During our recent break with Wigwam® Holidays, staying at Ball Hall Farm just 10 miles from York (you can read our review here), we couldn’t wait to take the children to one of our favourite cities and see it through their eyes. Gaz and I have enjoyed many days out in York over the years just walking along the river, enjoying a meal and drinks, and seeing the sights, and so I was keen to see what it could offer to us as a family with young children and it’s safe to say it didn’t disappoint!
York City Centre
The main city centre of York has lots to offer and, for those who love to shop, an amazing shopping area. Although with three small children it’s not the best time to some shopping (although we did manage a little!), scattered around the main shops are lots of restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops.
For anyone visiting York I definitely recommend popping into the Starbucks in the centre, listed as one of the 50 most beautiful coffee shops around the world, as with tall ceilings and stunning architecture, it really is a sight worth seeing.
It’s also a great family friendly place to refuel on a croissant, warm up with a hot chocolate, and prepare for a full day of exploring!
The great thing about York is that no two streets are ever the same, with so much to see and do on every corner. We love to visit The Shambles, a series of little lanes with unusual shops and bars, buskers and street artists, and in the warmer weather you could spend a whole day just wandering around taking it all in.
Obviously in January with children there comes a point where they start to get cold so to warm up we decided to visit one of the museums we had heard so many rave reviews about.
The Museum Gardens
The York Museum gardens are located in the centre of York, set in the stunning surrounding of the Medieval ruins of St.Mary’s Abbey, and are free to visit to the public.
During the warmer months they are lovely to wander around enjoying the botanical collections, the abbey ruins, and enjoy the sunshine on the vast lawned area. Last Christmas we visited the gardens for a ticketed event where the whole of the gardens and abbey were lit up with festive lights as well as a fairground, wooden chalets selling all kinds of food and drinks, and live music playing. It’s definitely worth checking out the website for upcoming events.
The Yorkshire Museum is located within the Museum Gardens and is a hugely impressive building home to five permanent collections – biology, geology, archaeology, numismatics and astronomy, as well as many new and exciting exhibits.
Entry to the museum is free for those who hold a YMT card and £7.50 for adults for those without. Children under 16 are free with a paying adult making it a very affordable day out even for larger families.
I’ll be honest, I worry a lot about taking our youngest three to a museum given their inability to be quiet and their incessant need to touch everything in sight, and yet the Yorkshire Museum is very much geared around children too.
As you enter the museum and into Roman York, a huge floor map shows the extent of the Empire, images of mosaics and frescoes decorate the walls and a mighty statue of Mars, the God of War, dominates the space. Many of the treasures in this gallery were collected by historians in the 1800s, fascinated by the Classical Roman and Greek worlds, and the classical-style columns of the museum’s Central Hall provide the perfect backdrop.
The children were amazed by a huge interactive screen where a “real life Roman” spoke to the children about life in the Empire. I love how the children took in all of that information, far better than they ever have done from the classroom alone.
New to the Yorkshire Museum, and officially opened by Sir David Attenborough back in March 2018, the Jurassic World exhibition is worth a visit for this alone. Like all children, Eva, Megan and Harry are dinosaur-mad, and so the moment we stepped inside their little faces were priceless.
At the start of the exhibition is an amazing interactive area where children can uncover dinosaur fossils and bones, something which is pretty exciting when you’re four, five and six!
From the depths of the deepest seas to the ancient coasts and tropical shallows, you can meet the dinosaurs and sea monsters that once roamed our vast and ever-changing landscapes. Experience each Jurassic world as the colossal creatures and their surroundings are brought to life using the latest research and ground-breaking technology. The holographic dinosaur was honestly one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in a museum!
It’s safe so say that Megan was over the moon to discover the Megalosaur! Although there is a lot of written information in the exhibition there are also lots of big bright pictures to capture children’s attention and of course, pose for a quick photo opportunity!
The children’s favourite thing about the Museum was the Virtual Reality station where you could actually feed a dinosaur – amazing! The only downside to this is that there is a height limit and, having realised he was just a centimetre too small, we had lots of tears from a heartbroken Harry who would have given anything to have a turn. For those whose children aren’t quite tall enough it might be worth hurrying through that section to avoid the same happening.
At various stations throughout the other exhibitions you can find lots of interactive activities such as coin rubbing, dress up, and Museum workers with a variety of historical artefacts which the children can actually hold and examine themselves.
We spent a couple of hours at the Yorkshire Museum making it a really fun way to pass a morning or afternoon, especially on a rainy day. We would definitely recommend a visit to families visiting the area.
You can’t visit York for the first time without visiting the Cathedral. York Minster is one of the worlds most magnificent cathedrals and has attracted people from across the globe for more than 1000 years.
Since the 7th century, the Minster has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England and still remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer. Every aspect of this ancient building – from the exquisite, handcrafted stone through to the unrivalled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Christianity and honestly, it is absolutely worth a visit if for nothing more than to admire the craftsmanship that has gone into such a stunning building.
York Castle Museum
The award winning York Castle Museum is the perfect chance to see hundreds of years of York’s history in one place – from recreated Jacobean dining rooms to infamous Victorian criminals and all the way to the Space Age and the swinging Sixties.
As well as the exhibitions you can go up to York Castle and learn more about the history of the city. Free to all YMT holders, and £10 per adult otherwise, children under 16 are free to enter which again makes this a really affordable family day out.
Bettys Tea Rooms
No visit to York is complete without a trip to Bettys famous Café Tea Rooms on St Helen’s Square. Despite salivating at the window every time we’ve passed over the years, we haven’t yet managed to get through the door. You only need to take a look at the queue, usually going right the way down the street, to see how popular it is, and so when we were invited along for afternoon tea with the children it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally give it a try!
I have shared my review of Bettys afternoon tea on the blog here so I won’t say too much, but what I will say is that this is so much more than “just tea and cake” – it’s a whole experience in itself and I think everyone should go even if just once in their lives. I love that we got to experience it together as a family, I think it will be something they always remember!
For anyone thinking of visiting York with a young family, for just a day or an extended stay, we can’t recommend it enough. There is so much to see and do and we have merely scratched the surface!