Spanning 2000 years of history and culture, York tourist attractions are second to none. Home to the largest mediaeval church in England, a Viking archaeological settlement and three miles of city walls originally built by the Romans, the city has history pretty much sewn up. But that's just for starters.
York was the hub of chocolate making for over 300 years as the base for Rowntree Mackintosh Confectionery and Terry’s, which still produce some of our favourite sweet treats. The city also has 12 museums (great tourist attractions on rainy days!) including the National Railway Museum, not to mention parks, gardens and boat trips on the river.
With more attractions per square mile than any other UK city, you definitely won’t have a chance to be bored when you visit York - guaranteed!
Axe-throwing at The Hilt
Let’s start with the top tourist attraction in York according to TripAdvisor. The Hilt is a lively activity centre where you can book a lane and enjoy learning a whole new skill with your family and friends. Your coach will show you the axe throwing basics and help you throw metal-headed hatchets at the giant target for a bullseye. Relax - it’s not intended to be a serious attraction! Once you've mastered the basics, you have around 40 minutes of competitive fun, pitching your arm-slinging axe-throwing skills against your opponents, Viking style. One of the newest tourist attractions in York, it is also arguably the most fun!
Climb the Tower at York Minster
Built in the 13th century on earlier foundations, York Minster is one of England’s finest Gothic cathedrals. It houses a collection of local relics, stained glass and galleries capturing a quick overview of York’s past. The best way to appreciate the cathedral is on a guided tour where you can learn about the fires and perils it survived. Highlights include the Grand Organ and the Pilgrimage Window created back in the 14th century. Beneath it is a remarkable dragon’s head (not your usual Sunday sermon topic!). You can also purchase tickets to climb 275 stone steps up the mediaeval Central Tower and view the city from its highest point.
Walking the Walls
Walking the City Walls is a popular tourist attraction in York and a great way to get an overview of the city and its main highlights. Rebuilt in the 14th century, the walls still have some original Roman remains. Four gates were once the guarded entries and toll booths into the city. They still remain for you to tick them off on your progress. Bootham Bar, Monk Bar and Walmgate Bar all have their original portcullises while Micklegate Bar is guarded by three knights on top of the towers. Allow at least an hour of relatively easy walking around the walls (and longer if you drop into the Richard III Experience and the Henry VII Experience).
Learn About Clifford’s Tower
You can’t help noticing Clifford’s Tower, one of York’s landmark tourist attractions in the city centre. The round stone keep sits on a grassy “motte” or mound and was once part of York Castle in William the Conqueror’s day. In its time it has also been a Treasury, a Royal Mint, a site of mass suicide and a prison. It has survived Viking assaults, fires, floods and revolts and narrowly escaped demolition, so show a little respect for this long-suffering York icon please!
Tasting Tours at York Chocolate Story
On a happier note, York’s Chocolate Story takes you down memory lane showing how KitKat, Smarties, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and other sweet favourites were made. Take a guided tour, meet York’s great confectionary families and learn the secrets behind making delicious chocolate from dull cacao beans. You even get some tasty samples as part of your visit. Add-on experiences that are a must for chocoholics include making your own choccie souvenirs. Don't miss the shop for personalised edible gifts and then head to the cafe for a yummy hot chocolate (or two!)
Go Underground at the Jorvik Viking Centre
One of the most unique tourist attractions in York is the Jorvik Viking Centre. Enjoy the interactive exhibits, see internationally significant Viking treasures, jewellery and weapons and get a glimpse of life in occupied York circa 866AD. Rest your feet as you tour the archaeological dig and recreated dioramas in individual electric vehicles with a commentary. You not only see the Viking scenes, you also get to hear and smell them!
Time for a Boat Ride
Like all great cities, York was founded beside a river. Wander along the banks of the River Ouse to Rowntree Park and watch the passing boats. Alternatively join a York City Cruise and listen to the entertaining commentary as you sail along enjoying the sights.
Other river attractions include a self-drive red motor boat (so much easier than rowing or punting!). Rent by the hour (from $30), invite up to 7 friends to join you and see the riverside sites in style. Look out for the 15th century Guildhall, King’s Arms pub, York Minster, several bridges, the Bonding Warehouse, Rowntree Park, St Peter's School and more.
All Aboard at the National Railway Museum
Free to visit, the National Railway Museum is one of the longest-running York tourist attractions. This free museum is a great place to immerse yourself in fascinating locomotive history. The huge undercover museum showcases engineering feats that transformed Britain since the Industrial Revolution. From Stephenson’s Rocket to the Class 43 High-Speed Train (Intercity 125), and steam trains to royal carriages it’s a fun York attraction for tourists of all ages.
How to Save Money on York’s Tourist Attractions
One of the best ways to save money (and who doesn’t?) when visiting these top York tourist attractions is by purchasing a York Card. It costs just £6 for adults and free for children. It includes free access to York Minster and discounts on most other York attractions we’ve covered above. For example, get £3 per person off a City Cruise York, 20% off entry to the Jorvik Viking Centre, ⅓ off Sunday admissions at the York Chocolate Story and 20-50% off most other attractions. Best of all, the York Card lasts for a year, so you can come back often!
If all this is not enough, check out a few more things to do in York. We know you’ll want to revisit this fun city and do your favourite things all over again!