A trip to York with kids will not mean sacrificing your own fun for the sake of your children!
York is not solely for kids or adults – there are so many things to do in York that adults will enjoy just as much as kids.
Parents will find the friendly, compact city easy to navigate and packed with child friendly, affordable attractions and places to eat and drink.
Kids will find York to be a living, breathing history textbook – a classroom without walls plus a lot of fun!
This is the Best in York Guide to visiting York with kids – as written by a York mum of three. Look out for the insider Best in York Guide (BIYG) tips and the all important information on where to find a toilet!
What can families expect when visiting York with kids?
York is an easy city to visit with kids
It is a small city and most of the city centre is pedestrianised.
All of the principal sights are within a short walking distance of each other so you do not need to use public transport or taxis during your visit.
York railway station is is just a ten minute walk from the city centre. Plus, there are both luxury and budget accommodation options within walking distance of the rail station.
There are also four large Park and Ride stations on the edge of the city so you do not need to tackle city centre driving and parking.
There are lots of things to see – not just York Minster!
York is a fascinating city with a diverse and rich cultural heritage.
You can visit buildings and ruins from the Roman, Viking, Medieval, Georgian and Victorian eras all in one day. Families will tick off several school curriculum subjects!
There are several free attractions, countless hidden gems and an array of both indoor and outdoor attractions for rainy day and sunny weather visits.
York is a child friendly, affordable destination.
York residents love their city and regularly visit the city centre. As a result, visitors will discover that York restaurants, cafes and pubs are family friendly.
It is also a budget friendly city making it a great destination for families. There are free things to do in York as well as affordable places to eat and drink.
Plus, children under 16 are free with a paying adult at some York attractions such as York Minster.
York is a lively, inclusive city with several, free, family friendly festivals during the year such as the rousing Viking Festival or the popular Ice Trail.
Furthermore, York city centre streets offer world class buskers ranging from magicians and opera singers to live bands.
Things To do In York With Kids
Kids will NOT find York Minster boring!
The Minster has gone to great effort to make this ornate Gothic cathedral a fantastic place to visit with kids.
On entry, children can borrow ‘Little Explorer’ backpacks which include age appropriate trails and treasure hunts for children to follow and complete. The backpacks have thoughtful additions such as a mirror for viewing the ceilings, binoculars, a torch for the dark places in the Minster, a child friendly map and a compass.
There are regular tours throughout the day which you can join or leave whenever you children get restless.
Every Saturday there are tours of the Minster specifically for children starting from the aptly named Children’s Chapel.
During the school holidays, the beautifully decorated, multi sided Chapter House hosts creative activities specifically for kids. There is a small fee (usually around £2) but no advance booking is necessary.
Check the York Minster website for details of upcoming events.
Kids will marvel at York Minster’s impressive stained glass windows, including the Great East Window which is the largest expanse of stained glass in the world.
Venture underneath the nave to the eerie, atmospheric Crypt and the Undercroft museum. Kids can see and touch archaeological artefacts from the Roman and Viking eras or try on a historical costume from the dressing up rail.
Adults and children over 8 years old can climb the 275 steps of the central tower for an incredible birds eye view of York. It is a challenging climb best attempted on a sunny day!
Family information– Entry to the Minster is £11 for adults but up to four children under 16 enter free with each paying adult.
There is an accessible toilet and baby change on site. Pushchairs are welcome and there is ramp access into and around the historic York cathedral.
BIYG Tip – After a visit to York Minster, run off excess energy in pretty Dean’s Park adjacent to the Minster. It also gives parents a picture postcard view of the Minster.
Dean’s Park is one of several fantastic city centre parks in York which you can read about here.
York’s City Walls
York city walls are two miles long and are the longest city walls in England. Children will feel as though they have stepped back in time when they enter the walls.
The walls are free to enter and walk and offer fantastic views of the city, particularly my favourite stretch of the walls between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar.
A complete circuit of the walls takes around two hours but there are several places to exit en route if you want to stop walking.
The walls can be accessed from any of the four fortified medieval gateways called ‘bars’. Bootham Bar entrance is the closest to York Minster.
Two of the medieval gateways -Bootham Bar and Micklegate Bar – have small museums.
Kids will love the tightly enclosed stairs used to access the walls – the creepy Monk Bar entry point is the best for adventurous kids.
Children will enjoy exploring the rounded towers with their slits for archers arrows and the portcullis at Monk Bar.
However, most of the walls are not enclosed to keep young children close to you.
Walking these imposing walls is on the best free things to do in York.
Family information – As the bars and the walls were built in the medieval era, they are sadly not 100% pushchair friendly. The walls are mostly flat but have some dips and steps along the route but it is possible to use a pushchair on the walls. Access is trickier!
To access the York’s city walls you have to ascend narrow stone stairs at one of the Bars. Pushchairs will need to be folded in order to be carried up the steps – they are too steep and too narrow to carry a pushchair up.
BIYG tip – The excellent Friends of York Walls website has trails and information available to download.
The Shambles is a short, cobbled shopping street in York city centre and has been voted one of the best streets in Britain.
It is a dark, gloomy but charming street retaining many of its original medieval buildings and features.
The Shambles is crammed with lopsided, cramped and overhanging timber buildings. It is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series and today houses several Harry Potter themed shops.
In medieval times, the Shambles was where the butcher’s shops could be found. Many of the shops today still have the exterior wooden ledge and hanging metal hooks where the raw meat was once displayed.
The Shambles is pushchair friendly though the cobbles provide a bumpy ride!
Family information – in the middle of The shambles is a lane leading to the adjacent The Shambles market which is a bustling spot to stop for a snack and a break. Fee paying public toilets are available in the market.
BIYG tip – at the end of The Shambles, turn left, walk past St Crux’s church to reach the shortest street in York.
Kids will love the name – Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate.
Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre is one of York’s most popular tourist attractions. The small museum showcases Viking era artefacts found during a four year dig on the site on which the museum stands.
Kids will learn how Vikings lived and died in York and can see the remains of Viking streets and homes beneath the glass floor of the museum.
The highlight of the museum is a historical ‘cab’ ride through a life size Viking settlement which evokes the sights, sounds and smells of the Viking era. Kids will love the toilet section!
If your kids love Viking history, they will enjoy this museum and the viking festival which is held each February half term.
Family information – Entry is £12.50 for adults and £8.50 for children. Family tickets are available offering significant savings.
The museum is relatively small and a full visit will take around one hour.
BIYG tip – Book your ticket online in advance of your visit. This is a popular attraction and there is always a queue to get in.
DIG is a small, hands on archaeology themed museum aimed at younger children and can be found near Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate in the lovely St Saviour’s Church.
There is an educational section where children can have a go at sorting and examining artefacts with microscopes and magnifying glasses as well as learning about historical finds in York.
The other section of the museum is where children get to be archaeologists and have a dig for themselves in one of four specially constructed pits.
Let the kids dig to their hearts content whilst you read the historical information – or have a well earned rest.
Family information – Entry is by tour only and a visit last around one hour. Tickets are £7 for adults and £6.50 for children over 3 years old.
Family tickets are available. Book in advance online if possible.
BIYG tip – If you are planning to visit both DIG and Jorvik, buy a combined Jorvik/Dig ticket. A family of four will save £11 on a combined ticket as opposed to separate tickets.
You could also consider a Passport ticket which includes entry to Jorvik, Dig and three other historical museums in York but I would only recommend this for families who are in York for an extended stay or who are history mad!
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum (NRM) is a York resident favourite. We visit several times a year!
The enormous museum consists of two sites located at the back of York railway station. There is a rear walkway directly from the station to the entrance of the museum.
The two sites are crammed with gleaming train engines and carriages of every size and colour.
Station Hall (the site nearest York station) showcases a variety of trains including the grand Royal Train. You will also find the museum’s small playground and picnic area here.
Outside the main hall, you can also ride a miniature steam train and enjoy one of the free daily, entertaining science shows.
An underground walkway leads to the museum’s second site where you can see trains and carriages through the ages ranging from Stevenson’s ‘The Rocket’ to a cross section of the Channel Tunnel. You can also view the restorers workshop, find out how signals work and wave at passing trains from the museum’s balcony.
The NRM is an excellent world class museum, and you could easily spend one whole day here. It is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in York with kids.
Family information – the free to enter museum is pushchair friendly with lifts to access all parts of the museum. There is a restaurant and cafe on site with several toilets and baby change facilities.
BIYG tip – The NRM is located behind York railway station and takes around 15 minutes to walk from the Minster and York city centre.
Alternatively, you can catch the Museum’s ‘Road train.’ The road train leaves every 30 minutes from outside York Minster and brings you directly to the NRM.
The short, leg saving ride costs £3 for adults and £2 for children one way.
The Yorkshire Museum
The Yorkshire Museum is found in pretty Museum Gardens, a large park on the edge of York city centre, just a few minutes walk from the Minster.
The Yorkshire Museum is packed with hands-on and interactive exhibits about York’s Medieval, Roman and Viking past. Children can handle historical artefacts, make a Roman mosaic and dress up in historical costumes.
There is also an excellent dinosaur section with fossils found in the Yorkshire region and the opportunity to meet a sauropod in a virtual reality experience.
Younger children can borrow dinosaur backpacks and follow a ‘dinosaur detective toddler trail.’
There are regular events for children and families and you can download age appropriate trails from the website in advance of your visit.
Family information – Tickets are £8.00 for adults and £3.50 for children aged between 5 and 16 years old. The museum is pushchair friendly with lifts to the main floors. Baby change facilities and toilets are available.
BIYG tip – the Museum Gardens is a great place for a runaround. Grab a picnic from one of York’s many bakeries and enjoy a picnic on the sweeping lawns in the gardens.
There is lots to see in these landscaped gardens such as the Medieval Hospitium (closed to the public), the 13th century remains of St Mary’s Abbey and the best preserved Roman remains in York, the Multangular Tower, which dates from the 3rd century. Plus, a 19th century Observatory, the oldest in Yorkshire.
York Castle Museum
York Castle Museum is my favourite museum to visit in York with kids.
It is a huge museum with something new to see each time we visit.
Castle Museum is easy to find, standing opposite Clifford’s Tower on the edge of Castle Car Park.
York Castle Museum charts the history of York through the ages and how York was affected during the First and Second World Wars.
Parents will recognise the living room of their childhood in the recreated homes of the past and reminisce in the toy gallery.
Castle Museum is best known for its full size replica of a Victorian street (Kirkgate) complete with dim lighting and cobblestones.
Kids will enjoy entering the shops on the street (particularly the sweet shop), the schoolroom, police station and the pharmacy where costumed actors explain what life was like in Victorian York.
York Castle Museum was once the courthouse and prison for the city of York and you can visit the eerie Victorian prison cells. (Younger children may find the dim conditions unsettling).
The creative use of holograms portray the harsh conditions suffered by individual real life prisoners who will also tell you about their life and their crimes. Don’t miss the information board as you leave the prison section which tells you what happened to the people you encountered in the gloomy cells.
The museum is brilliantly presented with a variety of hands on and interactive exhibits which will engage old and young alike.
Family information – Unfortunately, due to the nature of an old building, pushchairs are not allowed in the galleries. Free pushchair storage is available and there are free baby carriers available to borrow.
There are toilets and baby change on site and a family friendly cafe with highchairs.
Admission is £12.00 for adults and £4 for children aged between 5 and 16 years old.
York Art Gallery
York Art Gallery may not initially be considered by many parents to be a child friendly environment but the York Museums Trust has worked hard to make this beautiful, recently renovated building accessible and an enjoyable York attraction for families.
Many exhibits are helpfully labeled ‘just look’ or ‘hands on’ so children know what they can and cannot touch. Sketchbooks, drawing materials and art reference books can be found throughout the museum for children to pick up and use.
There are regular creative events and weekly activities for children. Plus, during the school holidays, The Studio is open for painting, collage and clay activities which can be pre-booked in advance on the York Art Gallery website.
Family information – There are baby changing facilities, lockers for visitors to use, a fabulous cafe and a lovely outdoor space for a good runaround. Don’t miss the aromatic edible wood at the rear of the gallery.
Entry is £8.00 for adults with children aged between 5-16 costing £3.50.
BIYG tip – If you are planning to visit the Yorkshire Museum, York Castle Museum as well as York Art Gallery, consider purchasing the Yorkshire Museum Trust Card or the YMT. It will be cheaper than paying three separate entrance fees.
Clifford’s Tower is the remnants of a Norman castle or ‘keep’ which was built on an artificial hill in the city. It is an incongruous sight and worth visiting just to look at even if you decide not to go inside.
Access to the open tower is via a set of steep stone steps which are definitely not child friendly. Go slow and hang on tight to your children.
Once inside the keep, visual exhibits explain how the tower was constructed and used.
Children will enjoy playing with the various medieval games available to play with.
A further set of very narrow, winding steps lead up to the parapet of Clifford’s Tower for a fantastic 360 degree view of York. It is often very windy up here!
Family information– This short attraction cost £6.50 for adults, £3.90 for children. Family tickets are available. There are no toilets or changing facilities on site.
York Chocolate Story
The city of York was once home to three different chocolate factories including Terrys and Rowntrees. There is still one chocolate factory operating in York today sometimes you can smell melting chocolate in the air.
York’s long association with chocolate making is engagingly presented in the York Chocolate Story, located near the top of The Shambles.
Visiting is by a guided tour which teaches you about how chocolate is ‘grown’, when it was discovered and brought to Europe and the history of chocolate making in York.
Occasional delicious treats help to sustain your attention!
The tour culminates with the chance to make your own chocolate lollipop and watch an artisan making chocolate.
Family information – York Chocolate Story is pushchair friendly and a lift can be used to access parts of the exhibit.
However, during busy times, you may be asked to leave your pushchair at the entrance.
Entry costs £13.50 for adults and £10.95 for children. Family tickets are available.
BIYG tip – A fun thing to do in York as an alternative to York Chocolate Story is to visit the excellent York Cocoa House.
It serves THE best hot chocolate in the city. Plus, you can make a chocolate lollipop for £3.75 whilst enjoying a hot chocolate or opt for an indulgent treat of hot chocolate, chocolate cake and chocolate lollipop making for £6.50.
Vouchers must be bought online in advance of your visit.
The Lord Mayor’s Mansion House
York city centre has several historical houses open to the public such as the Georgian era Fairfax House and the medieval Barley Hall.
Historical houses may not be most families’ idea of a child friendly attraction but the best in York for kids is the home of The Lord Mayor of York, the Mansion House.
This grand, pink facade building is located on St. Sampson’s Square opposite the iconic Betty’s Tea Rooms.
The 800 year old house has collections of silverware and ceramics as well as ceremonial items used by the Lord Mayor. Visitors can also see recreated bedrooms and dining rooms.
But the highlight for kids will be the downstairs kitchens which have been renovated to look like an 18th century kitchen.
There is a range of cooking equipment on display and interactive exhibits to learn about Georgian cooking.
The kitchen is a full, working kitchen with live cooking displays twice a day.
The Mansion House is a different, interesting thing to do in York with children.
Family information – Due to the number of stairs, The Mansion House is not pushchair friendly but the reception area will store your pushchair for you.
Toilets and baby change facilities are available.
BIYG tip – After visiting The Mansion House stop for a cup of Yorkshire Tea or Yorkshire Parkin cake at the iconic and family friendly Betty’s Tea Rooms. If the queue for Betty’s is too long, grab a cake to take way from their bakery section instead.
The River Ouse
The River Ouse flows through York city centre and several restaurants, pubs and cafes offer riverside views or dining.
Families can enjoy a walk along the pushchair friendly paved riverbank which is popular exercise spot for York residents.
However, keep young children close as there are no barriers along the steep incline into the river.
You can read about some family friendly walks along the River Ouse here.
Alternatively, take a trip on the River Ouse with City Boat Cruises.
City Boat Cruises offer short, circular trips along the River Ouse to Clifton Bridge and the Millenium Bridge.
Families can choose between a 45 minute or one hour cruise; both of which are perfect timings for restless kids.
Family information -The boats have an onboard commentary, toilets, and outdoor and indoor seating. Family of four tickets cost around £27 for a one hour cruise.
BIYG tip – Families with older children can hire and self drive their own boat from the Red Boat company. Prices start at £30 for one hour hire.
Although these boats hold up to 8 people, they are very small and low to the water so are not recommended for families with very young children. Children under the age of 10 must wear one of the life jackets provided (though I’d recommend everyone wears one)!
Essential information for anyone visiting York with kids – where are the public toilets in York?!
Anyone travelling with kids knows in advance of any trip that a sizable chunk of your time will be spent looking for a toilet or queuing for a toilet!
So let me help you save some time with this list of public toilets in York!
1. Marks and Spencer’s department store, Parliament Street (free)
One of the best public toilets in York city centre!
Take the lift (elevator) at the back of the ground floor to the top floor of this popular department store. Go through the men’s clothing section to find the free public toilets.
The toilets have a baby change and nursing area. The toilets are clean and safe which is why there is usually a queue!
After a toilet rip, pop into the cafe for a fabulous view of York Minster from the window!
2.York Explore (free)
This toilet is located inside the city’s main library York Explore, adjacent to the Museum Gardens on Museum Street. (This is the nearest public toilet to the Museum Gardens).
Baby change facilities are available.
3.Brown’s department store, Parliament Street (free)
Go through the department store to find a single, accessible toilet on the ground floor.
It is a facility for disabled people so please use considerately.
Unlike many public toilets, there has enough room in this toilet to bring in a pushchair – essential for solo parents.
4.Fenwick’s department store, Coppergate (free)
You will need to take the lift or escalator to the first floor and follow the signs for the toilets which are located off a corridor at the back of the shop.
It can be a bit of a trek with a child who is desperate to use the toilet!
5.York Railway Station (free)
Numerous toilets available in a large public toilet on the station’s main concourse with extra toilets in the Waiting Rooms.
Use when arriving into or departing York!
6. Fee paying toilets
There are fee paying public toilets with baby change facilities on Silver Street, Rougier Street, St. George’s Field car park, Nunnery Lane car park, Coppergate shopping centre, St Leonard’s Place (set into the city walls) and Rougier Street.
Most of these toilets are turnstile entry costing up to 40p each – which can add up for family!
I would recommend using one of the safer, cleaner, free toilets.
A family visiting York with kids is guaranteed a fascinating, enjoyable and affordable trip.
York is about as easy as travel gets with kids!