Here are a variety of activities and fun things to do for families in York which have always been favourites with my own three children.
In the Southbank area, Rowntree Park is a real locals’ secret. It has a well equipped playground, an ornamental lake, half of which is used for sailing model boats, a skateboarding area , tennis and basketball courts, and lots of ducks and geese.
I should also point out that there’s a fair amount of goose poo around, so be careful where you put your pic-nic blanket.
If that sounds too risky, you can visit the cafe instead! The Millenium Bridge is just around the corner, as well as some open grassed areas often used by families for ball games. The nearby cycle paths along the river are a great traffic free place for young cyclists to get some practice in. Free, small charge for use of courts.
York isn’t particularly well catered for in the way of swimming pools, but Water World at Monk’s Cross goes some way towards compensating for it. The main, chaotic, fun pool has slides, flumes, wave effects and a lazy river.
There’s a relatively small but much quieter pool for serious swimmers, with cordoned off lanes for swimming lengths, and a toddlers’ pool for little ones. Admission fees apply, flumes extra.
DIG is a unique York attraction run by the same team as the Jorvik Viking Centre, where kids get to be junior archaeologists. The experience begins with a search through mock-up excavation pits for buried artefacts, and there’s a chance to try out archaeological techniques in the three discovery rooms, including studying bed bugs through microscropes! Tours are led by a guide so advance booking is recommended. Allow an hour and a half. Admission fees apply.
Eight miles from York, the National Trust’s Beningbrough Hall was recently shortlisted for the Guardian’s Kids in Museums award. This Georgian mansion displaying portraits from the National Portrait Gallery is very child-friendly with interactive galleries where kids can dress up for their own portrait. Outside is a park and gardens, and there’s a great adventure playground in a woodland setting. Admission fees apply, National Trust members free.
This giant maze made from maize is just outside York and is open over summer, from when the maize has grown until it is harvested. There’s also a maze of illusions, a natural play area with sand and water play for young children, a climbing zone for older ones, giant inflatables, and farm animals to meet. A great day out, but not open for long each year so don’t miss it. Admission fees apply.
City Centre Street Entertainers
Over the summer months, you can see some seriously good entertainment on the streets of York, both in the way of musicians, such as the native South American band whose performance involves dance as well as music, and circus style entertainers like Mr Yellow who my kids sit and watch for ages.
Particularly useful when the rest of what you have to do in town isn’t child friendly – try “Just one more shop then we can go and watch Mr Yellow!” Entertainers vary but there’s generally a good selection. Look for them in and around Parliament Street, St Helen’s Square next to Betty’s and at the top of Shambles and Colliergate by St Paul’s Catholic book shop. Free, donation optional.
York’s main museums and York City Art Gallery are great places to visit with children. They also all run programmes of children’s activities during school holidays. Leaflets detailing these can be picked up from the museums themselves, from Visit York tourist info, or check out the museums’ individual websites. The Museum Gardens is the best centrally located green space for kids to let off steam and they’ll love playing among the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.