Even by British standards, the English city of York has a history that goes back a long, long way. In fact, this Northern city was even briefly the capital of the Roman Empire. And it's this long and rich history that brings many visitors to York every year.
But York's history may not be as big of a draw to kids as it is to adults. Luckily, there's plenty to do in this historic city that will keep kids entertained. Even if you're visiting the city with younger kids, you won't have too much trouble finding activities the whole family can enjoy. Whether that's visiting the best museums in York for kids or having a thrilling experience at local theme parks, you'll find plenty to do in and around York to keep your family occupied.
Traveling with the family often means carrying a ton of heavy bags. That's where Bounce comes in. Bounce offers safe and convenient luggage storage in York and in hundreds of cities around the world, making sure you always have a place to leave your bags.
Things to do with kids in York
York Castle Museum
If you're worried that a museum is going to put your children to sleep, don't be. York Castle Museum is a brilliant place to bring kids and one of the best family-friendly attractions in the city.
The museum covers various periods of history in York through realistic recreations. You can walk down a reconstructed Victorian street and visit the sweet shop to try some era-appropriate candy. There's even a play area where kids can try out different toys from different periods of history.
You can also explore the way York was during the First World War and during the 1960s. The old prison cells will give older kids a chill, too. York Castle Museum makes history come alive by taking a hands-on approach to its exhibits, making this the closest thing you're likely to find to a time machine in this ancient city.
You may be familiar with the Dungeon chain of attractions that can be found in cities throughout the world. Well, York is no exception. The York Dungeon explores the darker side of history, using actors to give kids and adults alike an immersive experience. The Dungeon focuses on the gory details, from Viking executions to highwaymen to Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot, so this attraction may not be suitable for younger children. But older kids will definitely get a thrill out of the chilling tales told here, and who knows? They may even find a new interest in history once they learn how exciting it can be.
National Railway Museum
Located in York Station, this is the biggest rail museum in the world. This museum tells the history of the development of rail travel in the UK and the huge effect this had on the economy and culture of the country, not to mention the entire world. The National Railway Museum is the only place you can see a bullet train outside of Japan, and it also contains locomotives and carriages that go back to the very earliest areas of rail travel. If your kids are interested in trains, they'll love it here. And even if they're not, the exhibits are varied and fascinating enough to keep just about anyone entertained. For example, there's a miniature railway for younger kids to ride on, and older kids can ride on the footplate of a racing steam locomotive through the magic of simulation. There's even an adventure game played in darkness that simulates a power outage with a mystery to solve.
You can also explore the opulent carriages once reserved for royalty, and you can even have afternoon tea in a reconstructed dining car. The National Railway Museum is a great way to kill a few hours and learn more about an often neglected part of history that has nevertheless transformed the entire world.
York's Chocolate Story
Who doesn't like chocolate? The world's favorite confectionery appeals to kids and adults alike, which is why you should definitely make time to visit York's Chocolate Story. This unusual museum tells the story of chocolate production and development in York and the surrounding area. After all, York was once home to some of the UK's most famous and most beloved chocolate companies, such as Rowntree. But the museum takes a broader view, exploring the whole history of chocolate from its origins in the rituals of South America to the seemingly infinite varieties available around the world today.
Best of all, you and the kids will get to taste lots of chocolate along the way. At the end of the tour, kids even get to make their own chocolate bars, making this an immersive and creative experience as well as an educational one. The chocolate bars make great souvenirs, but let's face it. They are almost certainly not going to make it home with you. And if you happen to be in York during Christmas, York's Chocolate Story has an excellent Day with Santa attraction that makes it a must-visit for families with kids.
Jorvik Viking Centre
This is another historical attraction that pulls off the tricky balancing act between being educational and being fun. Jorvik Viking Centre is one of the most popular tourist attractions in York, and there can be long lines to get in, especially during school holidays. If possible, it's a good idea to book your tickets in advance so you don't have to wait too long to get in.
Once you're inside, though, you'll see what all the fuss is about. As much a ride as it is a museum, Jorvik Viking Centre will take you through the Viking village York once was on a particular day in 975 AD. Animatronic characters bring history to life as they explain the stories of Viking York, and you get to experience the sights, sounds, and even smells of this reconstructed ancient village. Many of the attractions in York have a knack for bringing history to life in an entertaining way, and Jorvik Viking Centre is definitely one of those. It's undoubtedly one of the best things to do in York with kids, and it deserves its popularity with visiting families.
DIG: An Archaeological Adventure
If your kids are intrigued by Jorvik Viking Centre, you can delve deeper into the science behind historical research at DIG. Operated by the archaeologists who discovered York's Viking past and created the Jorvik Viking Centre, this attraction offers a hands-on approach to history. Four active digging pits are filled with artifacts from York's Roman, Viking, medieval, and Victorian eras, and kids will experience the joy of discovery as they learn more about archaeological techniques. Knowledgeable guides will give them an insight into the process of reconstructing history, and your kids may well discover a new passion for the past once they can excavate it with their own hands. It's a fantastic way to nurture scientific minds, and definitely one of the best things to do in York with kids.
Located around 30 minutes outside of York itself, Castle Howard is well worth the drive. The magnificent house and grounds offer a glimpse into how the nobility used to live, and you'll be having Downton Abbey flashbacks as you explore the opulent surroundings. But the main attraction for families is Skelf Island, a state-of-the-art adventure playground located on the expansive grounds of the stately home. Kids will burn off tons of energy testing themselves on the apparatus here, and you'll be able to enjoy a cup of tea from the on-site café and get a bit of a break in the tranquil surroundings of the castle gardens. It's a win-win for everyone.
In an old city like York, often one of the best things to do is simply walk through the cobblestone streets and take in the atmosphere. However, that kind of exploration can quickly bore kids, and as every parent knows, there's nothing worse than dragging around kids who don't want to be there. Luckily, York's tourism board has developed several walking trails in the ancient heart of the city that are perfect for the whole family to enjoy. For instance, the Little Vikings Trail offers a treasure hunt through the city that will take you to some of York's most iconic locations, including York Minster and The Shambles, while you search for plaques, statues, and other artifacts. The York Cats Trail takes a similar approach, leading families through the city in search of the many statues that have been a fixture of York since medieval times. You can download maps for both trails before you arrive in York or pick them up from the tourist information center. It's a good way for you to explore the city while still keeping kids entertained and on the hunt for different objects to check off their list.
Hole in Wand Mini Golf
Mini golf is always a hit with kids. Hole in Wand bills itself as "the world's most magical golf course," and its location in Coppergate Shopping Center right opposite Jorvik Viking Centre means it couldn't be much easier to reach. The nine holes of the golf course offer magic portals, a haunted picture frame, and all kinds of other wizardly delights for you to encounter. If the Yorkshire weather isn't cooperating on your trip, this is a great way to kill a few hours while having fun in the center of the city.
Piglets Adventure Farm
Located in the outskirts of the city, Piglets Adventure Farm is a great place to take younger kids to experience the fun of country life. This interactive farm has a petting zoo where kids can meet sheep, pigs, and goats, and there is plenty of play equipment for energetic kids to keep busy. There's also a mini golf course, a tractor ride, and even a go-carting course where older kids can get their adrenaline pumping. An on-site café means there's always a place to get some refreshment and take a break, and you could easily spend a day having fun at this farm if you're looking for things to do in York with kids.
Yes, it's another museum. But the Yorkshire Museum goes out of its way to make sure there's something to keep children interested in the exhibits it has to display. One of the highlights is undoubtedly the museum's Jurassic World exhibition, home to the mysterious Alan the Dinosaur, a dig zone where kids can hunt for fossils, and an immersive augmented reality attraction that lets you dive into the Jurassic ocean and encounter monsters that used to live in this area. Thanks to virtual reality, you can even feed lunch to a dinosaur.
The Yorkshire Museum also has other exhibits that explain the history of the city and the county that historically-inclined kids will definitely get something out of. Not only is this one of the best things to do in York with kids, but it's also one of the best free things to do in York since admission won't cost you a penny. As far as rainy day activities go, the Yorkshire Museum is hard to beat. And on sunny days, it also has a beautiful garden complete with a ruined abbey that is well worth exploring.
What are the best family activities in York?
There are so many things to do in York with kids that it can be hard to pick which you should focus on. And what your kids will enjoy most will depend on their ages and their preferences. However, York's Chocolate Story is usually hit with just about everyone. DIG is great for kids who like science, and the Jorvik Viking Centre is an iconic attraction that you more or less have to visit while you're in York.
But whatever you choose to do, you can find activities that mean neither you nor the kids will be bored for a second. And by dropping off your unneeded luggage with Bounce, you can make sure you don't have to carry more than you need to while you explore this historic city.