The historic city of York is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK. Briefly the capital of the Roman Empire, this is a city where you can find history around every corner. From the stunning Cathedral of York Minster to the virtual time machine of York Castle Museum to the fascinating industrial exhibits at the National Railway Museum, you'll find plenty to keep you occupied here. And even outside York city walls, you can see more than just York's history by exploring the incredible natural surroundings of the city.
In fact, there's so much to do here that a single weekend in York is never going to do more than scratch the surface of what this northern city has to offer. However, if you only have 3 days in York, this itinerary can help. Think of this guide as a prompt for further exploration. Pick and choose what most appeals to you, and don't forget to leave some time to explore for yourself. After all, York has so much to offer that there's something to keep just about everyone happy.
First things first. Drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage so that you can travel light and see more of the city. Leaving your belongings behind will make it much easier to visit York and enjoy the best of what it has to offer.
Start your day with a quick visit to one of York's top attractions, the Jorvik Viking Centre. This unique museum - one of the best museums in York - gives you a glimpse into what life was like in the city during the Viking era. You'll even get to ride through a reconstruction of Viking-age York on a time machine!
This attraction uses animatronic models to re-create the sights and sounds of the Viking age. In fact, it even re-creates the smells, too. It's a truly fascinating place to visit, and one you should definitely make time for. However, this is one of the city's most popular attractions, so it's a good idea to book in advance to save yourself some time, especially during the school holidays. The York Pass includes admission to the Viking Center, so can save you some time and money on your visit.
Once you've had your fill of Vikings, it's time to explore some more of York's history. The best place to do this is at the York Minster, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe. Admire the beautiful architecture, take a look at the fascinating artifacts on display, and climb 275 steps to the top of the tower for breathtaking views over the city. The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of York Minster, to give it its full name, has been the spiritual heart of York since it was built in the 7th century, and it's easy to see why. It's a truly stunning building, and a place you simply can't miss on a trip to York.
After spending a busy day exploring York, you'll no doubt be ready for some dinner. Fortunately, York has no shortage of great places to eat. For something truly special, head to Ristorante da Gino for some delicious Italian food. This restaurant has been serving up authentic Italian cuisine for more than 40 years, so you can be sure that you're getting the real deal. Make sure to try one of their tiramisus for dessert – it's out of this world!
After a good night's sleep, it's time to explore more of York. Start your day with a visit to the National Railway Museum. Here you can learn all about the history of rail travel in the UK and see some of the country's most iconic locomotives up close. It's a great place for both adults and kids, and it's completely free to enter.
Located inside York's central train station, the National Railway Museum is an obvious choice for existing railway fans. But even those with less interest in rail travel will be impressed by the variety of what there is to see here, and the insight you can get into the history of the city from this specialized museum. For example, the museum is home to one of the only Japanese bullet trains outside of Asia. It also houses Stephenson's rocket, one of the earliest locomotives ever built and a machine that changed the world. Younger kids will love taking a ride on the miniature railway, while older kids will get a thrill from riding on the footplate of the world's fastest locomotive in the virtual-reality simulation inside the museum. You could even enjoy afternoon tea in a restored historic railway carriage to see how British aristocrats used to travel.
In the afternoon, take some time to explore York's Castle Museum. This fascinating museum is located in an old prison, and it tells the stories of some of the people who have been incarcerated there over the years. The Castle Museum is included in the York Pass, so if you've already got one then you can save yourself some money on your visit.
This is no stuffy museum. Costumed actors bring the past to life, and you can travel through 400 years of the city's history at this unique attraction. The shops of the recreated Victorian street are the perfect place to buy souvenirs you won't find anywhere else and experience some of the best shopping in York, and kids are guaranteed to have a great time at the old-fashioned sweet shop. The old prison cells offer an encounter with the darker side of York's history as you hear the stories of the prisoners incarcerated here through the years. You can also learn about more recent history as you explore the part of York Castle Museum devoted to the swinging 60s in the city.
All in all, it's a whirlwind tour through some of the eras that have shaped the city, and a great place to get a better understanding of why York is the way it is while being entertained.
After another busy day exploring York, it's time to relax and enjoy some of the city's nightlife. For a truly unique experience, head to the Ghost Walk of York. This guided tour will take you through the streets of the haunted city after dark, and you'll hear tales of ghosts, witches, and other supernatural beings that are said to haunt the city. It's a great way to learn about York's history and get a little bit scared at the same time!
On your final day in York, make sure to visit Clifford's Tower. This iconic castle is one of the most visited attractions in the city, and it's easy to see why. Situated atop a hill in the center of York, Clifford's Tower offers breathtaking views of the city below. You can also learn about the castle's bloody history, as it was once the site of a massacre of hundreds of Jews during Medieval times.
After exploring Clifford's Tower, take some time to explore the city walls. York's city walls were originally built by the Romans, but most of what remains dates back to the medieval period. As you explore the walls on a well-marked walking tour, you'll get great views of the city, and you'll also be able to find time to explore other historic monuments close to the walls, including The Shambles, possibly the best-preserved medieval street in the world. You may have already explored this atmospheric area on a ghost tour, but seeing it during the day gives this beautiful location an entirely different vibe.
Once you're done exploring the ancient city walls, you'll probably have worked up an appetite. There are restaurants serving just about everything in York, from old-fashioned afternoon tea to the latest international fusion cuisine. Pop into Forest, just a few steps away from York Minster, to enjoy a rustic restaurant that's full of the historic charm you'd expect in this area.
Hopefully you had a filling lunch, but this next attraction will prove that there's always room for something sweet. York's Chocolate Story is a chocolate shop that also functions as a museum, taking you on a tour through the history of chocolate production from its South American origins to the multibillion-dollar industry it is today. Great for family fun, this attraction includes a chocolate-making workshop where you can make your own delicious creations to take home with you. You'll also get to try a huge variety of hot chocolate in the museum café afterward, making York Chocolate Story a delicious attraction that appeals to people of all ages.
If chocolate isn't your thing, you could learn more about the history of one of the most distinct regions of England at the Yorkshire Museum. This museum is devoted to the history of the county of Yorkshire, and it houses a wide variety of artifacts from prehistoric times up to the present day. You can learn about the Roman occupation of Yorkshire, see Viking artifacts, and even explore an interactive exhibit on the Victorian era. The Yorkshire Museum is a great place to learn about the distinct history and culture of this region.
After a busy day of exploring York, you'll probably be ready for a quiet evening. Fortunately, the city has no shortage of pubs and bars where you can enjoy a pint of local beer or cider while relaxing with friends. One such pub is The Blue Bell, which has been serving up drinks since 1698. This historic watering hole is located in The Shambles, and it's the perfect place to enjoy a pint while people-watching in this atmospheric medieval street.
Alternatively, you could enjoy a performance at one of York's theaters. The Grand Opera House is the city's main theater, and it offers a wide variety of shows, from musicals to stand-up comedy. Or, for something a little different, check out the Ghost Stories at York's historic castle for a spine-tingling performance that's sure to send a chill down your spine.
It's the city's lengthy history and the astonishing legacy it has left that brings most of York's 8 million annual tourists to the city. With stunning locations like York Minster, St. Mary's Abbey, and York city walls to be admired, visiting York can feel very much like taking a trip back in time. And with its fun ghost walks, quirky chocolate museum, and great shopping along The Shambles, you can build a weekend in York around the history of the city and still have plenty of fun activities ahead of you.
But this northern England city located on the River Ouse has more to offer than just the past. You'll also find exceptional restaurants, great shopping, and fun things to do at night. So whether you're more interested in seeing the grandeur of York Minster or enjoying a pint or three in the shadow of York's city walls, you'll be able to build a York itinerary that reflects your interests.
Hopefully this guide has given you a little inspiration on how to spend your time in this Viking city. Drop off your bags at a luggage locker in York and get ready to see why this is one of the most touristed cities in the whole of the UK.