red brick buildings against blue sky, next to river with boats on
Things to do

Best tours in York

There are several choices of tours in York that are suitable to do with kids.

A tour will familiarise you with the layout of the City of York, introduce you to the various things to do in York and teach you about the city’s historical past, its colourful characters and architectural styles.

Taking a tour is a great introduction to a new city and if you are on a York day trip, you will see and learn a lot in a short space of time.

I have taken several tours in York with visiting friends and family and as someone who has visited York city centre hundreds of times, I find that each tour I take shows or teaches me something new.

 

Self guided tours in York

 

A self guided tour will not give you the same level of information as a guided tour and you will not be able to ask questions but you will be able to walk at your own pace. Plus, taking a break where and when you want to is a great option if you are visiting York with kids.

Plus, most of the self guided tours in York have been designed specifically for families.

Walking in York is easy with kids as the city centre is compact and pedestrianised after 10.30am.

 

Treasure Hunt York

 

We completed this fun mobile phone tour in 2021 and found it well paced and engaging. Solving cryptic clues led us to interesting sights and locations we have not seen before and we discovered new information about our home city.

The tour is downloaded to your phone so there is no pre ordering or printing necessary. Families have access to the trail for 24 hours so you can break your tour as many times as you like, even overnight if needed.

The trail takes around two hours to complete and visits the major York attractions though the attractions themselves are not the focus of the trail.  We had to hunt for hidden sculptures and plaques and we liked that the trail also covered some hidden gems in York.

For example, we discovered a new snicket (alleyway) in the heart of York city centre that leads to a fantastic tranquil garden and picnic spot.

Cost – Treasure Hunt York costs £9.99 per adult and children 15 and under play for free.

I highly recommend this York tour, check it out here. 

 

Cat Trail

 

The Cat Trail starts at The Cat Gallery on Low Petergate and leads families around York city centre.

There are 20 cat sculptures ‘hidden’ on city centre buildings for you to find; some of the sculptures date back 100 years.

The free, gently paced trail takes 1 hour and can be downloaded online before your visit here or pick up a free copy from the gallery.

 

Squirrel Tour

 

This short, engaging tour of Museum Gardens is ideal for young kids and is free to download from the Museum Gardens website.

The free trail covers all the hidden gems in Museum Gardens and culminates in a short quiz.

Download your copy here. 

 

boy in blue jumper pointing down a cobbled street with white buildings, tours in York with kids
Following Treasure Hunt York

 

Free walking tours in York

 

Free walking tours are a great option if you are visiting York on a budget.

The Association of Voluntary Guides to the City of York offer free, no tip tours starting from Exhibition Square, in front of York Art Gallery.

These year round tours are led by knowledgeable local people (volunteers) and run every day starting at 10.15 am and 1.15 pm with more frequent tours in the peak summer months.

This is a comprehensive tour covering York city centre and will last around 2 – 2 1/2 hours and is one of the best free things to do in York. 

 

 

Guided tours in York

 

 

York walking tours

 

A tip based tour from White Rose Tours lasts 3 hours and includes a rest break halfway through the tour.

Families are welcome to join the tours for as little or as long as they want. The tours are led by historians and history enthusiasts so are ideal if you are a history loving family.

Tours start every day at 11 am from outside the west entrance of York Minster.

 

York river cruise

 

City Cruises York operate 45 minute – 1 hour cruises on the River Ouse with running commentary throughout.

In addition to frequent day time cruises, City Cruises York offers evening sunset cruises and night time flood light cruises. The boats have both outdoor and indoor seating so tours can be enjoyed in all weathers.

The tour is short but it is informative. Plus a York river cruise is a fun way to gain a different perspective of our beautiful city and a good option for reluctant little walkers.

Cost – £11.95 for adults, £6.75 for children aged 5-15 years, under 5’s free. A family of four ticket costs £31.

 

York bus tour

 

City Sightseeing York is open top bus tour around York city centre with audio commentary. This is a great option for non English speakers as the tour is available in 10 languages. There is also an audio commentary specifically for kids.

The 14 stop, hop on hop off tour is available over 24 hours which provides families with much needed flexibility.

However, due to the nature of York city centre you will not be able to get close as you might like to some of the attractions such as York Minster. You will have to disembark this York sightseeing bus and walk to some attractions.

Cost – £16 for adults, £9 for children aged 5-15 years with children under 5 free. A family of four ticket costs £35.

An alternative York boat trip is to hire your own boat for £30 an hour from the Little Red Boat company. Click here for more details.

 

 

After dark tours in York

 

 

A York ghost walk

 

Any trip to York should include a ghost tour as York is reputedly one of the most haunted locations in England. On a dark and gloomy winters night, it doesn’t take much imagination to see why.

There are several walking ghost tours in York city centre. Each tour lasts between 1 – 2 hours and will bring you to most of York’s principal attractions but also some hidden gems such as Lady Peckett’s Yard and the Merchant Adventurers Hall which are not covered by other tours.

None of these tours are terrifying – no one will jump out at you in costume – but the stories your children will hear can be ghoulish and macabre.

 

The Shambles York, lopsided buildings at night lit by street lamp, tours in York
The Shambles after dark…

 

Best ghost tours in York

 

The highly rated Original Ghost Walk of York departs from The Kings Arm pub near Ouse Bridge (known locally as the pub that floods) at 8pm and lasts around 1 1/2 hours.

Cost – £7.50 per adult and £5 per child.

 

The award winning Ghost Hunt of York starts every night at 7.30pm from The Shambles; you can’t miss the guide in his black top hat.

This self rated ‘PG’ tour is highly entertaining and last around 1 1/4 hours.

Cost – £10 for adults, £6.66 for children.

 

The family friendly – and pushchair friendly – The Ghost Trail of York starts every night at 7.30pm from outside the west entrance of York Minster.

This is an entertaining, award winning tour lasting around 70 minutes. Groups are kept small and places are limited so book online in advance.

Cost – Adults £5, children £3

 

The Bloody Tour of York is led by the award winning and entertaining Mad Alice. Learn how she – and other colourful York characters – lived and died.

This 90 minute tour starts at a family friendly 6pm from St William college at the back of York Minster. From April to October there is an additional 8pm tour.

Cost – £12 for adults, £6 for children

 

York ghost bus tour

 

The York Ghost Bus tour is a 1 1/4 hour tour on a black Routemaster bus. It departs at 7.30pm and 9pm from outside The Principal Hotel next to York rail station.

Billed as ‘a comedy horror theatre on wheels’ and led by trained actors, the tour circles the city centre so you may not get a clear view of the location being talked about. At times, passengers will need to disembark.

The tour also visits locations a little further out from York City Centre including highwayman Dick Turpin’s grave. I’d recommend reading online, recent reviews before booking to check this tour suits you and your children.

Cost – £16 for adults, £12 for children aged 5-15 years and £47 for a family of four.

 

Check out my guide to getting around York here. 

 

 

 

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