Things to Do in Yorkshire
This cavernous medieval cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece. Focal points include the 16th-century stained glass Rose Window, which was painstakingly pieced back together following a fire in 1984, and the soaring central tower, the top of which offers panoramic views of York.
Having never been widened to accommodate cars, The Shambles has retained its picturesque medieval form. Timber-framed Tudor buildings host tea rooms, taverns, and souvenir shops, and project out at the upper levels—a medieval building technique used to create extra living space.
Castle Howard is one of Britain’s grandest stately homes. Built over the course of 100 years and still home to the Howard family, the castle was famously used as a filming location for Brideshead Revisited. Its 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of elegant grounds are located in the Howardian Hills—an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Clifford’s Tower, a semi-ruined 13th-century remnant of York Castle, is also one of the few Norman relics in a city dominated by Viking influence. Nowadays, Clifford’s Tower is one of the most popular and emblematic sights in York, and the panoramic views from the tower’s ramparts make it an excellent starting point for first-time visitors to historic York.
Set on the site of a major Viking settlement, Jorvik Viking Centre whisks visitors back in time to ninth-century England. Glass floors reveal remnants of the original village uncovered by archaeologists in the 1970s, while a train ride takes passengers past detailed diorama-style displays that recreate typical scenes from Viking life—complete with animatronic figures, a soundtrack, and more.
This historic site was discovered by accident, when it was scheduled to be destroyed. The oldest parts of Barley Hall date from about 1360, but until the 1980s the house was hidden under a more modern brick façade.
The medieval house was once home to the Priors of Nostell and the Mayor of York. The building has been fully restored to replicate what it would have looked like around 1483. A living museum, many volunteers work in costume to help recreate history. Visitors are allowed to touch objects, even sit in chairs to get a true feel of life in Medieval England.
Fans of the Yorkshire author and vet of All Creatures Great and Small fame won’t want to miss the World of James Herriot. Now an award-winning, interactive museum, Herriot’s former veterinary office—a fully restored 1940s home—displays a huge collection of Herriot memorabilia.
Welcome to cheese heaven! At the award-winning Wensleydale Creamery, visitors will learn everything there is to know about the famous British cheese and the art of cheese making. It’s even possible to see the cheese literally being cut, stirred, pitched, and salted by hand at the viewing gallery inside the Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese Experience. The creamery is also home to a gift shop (where a vast array of cheese and cheese-related paraphernalia are available), a deli, a coffee shop, and a restaurant with views of the surrounding Yorkshire Dales. There is also a newly refurbished visitor center on-site, which explains the history and heritage of the Wensleydale cheese and where visitors will have the opportunity to taste the stuff for themselves.
With a history dating back to 1835, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is England’s most popular heritage steam railway. The 18-mile (29-kilometer) route winds through the North York Moors National Park, stopping at historic railway stations and affording magnificent views of the rugged moorlands.
The family-owned Bridlington Birds of Prey and Animal Park brings together endangered animals across different habitat zones. You can find everything from alpacas and raccoons to owls and meerkats, as well as many birds of prey; exhibits sit alongside educational exhibits and hands-on experiences.
More Things to Do in Yorkshire
A lively market town within the North York Moors National Park, Helmsley is a popular day-trip from nearby York. The cobblestone streets of the town center—as well as quaint teahouses, ivy-covered traditional pubs, and an imposing 12th-century castle—add to the appeal of this traditional Yorkshire destination.
Drive along the Vale of York on the boundary of the North York Moors National Park and you won’t be able to miss the Kilburn White Horse, a gigantic artwork of a horse etched into the limestone cliffs of the Sutton Bank. Formed using more than 6 tons of limestone chalk chips to whiten the natural grey rock and featuring a lone grass patch for the ‘eye,’ the White Horse was designed by local businessman Thomas Taylor in 1857, inspired by similar designs in south England.
It might not have been the original, but it is the biggest – the Kilburn White Horse measures an impressive 97 meters long and 67 meters high, covering a plot of around 1.6 acres. Hiking routes and lookout points run along the hilltop around the White Horse (although walking on the horse is frowned upon as it damages the surface), but the most impressive views are from the bottom of the hill and on clear days, the landmark equine can be seen from as far away as North Leeds.
Once built to protect the medieval city of York, the well-preserved York City Walls have since become an emblematic landmark of the region and an easy-to-access point of introduction for historical York. While only three main sections of these 13th- and 14th-century walls are still connected, following the footpaths and scrambling up the ramparts remains a popular pastime.
Despite an association with all things spooky—goth festivals, Bram Stoker, and decrepit abbeys—Whitby remains one of the most popular seaside towns in England. Replete with natural beauty, the town is small enough to explore on foot and boasts numerous attractions that appeal to a cross section of visitors.
Located at Monk Bar, one of the four principal gateways of York’s medieval city walls, the Richard III Experience transports visitors back to medieval era York, following the fascinating story of Richard III. Housed in the 14th-century gatehouse, the museum features exhibits on the legacy of Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet Kings, chronicling his short rule from 1483-1485, and his defeat by Henry Tudor.
Highlights of the experience include an impressive collection of medieval arms and armor; multi-media presentations on the War of the Roses and the Battle of Bosworth; and a children’s area complete with costumes, props, and narration by Horrible Histories author Terry Deary.
Prepare to be whisked into a glamorous past at the Treasurer’s House. The two story, washed brick mansion set amid landscaped gardens was the first home to be donated to England’s National Trust and came complete with opulent furnishings handpicked by its final resident, wealthy industrialist collector Frank Green. Green originally purchased three buildings that comprise the present day manor in the late 1800s. Its rooms are a reimagining of history with fancy wallpapers, fine woods, ceramics, ivory works, and textiles. Artifacts span a 300-year period leading up to the late 1900s, a setting fitting enough to entertain royalty; King Edward VII visited prior to his reign.
Today one of the few remaining great houses in York, visitors can wander through 13 period rooms with a guide. Highlights include a scale model of a Napoleonic gunship, and ebony an ivory checkerboard from India, and a Queen Anne period bedspread. A second floor room has been transformed into a theater, which shows a looped film highlighting York’s iconic buildings and homes, many lost to time.
In the cellars, which can be toured separately from the house, learn about area archeology and the land’s 2,000-year history of occupation. Some claim to have seen Roman ghosts walking through its walls. Complete your tour on a garden path past the still-maintained apiary, or in the Below Stairs Café housed in the former servants’ quarters.
Step back in time with York Castle Museum, an informative, interactive destination that will charm history-buffs and families alike. Unique in its depictions of everyday life, both past and present, York Castle Museum is best-known for period reconstructions of historic streets—like the Victorian Kirkgate—and costumed actors who help bring the past to life.
Located in the center of the city, the Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York. But along with being a home, this historic house is popular with visitors. The Mansion House exhibits an impressive collection of paintings, silver and furniture.
It was designed to entertain distinguished guests and host ceremonies, so a bit of grandeur was a must. Built in Georgian style, the first brick was laid in 1725. But just like building projects today, costs grew. A few craftsmen worked for free in return for citizenship. The Mansion House was completed in 1732, seven years later.
The Mansion House offers a variety of tours tailored to guests’ interests, including a Silver Tour. The Candle Light Tour shares spooky stories and secrets of the house as you explore. Book in advance if interested in a specialized tour.
Chronicling the life and times of the iconic explorer, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum offers fascinating insight into Whitby's most famous former resident. Housed in the 17th-century home where a young James Cook took on his apprenticeship as a seaman, the museum’s star attraction is Cook’s attic room, decked out in period furnishings.
At the museum, visitors can learn about Cook's now-legendary voyages through a fascinating collection of artifacts, letters, ship models and maps. Pore over original letters written by Cook and his crew; follow his travels through maps and charts; see items brought back from Cook's long journeys to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands; and admire paintings of the voyages by Parkinson, Hodges and Webber.
As the name implies, York’s Merchant Adventurers were merchants. They traded along the English coast, northern Europe and sometimes as far as the Baltic and Iceland, bringing back an assortment of desired goods to York. The city was an important river port and the wealthiest city in Northern England, second only to London for most of the Middle Ages, allowing the merchants to make enough money to build the Hall between 1357 and 1361.
It was ahead of the time, built before craft or trade guild halls were common in Britain. There are three rooms in the Hall, and each served a specific purpose. Business and social gatherings took place in the Great Hall, the Undercroft served as an almshouse caring for the sick and poor, and religious events were conducted in the Chapel.
The Hall has a number of collections; everything from paintings, to furniture and silver. The Company of Merchant Adventurers still use the Hall for meetings and events and hold services in the Chapel.
The York Army Museum takes visitors on a journey through history, following Yorkshire's historic cavalry and infantry regiments—The Royal Dragoon Guards and The Yorkshire Regiment—from 1685 to the present day. Recently reopened after a £1 million renovation, the small museum is a fitting tribute to the British Army, and now ranks among the most impressive military museums in the UK.
Visitors can learn more about the regiments and their soldiers through a series of interactive exhibits, audio-visual displays, and a collection of artifacts dating back more than 300 years. Highlights include a sizable display of army memorabilia, including weaponry, uniforms, medals, and photographs; personal accounts from serving soldiers and army personnel; and a dress up area for kids to try on the army uniforms.
This 18th-century townhouse offers a glimpse into the tastes, fashions, and daily life of Georgian-era nobility. It began as the home of Viscount Charles Gregory Fairfax and then enjoyed brief stints as a gentlemen’s club, cinema, and dancehall before being restored to its Georgian-era glory.
The expansive collections of the National Railway Museum fill galleries, halls and brick warehouses — designed to look like train depots — on two sides of Leeman Road in York. Over a million artifacts bring the nostalgia and necessity of 300 years of rail travel to life: giant clocks, postcards, piles of vintage luggage, tickets, toys and models, as well as 300 carefully restored rail vehicles.
In the gallery attached to the glass-topped Station Hall, the former main goods station in York, exhibits showcase train art. Rotating exhibits at the museum detail how rail lines were installed, and videos alongside stalled salon cars bring passenger travel to life.
In the Great Hall, step inside the Shinkansen — the world’s first bullet train, reaching speeds of up to 130 miles per hour, and built in Japan in the 1960s — and peer in on the ornate interior detailing of the art deco-styled Dutchess of Hamilton, built in the 1930s. The hall is also home to the power car of a Eurostar, a black and blue shiny laquer Mallard steam locomotive popular in the mid 1900s, and a second class carriage from an early 1800s passenger train. Most afternoons after 3pm, museum staff conduct tours and share stories from inside several of its most popular vehicles.
Embark on an archaeological adventure right in the heart of the city with a visit to the Jorvik Dig, the perfect complement to the nearby Jorvik Viking Centre. Centered around the city’s original archeological dig sites, the unique attraction offers the chance to discover York’s 2000-year history through four specially created in-door excavation pits, filled with replica artifacts from the Roman, Viking, medieval and Victorian eras.
The interactive exhibits are great fun for the whole family, with fascinating displays detailing the recent Hungate excavations, and showcasing artifacts such as medieval pottery and Roman jewelry, while children of all ages can get hands-on digging for treasures like pottery, bone, and jewels in the special synthetic soil pits.
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