Kaethe Wohlfahrt - the traditional German Christmas shop in York

Is York Worth Visiting? 21 Best Things to Do & Reasons to Visit

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Are you wondering, “is York worth visiting in 2023”? This guide will help you decide if you’re considering a trip to York in the UK. We’ll cover some of the city’s top attractions and things to do, where to stay, and how to get around.

I’ve lived in Yorkshire for almost a decade and visit York frequently, so I have the inside track on what’s worth seeing and doing in this incredible medieval city.

By the end of this post, you should have a good idea of whether or not York is right for your next vacation.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!

Is York Worth Visiting In 2023?

In a nutshell, YES! York is a superb city to visit!!

With many historical attractions, Harry Potter connections, and iconic British landmarks, York is a great place to visit.

Beautiful York Minster

This is especially true if you’re a history buff or love exploring cities rather than venturing out in the rugged outdoors, though the wild and beautiful North York Moors are not far from the city centre for a memorable day trip.

As the capital city of the North Yorkshire region, York is a charming city in the heart of North Yorkshire, often overlooked by travellers on their way to bigger and more famous destinations around England.

Ghost tours in York

Save $$$ With The York Pass

Save money on entry to top York attractions, including York Minster, York City Cruises, JORVIK Viking Centre, York Dungeon, and more with the York City Pass!

Visitors to this historic city are rewarded with unique experiences that simply can’t be found anywhere else. From exploring the winding medieval alleyways of the Shambles to sampling Fat Rascals at Bettys Tea Rooms, York has something for everyone.

So, if you’re still pondering “is York worth visiting”, we can confidently say it’s fabulous!

Is York worth visiting? Yes - you can go and see the fabulous York Chocolate story where there's a street scene showing life in Victorism York
Is York worth visiting? Absolutely – check out this spooky street scene from the York Chocolate Story!

21 Best Things to Do and See in York in 2023

This historic British city – the land of Vikings and Romans, Kings, chocolate and stunning architecture – has so much to offer. Here are some of York’s top tourist attractions and things we recommend you do while visiting York:

1. Visit York Minster

Visiting York Minster for evensong is one of the best things to do in York UK at night
The incredible chancel and choir stalls in York Minster

This stunning 12th-century cathedral dominates York’s skyline and is a must-see when visiting the city.

With its intricate stonework and stunning stained glass windows, it’s no wonder this place – the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe – attracts over 2 million visitors every year.

Pro Tip: A tower tour is a great way to enjoy the best views over the centre of York. You’ll need to get there early and book your tour when you arrive, as this is one of the most popular things to do in York, and places fill up fast!

2. Go on a ghost walk

The Bloody Tour of York
Spooky York at Night

York has a reputation as one of the UK’s most haunted cities, so why not embrace it? Take a ghost tour to around some of the spookiest locations in town – just don’t forget your garlic.

3. Take a Scenic River Cruise

River Ouse in York in North Yorkshire in a beautiful summer day, England, United Kingdom
River Ouse in York in North Yorkshire on a beautiful summer day, England, United Kingdom

A leisurely cruise down the River Ouse in central York is the ideal way to see some of the city’s main attractions from a different perspective. Pick from a scenic daytime cruise or a romantic and atmospheric evening cruise.

4. Explore Clifford’s Tower

Is York worth visting? You get to see Clifford's Tower - a huge stone fortified tower on the top of a hill, standing guard over the City of York
The imposing Norman fortification of Clifford’s Tower in spring

The only remaining part of William the Conqueror’s magnificent York Castle, Clifford’s Tower has played many roles throughout history.

Since Roger de Clifford built it, this tower has been a royal mint, prison, and even an air raid shelter during World War II – but today, it stands tall as one of York’s most iconic landmarks.

5. York Castle Museum

Centuries before Buckingham Palace became the official residence for British monarchs, King John lived in the secure keep at York Castle. While the castle is long ruined, you can learn about a thousand years of York’s turbulent history at York Castle Museum.

6. Jorvik Viking Centre

Step back in time at Jorvik to the 9th century when England fell to the Vikings, and York became a vital settlement – becoming the second largest British city of the time.

7. The York Chocolate Story

Discovering the story of York ad chocolate - with an image of all the different flavours of chocolate from around the world
The chocolate tasting wheel at the York Chocolate story

Learn about York’s role in bringing chocolate to the world in this interactive and engaging museum. You can also make your own chocolate treats at the end of your tour before browsing the gift shop for delicious handmade chocolates to take home!

8. Head down to the York Cold War Bunker

Uncover Britain’s Cold War’s secret and chilling history at the most modern English Heritage property. Walk through the blast-proof doors to investigate the more unusual side of York’s heritage.

In active use from the 1960s to the 1990s, the bunker was a nerve centre to monitor any fallout from a nuclear attack. 

9. Discover the city’s gruesome past at York Dungeon

Walk through 2,000 years of York’s history and meet famous characters from York’s dark past, including Vikings and Guy Fawkes! The York Castle dungeon will make you laugh and scream!

10. Take a stroll on top of the medieval city walls

Mickelgate Bar, York in Winter
Mickelgate Bar (or gate) in the York City Walls

It’s not every day that you can walk on ancient fortifications with Roman origins. York City Walls are approximately 2 miles long and offer breathtaking city views. It’s an excellent opportunity to work off your afternoon tea and one of the most popular free things to do in York!

11. Visit the Shambles

The medieval streets of the Shambles are an essential place to visit on a weekend break in York, England
The medieval Shambles in central York

The Shambles is one of the most famous streets in England, and for good reason too! With its narrow cobbled streets and overhanging timber-framed buildings dating back as far as the 14th century.

12. Take afternoon tea at Betty’s Tea Rooms

Tasty treats at Bettys Tea Rooms in York
Tasty treats at Betty’s Tea Room in York

For something quintessentially British, look no further than Betty’s Tea Rooms.

This charming cafe has served traditional afternoon tea since 1919 and offers everything from scones with clotted cream to dainty finger sandwiches – all served on fine china and crisp white linen tablecloths.

13. Go trainspotting in style at the National Railway Museum

Chinese steam train at the National Railway Museum, York
A Chinese steam train at the National Railway Museum in York

A short walk from York train station will take you to this cavernous Yorkshire museum, which has over 100 examples of rolling stock, including a carriage made for Queen Victoria. The main attraction is the famous Flying Scotsman train.

With free entry, visiting the National Railway Museum is one of the first things many families like to do on a day trip to York – perfect if it’s raining!

14. Have a pint at one of the many historic pubs in York

The House of the Trembling Madness - one of the many characterful pubs in York England
The House of the Trembling Madness is one of the many characterful pubs in York England

Ye Olde Starre Inn pub claims to be the oldest licensed premises in York (dating back to 1644), so it’d be rude not to stop by for a drink. The interior is cosy and full of character – just what you’d expect from such an ancient establishment.

Other characterful pubs in York include the wonderfully eccentric House of the Trembling Madness, the Evil Eye, and the historical Guy Fawkes Inn near York Minster, where the pub food is excellent.

15. Find all the cats on the York Cat Trail

Following the York Cat Trail is an enjoyable thing to do on a weekend in York, UK
Will you spot all of the cats on the York Cat Trail?

Cat lovers will find York worth a visit, as cats have been symbols of luck for centuries in the city. You’ll soon see that many properties sport feline decorations.

The popularity of cats in York dates to the days of timber houses, when vermin carried diseases, including plague, and could destroy entire buildings by knawing at the wood. Cats were kept to ward off evil spirits and keep rats at bay!

You can download the lucky cat trail map here.

16. Check out the York Roman Baths

Pop into the Roman Bath Museum in York to discover the Roman roots of this old city. You will see the Tepidarium (warm room), Caldarium (hot steam room), and Frigidarium (cold plunge room) used by occupying Roman forces two thousand years ago!

Pro Tip: It’s easy to spot this small museum on your first day in York, as it’s located beneath the Roman Bath Pub!

17. Have a flutter at York Race Course

Watching horses racing around York Racecourse

Going to the races in York has been popular since the time of Roman Emperor Severus, however, the city did not fully support horse racing until 1530!

Today, York is one of the premier racecourses in Yorkshire, rated top in The Times newspaper survey of all Britain’s racecourses. So, if you fancy getting dressed up, sipping a glass of bubbly and watching some of the best horseracing in the country, check the racing fixtures here.

Pro Tip: For the best deal on entry tickets to 20 of York’s top tourist attractions, we recommend you buy a York City Pass. You’ll save a ton of time and money compared to buying separate admission tickets!

York Minster Interir with intricate wood carvings and beautiful stained galss windows
Look at the stunning interior of York Minster!

There we have it, folks; seventeen fantastic things to do whilst exploring beautiful York – one of the top attractions in North Yorkshire!

Where is York?

York is located in Northern England, in the large, rural county of North Yorkshire. The city is around 2 1/2 hours from London by train and 3 hours from Edinburgh by train.

What is York famous for?

York is best known for its magnificent 12th century Minster – the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It’s also regarded as the most haunted city in Europe.

Chocolate was the most significant industry in York until recently, with almost every family in the city connected to the world-famous chocolate brands.

York is also known for the huge number of pubs in the city, many of which are quirky and historical, including the Guy Fawkes Inn, where Guy Fawkes was born in the shadow of York Minster, and the Golden Fleece, which is reputed to be the most haunted pub in York 💀

The House of the Trembling Madness - one of the many characterful pubs in York England

🥃 Best Pub Tour in York

Visit the most fascinating pubs in York, with a knowledgeable local guide on this Guided Historic Pub Tour.

Foodies will love a trip to the medieval Shambles, where foods from around the globe await hungry visitors. If you’re wondering, “what food is York famous for?” the answer is the Yorkshire pudding!

If time allows, putting on your finery for a day out at the York races or taking a day trip to the North Yorkshire Coast is a must.

A few more reasons why York is worth visiting include the historic (and reputedly haunted) Treasurer’s House and the Merchant Adventurers Hall – the oldest guildhall in Great Britain.

York is a bustling, active city that will not disappoint visitors.

Take a stroll along the York City Walls and get the best view of York Minster
The perfect first glimpse of York Minster – from the York City Walls

Best Time To Visit York United Kingdom

The best times to visit York are Easter, during the summer when the weather is warm and pleasant, Halloween, and Christmastime.

Spring is the perfect time to enjoy Cherry Blossom in the city – look out for the beautiful trees below the City Wall by the train station and those near York Minster.

Summer is ideal for romantic picnics in St. Mary’s Abbey’s ruins, riverside strolls, and river cruises. Hiring one of York’s little red boats for a potter along the river is fun.

York is certainly worth visiting for Halloween, with plenty of ghost tours to pick from. The leaves will be changing colour, and the nights drawing in, and while the real chill of winter won’t have arrived yet, you’ll want to dress warmly.

Christmas in York is spectacular, with award-winning festive markets, pretty lights and an unbeatable ambience. If you want to experience the magic of a carol service at York Minster (and you really should), you’ll need to book early, as these events sell out fast. Consider staying a few extra days to really soak it all in.

No matter when you visit, York is a fabulous city that’s always bustling with activities.

How Many Days In York Is Enough?

You could easily spend a week in York and still find things to do. However, 3-4 days are enough to see the city’s main sights if you’re short on time.

If you only have one day to spare, a single day in York is doable. We recommend buying a one-day York City Pass and focusing on the city centre to see the most highly-rated attractions.

The most popular things to do during one day in York include:

  • Walking along the City Walls from the train station to Bootham Bar
  • Exploring York Minster (don’t forget to book the tower tour when you arrive)
  • Visiting Jorvik or the York Chocolate Story
  • Finding somewhere to eat (Guy Fawkes pub or Gert’s Fish & Chips in the Shambles are great options)
  • Wandering through the Shambles
  • Climbing Clifford’s Tower for superb city views
  • Taking an evening river cruise for incredible views of the city at sunset, or going on a spooky ghost walk

Where To Stay In York

York has great accommodation options within the city and nearby. For a hotel close to the city’s main tourist attractions, you’ll want to stay in the centre of York to make the most of the best restaurants, shopping, and nightlife options.

Our favourite hotel in York is the Grand Hotel. This luxury 5 star hotel offers a peaceful oasis of calm and refinement after a day of city exploration. The Grand Hotel is a very short walk from York train station, with fabulous views of the city walls.

➡️ Top Luxury York Hotel: Grand Hotel
➡️ Top Mid-Budget York Hotel: The Dean Court (200m from York Minster)

How To Get Around York

Getting around York on foot or by bicycle is easy, and the city’s bus system is efficient. You should avoid driving into the city centre, as the streets are congested, and parking is expensive.

If you stay in the city centre, most places are within walking distance; however, if you want the freedom to explore more of North Yorkshire, renting a car or looking at guided tours are good options.

FAQs – Is York Worth Visiting

This collection of questions people often ask should help you plan your trip if you’re still asking yourself the question “is York worth visiting?”:

What is the York Pass?

The York Pass includes admission to York Minster, City Cruises York, JORVIK Viking Centre, The York Dungeon, Van Gogh Immersive Experience, York City Sightseeing, and much more!
Each York Pass also comes with a free 24 Hour hop-on hop-off bus tour plus a choice of three pasta or pizza dishes at ASK Italian Restaurant, York.

Is the York Pass worth it?

Yes, the cost of a York Pass is less than the cost of individual admission charges to the city’s main tourist attractions.

How far is York from London?

York is around 220 miles from London. Driving from London to York takes around 4 hours (depending on traffic conditions), whereas the London to York train journey takes from 2 to 3 hours.

How many days do you need in York?

While you can see some of the most popular tourist attractions in one day, York is worth visiting for 3 to 4 days to see more of the city.

Is York a good city break?

Yes, York is one of the best city breaks in the UK, thanks to the wide variety of things for visitors to do, and the high quality of accommodation and restaurants in the city.

Is there a lot to do in York?

York is packed with things to do and see. Whether you love history and culture, independent shops, romantic breaks, city cruises or great pubs and restaurants for evenings out, York has plenty to offer!

Is York a walkable city?

The historic city centre is best explored on foot. It’s compact and very walkable.

Is a day in York enough?

Is York worth visiting for one day? Absolutely! If you only have one day to spare, you can get a good introduction to York in one day, and see a number of the main attractions, as they are all located close together.

Is York a cheap city?

In general, York is far less expensive than many other UK cities, such as London and Edinburgh; however, one person’s idea of cheap can be another’s idea of expensive!

Is York a beautiful city?

York is stunning and worth visiting for the Instagram-worthy sights at every turn. Don’t forget to charge your phone/camera fully to take plenty of photos!

Can you get around York without a car?

Absolutely! In fact, you should try to avoid driving into the city and use public transport instead, as York is a small city, and it’s easy to get around on foot or by bike.
If you visit York for the first time, a guided walking tour will help you get your bearings around the narrow streets and historical landmarks.

Is York a friendly city?

Absolutely, Yorkshire folk are very welcoming and friendly.

Is York a safe city?

York is one of the safest cities to visit in the UK and a brilliant tourist destination.

Is York cheaper than London?

In a word, yes! The cost of living in “the north” is considerably lower than it is in London, and this means you’ll pay less for hotels, restaurants and more in York.

Was Harry Potter filmed in York?

York station was a film location for Harry Potter; however, the Shambles was NOT the film location for Diagon Alley (although it REALLY should have been!). There are plenty of fabulous Harry Potter themed stores in York to keep any Potterheads happy though, including the Shop That Must Not Be Named.

Is Diagon Alley based on the Shambles in York?

While JK Rowling confirmed on Twitter that Diagon Alley was not based on any location in the UK, we think that the Shambles is exactly what she had in mind, with it’s quirky winding streets, ancient buildings and incredible atmosphere.

What cities are near York?

The nearest cities to York are Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Is York a safe night out?

York is a popular and safe city for a night out. As many of the city’s streets are cobbled, you’ll probably not want to wear high heeled shoes though!

Is York Minster worth visiting?

Absolutely yes! It’s one of the most beautiful and most ancient cathedrals in the world and one of the York must see places.

Look out for the incredible Rose Window and the beautiful “Heart of Yorkshire” window when you visit.

How many people visit York a year?

According to Make it York, over 8 million people visit York each year, contributing almost £800 million to the local economy. York loves visitors!

Conclusion: Is York Worth Visiting?

If you’re looking for a charming and historic city with plenty of unique attractions and much history, York is worth visiting. It’s one of the UK’s best cities for a long weekend break.

This beautiful city has something for everyone, from the ancient York walls and stunning Minster to quirky shops and lively pubs. And let’s not forget the delicious food!

Just make sure you bring your walking shoes (or rent a bike) to explore all York offers.

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Is York worth visiting? Beautiful 12th century York Minster benath a cloudy sky, the atmospheric York pub known as the House of the Trembling Madness and the atmosphric narrow streets of the Shambles are just some of the reasons to visit York

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