Days out in York

Encounter rampaging Vikings, explore grand steam trains and step back in time with afternoon tea with our step-by-step guide to a family day out in York.

With its Viking and Roman history, its magnificent Minster and myriad museums, York has enough attractions to keep you busy for weeks. But if you’re only there for a day out with the kids, which should you prioritise?

Here’s our step by step guide to a family day out in York. You can travel from destination to destination on foot, or by hiring bikes from York Cycle Heaven at the station.

Breakfast - York Theatre Royal Café bar

Today you’ll encounter rampaging Vikings, thousand-year-old manuscripts and the age of steam. But first you’re going to want a bite to eat. 

Step off the train and follow the ancient City Walls to York Theatre Royal, where you’ll find the family-friendly Colonnade Café. The Colonnade Café is famed for working with local food producers such as Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shopp, and you can enjoy a breakfast sandwich and cuppa for just £3.95. While you check the finer details of your plan for the day, the kids can play in the children’s corner.

Viking history to leave you spellbound at Jorvik

In Viking times York was known as Jorvik and just a short walk from the Café Bar, you’ll find one of the city’s best-known attractions. The Jorvik Viking Centre takes you back 1,000 years to Viking York and accurately depicts its streets, stalls, sights and smells. The centre was developed after archaeologists unearthed the houses, workshops and backyards of Viking York during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

During your visit you’ll walk over the remains of these houses, and see thousand-year-old Viking artefacts. But it’s the interactive displays which really bring things to life – meet Viking people, see the homes they lived in and smell the food they cooked. 

Grab some lunch at a true York institution – Betty’s

After all those rampaging Vikings you’re probably looking for something a little more refined for lunch?And it doesn’t come much more refined than Betty’s, which sits in St Helen's Square, a short 10-minute walk away. A real York institution, Betty’s opened in 1936 with a design inspired by the Queen Mary cruise liner, offering “mouth-watering Swiss confectionery and Yorkshire warmth and hospitality” in an elegant setting.

Walking into the café today is like stepping back in time. Maids decked out in traditional black and white uniforms will deliver afternoon tea to your table on a silver cake stand - dainty sandwiches with classic fillings like smoked salmon and Yorkshire ham and sumptuous cakes such as scones with clotted cream, all washed down with house blend tea or coffee. 

If the kids will prefer something they already know you’ll find everything from McDonald’s and Pizza Hut to Pizza Express and Pret in the city centre. 

The magnificent Minster

Just a five-minute stroll from Betty’s along historic Stonegate you’ll find York Minster. Vast, ornate and simply magnificent, the 2,000-year-old York Minster dominates the city’s history and skyline, and features in Visit England’s ‘101 things to do before you go abroad’ list. You can climb its 275 steps and gaze out across the city. But it’s beneath the Minster where the true story of York’s history lies. Opened last summer, Revealing York Minster in the Undercroft takes you below the Minster where the remains of a Roman barracks and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery were unearthed in the 1970s. 

The kids will be handed an explorer’s backpack as you walk across glass floors protecting Roman walls. Interactive audio-visual exhibits will capture their imaginations as they investigate a discovery trail while you marvel at a 1,000 year-old manuscript from late Saxon and early Norman times.

Revisit the age of steam at National Railway Museum

Step back to the golden age of railways by hopping in a cab and riding five minutes across town to the National Railway Museum. The museum is ranked York’s number one attraction by TripAdvisor and sits just a two-minute walk from York Station, so it’s the perfect way to round off your day.

As well as climbing aboard the train carriages and engines of yesteryear, you can experience what it would have been like to ride the Mallard - the world’s fastest steam locomotive - in a simulator.

Enjoy a relaxing coffee before heading home

Your day is finished and your train home is just a few minutes’ walk away across the footbridge outside the National Railway Museum. You’ve seen the best attractions York has to offer – bloodthirsty Vikings, traditional afternoon tea, romantic, super-fast steam trains and the Minster’s hidden history. No wonder you’re ready for a sit down. 

Kill that half-hour before your train leaves by heading to Costa Coffee within the station, and sitting back with a latte and a chocolate muffin while the kids give you a rundown of their best bits from your day out in historic York.

Have a great day out with the family in York.