Our Top 10 York Recommendations
Visitors have been coming to York for centuries, and no doubt you will have specific ideas about what you might do whilst in the city. Nevertheless, just in case you don’t have firm ideas, or you are looking for further inspiration, the list below details central York’s principle attractions and activities. Everything shown is within comfortable walking distance of 7 Aspire Holiday Apartment. Have a look around as we have included photos, videos, information and links.
1. York Minster
No visitor to York should fail to take the opportunity to visit one of northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedrals, the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter, otherwise known as York Minster. The current cathedral stands on top of the Basilica which was at the heart of the Roman fortress of Eboracum. Much later, the first wooden church built in 627AD and a later stone church dedicated to St Peter, was constructed on the site. The construction of the current building was started in 1220 and was completed in 1472.
The Minster offers visitors a wide array of spectacular and interesting features:
Huge expanses of medieval stained glass and the soaring windows in the central tower, allow light to flood into the massive structure.
The Kings Screen, includes a series of statues depicting all 15 English kings from William the Conqueror to Henry VI, separates the Quire from the nave.
The architecturally impressive Chapter House on the northern side of the main building was home to the English parliament of Edward I from 1297, and is still used today for the College of Canons’ meetings.
The Undercroft is home to displays charting the evolution of York throughout the last 2000 years, and remnants of the original Roman building can still be seen.
Ascending the 275 steps of the Central Tower, offers visitors a birds’ eye view of York from the top.
Mon-Sat – 9:00am – 4:30pm
Sun – 12:45pm – 3:00pm
Mon-Sat – 10:00am – 4:15pm
Sun – 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Adults – £10
Seniors & Students – £9
Children (u16) – free with paying adult
Central Tower – +£5 (inc children)
Undercroft – included
Admission includes a free 1 hour guided tour; tours commence on the hour from 10am to 3pm, Mon-Sat
Children under the age of 8 are not allowed access up the Central Tower, and children 8-16 must be accompanied by an adult
The visitor entrance is at the western end of the nave.
2. National Railway Museum
The history of Britain’s railways has always been a focus for York, as one of the country’s railway manufacturing cities. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that York plays host to the national museum for everything to do with railways.
A firm favourite with the kids – of all ages!
Over 200 years of railway history is reflected in the exhibits on display in this exciting museum. The giant halls are full of locomotives of all sizes and ages, from a replica of the world’s first steam locomotive, Stephenson’s Rocket, the Royal Carriages of Queen Victoria’s royal train, the world’s fastest steam locomotive, the Mallard, the Shinkansen Japanese bullet train from the 1960s, right up to date with the UK’s fastest in service train, the Eurostar power car, and many more beside.
However, don’t assume the museum is all about stationary engines. Soak up the nostalgic atmosphere in the renovated Station Hall, which tells the story of station life – explore the different passenger journeys and travel back in time to experience the working life of a railway station. The South Yard contains working steam engines and includes the opportunity to ride either a full-size or a miniature steam train. There are daily presentations that examine specific exhibits, such as how a steam engine works by using a cut-away locomotive; looking at the revolutionary design of the Japanese bullet train; seeing how the mechanics and application of the museum’s operating turntable function; and demonstrations of the former Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s signalling school’s training facility. The museum even has its own O-gauge model railway layout.
Although the museum is only a 15 minute walk from 7 Aspire, why not save your legs, and use the half-hourly Road Train that runs from/to Duncombe Place at the west end of the Minster to the museum.
10:00am – 5:00pm
10:00am – 6:00pm
Closed: 24-26 December
Steam Train Rides
Family Ticket (up to 4 persons) – £10.00
Rides on the full-sized steam train only operate April-August on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays
Road Train (York Minster to NRM)
Adults – £3.00 each way
Children – £2.00 each way
The main museum entrance is on the south side of Leeman Road.
3. The Shambles
Probably the most intact and best preserved medieval street in the world, the Shambles welcomes millions of visitors a year. The overhanging timber-framed properties, the open shop windows and the complete lack of any sort of uniformity, present a street scene that would have been recognisable to York visitors during the Wars of the Roses in the 14th century.
Named after the Anglo-Saxon word for a shelf, until the late 19th century the Shambles was primarily where the population of central York would buy their meat. Dozens of butcher’s shops faced onto the street, each with its own slaughterhouse at the rear, with the fresh meat displayed on shelves facing out onto the street or suspended from hooks above. The overhanging upper storeys and the narrowness of the street, would have meant that the meat was kept out of direct sunlight.
Today only one shop remains selling meat products in the form of the best fresh pork pies in the city. Restaurants and tea rooms are interspersed with shops selling everything from chocolate and fudge to clothing and souvenirs. The street’s visual similarity to Diagon Alley of Harry Potter fame – it is rumoured the films’ set designer based the fictional street on the Shambles – has drawn a number of shops selling merchandise and ephemera associated with J K Rowling’s boy wizard and his pals.
The Roman Catholic martyr, St Margaret Clitherow was a butcher’s wife who lived at No 10 in the late 16th century. Although brought up in the Church of England, she converted to Catholicism in 1574, and for the next 12 years was in and out of prison in York Castle, for various religious crimes such as not going to church. Accused of harbouring and maintaining priests when a hiding place was found at her home, she refused to plead, and was then subjected to torture by ‘pressing’ to force a plea. She remained silent and died by being crushed to death. Canonised in 1970, a relic, said to be her hand, can be seen at the Bar Convent Museum on Blossom Street, and the priest’s hole can still be seen at her home in the Shambles.
4. Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms
Originally founded by Frederick Belmont, a Swiss confectioner, in 1919 in the spa town of Harrogate, Bettys Cafes have since appeared in various Yorkshire towns and cities since. York has the benefit of two of the tea rooms, with one in St Helen’s Square, and a smaller one in Stonegate. No trip to York would be complete without taking tea – or anything else on the extensive menu – with the benefit of friendly serving staff who are always eager to please.
The main tea room on St Helen’s Square harks back to a bygone era where friendly service and outstanding food were married to opulent surroundings. Opened in 1936, the tea room has an interior inspired by the world’s most iconic ocean liner of the the time, the Queen Mary.
In contrast to the splendour of the St Helen’s Square tea rooms, Bettys Stonegate has a more traditional tea room feel. However, both the quality of the food and the level of service is identical at both locations. If you can’t face the often long queues in St Helen’s Square, and hunger is starting to bite, a table in the tea rooms in Stonegate can be a quicker bet.
Both branches have counters selling everything from Taylors fine teas and coffees, to a selection of sweet and savoury baking, including cakes, biscuits and fancies, and not forgetting Bettys’ iconic Fat Rascal.
St Helen’s Square
Sunday to Friday
9:00am – 9:00pm
8:30am – 9:00pm
Sunday to Friday
10:00am – 5:00pm
9:00am – 5:30pm
In the Tea Rooms, both cafes operate a queuing system for admission, and therefore it is not possible to reserve a table in advance. However, it is possible to book a Lady Betty Afternoon Tea in the Belmont Room of the St Helen’s Square cafe (see the Bettys website for details)
The entrance to Bettys is on Davygate.
5. Jorvik Viking Centre
In the late 1970s, the area to the east of Coppergate was being cleared prior to its planned redevelopment as a shopping area. The York Archaeological Trust conducted excavations that revealed over 40,000 artefacts as well as the well-preserved houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik as it stood nearly 1,000 years ago.
Whilst the redevelopment of the shopping centre still continued, a visitor centre was created in the heart of the development, and the Jorvik Viking Centre was born.
Redesigned and restructured over the years, the current Jorvik is unlike conventional museums, providing an immersive experience, otherwise described as a ‘Time Warp’ attraction, designed to ‘intensify the message’.
Visitors are taken on a journey through the reconstruction of Viking-age York and are given the opportunity to experience life as it would have been in 10th century Jorvik. Combining static and interactive display galleries, a 12-minute ride through the streets and yards, populated with both real actors and lifelike state-of-the-art animatronic people and animals. The sights, sounds and even the smells of the era are brought vividly back to life.
During the spring half-term school holiday (usually the last week in February), York celebrates its Viking heritage with an exciting programme of events at various locations in the city, including living history encampments, walks, talks, tours and of course, dramatic combat performances, there will be something for everyone at JORVIK Viking Festival.
April – October
10:00am – 5:00pm (last admission)
November – March
10:00am – 4:00pm (last admission)
Hours vary during the Viking Festival
Closed: 24-26 December
Adults – £ 11.00
Children (5-16) – £8.00
Concessions – £9.00
Family 4 – £32.00
Family 5 – £36.00
Pre-Booked Fast Track – +£2
All children (16 and under) must be accompanied by an adult
Maximum of 2 adults per Family ticket
Tours last 45-60 minutes
During periods of high visitor numbers (school holidays in particular) it is recommended to pre-book online for a guaranteed entry time.
The entrance is in St Marys Square.
6. Clifford's Tower
The largest remaining part of what was the much larger York Castle, the 13th century Clifford’s Tower commands spectacular views over the confluence of the Ouse and Foss rivers and this corner of the city. Built at the direction of William the Conqueror, the original 11th century timber tower that stood on this near-conical mound or motte, served to establish William’s control of northern England from both rebellion and Viking invaders.
Tensions between Christians and Jews grew throughout the 200-year period of the Crusades – much of the crusading propaganda was directed as much against Jews as it was Muslim Saracens – leading to anti-Jewish riots in many English cities following the coronation of Richard the Lionheart. In March 1190, 150 Jews sought protective custody in the wooden tower; as the mob outside became more numerous and vocal, knowing there would be no safe way out, the rabbi instructed the heads of families to kill their own families and thereafter to commit suicide and to torch the tower.
The initial stone tower built after the Jewish Massacre was rebuilt by Henry III as a defensive fortification in his war against the Scots. The current tower was not completed until late in the 13th century. By damming the River Foss, the tower and the adjacent castle bailey fortifications were surrounded by a now long-gone moat. The tower served many purposes, though mainly administrative; it was used for judicial hearings and as a prison, a treasury, and even as a royal mint. The structural issues seen in the tower today have been long-standing, and whilst throughout the next 300 years it continued to be used as barracks, prison and artillery store, it’s importance as a defensive structure came to an end after the English Civil War.
The extensive internal floors and roof were largely timber-built, and a fire in 1684 resulted in the near-empty structure visitors can see today. Redevelopment in the 18th century of the remainder of the York Castle site as a court and prison, left Clifford’s Tower as little more than a garden folly.
7. Castle Museum
Aside from Clifford’s Tower and a small section of the outer bailey wall, the remainder of York Castle was redeveloped between 1700 and 1783, when the Georgian buildings seen today, were built. Nevertheless, the new buildings’ function continued as before. A new County Gaol was built by 1705, using stone cannibalised from St Mary’s Abbey; the Assize Courts was built by 1777 to the west of the Gaol, and a separate Female Prison to the east was built by 1783 . The prisons closed in 1929, and some of the older buildings were demolished thereafter, however the Courthouse continues today as York’s Crown Court, and the remaining prison buildings were joined by a new entrance building to house the Castle Museum.
The Castle Museum has always had an eclectic mix of exhibits on display, but throughout its 80 year history, the linking theme that the museum embodies is the social history of York’s inhabitants over the last few hundred years. Many of its most memorable exhibitions have been particularly aimed at informing and entertaining children. The galleries hold thousands of historical objects, but by displaying these objects in the context of how they were used at the time, the past is brought to life.
Kirkgate, complete with cobbled streets and alleyways, is the museum’s recreated Victorian street scene. Visitors can enter the various shops packed with fascinating objects of the era. From sweet-shop and chemist to cobblers and high fashion and even a schoolroom, this period of York history is brought to life. The Shaping the Body exhibition looks at how the human body has changed over the last 400 years, and how this has impacted fashion, food and lifestyle. 1914: When the World Changed Forever, takes visitors from the recruiting office to the horrors of the front line. Examine where rogues, thieves, murderers and highwaymen served their time or met their end in the dark cells of the Georgian Prison. Toy Stories looks at the evolution of children’s toys and games; everything from Victorian teddy bears right up to early computer games and beyond, there will be something that every visitor will remember from their childhood. The Sixties exhibition examines the first Brit pop era, with everything from the fashions and technology of the day, to the Space Race and Beatlemania. Raindale Mill recreates the rural aspects of Yorkshire life with its working water-mill, cottage garden and wildflower meadow.
8. River Cruising
In the words of the 1960s music hit, ‘there is nothing so nice as messing about on the river’. Given that York’s history over the last 2000 years has been tied to its position on the River Ouse, seeing the city from the deck of a boat offers a different, and generally more relaxing, viewpoint.
City Cruises York operate from two main landing stages on the east bank of the Ouse at Kings’ Staithe and Lendal Bridge, and they offer a variety of options when it comes to getting out on the river.
A regular timetable of daytime sight-seeing cruises depart from both landing stages throughout the day, and there is an early evening cruise from Kings’ Staithe. A live commentary provides full details of the sights to be seen along the river. These all-weather cruisers include toilet facilities and a fully stocked bar serves a range of hot and cold drinks and snacks. Cruises last between 45 minutes and 1 hour depending on weather.
Dining cruises operate during certain times of the year, offering lunch or afternoon tea cruises; dates, timings, menus and prices vary, so it is best to check the City Cruises website for up to date details.
For those minded to do their own thing, adults may hire a self-drive Red Boat from a separate landing stage close to Kings’ Staithe. Pre-booked 1 hour hires (online or at the quayside) are available; walk-up hires may be restricted to 30 minutes during periods of high demand. These motor-boats can accommodate up to 8 people, and full operating instructions and safety equipment are provided.
Sight-Seeing Sailing Times
January – Weekends only
February to November – Daily
10:30, 12:00, 13:30 & 15:00
and 19:30 (March to October)
10:40, 12:10, 13:40 & 15:10
Sight-Seeing Cruise Prices
Adults (16+) – from £9.50
Children (5-15) – from £5.50
Children (under 5) – Free
Concessions – from £8.50
Family (2A+2C) – £25
Family (2A+3C) – £27
Save 10% by booking online
Self-Drive Red Boats
April to October – Daily
From 9:45 to 15:00
1/2 hour – from £20
1 hour – from £30
Prices depend on season/time of day
From April to October there are additional departures of sight-seeing tours to those shown above, often every 30-45 minutes.
A £40 cash security deposit must be provided for all self-drive hirings.
9. Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
In 1822 the York Philosophical Society was formed, whose aim was to promote the public understanding of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the archaeology and history of York and Yorkshire. Its collection of exhibits quickly outgrew their original premises on Ousegate, so in 1828 the society received a royal grant of the 10-acre site formally belonging to St Mary’s Abbey. In addition to the Abbey ruins, a number of the existing medieval buildings and Roman walls were incorporated into the development of the site. The current museum building was completed in 1830, and the remainder of the site was landscaped to create a Botanic Garden.
Today’s Museum mixes static exhibits with glass cabinet displays, descriptive information displays and plenty of hands-on exhibits, all designed to be informative, engaging and entertaining. In addition to the broad selection of artefacts, the Museum has exhibitions covering specific themes, including:
Yorkshire’s Jurassic World. From the depths of the deepest seas to the ancient coasts and tropical shallows; meet the dinosaurs and sea dragons that once roamed our vast and ever-changing landscapes – brought to life using the latest research and ground-breaking technology.
After The Ice. Celebrate Yorkshire’s beginning with exciting displays incorporating sound, film and cutting edge technology with a range of fantastic archaeological material and scientific specimens will tell the story of Yorkshire – from its beginnings to the arrival of the Romans.
Roman York – Meet the People of the Empire. Roman York, or Eboracum, starts with a look at the full glory of the Roman Empire at the height of its power. A huge floor map shows the extent of the Empire, images of mosaics and frescoes decorate the walls and a mighty statue of Mars, the God of War, dominates the space.
Medieval York. Capital of the North – From the fifth century, for a thousand years, the North of England was ruled from York. Explore York’s role as a capital of religion, royal power, commerce, art, conflict and wealth across the Anglian, Viking, Norman, High Medieval and Tudor periods and discover how the most powerful people in the world once ruled from within York’s Walls.
10:00am – 5:00pm
Closed: 25-26 December, 1 January
Adults – £7.50
Children (16 and under) – Free
(up to 4 per fee-paying adult)
7:30am – 7:00pm
Closed: 25-26 December, 1 January
Access to the museum is from within the Museum Gardens; there are a number of entrances to the gardens, but the closest entrance to 7 Aspire is from Exhibition Square and down the south side of the Kings Manor buildings
10. City Walls
No visit to York would be complete without a walk around the City Walls. The beautifully preserved walls are the longest medieval town walls in England. About 2.5 million people walk along all or part of the City walls each year, enjoying some amazing views, back into the city, or looking out to the city’s suburbs. There are five main gateways called bars or barbicans, one Victorian gateway, one postern (a small gateway) and 45 towers.
A complete circumnavigation of the walls will take 90-120 minutes to cover the 3.4 km distance, depending on how long you spend looking from the various viewpoints along the way. Whilst a full walk around the walls is an excellent (and cheap) way of seeing the city, many visitors choose to walk sections whilst getting to or from other attractions in the city.
Access to the medieval city was gained by entering through one of the fortified gates. Originally each gate would have incorporated a portcullis, a tower to house the troops, and a barbican that extended outwards from the tower, from which the portcullis and tower could be defended. Today only Walmgate Bar retains all three parts of the defences; Micklegate, Bootham and Monk Bars have all lost their barbican walls. Fishergate Bar was badly damaged in the Yorkshire Rebellion of 1489, and was subsequently closed up, until the current opening was created in the 1830s.
Two of the Bars now contain small museums in the upper levels of their towers. Monk Bar houses a museum dedicated to Richard III, as well as having graphic descriptions of England’s bloodiest battle, the Battle of Towton. Micklegate Bar houses a museum focusing on Richard’s nemesis, Henry Tudor (aka Henry VII). Incorporating visits to one or both of these museums is a fun and interesting way of making the most of a tour of the city walls.
8:00am – dusk
The city walls can be accessed from many locations around the city
The Richard III and Henry VII Experiences are closed 24-26 December, and have restricted hours on 31 December and 1 January
Opening Times – Richard III Experience
April to October – 10:00am – 5:00pm
November to March – 10:00am – 4:00pm
Opening Times – Henry VII Experience
April to October – 10:00am – 4:00pm
November to March – 10:00am – 3:00pm
Admission Prices – Richard III and Henry VII Experiences
Adults – £5.00
Children – £3.00
Family (2 adults/2 children) – £14.00
Family (2 adults/3 children) – £14.50