16 Best Things To Do In York (From Someone Who Actually Lived There): Must-See Attractions, Haunted Ruins And More

Ahhh, Yorkshire. A place of rugged hills, misty moors and thick but friendly accents. And at its epicentre (move over, Leeds) is the historic city of York - with more attractions per square mile than any other location in the UK. From cobbled streets to grand squares, the 13th-century Gothic York Minster and the magnificent River Ouse snaking its way through the centre, beauty ain't just in the eye of the beholder here - it's a given. Looking for fun things to do in York? We've got the inside scoop on everything from the city's Roman roots to its Viking history - plus a few more modern additions like gin emporiums and rock 'n' roll dive bars.

Have Tea In A Train Carriage

If you're feeling like Betty's Tea Room is just a little too touristy for you, the National Railway Museum is serving up a stellar alternative. Settle down with afternoon tea for two in The Countess of York, their swish Victorian train carriage, which offers homemade cakes, finger sandwiches and luxury leaf teas. You'll feel like TikTok trainspotter Francis Bourgeois as you gush over the fancy fittings and dine like aristocracy, with a whole museum waiting to be explored after.

Note: this attraction is currently closed for renovation until Autumn 2024.

The Countess Of York | DesignMyNight

One of the top things to do in York, tea and trains are on the agenda here.

Visit York Minster

Not allowing itself to merely be called a cathedral, York Minster is grand and Gothic - a focal point of the city's skyline, as much as it has been the heart of Christianity in the North of England since the 7th century. It's the seat of the archbishop of York but is also open for the public to admire its architecture. This building has more Medieval stained glass than anywhere else in the country and includes the famous Great East Window, plus if you head beneath the Minster’s floor you'll find the Undercroft Museum, an interactive space taking you through 2,000 years of history from the Ancient Romans to now. Our favourite bit though? Trips up the Central Tower; a climb of 275 steps to the top for a closer look at stonework, spires and gorgeous views across York.

York Minster | DesignMyNight

See York's most iconic location in the flesh.

Uncover The Best Brunches

Any York local knows that the city boasts its fair share of amazing spots to grab drinks, some coffee or a bite to eat; but not many meals hit quite the same spot as brunch. Our guide to all things eggs and avo gives you the lowdown on the best of the bunch, from Brew & Brownie's caramelised banana and salted caramel American pancakes, corn fritters with halloumi, and seasonal French toast specials - all well worth queueing down the street for - to Robinsons' famed creamy truffle mushrooms and croque madame.

Robinsons York | DesignMyNight

Out of all the incredible things to do in York, sometimes you just can't beat stopping off for brunch.

Clifford's Tower

Another reminder of York's past - and this time a lot more grizzly - Clifford's Tower is a top attraction that you can find on Tower Street. Built by William the Conqueror as part of his efforts to subdue the north, it's had many uses, including everything from a medieval stronghold to a Civil War garrison and the city's royal mint. A stain on its history, though, is the 1190 antisemitic massacre that took place here. Today, you'll find find modern walkways taking you through parts of the tower that had been inaccessible for centuries, as well as a decked roof terrace with gorgeous views.

Clifford's Tower | DesignMyNight

This striking hilltop landmark is hard to miss.

Take A Trip To Diagon Alley

So it's not the actual one from Harry Potter, but the Shambles in York is rumoured to be the inspiration for the film version of the famous magical street. These wonky timber-framed buildings, many of which date back to the 14th century, overhang on purpose to protect the wattle and daub walls. While the street's name actually means 'slaughterhouse' in Old English - with the meat-hanging hooks still visible on building frontage - today's usage is much less bloody. You'll find Harry Potter destination The Shop That Must Not Be Named selling merchandise, before uncovering The Potion Cauldron at Shambles 9 3/4, where you can mix up your own boozy cocktails across a fun immersive experience. Even if the Wizarding World isn't your gab, there's plenty to explore. Muggles are going mad for the many food destinations and The York Ghost Merchants which, you guessed it, sells nothing but ghoulish little figures.

Shambles York The Shop That Must Not Be Named | DesignMyNight

Witches and wizards, it's time to take up your wands.

Yorkshire Museum And York Museum Gardens

Set in 10 acres of land in the grounds of the former St Mary's Abbey, right next to the River Ouse, York Museum Gardens were created in the 1830s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. Stroll around to admire the grasses, herbs, trees and bulbs that are well established here, and don't forget to take in the striking ruins of the Benedictine abbey - a building destroyed under Henry VIII's rule and said to be haunted by an abbot. You can also make your way inside the Yorkshire Museum, where dinosaurs, post-Ice Age wonders, and Medieval and Roman history await.

Yorkshire Museum And Museum Gardens York | DesignMyNight

As one of the city's most popular outdoor spaces, a wander here is a great pick of things to do in York for free.

Unwrap York's Sweet Past

While other cities up north made their way with textiles and industry, York took a route that Willy Wonka himself would be proud of - minus the Oompa-Loompas. The holy trinity of chocolate - Terry's, Rowntree's and Craven's - had their strongholds here, with a plenty of samples in store at York's Chocolate Story. Think handmade treats galore and the history of the humble KitKat across your lessons in cocoa-based history. Swoon.

York's Chocolate Story | DesignMyNight

Chocolate runs in a York dweller's veins.

Visit A World Record-Holding Gin Emporium

Not only is Evil Eye home to a gin shop with over 1000 bottles up for grabs, but its bar boasts some of the best cocktails. From boozy pours that taste like a Kinder Bueno to lots of other choice on their cocktail list that's over 100 strong - including a vodka and schapps-laced Apple Strudel, a Gloria Estefan tequila and raspberry number, and the York sour (a whisky sour with added tea) - the offerings here will make you not want to bother with your go-to classic. Each and every drink on their very long menu will make you go, "ooooh".

Evil Eye York Gin | DesignMyNight

Floor-to-ceiling gin? Count us in. This is one of the best things to do in York that locals also love.

Tread The Path Of Vikings

Being a northern stronghold for many civilisations throughout the eras, this city is brimming with rich history and exciting tales; but none as fearsome as the Vikings. The Danes invaded the city in 866AD, led by Ivar The Boneless - the man who changed York's name to Jorvik. From holographic ghosts to being transported through 10th century streets on a moving 'time capsule', Jorvik Viking Centre is home to some of the best activities in York, letting you come face to face with these Scandi folk in all their glory.

Jorvik Viking Centre York | DesignMyNight

Go berserk at your pick of things to do in York city centre.

York Castle Museum

On the former site of York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, York Castle Museum is yet another place for learning more about this great city. You'll see replicas of Jacobean dining rooms, a world-famous recreation of a Victorian Street called Kirkgate, and the York Castle Prison that once held notorious highwayman Dick Turpin before his execution. Just be careful not to lose your head from all that excitement.

York Castle Museum | DesignMyNight

While a stunning building in its own right, inside is where you'll find all the action.

Drink A Blue Sh*t

Now, hear me out; it's not what you think. While many aren't 100% sure on the ins-and-outs of this blue concoction, we do know it comes with treble vodka and an unspoken disclaimer. The OG home of the blue sh*t? The Stone Roses Bar on King Street. This alternative spot fronts music memorabilia, live bands on a regular and a rock n' roll playlist to boot. So, even if you're not brave enough to give the famous drink a go, you can be sure of one hell of a night out anyway.

The Stone Roses Bar York Blue Shit | DesignMyNight

A drink for the bravest amongst us.

Walk The Walls

Winter strolls and summer walks alike are dominated by York City Walls - Roman fortifications that boast more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. Whether you're just taking the scenic route or completing the full circuit, you can get some of the finest views across the city here. But the section that skirts around the famous York Minster is most popular and the nearby Bootham Bar viewpoint is best enjoyed at sunset. Better yet? If picturesque is your thing, then hop off the walls on the west side, where you'll find bars and restaurants along the River Ouse - plus a range of cruises and boat tours if you fancy casting off.

Walk York Walls | DesignMyNight

Pretty as a picture.

Scare Yourself Silly

This city is renowned for its paranormal activities and blood-stained past, from haunted pubs to gory happenings. A comedy-horror performance and sightseeing-on-wheels all rolled into one, The Ghost Bus Tours sees you hop aboard 'The Necrobus' to visit all of York's landmarks and even banish a few poltergeists along the way. Or, head to York Dungeon to trek through plague-infested streets and meet the torturer of York Castle - just two of nine immersive experiences in store. You're sure to have the heebie-jeebies for weeks.

York Ghost Bus Tour | DesignMyNight

The most haunted city in Europe? York takes that title too.

Have A Day Out At The Races

Grab yourself a fine frock and top it off with some outrageous headgear because York Racecourse serves up some of the most popular events year-upon-year. Whether you're off for a boozy trip or a spot of betting, it's certainly no gamble that you'll have a great day out here from May through to October. Even if the sport isn't your thing, these guys often host huge live music events so you can see your favourite artist in action.

York Racecourse | DesignMyNight

Get your glad rags on and gallop to York Racecourse.

Can't get enough of York? Check out its best pubs, bars and restaurantsSign up to our UK newsletter and read more about the most fun things to do across our country.