Is York the best UK city break destination for families?

Is York the best UK city break destination for families?

My family and I spent a few days in York last year. It rained, it was cold and one of my children suffered from a severe case of insomnia. Nevertheless, I came away thinking what a brilliant destination York is for a family city break.

What are the key ingredients for a successful city break with children? If you’re travelling with young children, as we were, it helps if the centre is compact for easy exploration on foot. Somewhere central and cost effective to stay rates pretty highly for us; interesting sights to explore, car-free spaces to expend some energy and a few good restaurants in which to refuel are all important factors. It also helps if the city is easy to reach. York ticks all of these boxes. Here are some of the city’s highlights:

Model of Stephenson's Rocket

Model of Stephenson’s Rocket, National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum
This was, predictably, the key highlight for my rail enthusiast sons. The museum is free, it’s vast, and it is packed with all of the big names from the locomotive world. You’ll find the Mallard, the Shinkansen and Eurostar to name just a few. The museum hosts special events during the school holidays and there was an impressive number of volunteers on hand to answer questions during our visit. There’s a great indoor toddler play area for budding engineers complete with a foam Stephen’s Rocket which can be endlessly “dismantled” and reassembled. We spent many, many, hours here.

National Railway Museum

National Railway Museum

The city walls
Despite the dodgy weather, we managed to circumnavigate York twice via the 3.5km medieval city walls. It’s a great way to get your bearings, there are magnificent views over the city, particularly of the Minster and the excitement of running along the ramparts means that children will travel a lot further than they might on a traditional walk.

Exploring York via the city walls

Exploring York via the city walls

York city walls

Only a short stretch of the walls lack a barrier to contain children…

At a time when so many high streets are offering up ubiquitous chain restaurants, I was really impressed by the number of independent eateries in York. There was also a really great selection of cafes, which proved essential for those of us who needed a little energy boost. Yorkshire staple Betty’s was doing a roaring trade during our visit but after sharing York’s highlights with so many other half term families, we opted for more low key destinations for our caffeine fixes.

Jorvik Viking Centre
I was expecting this interactive experience charting York’s Viking past to be our favourite attraction during our stay (I have fond memories of it from my childhood). However, I made a slight error and didn’t book our tickets online in advance. When we arrived at the Jorvik Centre we were informed that there was a 2 hour queue as October half term is the most popular week of the year. Well, we now have a reason to return to York.

Yorkshire Museum Gardens

Yorkshire Museum Gardens

The Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
If your kids just need a bit of green space in which to tear around, the Yorkshire Museum Gardens, complete with medieval abbey ruins, are a handy central place to visit. The museum, which includes a Roman mosaic floor, plenty of dinosaur bones and a Playmobil Viking ship, is really enjoyable and a manageable size for children with some fun interactive exhibits and useful trails which you can download from the website. My boys particularly enjoyed dressing up as prehistoric Yorkshiremen and taking to the stormy seas in a Viking ship.

Prehistoric Yorkshiremen

Where to stay
There are some good value hotels in York but we opted for an AirBnB apartment. The city has some very central apartments, ours was next to the river and a 5 minute walk from the Railway Museum.

Riverside accommodation in York

Riverside accommodation in York

York Castle Museum
So many museums, so little time. Housed in former prison buildings, this is another attraction we didn’t get the chance to visit as my children were rather keen on returning to the railway museum. However, with recreated Victorian streets complete with people in costume, and a toy museum, it is somewhere I would definitely like to take the kids next time.

Clifford's Tower, York

Clifford’s Tower, York

Clifford’s Tower
As castle settings go, that of Clifford’s Tower is rather underwhelming and you wonder whether the town planners were all on holiday when this part of the city was being redeveloped. Imagine a hilltop castle in the centre of an important historic city. Would you surround it with a car park? Well, despite the trick photography, Clifford’s Tower is surrounded by vehicles (apparently the car park earns the council over a million quid per year). However, if you’re 6 years old, this isn’t a big issue and there’s a pleasingly steep set of steps to race up and plenty of opportunities to reenact battles and fight your little brother at the top of this Norman ruin.

York Minster

York Minster
Although St Paul’s Cathedral was a hit with my kids, they declined the opportunity to visit York’s Gothic masterpiece despite its striking facade. The entrance charge is rather steep at £10 per adult plus an extra £5 if you wish to climb the tower but as you have to be aged 8 to do the climb, which neither of my children are, I was happy to forgo a visit. However, the Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, is definitely worth a visit. There’s plenty to keep children’s interest with trails to follow and backpacks to hire, the website has a useful section for families.

As with the restaurants, York has plenty of independent shops. Tourists flock to the Shambles, a warren of medieval streets with overhanging buildings which make for a fun history lesson (provided you don’t misplace your children amid the crowds, we only did this briefly).

The Shambles, York

The Shambles, York

York’s Chocolate Story
I’m not sure how this attraction got bumped off the list in favour of a second walk around the city walls… perhaps we all needed a bit of fresh air. Anyway, I’m keen to brush up on my chocolate knowledge so I hope we’ll be paying the chocolate museum a visit when we return to York.

The River Ouse
Exploring by boat is, in my opinion, a particularly enjoyable way to travel through and learn about a city with children. We had a brilliant trip on the Thames in London and I’m sure if we’d had more time and better weather in York we would have taken to the water. As well as organised sightseeing cruises, it’s also possible to skipper your own boat for an hour which looks really appealing.

The River Ouse, York

The River Ouse, York

Getting to York
York is well connected by rail: London (just 2 hours), Edinburgh, Liverpool and Bristol all have direct services as do many other cities. Otherwise, York is close to the A1M motorway. If you opt to take the train, book as far in advance as possible.

For more details York’s museums and the city’s art gallery along with information on discounted entry, see the York Museums Trust website.

Have you visited York with your family? Do you have a favourite city in the UK? Let me know in the comments below.

California Globetrotter
Wander Mum
T ravel Loving Family



  1. Anisa
    February 23, 2018 / 9:28 pm

    York is one of my favorite cities in the UK with or without kids! I love the city wall walk and the overall atmosphere of the city. Last December, I went for the Christmas markets which were really nice. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  2. February 24, 2018 / 3:19 am

    York does look pretty beautiful! The cathedral is absolutely lovely, but even the ruins are nice. I love the gothic architecture and the small stone streets!! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • February 24, 2018 / 9:11 am

      I would love to have gone in the Minster, it’s pretty impressive inside.

  3. February 24, 2018 / 4:14 am

    I have only been in London, so I don’t know much about York. I’ve heard it’s beautiful though and from what you are describing it’s a great place to visit with or without kids. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • February 24, 2018 / 9:10 am

      Yes, I’d quite like to pay it another visit without kids to try out a few more bars and restaurants!

  4. February 24, 2018 / 9:02 am

    We’re headed to York in March!! I can’t wait to see the Shambles and walk the walls! Nice to know there are local eateries and not just chain restaurants! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • February 24, 2018 / 9:09 am

      I’m sure you’ll have a brilliant time. There’s some great pubs too!

  5. February 24, 2018 / 5:23 pm

    We are so anxious to visit York! We have a definite fondness for Medieval cities, castles and cathedrals. And we’re with your boys on wanting to see the National Railroad Museum. 🙂 Great post – really makes us want to book a trip. Like, now! 🙂 Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • February 24, 2018 / 6:15 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, York is definitely a fantastic city.

  6. annette @afrenchcollection
    February 25, 2018 / 4:24 am

    Your photos look like such fun – I will have to add York to my next UK trip. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • February 25, 2018 / 9:50 am

      It’s certainly on our list to return to before too long!

  7. February 25, 2018 / 2:21 pm

    I love York, it’s such a beautiful city with so much to see & do. The history of York is fascinating. Great post 😊

    • February 25, 2018 / 9:52 pm

      Thanks. I love it too, can’t wait to return!

  8. Toimas
    February 25, 2018 / 2:53 pm

    I haven’t spent so much time exploring the UK yet. Anyway, York is now very high on my UK bucket list thanks to your post. We don’t travel with kids, but I think we would enjoy the city. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • February 25, 2018 / 9:51 pm

      It’s definitely a great city for everyone.

  9. February 25, 2018 / 9:22 pm

    Having also two rail enthusiast sons, I guess we cannot miss the rail museum 🙂 it seems like a lovely city

    • February 25, 2018 / 9:49 pm

      If your boys like trains you HAVE to go!

  10. February 26, 2018 / 12:16 pm

    I have been to York once when I was young(er). I do remember it being beautiful. I really want to discover more UK cities, I would love to spend a weekend there! The architecture is just incredible.

    • February 26, 2018 / 12:44 pm

      Yes, I’d like to see more of our cities. Hopefully Bath next!

  11. February 27, 2018 / 7:39 am

    I hadn’t thought of York for a family break – I haven’t been since I ran the marathon there pre-baby (great marathon if anyone is looking for a challenge!) My little one would love the railway museum and I remember enjoying the Jorvik Viking Centre as a child too, thanks for the reminder. #citytripping

    • February 27, 2018 / 7:42 am

      That must have been a great destination for a marathon, plenty of distractions from the task at hand!

  12. February 27, 2018 / 9:12 am

    I’ve heard the name York, but that’s it 🙂 Thanks for giving me a peak into it. Like Clifford’s Tower! #citytripping

  13. February 27, 2018 / 10:49 am

    I went to York last year and loved it! York Castle Museum really surprised me – it was kinda a last minute ‘why not’ but it was super fun. We used the YorkPasses and saved some cash on attractions too! #citytripping

    • February 27, 2018 / 10:52 am

      I’d loved to have visited the castle museum. Unfortunately my kids were a bit museumed-out by that stage!

  14. February 28, 2018 / 5:01 am

    York is the best city in the UK full stop for me

  15. Phoebe
    February 28, 2018 / 12:01 pm

    We had a very enjoyable day in York last summer but I feel we only just scratched the surface and I’d love to go back for more. #citytripping

    • February 28, 2018 / 12:16 pm

      I know what you mean. I feel like 3 days only scratched the surface!

  16. February 28, 2018 / 10:07 pm

    There are so many reason here why I need to properly explore York!! Thanks for the great guide. The city wall walk looks fun and the railway museum – wow! Thanks for linking #citytripping

    • February 28, 2018 / 10:36 pm

      We loved the city walls, such a great way to explore a city with kids!

  17. March 1, 2018 / 10:07 am

    I have a friend whose kid is obsessed with trains, York would be a great choice for a city break for her. It looks like a very lovely town, it’s on my list of British towns to visit 🙂

    • March 1, 2018 / 10:09 am

      The whole of Yorkshire is a really amazing place. There’s also a railways station in North Yorkshire concerted to holiday accommodation where you can sleep in a carriage. That’s next on our list!

  18. March 1, 2018 / 11:28 am

    York is such a pretty town, although I haven’t been since my university days. Sounds like you had a wonderful few days. My boys would absolutely love that railway museum! #WanderlustKids

    • March 1, 2018 / 11:43 am

      Great place for university I would imagine!

  19. March 2, 2018 / 3:49 am

    I’ve always loved York since my first visit there many moons ago. We returned a few years ago and enjoyed the Jorvik centre (again!) and my hubby still talks about the railway museum. I agree it’s a fantastic city break for families. #farawayfiles

    • March 2, 2018 / 6:55 am

      I was gutted we missed the Jorvik but it was great being outdoors on the walls and spending lots of time with the trains!

  20. Clare Thomson
    March 2, 2018 / 1:03 pm

    I love York. It’s such a beautiful city and so full of history. We went for a winter wedding there on our last visit but I’d love to return with the boys. They’d really enjoy the railway museum and the Vikings. #FarawayFiles

  21. March 5, 2018 / 8:00 am

    I simply love ‘lesser known’ English cities and I can never get enough of ‘pushing’ people to explore Liverpool, Bristol or Brighton. York has been on my list for quite a while, I would love to go there!

    • March 5, 2018 / 9:44 am

      You must! We are very lucky here in the UK to have so many great cities!

  22. travelingchristie
    March 5, 2018 / 10:12 am

    We are not that far from York by train yet have never been, I think this is somewhere we need to make the effort to visit this year as there really is so much for the family thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes

    • March 5, 2018 / 10:40 am

      I can’t wait to return, and travelling by train is such a fun way to start the visit!

  23. March 5, 2018 / 11:05 am

    Reading this has brought back some fab memories. We spent a few weekends in York when my teen was young and the hub was on a course there. We did all the sights and loved them, we bought a ticket for the open topped tour bus and hopped on and off around the city. I would definitely recommend it for all ages. I think we need to go back now our boy is older.

    • March 5, 2018 / 11:33 am

      Yes, I’d imagine it’s great for kids of all ages.

  24. March 5, 2018 / 11:43 am

    I love York! Such a gorgeous, compact city. We’ve taken the kids to the National Railway Museum quite a few times already. Good to see some of your other tips, especially re booking Jorvik Centre Tickets in advance. We’ll be in the area during the Easter hols and I’m hoping to visit that museum, for a change from trains!

    • March 5, 2018 / 1:16 pm

      So glad I’m helping other people avoid the mistake we made, I was so disappointed!

      • March 5, 2018 / 4:49 pm

        One of the best things about travel bloggers – real peoples experiences and top tips.

  25. March 5, 2018 / 8:37 pm

    The last time I was in York was for work more than 10 years ago. This really makes me want to return to see the city properly! #MondayEscapes

    • March 5, 2018 / 9:17 pm

      I’m really hoping to return in the next couple of years with my boys. They had so much fun and I was so cross with myself for not getting online tickets to Jorvik!

  26. March 5, 2018 / 10:34 pm

    Wow! There’s so much to do! It’s years since I last visited York…maybe time to book my next trip? #MondayEscapes

  27. March 6, 2018 / 4:14 am

    Wow looks like there is a ton to do. Glad you got over initial adversities and had a great break! #farawayfiles

    • March 6, 2018 / 9:34 am

      It’s an amazing city, you must visit some time!

  28. March 8, 2018 / 9:50 am

    I’m ashamed to admit that I have never been to York! I would love to as I think it certainly looks like an amazing city plus I am really into Vikings so would love to see the Jorvik Centre. Sarah #ExplorerKids

  29. March 8, 2018 / 5:04 pm

    My kids would love the railway museum! #ExplorerKids

  30. March 9, 2018 / 12:00 pm

    We’ve never been to York with the boys and i haven’t been for years and years! Looks like a great city to explore with children with so much to see and do. My boys would love the Jorvik Centre as fascinated by Vikings and the like #ExplorerKids

    • March 9, 2018 / 2:55 pm

      I’m looking forward to a return visit so we can go to the Jorvik Centre.

  31. Go Live Young
    March 9, 2018 / 12:03 pm

    Haven’t been to York for many many years! Looks like a great city to explore with children #ExplorerKids

  32. March 11, 2018 / 11:04 am

    York certainly does look like a great city break, I would love to go there. #ExplorerKids

    • March 11, 2018 / 2:45 pm

      It’s great fun, we can’t wait to go back.

  33. March 11, 2018 / 10:06 pm

    I have never thought about York as a holiday destination, but you helped me change my mind. Great pics and very useful tips. Laura #explorerkids

    • March 11, 2018 / 10:08 pm

      It’s definitely one of our most enjoyable cities, I hope you visit one day.

  34. March 13, 2018 / 1:01 am

    I haven’t visited York yet, but it’s definitely one of those places I’d love to go to sometime – even more so after reading this! A very thourough guide, and so nicely written, thank you 😊x

    • March 13, 2018 / 7:10 am

      Thanks, hope you get the chance to visit.

  35. pigeonpairandme
    March 13, 2018 / 2:49 pm

    The in-laws live in Harrogate, and I keep meaning to head across to York while we’re there. It would be fun to compare the two Betty’s!

  36. March 14, 2018 / 10:30 pm

    It is such a fun city! We visit fairly frequently, last time was this December for the Christmas markets. We had a lovely time but oh my goodness it was busy (and very cold!)

    • smudgedpostcard
      March 15, 2018 / 9:28 am

      I think we’ll need to make a return visit before too long. It was pretty packed at October half term so I expect Christmas must be pretty manic, but lovely as you say!

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