I’ve just got back from two days in York with my teenage son (who’s 14) and we had an amazing time. It’s a an excellent city for teenagers and older kids (my 10 year old son loved it too).
Find out my top picks of York attractions for teenagers. There are also some great tips on where to eat and how to get the best value for money.
It may come as no surprise that York Dungeon was my teen’s number 1 attraction!
My 14 year old son loved it. York is a city for history and the great thing about the dungeon is that it presents the history in a fun way that will engage teenagers without them knowing it.
You walk through the dungeon and each room has a scary character, that brings the history to life in a funny but frightening way. We had a lot of laughs as well as jumps as we walked through.
My 14-year-old son’s favorite room was where the torturer showed them torturous instruments and we got an in-depth description of how each instrument was used!
Is it scary?
For some people. Yes! The attraction advises that it’s not suitable for under 8s and I would fully agree. There were 3 children who were under 8 who had to leave during our visit. The first child didn’t even make it through the beginning. The lights are turned off at points and you are in almost total darkness which seemed to freak some little ones out! My 10 year old was fine, but if your kid doesn’t like the dark – you’ve been warned!
Was I scared? Not really. The last room made me jump a little but mostly it was entertaining!
Top Tips – The York dungeons are expensive! However, there is often a 2 for 1 deal you can get (Kellogs cereals often have 2 for 1 deals on the cereal packets – tends to be in the first half of the year).
We missed that deal this year, but we got about 10% off with our RAC membership.
The York dungeons are also included in the York Pass. This is well worth looking into getting if you’re going to do quite a few attractions in York as it can save you lots.
At the time of writing (August 2021) you need to make sure you book in advance. Otherwise, it’s likely the attraction will be full due to the limited numbers allowed.
York Minster Tower Climb Challenge
This was my teen’s second favorite activity.
A visit to York Minster is a must if you’re in York. It’s beautiful and amazing.
However, York Minster itself didn’t engage my teen. At the beginning of our visit, we sat down and I admired the interior open-mouthed. I looked over to see my son gawping at his phone – sigh – oh well!
Top tip – some teenagers might be engaged by lighting a candle. Others may enjoy the crypt.
However, as well as discovering York Minster I’d also booked the tower climb challenge. This involves climbing 275 medieval-style steps in a windy staircase to reach the top of the tower. Turns out this was a big hit with my son!
I silently endured the tower climb as my son merrily told me how many steps we’d done so far. There is a slight reprieve from the windy staircase after 108 steps where you can walk across a viewing area outside. This is a good point to turn around if you’re no longer up for it! I’m not good with windy staircases or heights – but I managed all the way to the top. The climb takes around 10 minutes (so isn’t long really). It gets narrow in places (so not great for claustrophobics either).
The view from the top was worth every minute of endurance. I was so glad I did it. And both my 14 and 10 year old loved it too. The top of the tower is all fenced in – which is good for me as it helped with my fear of heights. As you can see from the picture below there are camera shaped holes so you can take some amazing photos (and get a good look out too).
Top Tips – book your general admissions and tower tickets at the same time in advance to ensure you get a place.
The entry fee for York Minster is included in the York Pass. However, the Tower climb isn’t. At the time of writing it will cost an extra £5 per person.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Photo credit : Ann Lee / Flickr – inside Jorvik Viking Centre.
The Viking Centre is fascinating and done in such a way that teenagers can’t help but engage with some of York’s Viking history.
You are taken on a ride around a Jorvik (York) in Viking times. The reconstruction of the village is based on archaeological sites. They know exactly what the people ate by the fish bones they found, what they played with by toys and games found and how they worked by the tools discovered. Some of the people’s faces in the village are actually based on reconstructions from skeletons they found. A narrator tells you stories of the people you’re looking at as you ride around and lots of other interesting facts.
As we travelled around the village, it occurred to me how much more information teens are taking in when history is presented in this way rather than just looking at exhibits.
Having said that, there are many exhibits at the end which are also fascinating if you have time to engage your teenager a little. There are full skeletons of people that lived around the time and the information they can gain from the bones is so amazing. They know whether they were brought up in the city or a village in Scandinavia or the UK. They can tell ailments they suffered from and how they died. There’re weapons, coins, instruments and also a viking poo… hmmm.
The entire visit took us around an hour, so it’s not long. However, all the family enjoyed this one.
Top Tip – If you’re considering visiting lots of attractions, the Jorvik Viking Centre is included in the York Pass.
Another option is to buy a combined ticket which included the Jorvik Viking Centre, Dig (this looks good for younger kids) and Barley Hall.
Find out more information on the Jorvik Viking Centre website.
The Shambles is a picturesque, cobbled, narrow street, dating back to medieval times. It’s used to be full of Butcher’s shops but now it’s full of interesting little boutiques such as small cafes, a fudge shop, a Christmas shop and a chocolate shop.
If you have a Harry Potter teen fan which my son is – The Shambles is a must. It inspired the look of Diagonal Alley in the film. There are lots of Harry Potter inspired shops to celebrate its look!
What I really loved was how some of the second floor of the shops overhang the ground floor. It fascinates me to think why they were built like that.
York Castle Museum
Photo credit: York Castle Museum / Facebook
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit the York Castle Museum as we went to York on Monday and Tuesday and it’s closed on these days.
However, if it had been open we would have gone because it’s another York attraction which seems to do an interesting job of bringing history to life. A highlight is the reconstruction of a Victorian street you can walk along. There are many other interesting displays and collections to look at including war rooms, old toys and a jail.
Find out more at York Castle Museum
The York Walls are free and you can’t go to York without doing at least one section of the walls.
The section with the best views are the ones passing York Minster and most teens will love the novelty of walking along for at least one part.
My boys are good at walking so I made them do all of it. And they didn’t complain so that’s as good at top marks!
Find out more about the York Walls
Another free attraction is the railway museum, (a £5 donation is suggested). Like most attractions at the moment, you still need to go on the website and book in advance.
The Railway museum is currently the top attraction for York on trip advisor, so worth checking out.
It’s one we chose not to do because of time restrictions, but if we were to go back, it would be on our to do list. There’s a huge selection of trains. Some that might particularly interest teenagers included the Bullet train from Japan.
Other exhibits include Royal carriages, Army and hospital trains.
Teens may also enjoy the Mallard experience which is an exhilarating simulator ride on the world’s fastest steam locomotive. It costs a small fee of £3.
Find out more at the National Railway Museum
Shopping in York
Photo of Parliament Street (during the pandemic) by DS Pugh / Wikipedia
If your teen likes shopping, like most city centres there are lots of places to shop. Here is a quick round up. The great thing about shopping in York is there are lots of interesting little boutiques and independent shops to explore as well as the big high street names.
Parliament Street – this is York’s high street and there are a range of high street shops to explore including Marks and Spencer and New Look.
Coney Street – Coney Street has more high street names including TK Maxx and Next.
The Shambles Market – there’s 70 outdoor market stalls with everything from fruit and veg to vintage fashion. The Shambles is nextdoor to the market.
Coppergate Shopping Centre – this is the home of shops including Primark and the Body shop. It’s also the home of the Jorvik Viking Centre
York Designer Outlet – The designer outlet on the outskirts of York. If your teen is into shopping, it’s worth a trip out.
My teenage son isn’t a good shopper. However, I managed to drag him into TK Maxx to get some new joggers in between visits to the dungeon and the Jorvik Centre. This is a huge plus for me as he needs new clothes and I can’t get him to the shops normally. Job done, little moaning.
York’s Chocolate Story
Your teenager likes chocolate right? How did I guess? Another one on my list for our next visit is the Chocolate Story.
There’s an entertaining tour and learn about the history of Yorks chocolate making families. You can learn how to taste chocolate like an expert and learn about the sustainable future of chocolate.
The whole tour takes about an hour and at the end you get to see a chocolate demonstration and get to make and decorate a chocolate lolly.
Find out more at York’s Chocolate Story.
The Original Ghost Tour of York
One thing York does really well is walking history tours. One for teens not to miss out on is a ghost tour.
The tour takes about 90 minutes and includes spooky and funny stories.
You’ll explore alleys you may not have walked down otherwise.
If your teen is not keen on walking but you are, it’s a great way to get them out and about while enjoying themselves.
Check out more on the Ghost Tour of York website.
The Best of the Rest
You’ve read about the top 10 attractions for teenagers in York. However, there are many more. Here are just a selection of some other ideas:
Hop On and Off Bus
When your feet get tired, hop on and off the York sightseeing bus. If you get a York pass the hop on and off bus is included.
Find out more at Sightseeing York
Ghost Bus Tour
When evening comes, hop on this bus tour to discover some haunted sights in York including the Minster and Cliffords Tower. A guide entertains you on the journey with ghostly stories of spirits, unfortunate characters and nasty crimes.
Find out more at Ghost Bus Tours York.
The Point Zero Trampoline Park
There’s over 100 floor level trampolines to bounce on. There is also a basketball and dodgeball zone, climbing, a speed test and monkey bars. Teenagers aged 16 and over can also join in the fitness class on a Wednesday evening.
Find out more at Point Zero Trampoline Park
Hole in the Wand Mini Golf
9 holes of mini golf with a magical potion drink at the end. Sounds like fun. Especially on a rainy day.
Find out more about Hole in the Wand Mini Golf
On a beautiful sunny day, the gardens are brilliant for a stroll around, sitting down and chilling out or a picnic. They’re located in York city centre and close to the railway station. You can see the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey here which are pretty impressive to look at (even for teens). The Abbey was once a very wealthy Benedictine monastery.
Find out more at the Museum Gardens York
Sightseeing Boat Trip
Another fab way to see York is a river cruise. There are many cruises you can take including a sightseeing cruise, an afternoon tea cruise, an evening or night cruise and lots more. There is also a Halloween cruise during October and festive cruises (available from the end of November into December).
Find out more about York Boat Trips
York Cocoa Works
Another chocolate experience to consider is York cocoa works where you can experience making your own chocolate bars. It’s an alternative chocolate experience to the chocolate story and it’s included in the York Pass.
Find out more about York Cocoa Works
In October the York Maze is open for Halloween nights and these are great for teenagers. There is a night aimed at 10 to 15 year olds and an adult themed night (be aware this is not for the faint hearted!)
You can go to the maze in the summer but it’s aimed at younger kids, although teens may enjoy it as well.
The Maze is a little way out of the centre of York and you’ll probably need a car to get there.
Find out more at York Maze
York Axe Throwing
Axe throwing is tons of fun and like no activity you’ve probably done before. The minimum age for this is 13. Coaches will work with each player to make sure they know how to throw an axe and are comfortable with the task. Then have fun throwing axes at a target!
They are located in Goodramgate (about 4 minutes from The Minster)
Find out more at The Hilt website
Like most UK cities, York has several escape rooms with different themes to choose from. You have 60 minutes to follow the clues and solve the puzzles to escape the rooms.
If you want to make this activity unique to York, why not choose a Viking escape room at Mindlock York.
They are a great activity for teenagers, especially when it’s raining.
Where to Eat with Teens in York
One thing I really loved about York was that it seems to have escaped the surge of the chain restaurant and there are lots of independent eateries to try.
I’m not an expert at eating in York but it’s worth highlight a couple of places that my teens and family enjoyed and some more it may be worth trying out.
Plush Cafe – York
Plushcafe is a great place for a pitstop. Have some lunch, a small brunch or an afternoon dessert or cake. Plush cafe is one of the most Instagram worthy cafes in York. There are quirky themed rooms including the Neon room (see picture below) and the Garden room which has swings as seats. Like many cafes in York, it’s an independent, family run business.
My two sons had a chocolate cookie and ice cream dessert. I had a plate of loaded nachos and my husband had a bacon ciabatta.
Find more information on the Plush Cafe website
The Pig & Pastry Cafe
If you’re looking for somewhere for a full English breakfast to start the day, it’s difficult to go wrong with the Pig and Pastry cafe. It’s a neighbourhood cafe in Bishopthorpe Road, York. It has fabulous reviews for breakfast on trip advisor and is well worth checking out.
Cosy Club York
We enjoyed a breakfast in Cosy Club, York. There are other branches of this restaurant in other cities so it’s not an independent. However, we had a lovely cooked breakfast there and would recommend. The restaurant is comfortable and feels very elegant with splendid artwork and beautiful lighting.
Find out more at Cosy Club York.
Betty’s Tea Room
No list of where to eat in York would be complete without a listing for Betty’s tea room. If you’d like to go for afternoon tea, this is the place to go with amazing cakes. There is often a queue to get in – showing its popularity.
Pandi Mami is a self service buffet with food from around the world including Chinese, Indian and Asian food. It’s a chain restaurant but teens are sure to like helping themselves to the food they want and the chocolate fountain! It does have a few mixed reviews on trip advisor but it has been recommended to me as a good place to eat in York for teens, so you can make up your own mind!
Where to Stay
York is not short on hotels, apartments and hostels to stay in.
We stayed in the Stay City aparthotel. The apartment was clean and great for us to sleep in. For If you book through their website you can join their club and get 10% off.
There is something in York to suit all kinds of budgets.
For budget accommodation, consider the YHA York hostel.
For high end accommodation the Grand York is a 5 star spa hotel.
I always start with Booking.com for my hotel search. As well as hotels they also feature private rentals and apartments.
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