Why York is the ultimate child-friendly city break
Vikings and chocolate: With the multi-million pound reopening of the Jorvik Viking Centre and the 250th anniversary of York chocolatier, Terry’s, there’s never been a better time to take the kids to York
When our eldest (seven) came home from school with a homework assignment to give a short talk about the Vikings, and with our youngest turning five, the timing couldn’t have been better for a child-friendly trip to York – home of chocolate – to see the newly reopened Jorvik Viking Centre.
It proved to be an easy city stay with children – York’s old town is pedestrianised, small and very walkable, even for young children. Our recommendation is to travel by train; the station is right next to the old town and the main attractions are all within the city walls so you won’t need a car.
Overall the weekend was a winner for grown-ups and children. Packed with fascinating history, architecture and culture, the city’s narrow cobblestone streets and alleys are fun for little ones to explore and dotted with upmarket cafes, chic boutiques and chocolatiers. York is compact; our family managed a relaxed breakfast, then visited the Jorvik Viking Centre, York Minster, York Chocolate Story and walked a stretch of the City Walls in one day.
The children’s favourites included; the Victorian street at York Castle Museum and making a chocolate lolly at York’s Chocolate Story. However, the much-talked-about highlight of the trip – and I suspect the subject of my seven-year-old’s upcoming school presentation – seeing a real (fossilised) Viking poo.
Where should we go to eat?
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Step off the train with hungry little ones straight into platform 4’s West Cornwall Pasty Co. and dinner is solved. These award-winning pasties come in a swag of flavours from steak and stilton to chicken and chorizo. We tried the new gluten free and dairy free EveryBody traditional pasty, and EveryBody vegetarian cheese and onion pasty, both superb. Look out for organic fairtrade St Just coffee.
Platform 4, York Railway Station
Laid back vibe, rustic industrial décor and California-style healthy fresh food – this eatery was a huge family hit. Refreshing juices come with optional healthy booster shots of aloe vera, echinacea and collagen. The children were immediately handed colouring in, then hoovered up toast with hummus, cucumber and carrot sticks followed by gluten free chocolate pancakes from the junior menu.
Nearly everything is gluten-free; we savoured Hot Jacks bagel with roast chicken, red pepper and guacamole (£8.50), avocado on pumpernickel toast with feta and roasted pears plus two generous tasty salads (think kale, goji berries, quinoa, pomegranate) (£12). Extensive dairy free, vegan, vegetarian options plus a choice of 10 gluten free cakes.
Free wifi, views of York Minster. Highly recommended, we hope they open a café in our city.
62a Low Petergate, 01904 654 123
Quirky, friendly eatery with piano music pasted to the walls and fantastic food. Our children enjoyed the cauliflower and tomato soups, chunky cheese toasties; the ham dauphinoise was superb. Some tables have views of York Minster. Allergy-aware, there is an entirely gluten-free menu available.
21 Petergate, 01904 610478
Old-fashioned cocoa house where you can watch chocolate made on-site. The Belgian milk hot chocolate is probably the best we’ve ever tasted. We left with bags of flavoured chocolate buttons to recreate our own at home.
3 Blake St, 01904 675787
Award-winning cupcakes including some gluten-free options.
10 College St, 01904 638282
Perfect pit-stop for authentic Italian gelato
50 Goodramgate, 01904 655 630
What's there to see?
FYI, it’s worth buying a York Pass for free entry into over 30 major attractions: adult £38, child £24, pass discounts available online at York Pass
After being flooded last year, the UK’s most popular Viking attraction has unveiled a new multi-million pound reopening. Step into a time capsule and be whisked back to Viking times in AD975 with a talking tour (children’s and adult versions) through a recreated Viking village complete with houses, smells and sound effects.
Our children loved the life-like animatronic mannequins, some modelled from real skeletons with real recreated Viking faces, and animatronic animals, including squealing pigs. Highlights were walking over a glass floor looking down on a recreated archaeological dig, seeing real artefacts and making a Viking coin.
Tip: Ask for a booster seat so young children can reach the built-in headphones.
Open 10-5pm, pre-book online. Adults from £10.25, children age 5-16, £7.25, under 5s free, family and fast track tickets available, Jorvik Viking Centre
This impressive museum contains Kirkgate, a recreated Victorian street complete with shopkeepers and sweet shop, which captured our kids’ imaginations.
Guides in Victorian costumes tell tales of rich and poor York, with an alleyway of slum housing. Includes entry to original cells at York Castle Prison where legendary highwayman Dick Turpin was held, and film clips of actors playing the role of former inmates projected on the prison walls. On site Café 68.
9.30am-5pm, adults £10, children under 16 free, York Castle Museum
Ever-impressive, northern Europe’s largest gothic cathedral took 250 years to build. Our children found the soaring ceilings and stained glass windows awe-inspiring (well, for a few minutes anyway) then enjoyed searching for symbols on the stone flagstones before letting off steam in the gardens at the back.
Family discovery trails and craft activities available, York Minster
Walk the City Walls
Kids love this activity; an interesting stretch is from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar with incredible views of York Minster.
8am-dusk, free entry, Yorkwalls
A one-minute walk from York Minster is Museum Gardens, packed with botanical plants. Set within the medieval ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey alongside the Yorkshire Museum, it has pram-friendly paths and plenty of space for children to run around.
Free entry, 7.30am-8pm, Yorkshire Museum.org.uk
Fully guided tour with a blend of York’s chocolate history, old chocolate adverts, interactive chocolate exhibits and a new exhibition, 250 years of Terry’s. Lasts 1.5 hours, chocolates (with allergy-free options) were handed out at just the right intervals to keep our children interested.
Kids can learn how to taste chocolate like a pro (not that my brood needed any help with this) and make their own chocolate lolly. Open 10am, last tour 4pm, best to book in advance.
Adult £11.50, child 4-15 years £9.50, children under 4 go free. Family tickets available, Yorks Chocolate Story
300 years of railway history, over a million objects and just about every imaginable engine, locomotive and carriage, under one roof. Indoor, outdoor cafes, outdoor play area.
Open 10am-6pm, Leeman Road, National Railway Museum
Where should we stay?
For five-star luxury and fabulous Edwardian architecture, try the The Grand York Hotel & Spa. Originally built as the North Eastern Railway headquarters in 1906, it’s an easy two-minute walk from the train station, right opposite the city walls.
We stayed in the interconnecting Executive room; two palatial rooms linked by its own hall with entrance door (an ideal spot for a babysitter to sit). The vibe is old school grandeur with friendly staff, helpful concierge and a turn down service.
Bags are whisked away on arrival, bedrooms feature crisp white bed linen, expansive oval baths and complimentary chocolates and lemonade. It’s child-friendly, our children loved the activity pack and wearing their own mini robes and slippers. The 14-metre swimming pool was warm (children are welcome anytime).
The Spa (housed in the old bank vaults) is a haven of calm with a steam room, sauna, gym and ESPA treatments. Open until 9pm, make your escape once the kids are in bed. Alternatively, sample dinner at 3 AA Rosette restaurant, Hudson’s, or a dram in the cosy whisky lounge. Children’s afternoon tea (£18) includes an activity pack and gingerbread men, fairy cakes and jelly while parents can enjoy the champagne version.
Families with early rising children will appreciate early breakfast from 7am; with cooked and continental options (the Yorkshire breakfast and smoked kippers were divine) and fresh pastries. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the first-class luxury to go sight-seeing; we’d return in a heartbeat. Babysitting by hotel arrangement.
Station Rise, 01904 380038, www.thegrandyork.co.uk
For practicality, StayCity Aparthotel York is less than 10-minutes’ walk from York Castle Museum in the old town. This chain of aparthotels is in major UK cities and expanding across France. It combines the best of both worlds for families – the reassurance of having a 24-hour reception, with the ease of a self-catering apartment with fully-equipped kitchen including dishwasher, washing machine/dryer and plastic tableware and cutlery for the children.
Our apartment, with its on trend grey and yellow decor, was very clean, had two sofa beds in the lounge and a powerful rainforest shower. Although we did see one hen night group, reception locates families away from groups and we didn’t hear any noise during the night. Practical and stylish, we’d return. Ideal for families with young children who prefer nipping back for lunch sleeps and cooking meals for fussy eaters.
One, two and three bedroom apartments available, cots and highchairs on request. Gym, free wifi. Basic café; breakfast (£7.95), kids breakfast (£3.95), pizza, focaccias, sandwiches and pastries. One bedroom apartment from £105 per night.
Paragon Street, 01904 626311, Stay City
To live like a local, El Piano is an award-winning vegan and gluten-free eatery with child-friendly bijou B&B above. The owners rent only one room at a time (a double or a family room) so you’ll have the place to yourselves. Ideally located in the heart of the old town. Gluten-free breakfasts available, £10 per person, children under 10 eat free. Family room, £100 per night.
15-17 Grape Lane, 01904 610676, El-Piano