Park as you make your way around the walls.

Uncover the past at Clifford’s Tower

Things to do in York - Cliffords Tower

The largest remaining part of York Castle is the Norman-built Clifford’s Tower which was once the centre of government for the North of England. The stone tower you can see today was originally built in the 13th century (after the previous 11th-century wooden tower was destroyed in 1190) and really characterises the colourful past of this historic city.  

Clifford’s Tower is perched atop a high mound of grass and you can climb right to the top of the tower; taking an open-air walk around the walls is one of the best things to do in York for a panoramic view of the city.

It’s also worth taking a look around York Castle Museum which is built on the original site of York Castle and has regularly changing exhibitions throughout the year. Highlights of the museum include a recreated Victorian street and the castle prison where you can learn what life was like in the cells during the 18th century. 

Spend time shopping in The Shambles

Things to do in York - The Shambles

York is full of some great independent shops and we thoroughly recommend taking the time to explore the many gems within its many cobbled streets and courtyards.  

One street that is well worth a special visit is The Shambles, a medieval street which is one of the best preserved in Europe. Characterful 15th-century buildings jut out and almost meet in the building at some points along this narrow cobbled street so it’s easy to see why it’s thought to have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter book series.

The wonderful old buildings of The Shambles are now home to an assortment of independent shops and tearooms and we guarantee you’ll want to call in each and every one of them as you make your way along the street. 

Favourite shops on The Shambles include:

Take a cruise down the river

Things to do in York - York River Cruise

One of the most relaxing ways to see York is by travelling along the river by boat. With commentary telling you some of the interesting facts about this city, you can take in some of the scenery en-route and hopefully capture some great photos to remember your time in York. 

York City Cruises sightseeing tours depart daily from both King’s Staith and Lendal Bridge and evening cruises are also available. There’s a full bar and refreshments on board the handsome boats. When the weather allows, you can enjoy the view from an open-air top deck and there’s an enclosed saloon in the boat for when it’s a bit too cold to be outside.   

Self-drive boats are also available to hire if you fancy travelling along the river under your own steam - they hold up to eight people and you’re welcome to bring a picnic along with you. There are lots of riverside pubs and bars where you can watch the various boats go by with a glass of wine in your hand if you fancy staying on dry land. 

Plan your getaway to York

Plan your York getaway with Gorgeous Cottages

If you have been inspired to visit York and do some of these things for yourself, you’ll find a range of North Yorkshire holiday cottages to rest your head in. If you don’t fancy staying in the heart of the city there are some pretty villages in the nearby North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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