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Regularly voted one of the top places to visit in Britain, York is an ancient walled city in northern England, located halfway between London and Edinburgh. It’s one of my favourite cities all year around, but there’s an extra dusting of magic to York at Christmas.
For the last eight years (barring the lost pandemic years), I’ve visited York annually during the festive period, and I’ve discovered the best things to do in York at Christmas – with kids, as a couple and as a solo traveller.
York has Christmas experiences to delight every visitor, from entertaining shows and marvellous markets to splendid shopping and fantastic food.
17 Wonderful Things to do in York at Christmas
York is a fabulous city to explore, with both Roman and Viking roots and plenty of evidence of both around the city.
Many of the city’s street names come from the Vikings: they usually end in the word ‘gate’ – from the Old Norse word ‘gata’, which means ‘street’.
‘Castlegate’, for example, is the street leading up to the castle and ‘Swinegate’ is where the pigs were kept.
The York City Pass is the best way to save money on things to do in York. It allows you to see multiple tourist attractions at a substantial discount to separate admission charges.
Are you ready to explore York at Christmas? After all, it has just been voted as one of the top five Christmas markets around the world!
1. Take a Guided Walk Around the City
If you’re new to York or unfamiliar with the city, a Christmas Walking Tour is one of the best ways to orient yourself and discover some of York’s best-loved festive attractions.
Try a Guided Bike Tour of York if you fancy something a little more active.
2. Browse The York Christmas Markets
One of the best things to do in York at Christmas is browse the city’s Christmas markets, where the smells of street food and mulled wine waft tantalisingly in the air as the bright lights of the stalls draw you closer.
St Nicholas Market
St Nicholas Christmas Market on Parliament Street (or St Nicholas’s Fair) has been part of Christmas in York since 1992.
The traditional wooden stalls host over 100 vendors selling a wide variety of handmade arts and crafts, personalised gifts, homeware, Christmassy food and drink. There’s always a cart selling roasted chestnuts, an ice rink, a carousel, and a Santa visit.
Although the market is less crowded in the daytime, the most atmospheric time to visit is early evening. It’s busier, but the experience is magical when night falls, and the cabins light up.
The Shambles Market
The narrow medieval cobbled street known as the Shambles has a regular market throughout the year. At Christmas, the Shambles is transformed into a glorious wonderland of twinkling lights and eye-catching decorations.
Make sure to visit the flower stall at the entrance to the Shambles, where you can pick up small Christmas trees, poinsettias, and flowers for your Christmas arrangements.
3. Refuel at Thor’s Tipi
Thor’s Tipi is a Viking-style tent open daily on Parliament Street, from 10 am until 11 pm each Christmas. It’s a lively spot for a hot beverage or one of the speciality local ales and stouts.
Thor’s is extremely popular, so you’ll probably have to queue for drinks at the bar, but there’s always space by the Viking fire pit.
4. Buy Exquisite Decorations In York’s Christmas Shops
York is obsessed with Christmas and has two Christmas shops that are busy all year round. One of the most popular things to do in York for Christmas is to buy new festive decorations for your tree or home.
The Nutcracker Christmas Shop, halfway along the Shambles, has a life-size nutcracker soldier by its doorstep and is a cornucopia of Christmas tree decorations, candles, lights, and many nutcrackers!
In nearby Stonegate, Kaethe Wohlfahrt is a traditional German Christmas shop packed with exquisite Christmas items, including beautiful nativity sets and an incredible array of shiny baubles.
There’s also a whole floor dedicated to intricately carved cuckoo clocks.
5. Join A Mesmerising York Minster Carol Service
York Minster is the awe-inspiring 7th-century cathedral in the centre of York. On selected dates in December, you can attend spell-binding Christmas carol services sung by the choir of York Minster.
Listen to the 14 great bells in the South Tower ring out as you enter the building, sing carols along with the congregation, and listen to timeless readings of the Christmas story in this vast and beautiful sacred space.
Don’t forget to look up to see the spectacular three-metre-wide Advent wreath suspended in the Minster’s Central Tower.
All the Christmas services at York Minster are ticketed and unbelievably popular, so you MUST book early. Tickets sell out like hotcakes!
6. The York Minster Christmas Tree Festival
The Minster’s Christmas Tree Festival is set within the grounds of the cathedral, with around 40 beautiful trees decorated by local businesses, schools and charities.
Visitors vote for their favourite tree in the ‘best-dressed’ tree competition. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Event dates: Mid-November to early January, 10 am – 7 pm
7. The Winter Village at York Minster
New for York at Christmas 2022, the Winter Village at York Minster‘s Great South Door will feature decorative wooden cabins offering food, drinks, gifts and seating with perfect views of the Minster.
Event dates: Mid-November to early January, 10 am – 7 pm
8. Enjoy The Winter Lights In York At Christmas
The festive lights switch-on in the city centre is a popular event, and York’s Winter lights are truly spectacular.
Known as Winter Lights rather than Christmas lights, York’s illuminations brighten up the city from mid-November until the end of February, so you may be able to enjoy the lights even if you’re not able to visit York for Christmas.
York’s city walls have four ‘bars’ (Bootham Bar, Micklegate Bar, Monk Bar, and Walmgate Bar) These original entrances or gatehouses into the old walled city are draped in twinkling white lights in the winter, looking like sparkling chainmail.
The narrow city lanes are strung with lights, while the main squares and shopping streets blaze from the ornate designs hanging between the buildings.
Outside the Minster and nearby St Michael le Belfrey, the trees are adorned with lights, while the Magical Tree of Light outside the York Castle Museum is wrapped in 1km of lights.
9. Experience A Medieval Christmas At Barley Hall
Visiting Barley Hall is a treat when visiting York at Christmas. This medieval townhouse in the middle of York was completely refurbished in the 1990s to demonstrate what life was like in medieval York.
Book a St Nicholas Christmas Feast for the chance to eat as people did in the Middle Ages!
10. Have a Sparkly Tipple at Yorkshire Gin
If spending a couple of hours sampling award-winning gins in a 17th-century historic building sounds like your thing, book a gin-tasting evening class with the gin experts at York Gin. Alternatively, opt for a boozy York Gin Afternoon Tea.
11. Visit Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland
Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland at the York Designer Outlet runs from November to early January each year, with the largest outdoor ice rink in the North of England and an incredible 30ft high Christmas tree.
Next to the ice rink, an alpine-themed café serves tasty snacks and mulled wine. There’s also a vintage funfair with exciting rides and Santa’s log cabin. After visiting Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland, drop into the York Designer Outlet for those last-minute gifts!
12. Watch The Snowman In York Minster
York Minster is one of the most unique places to see the family-favourite movie – The Snowman, especially as a live orchestra accompanies it with some of the UK’s finest musicians.
You can also enjoy the sensational new Shaun the Sheep film The Flight Before Christmas, staged with a live orchestra for the first time. Book tickets for reserved seats in the central nave here.
Event date: Saturday, the 10th of December 2022, at 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm.
13. Experience A Pantomime
Going to the pantomime (or ‘panto’) is a British institution, and the two theatres in York put on a great show every year. Going to the pantomime is the perfect evening entertainment to wrap up a festive day exploring York.
For Christmas 2022, the pantomimes you can book tickets for are:
Grand Opera House York: ‘Old Granny Goose‘ will run from the 10th of December until the 8th of January 2023.
Theatre Royal York: The ‘All New Adventures of Peter Pan‘ will run from the 2nd of December to the 2nd of January 2023
13. Experience a Fairytale Christmas at Castle Howard
For Christmas 2022, Castle Howard’s grand rooms will be transformed into magical forests and faraway kingdoms, with the sound of glass slippers on ballroom floors and the echoes of horse-drawn pumpkins.
Grown-up visitors will enjoy shopping for stylish, unique gifts, delicious local produce, and British-grown Christmas trees, while children can meet Santa in the main house.
Top Tip: Stop for a festive afternoon tea, take in the magical surroundings with a glass of mulled wine after dark, and then enjoy the winter light displays and twinkling Christmas trees.
Admission to Castle Howard is included with the 2/3 day York City Pass; however, you must pre-book your visit over Christmas.
14. The Gingerbread House
Since Christmas 2019, the 18th-century official residence of the Lord Mayor of York – the Mansion House – has hosted an event called ‘The Gingerbread House’, with a gingerbread trail, dressing-up box, mulled wine and gingerbread treats.
Tickets to the Mansion House include the Gingerbread House experience; these can be booked online in advance or upon arrival; however, the most budget-friendly way to see this attraction is with the York City Pass.
15. National Railway Museum’s Santa’s Steam Adventure
Santa’s Steam Adventure at the fabulous (and free) National Railway Museum is during the festive period. This interactive story takes place on a journey to the North Yorkshire Pole to ensure Santa receives his postbag in time for Christmas.
Top Tip: While visiting York at Christmas will be cold, it’s a beautiful, historic city with festivities to enjoy day and night. Wrap up well with a warm coat, woolly hat and sturdy flat-heeled boots (cobbled streets!), then let York work its magic on you.
Directions to York
The nearest international airports to York are Manchester and Edinburgh.
By train: York station is around 2 hours from London and Manchester and 2 1/2 hours from Edinburgh.
Where to Stay in York
If you’re planning to stay in York for a day or longer (you should), staying in the city centre is the best way to get a proper feel for this beautiful city.
We recommend the following hotels in York:
The Grand Hotel, York: A 5-star hotel located in a historic building, moments from the centre of York. With a luxury vaulted spa, exceptional restaurant, and stylish bedrooms with extra-comfy beds. Check availability at the Grand Hotel here.
The Dean Court: Located just 200 yards from York Minster, this lovely hotel offers private parking (a huge luxury in York), a breakfast room with views of the Minster, and sumptuous guest rooms. A real find! Check availability at the Dean Court here.
Wrap Up – Things to Do in York at Christmas 2022
There are many things to do in York at Christmas, from the York Christmas Market to the historic buildings, York Minster and incredible places to eat. You could easily spend a week in the city and not see everything. If you have the luxury of time, do plan a multi-day visit!
Pro Tip: If it’s your first trip to York, the winding, narrow maze of city centre streets and their names might be confusing. Download a city map before you visit York or pick one up from the tourist information office at 1 Museum Street when you arrive.
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If you’re thinking of visiting Yorkshire or just want to read more about the county, take a look at what else I’ve written about it.
Now you can visit York as a part of a UK tour. This five-day tour departs from central London and is an excellent way to see the highlights of England.
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