York with children – the City of Chocolate is rich in history, but will it prove a sweet treat for this family?
Our children jumped up and down in excitement when we said we were going to York.
When our daughter asked about the aeroplane and our son mentioned Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, we realised they thought we were spending our two-day break in the Big Apple.
Thankfully they were still pleased when we explained that York is walled city in northern England.
Our Harry Potter-mad son was especially keen when we said we would visit the real-life Diagon Alley.
Shambles – Diagon Alley
Shambles – the oldest shopping street in Europe – was the inspiration for the wizarding street in the films and it didn’t disappoint.
A few businesses in this narrow medieval lane have capitalised on the link – The Shop That Must Not Be Named and other wizarding stories were selling Harry Potter wands and other goodies.
The City of Chocolate
York is also famous for chocolate. Its popular products include Rowntree’s Kit Kats, Smarties and Aero and Terry’s Chocolate Orange and All Gold.
So, a guided tour at York’s Chocolate Story was top of my wish list (make sure you book in advance, it’s popular).
We learned about the city’s famous chocolate-making families and how to eat chocolate like an expert.
Best of all we had some ‘free’ samples along the way and got to make chocolate lollipops!
For our full review of York’s Chocolate Story read here.
York is great to explore on foot – all the attractions we did were within walking distance and lots of the centre is pedestrianised.
Presiding over it all is the city’s huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster.
It is magnificent but we feared our eight and four-year-old might still find it dull. Thankfully, they were given a treasure trail and binoculars which saved the day.
On a treasure trail
Also go armed with facts if you can – ours liked hearing that it took 250 years to build and is 160 metres long, for example.
York Castle Museum
Most of the activities we enjoyed celebrated the rich history of this city, which was founded by the ancient Romans.
York Castle Museum doesn’t go back quite this far but it does showcase 400 years of York’s past.
The Victorian street
Our son’s school topic this term is the Victorians. So, a replica Victorian Street here really grabbed his interest.
A Victorian sweet shop
Toy exhibits were also a highlight, along with old prison cells which held criminals including highwayman Dick Turpin.
For our review of York Castle Museum and tips, click here.
National Railway Museum
Another place with a huge collection is the National Railway Museum, home to around 60 vehicles
National Railway Museum
Our favourites here included the collection of royal train saloons. You can peep through the windows to see the lounge and bedroom carriages on trains used by monarchs from Queen Victoria through to Queen Elizabeth II. For a full review and pictures, see here.
Entry here is free but you have to pay for extras – a ride on a miniature train cost £10 for the four of us. For our full review and tips, click here.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Next we had to travel further back in time to discover The Vikings.
Jorvik Viking Centre is built on the site of amazing archaeology finds.
It tells the story of an excavation in the 1970s which pieced together the story of the Vikings of Jorvik.
A ride takes you around recreations of 10th century York, then you can see 1,000-year-old artefacts from the dig on display.
Jorvik Viking Centre
There was a long queue to get in when we visited – apparently it is quieter first thing and around 3pm.
Our eight and four-year-old were not as interested in this attraction but their eagerness to get around quickly may have had more to do with the fact it was nearly lunchtime.
City Cruises York
We found a nice warm place with a great view to eat our picnic – aboard a York City Cruise.
This 45-minute ride up and down the River Ouse was accompanied by excellent commentary from the driver.
City Cruises York on the River Ouse
And it was nice to relax for a bit amid all the activities.
Staycity Aparthotel York
After a day of history we were able to enjoy the modern comforts of our base – Staycity York.
This aparthotel was built in 2016 and has studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
Our lounge/diner/kitchen area
We had a roomy two-bedroomed apartment with a lounge/dining/kitchen area and two modern bathrooms. It was fully equipped with everything you could need including a cooker, microwave and dishwasher.
But it also has he benefits of a hotel – there’s a gym, café, laundry and 24-hour reception. Plus there’s a nearby multi-storey car park where you get a discount – we left our car here for the whole trip.
Staycity York is in a good spot next to the Barbican theatre (for our full review click here). We could even see part of the city walls we had walked earlier from our room.
York City Walls
The walls are the longest medieval walls in England at over two miles.
York city walls
There are some good views but make sure to keep hold of little ones as only the higher drops seem to have railings.
Cobbled streets, tea rooms, a city steeped in history and a bit of Harry Potter thrown in made for a magical two days.
New York can take a back seat. Our children love old York.
For more ideas and information go to the VisitYork website.
A York Pass is the city’s official sightseeing card. It gives you free to more than 40 attractions in York and beyond. For more information see here.
We were given York Passes for the purpose of this review (all views are our own).
If you want to see some of Britain’s best known ships up close then it’s a short walk from the tower to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
This huge site, which is still home to the Royal Navy, has enough attractions to occupy an entire day.
Out first stop was HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar.
It is amazingly well preserved with a well thought-through route that takes you right down into the bowels of the boat.
Where they slept on HMS Victory
You can follow in Nelson’s footsteps and also experience life below deck where the sailors had to eat, sleep and be treated for war wounds.
Also at the dockyard we sampled the Action Stations hanger which has a climbing wall, rope course and a helicopter simulator giving children the chance to act like Royal Marines.
The site also has HMS Warrior, the biggest ship in the world when it was built in 1860, Henry VIII’s famous Mary Rose and plenty more.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate its scale is to go on the museum’s 45-minute harbour tour. This takes you around the Royal Navy’s current warships and onto The Solent. You can hop on and off at Gunwharf Quays near the Spinnaker Tower to cut down on walking (and enjoy a shop if you have time).
All you need to know about Stonehenge in Wiltshire
What is it?
Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.
It is a huge man-made circle of standing stones, built over hundreds of years. Nobody knows exactly why Stonehenge was built, but people probably gathered there for religious ceremonies.
Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over 10,000 years. The structure that we call Stonehenge was built between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago and was once part of a larger sacred landscape.
With over 10 million visitors a year, Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions
Where is it?
It stands on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, England and its giant stones can be seen from miles around.
There is a £27 million visitor centre, 1.5 miles from the stones, which opened in 2013. There is plenty of free parking and it is very nicely done.
The entrance to Stonehenge Visitor Centre
Once you’ve got your tickets you can go into the new museum. Our children were encouraged to enter through a ‘magic door’ into a 360-degree video of Stonehenge in all weathers.
Our children loved pretending it was really snowing and it got them excited about the museum.
A 360-degree video of Stonehenge
A 5,500-year-old skeleton and a timeline of Stonehenge proved the other most interesting items for our seven and three-year-old children in this museum.
Outside there are examples of how hard it was to move the huge stones and recreations of Neolithic Houses. You can go inside them to see how some of the earliest settlers lived.
Reaching the stones
You can walk but it is 1.5 miles and would take a long time with small children. Stonehenge put on regular buses, every five minutes, shuttling from the visitors centre to the stones and back.
Our three-year-old loved the bus ride and it made the experience more exciting for her. You can stop off half way and walk up to the stones if you prefer but in February it was easier for us to take the bus all the way.
The bus to catch to the stones
Visitors are dropped off a few hundred yards away and then make their way up a wide path.
You can get within about 30 yards of the stones, there are a range of viewing points but on a busy day it can be a battle to find a clear spot to take a photo.
Part of the fun is seeing tourists from around the world posing for their snaps – we even found one American doing a handstand! There are information boards around the site, which are child-friendly.
What a pose
The facilities, which also include a shop and busy cafe, are good. The museum, although small, is thoughtfully done and the 4,500 year old stones inspired all ages.
At £50, it isn’t a cheap way to spend a couple of hours but this is a child-friendly attraction.
It costs £50 for a family ticket to Stonehenge but it is free to English Heritage and National Trust in England members (not National Trust Scotland members) if booked in advance.
If you take into account that family membership of either is around £100 per year (National Trust £114, English Heritage £96) it is worth joining before you visit.
If you are paying on the day, £50 is quite a lot for what will probably only take a couple of hours – unless you are going for a long walk in the woods on site.
Food: Picnics are welcome and there is a cafe near the shop in the visitor centre.
Opening hours: Varies depending on the time of year. Entrance through timed tickets.
Cost: Entry costs £49.40 for a family. Adult entry is £19.00, child (5-15) is £11.40. Free entry for National Trust in England (not Scotland) and English Heritage members if booked in advance.
Best for: ages eight to 15
Time needed: Two hours
Access and restrictions: The main areas are accessible by wheelchair.
Address: Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE
Have you been? Tell us what you thought of Stonehenge below.