Day trips from York are so easy, with York located halfway by train between two of the United Kingdom’s most visited cities (London – two hours and Edinburgh, two and a half hours). The city is even closer to Leeds (25 minutes), Durham (40 minutes) and Sheffield (75 minutes), and well connected to many scenic North Yorkshire towns and villages.
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The historic walled city of York is one of England’s hottest tourist destinations. With a heritage dating back to the Vikings, York boasts one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals (York Minster), medieval shopping streets (The Shambles) and city walls which date back to Roman times.
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After you’ve explored the city, taking day trips from York is the perfect way to explore the scenic Yorkshire Dales and the spectacular North-East Coast, plus the ancient buildings and the thrilling history of England’s biggest and best county! (I may be a tad biased here). Just don’t forget your walking shoes and a warm coat!
How to Choose the Best Day Trips from York
There is so much to see and do in Yorkshire, it can be hard to choose what’s best to do, especially if you have limited time. After more than five years of living in and exploring North Yorkshire, I’ve picked locations that are very manageable from York. The only problem is they’re bound to make you want to come back again and again to explore more of Yorkshire!
1. Castle Howard
Castle Howard is a grand 17th-century country house designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, with extensive gardens. A mere half an hour from York city centre, this magnificent 145-room stately home was the location for the iconic 1981 British TV series Brideshead Revisited and for the 2008 screen adaption of the same Evelyn Waugh novel.
A real treat for history lovers, Castle Howard, is one of the most opulent buildings in Yorkshire. Entry to the House and Gardens is free if you buy a York Multi-Day Explorer Pass.
One of the top 10 buildings you must visit in your lifetimeThe Telegraph, 2018
Pro Tip: The 145-acre Yorkshire Arboretum, with its collection of more than six thousand rare trees, is located within
2. The North York Moors National Park
One of the best day trips from York for pure escapism is a visit to the magnificent North York Moors National Park. The natural beauty of Yorkshire’s vast national parks is one of the reasons millions of visitors flock to Yorkshire year after year.
Quaint little towns and villages seem to appear from nowhere in the North York Moors National Park, each unique and worthy of exploring. Traditional stone dwellings and ancient dry-stone walls hug the heather-clad hills and valleys, as far as the eye can see. The village of Helmsley, with the National Centre for Birds of Prey, is an exciting option for a day trip from York and the town of Malton is a paradise for foodies.
Pro Tip: Walking is the ultimate way to experience the Yorkshire countryside. Stop along the way to admire the views and enjoy hearty refreshments at the local pubs. Some of the most popular walks are the scenic, coastal Ravenscar Loop (1.5 miles), the famous Coast to Coast Walk (198 miles) from Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay and the short, scenic walk from Robin Hood’s Bay to Boggle Hole (3 miles).
If you don’t plan to hire a car, here are some of the best day trips from York to the North York Moors:
3. North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Dating back to 1836, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs from the pretty coastal town of Whitby through much of the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire.
The line closed in the mid 20th century, amid sweeping changes to the railway network, however, it reopened in 1973 as a heritage rail line, running restored steam trains. Today, more passengers use the North Yorkshire Moors Railway than any other heritage railway in Britain. It’s one of the busiest steam engine train lines in the world.
Pro Tip: The steam train from the old station at Pickering to Whitby is the perfect day out from York for steam train and Harry Potter fans. The train even passes through Hogsmeade Station!
Best Organised Tour: Moors, Whitby and the Yorkshire Steam Railway Tour from York
4. Harewood House
A short and scenic 45-minute drive from York (around 75 minutes by public transport) will get you to glorious Harewood House. Once the family home of the ‘Yorkshire Princess’, every aspect of Harewood is stunning, and you can easily spend a whole day here.
The house is a treasure trove of antiquities and art, but the real gem is ‘below stairs’ in the kitchens. If you’re Downton Abbey fan, you’ll adore Harewood, which was the location for the movie!
The gardens are a real highlight, with so much to entrance visitors. A short journey across the lake by chain-link ferry brings you to the vast kitchen gardens that burst with the freshest seasonal produce for the table.
Pro Tip: Watch out for the very Instagramable bridge and stepping stones in the Himalayan garden.
Further Reading: Visiting Harewood House – A Grand Yorkshire Day Out
5. Bolton Abbey
Picturesque Bolton Abbey tucked away in the verdant heart of Wharfedale in the glorious Yorkshire Dales, is one of the loveliest day trips from York. Just 60 minutes’ drive from York, there’s something here for all visitors, including 60 steppingstones across the river, an aqueduct, the rather fabulous Valley of Desolation and Simon’s seat, and Barden Tower.
Most famous though is the Priory Church and ruined Augustinian Priory which dates to 1154 form the heart of Bolton Abbey Estate. In 1539, King Henry VIII stripped the Priory of assets during the dissolution of the monasteries. Luckily, the wily old Prior negotiated with Thomas Cromwell to save the nave of the abbey as a place for local people to worship in, which they still do today.
Thirty thousand acres of lush green hills and 80 miles of well-marked footpaths surround the ruined Priory today, with plenty to explore.
The village has the same old-world charm as the abbey and many places to eat. There are award-winning restaurants, plus tea rooms and pubs offering substantial home-cooked dishes to recharge batteries tired after hiking.
Pro Tip: Try to find the Money Tree in the estate gardens.
Below are two tours I recommend, as they both include a visit to Bolton Abbey.
6. Bolton Castle
Not to be confused with Bolton Abbey, Bolton Castle in Wensleydale is one of Britain’s best-preserved medieval castles. It’s one of the best day trips from York for history lovers.
Uniquely, Bolton Castle is still owned by the original family who commissioned it way back in the 14th century.
Mary Queen of Scots, cousin of Queen Elizabeth the First, was the most famous resident of Bolton Castle. Elizabeth imprisoned Mary at Bolton Castle for six months from July 1568. Later, Elizabeth moved Mary to Tutbury, where she remained a prisoner until Elizabeth ordered her execution 18 years later.
Today, you can visit the apartments in the South-West Tower where Mary lived with her retinue of 30 servants.
There are also lovely gardens at Bolton Castle including a maze, a herb garden, a wildflower meadow, a rose garden and a vineyard. There are also regular falconry displays to enjoy.
Pro Tip: Bolton Castle is about a 75-minute drive from York. If you don’t want to drive, this Yorkshire Dales Day Trip from York provides a more leisurely way to visit, and a way to see much more of the Yorkshire countryside in one day.
The elegant Georgian/Victorian spa town of Harrogate exudes the class and style of a bygone era. Just 45 minutes from York on a direct train ride that takes you over the spectacular Knaresborough Viaduct, Harrogate is a top contender as one of the best day trips from York.
Regularly voted ‘Best Place to Live in the UK’, Harrogate is a charming town with interesting shops, heaps of Regency history and some of the best restaurants and coffee shops in North Yorkshire.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to visit the utterly fabulous Royal Baths, the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Harlow Carr and the iconic Betty’s tearoom for the most luxurious afternoon tea experience.
How to get there: Parking in Harrogate is expensive! Take the train direct to the centre of Harrogate from York station. The journey time is approx. 40 minutes, through beautiful Yorkshire countryside.
Tucked away deep in the harsh landscape of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Haworth is the countryside village famed as the birthplace and home of the Bronte sisters. Almost everything in this uber-quaint little village has a ‘Bronte’ twist to it, but it’s no bad thing.
Visit Haworth to see the Bronte Parsonage Museum and to learn more about the lives and writing of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, famous for Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Afterwards, linger to enjoy the village’s tearooms and maybe even take a trip on an old steam train too.
Pro Tip: Parking in Haworth can be tricky. Head for Oxenhope instead (SatNav BD22 9LB) and take the short steam train ride to Haworth instead.
Best Organised Tour: Haworth and Yorkshire Dales Day Trip from York
Perhaps best known for its soaring Victorian viaduct which spans the scenic River Nidd, pretty Knaresborough is a lovely town to visit. Wander along the riverside and maybe take a boat out (or stop for afternoon tea).
Then climb up to the ruined castle or visit Old Mother Shipton’s Cave (reputed to be Britain’s oldest tourist attraction). Time your visit for mid-June and you might get to see the annual madness of the Great Knaresborough Bed Race!
Pro Tip: The best view of the viaduct is from the paths around the castle, but come prepared, as it’s quite a steep climb up from the riverside. Sturdy shoes are essential!
How to get there: Knaresborough is easy to reach on day trips from York Central Station, as it’s on a direct train line, and the journey’s only 30
10. Kilburn White Horse
Kilburn is a small village, near to the town of Thirsk (famed as the home of the fictional vet, James Herriot). Kilburn’s claim to fame is the huge 150-year old white horse carved into the hillside near the village, inspired by the famous ancient white horses in the UK’s South Downs, including the Uffington white horse. Today, the figure measures 318 feet long by 220 ft high, covering about 1.6 acres of the hillside, making it the biggest and most northerly hill figure in England.
Pro Tip: While there’s a car park beneath the white horse, the best place to see the white horse is from Bagby Lane, just outside Thirsk.
The North York Moors and Whitby Day Trip from York includes the chance to see the Kilburn White Horse.
Perched high above the town on a windswept and desolate headland, you’ll find Whitby Abbey, the dramatic ruined 11th-century Benedictine monastery that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then there’s the ancient parish church of St Mary to visit if you can climb the 199 steps up to see it. Whitby is also famed as the 17th-century home of explorer Captain James Cook.
Pro Tip: Whitby is THE place to have ‘proper’ fish and chips (fries). Head for the Magpie Cafe at 1 Pier Road for fish straight from the fishing boats in the harbour, fried in the crispiest batter. It’s not posh, but it is unutterably delicious and the view is to die for.
Whitby isn’t easy to reach by public transport from York and, as a popular tourist town, parking can be challenging. Here are some tours of the North York Moors that include a visit to Whitby:
Best Organised Tours: Steam Train, Whitby and the North York Moors
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Yorkshire boasts two of the United Kingdom’s 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, both within easy reach of York.
Just one hour by road or train from York, Saltaire is on the outskirts of the city of Bradford, in West Yorkshire.
Saltaire Village is named after the Victorian philanthropist Sir Titus Salt who built a textile mill, known as Salts Mill on the River Aire, during the industrial revolution. Salt also built all the houses, bathhouses, institute, hospital, almshouses and churches, that make up the ‘model’ village of Saltaire. These well-preserved Victorian streets and buildings led to Saltaire achieving protected status under UNESCO.
From the moment you arrive in Saltaire on your day trip from York, it feels like you’ve stepped back in time to the Victorian era, but it’s not all about history. Salts Mill now houses an art gallery, packed with paintings by local artist David Hockney.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to explore the canals, lined with the historic mill buildings. It’s very reminiscent of the famous Speicherstadt area in Hamburg.
How to get there: Take the train from York station to Saltaire (via Leeds). Alternatively, book a hire car and enjoy a scenic drive through the Yorkshire Dales.
14. Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens
Founded in 1132 by Cistercian monks, Fountains Abbey is the largest and best-preserved monastery in England, but the UNESCO World Heritage status was awarded for the way that the 18th-century water garden at Studley Royal complements the ruined abbey, working with the landscape rather than changing it.
The waters of the River Skell wind past the abbey ruins into moon-shaped ponds and mirrored lakes, with formal hedges and laurel banks forming the perfect framing.
In addition to seeing the ruined abbey and the water gardens, make time to see the Elizabethan/Jacobean Fountains Hall, Fountains Mill and St Mary’s church, situated in the medieval deer park. You can easily fill a full day exploring here and still yearn to come back for more.
Pro Tip: There’s a FREE weekly Parkrun at 9.00am every Saturday at Fountains Abbey. It’s the perfect way to see somewhere beautiful and stay fit at the same time!
How to get there: If you don’t have a hire car, the trip by public transport is awful (there’s no direct train, so it’s buses all the way, with connections to negotiate). The stress-free option is to book the Yorkshire Dales and Fountains Abbey day trip from York.
Best Cities for Day Trips from York
Once the epitome of the expression ‘it’s grim up north’, in reality, the old industrial city of Leeds is warm, welcoming and vibrant with plenty of galleries, museums and exhibitions to tempt the culture vulture.
Shopaholics will love the half-mile of pedestrianised shopping. There’s also Harvey Nicholls and a spanking-new John Lewis store within the excellent Victoria Gate shopping and leisure area.
Check out Kirkgate Market, the largest covered market in Europe, plus the plethora of excellent pubs and restaurants. We recommend Fazenda (but only if you enjoy meat!).
A mere twenty miles away from York, the
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Leeds is one of the best places in the country to eat curry and to party. Try Mumtaz, Bengal Brasserie and My Lahore Leeds.
How to get there: Hop on a direct train from York, and you’ll be in Leeds in just 30 minutes.
Dreamy Durham is an hour and a half’s drive north from York, and conveniently on the train line from York to Edinburgh. Condé Nast’s Traveller magazine readers voted Durham the ‘Best city in the UK’.
One of Britain’s most picturesque cities, thanks to its many beautiful buildings, Durham has a fascinating history and is a superb choice for a day trip from York.
A perfect little cityBill Bryson
Durham’s castle and vaulted, Romanesque cathedral are UNESCO World Heritage sites. You’ll also find ancient university colleges plus botanical gardens and an Oriental Museum exhibiting Asian, Egyptian and Middle Eastern artefacts.
Pro Tip: Durham is a city where you’ll want to ‘mooch’. Take time to stroll the winding cobbled streets, explore the fascinating, unique shops and luxuriate in the choice of independent tearooms, coffee shops and cafes.
Further afield, you might also like to visit
- Wakefield – for Wakefield Cathedral, the Hepworth Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the simply awesome National Coal Mining Museum
- Sheffield – for the best shopping in the North, the Millennium Gallery, the Winter Garden, Botanical Gardens and Kelham Island Museum.
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Have I included your favourite day trips from York here? Do let me know in the comments if you’ve got more recommendations! As always, I love to hear from you