Please sign in to post.

2 full days in York...Recommendations?

We (my wife and I and two young adult children) are driving into York (from Edinburgh) on a Monday in late May, stopping to see Alnwick Castle along the way (maybe a quick-ish stop at Holy Island - just to see the Priory if tides serve and time allows). I thought about Bamburgh Castle instead of Alnwick, but it sounds like Alnwick has more to offer (particularly to kids raised on Harry Potter, but now young adults).

We'll have dinner in York that night and spend the first of three nights in our lodgings there.

We then have two full days to spend in York (and/or surrounding areas). Suggestions? I know I want to see the minster in York along with the Jorvick Viking Center, the city walls and the Castle Museum. We were planning to ditch the rental car at the train station on the night of our arrival, but we could keep it one more day if it is worthwhile to drive out into the surrounding area (Durham? Hadrian's Wall? Castle Howard? Other?).

The national railway museum isn't really my thing (though my family may want to go). It sounds like the Shambles may be a nice people-watching spot.

We'll leave the morning after the third night on a train for London.

Other thoughts? Recommendations for restaurants? Somehow it seems apropos to have roast beef with Yorkshire pudding sometime while we're there.

Posted by
234 posts

I had a very nice dinner at Cafe No. 8 Bistro a few months ago. Not sure if your kids are of drinking age, but the House or Trembling Madness has a great beer selection including local beers.

Posted by
1076 posts

There will be plenty to keep you occupied in York for two days. If the weather is good then walk the city walls. We recently did the tour of Fairfax House and that’s an interesting hour or so. The railway museum might actually surprise you, but if it’s really not your thing... The Minster is (almost) compulsory, but I believe the Jorvik experience is more of a Disney style experience. Suffice to say I’m told I’ve been, but I’m blowed if I can recall it! I’ve previously recommended picking up a book called the Snickleways of York while in the city - a couple of hours following the maps takes you through the back alleyways and ancient streets of York and will keep the kids occupied for a while! The Shambles which is part of the ancient streets is only short and won’t detain you long, unless you are interested in Harry Potter as there are multiple Potter outlets there.

If you are venturing further afield there are National Trust Properties at Beningborough Hall, and of course, Fountain’s Abbey near Ripon which also has an interesting Cathedral. Castle Howard is also a popular day out and you’ll need a car to best get to these. If planning to visit Hadrian’s Wall this would be better done while further north - it ends in Newcastle at, well, Wallsend! However the best bit of the wall is in the centre of the country - if you can get there, aim for the Once Brewed area where there is quite a bit of the wall still extant with excellent wild views north. The museum of Vindolanda is nearby as is Housesteads Roman fort, extensive foundation ruins slap on the wall.

As for dining, I have a soft spot for the Rustique restaurant (French) which is just up the street from Fairfax House. Most pubs do Sunday Roast, but as others have noted, quality can be variable - I’d do a bit of research before choosing one!

Have a great trip!


Posted by
6464 posts

We spent three nights in York and had 2.5 days there.
Places that I don't recommend:
1) We didn't go to the Jorvick Center, but talked to several people that did and they wished they hadn't. If you have young kids, perhaps, but I say skip it.
2) Get rid of the car, parking is a huge pain. We had a car and found a hotel with parking, but there are few places walking distance from the city.
3) The Castle Museum was a bit of a disappointment, but I still enjoy it to some degree, but I would not put it high on my list.

Places to go and things to do
1) The Minster is amazing. There is a nice tour there. We spent three hours absorbing all the history.
2) Walk the walls
3) The National Railway Museum was great, loved it.
4) The Fairfax House was interesting. The Yorkshire Museum was even better.
5) The Shambles is a neat area of the city, with ancient buildings and narrow streets. Also, there is a nearby market.

Durham is great, we spent two nights there. I would not try to do this on a day trip from York.

On leaving York, we visited the Castle Howard, was nice.

Posted by
2029 posts

There are free tours by members of the community that I would highly recommend. We had a former high school teacher and he was marvelous. I think it was in the Rick Steves book. We went near the end of our stay and I would recommend going near the beginning.

We also took one of the ghost tours and enjoyed it very much.

We went to the Jorvick Viking Center. It is a like a Disney version of a museum. We enjoyed it as we felt like something a bit "light" but just make sure your expectations are aligned. There is a ride that reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney. There were a number of staff members you could talk to afterwards and we found that educational and enjoyable.

We also went to the Shakespeare theater. It is an outdoor theater, although parts were covered. There are food stands and picnic tables and we ate there before the performance.

We went to Evensong at the Minister and it was fabulous. The music was amazing. Take a tour of the Minister. We did not as we were there on a Sunday and it was not offered but we would have benefited from it. There is a museum below the Minister that we found interesting.

Resist the temptation to take a day trip. There is more than enough to fill two days in York. We enjoyed it very much.

Posted by
3650 posts

I never thought I would have any interest in the National Railway Museum but it fascinated me. Give it a try; you can always leave & meet the family later.

Your family will enjoy actually walking in the Roman walls.

Posted by
3615 posts

I loved the York Castle Museum. I liked it's WWI exhibit better than the one in the Imperial War Museum-it was more personal. We liked Jorvik. It was like Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, which we rode 3 times when we were at Disney this past Dec. If you like cats, don't forget the cat statue trail-brochure available at the Glass Store.

I loved Durham but it was the peaceful small town at night atmosphere that appealed to me, which you would miss on a day trip. Durham's cathedral is beautiful.

Posted by
19 posts

Great ideas and feedback. Sounds like we WILL ditch the car on entering York and just enjoy that city rather than trying to do a day trip somewhere. I had no idea that the Jorvik Center was so Disneyfied. That's disappointing, I was/am very interested in the history of the Norse in Northumbria after reading the "Saxon Stories" by Bernard Cornwell. We may still go, but at least I won't suffer the disappointment there, having realized it now...

Posted by
8889 posts

A possible detour on your way to York by car is Whitby. Fishing town, old town, Abbey ruins on clifftop. All good things for children.
Official tourist site:
The original Dracula book was set in Whitby, lots of Goths visit.
And, one local boy, bought a second hand Whitby fishing boat and discovered Australia (Captain Cook)

And the drive in and out "over the moors" is scenic.
But don't short-change York. Walking the walls is any kids highlight.

Posted by
121 posts

Congratulations you are going to York! You and your family will love it. My wife, myself, and our two daughters were there for three nights this past July and we had a great trip. We didn't visit the Viking museum, but we loved the Castle Museum and the Yorkshire Museum.

A couple of suggestions: I highly recommend the previously mentioned ghost tour that leaves from The Kings Arms pub nightly at 8 pm. Additionally, if you are interested in a nice cream tea, try the Castle Tea Rooms on Castlegate near Clifford's tower. I would also recommend The Rose and Crown on Lawerence Street just outside of Walmgate if you would like some nice pub food. When touring the Minister don't miss the Undercroft museum (history of the site dating back to Roman times) under the sanctuary it's part of the admission. If you guys love shopping there's plenty of that to be had in York too. Here's a link to our trip report if you are interested:

I hope you guys have a fantastic trip!

Posted by
4952 posts

Bamburgh and Alnwick castles are only a few miles from each other, so if you have the time, stop at both. You are correct, Alnwick has more to offer for children.

Posted by
1030 posts

I took a free walking tour of York - It was wonderful! The docents tell you up front they don’t accept tips. They take you on the walls then through the city to the Shambles area. I also recommend the evensong at York Minster. It was my first experience attending evensong and am now hooked. I plan on doing this anytime I visit England. Even if you’re not religious, which I’m not, the experience is calming and soothing. Listening to the choir sing with their voices echoing around you was just such a lovely experience.

If you’ll have a car, do a daytrip to Fountains Abbey or Castle Howard.

Posted by
4939 posts

I really wouldn't recommend the Jorvik Centre, it's a boring, dated fairground ride similar to Disney's 'It's a Small World' but a hundred times more disappointing. Even my young children were bored. The very small museum attached to it is interesting but not worth the entrance fee or very long queues unless you get there very early.

The Shambles is not a place for people watching, quite the opposite. You will find yourself barely able to move due to the throngs of people during peak periods. It's a very short street, can be walked within 5 minutes, and unless you're a Harry Potter fan there's not a great deal to occupy your time there. I returned early on a Sunday morning when we were there in order to view it at one of its quietest times and during that time I was able to take in the buildings and the architecture without it being blocked by people or being bashed and brushed against.

Despite having zero interest in trains I found the National Train Museum very interesting (we all did) and I recommend it. It's free to enter, is within easy walking distance from the city centre so you have nothing to lose except time.

I enjoyed the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens and Cliffords Tower. Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit the Castle Museum, the Merchant Adventurer's Hall and the Cold War Bunker which is also another reason I regret visiting the Jorvik Centre but we intend to make a return visit.

By all means have roast beef with Yorkshire pudding but as I've written so many times on this forum you won't find anything that beats a home cooked one. I'm sure whatever you find will most likely be adequate but it wouldn't be a good example of what an outstanding dish it can be.

Posted by
1022 posts

Edinburgh to York is going to take 4+ hours to drive depending on traffic PLUS any stops you make on the way. You need to make a decision between Holy Island OR Alnwick castle as you don’t have time to do both justice.

Alnwick Castle is better/ more interesting than Bamburgh castle and the Gardens are well worth doing as well as the castle itself.

There’s loads to keep you occupied in York and everywhere is walkable so you won’t need the car. The family have been to Jorvik recently and reported the ‘ride’ took 5-10 minutes and even the kids felt it was a ‘con’.

Do walk the walls and visit the Minster. Allow plenty of time for the Minster as there is a lot to see. If you have chance, go to evensong. You sit in the choir stalls and the sound of the unaccompanied choir reverberating around the Minster is wonderful.

The Railway Museum is free so is worth adding to the list.

It is several years since I visited the Castle Museum but I always enjoyed it.

Fairfax House is worth visiting as is the Treasurer’s House. There is also Barley Hall which is a restored Medieval Merchant’s townhouse tucked away behind Stonegate.

Also do try and find Holy Trinity Church off Goodramgate. This is no longer used as a church but is a wonderful example of a Georgian Church with box pews slowly collapsing into the nave floor.

Do go to Betty’s for afternoon tea. Their main shop is on ZSt Helen’s Square and does get busy with long queues (Unless you book in advance). They also have a shop on 46 Stonegate which is smaller but quieter.

There’s lots more ideas here.

and here.

Posted by
216 posts

I’d skip Holy Island if you want to do Alnwick Castle too, it’s too out of the way. I consider Alnwick Castle to be very Disneyfied too - designed to appeal to Harry Potter fans and Ye Olde England stuff rather than people interested in history.

Posted by
1441 posts

Like others I recommend going to the Minster, especially for evensong and walking the walls. In fact, just walking around York is one of my favorite things to do. I loved Betty's Tea, but it is full of tourists. I went back the next morning for breakfast and enjoyed that more. There even seemed to be 'regulars' there having breakfast. I found the Fairfax House to be excellent if you like touring homes and seeing how life was like during different times in history. I can recommend the Italian restaurant in the Assembly Rooms. The room is lovely and the food was great even if not gourmet. There are lots of pubs and book stores to explore. A very delightful small city. It is just the right size for walking AND a river runs through it.