Having lived in York for over a year now, I can honestly say that York is such a unique city. It is one of the most visited cities in England (after London, of course), and can be packed with tourists. Being a resident has given me a different perspective, but I can’t blame the hordes of crowds that inundate the city during summer: York is special. And there is perhaps no better time to visit York than during the festive Christmas period! Here are 9 reasons to visit York at Christmas.
1) St. Nicholas Fair (Christmas Market)
During Christmastime, York plays host to St. Nicholas Fair. Christmas market stalls take over Parliament Street and local vendors come out to sell gifts, food, mulled wine, and more! There are so many different stalls, and wandering through the market is a must for any trip to York over Christmas.
2) Thor’s Tipi
While you’re around Parliament Street and St. Nicholas Fair, you simply can’t miss a visit to Thor’s Tipi. This giant tent transforms into a medieval-type bar inside, with classic wintery/festive drinks on offer, benches with animal furs, and a fire to warm you up. If you’re looking for a festive drink, look no further!
3) York Ice Trail
Quite possibly my favorite event during York’s Christmas season—the York Ice Trail! One weekend in December, the city is taken over by 45 ice sculptures dotted around town. Each sculpture is sponsored by a York business, and some have competitions where you can win prizes! Some of my favorite sculptures from this most recent Ice Trail were the flower in ice (the Botanist), the ring in ice (Bradley’s Jewellers), and the Viking ship (First Group buses). You can pick up a map at most places in town to track all the sculptures down!
4) Christmas Shopping
A lot of cities can boast decent Christmas shopping opportunities. But York really does take it one step further. York is a city that has its core base of small, local, independent shops and businesses. Put simply, you’ll find gifts at one of York’s specialty stores that you just can’t find at big malls or name brand stores. York is even home to a year-round Christmas store on Stonegate—Käthe Wohlfahrt!
5) Winter Wonderland Fair at King’s Square
Visiting York over the holidays with kids? The Winter Wonderland Fair has several classic rides, including the ever-popular carousel, right in the heart of the city center at King’s Square. It’s a great stop to break up shopping and walking if you’re coming to York with children.
6) Lights on the City Bars
The gates to the city of York are called “bars,” and there are still 4 remaining bars in York. When it hits mid-November, the city goes all out and puts up massive lights all over the wall of the bars! Some people may think they’re a bit tacky—I absolutely love it. My personal favorite is Walmgate Bar, where you can actually go out on the gate itself if you visit Gatehouse Coffee!
7) Panto at York Theater Royal
The pantomime is one of the greatest and most unique of all the traditions of British theater. Put simply, it’s a Christmas theater show (nearly always a fairytale), with plenty of slapstick, improv, audience interaction, centered around the Dame—a man playing a woman. The panto is simply indescribable. And York’s is one of the best. York Theater Royal’s Dame, Berwick Kaler, is the country’s longest-running consecutive Dame. The entire show is a delight, and makes for a perfect reason to visit York at Christmas!
8) Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland
Located at York Designer Outlet outside the city center, Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland is a perfect Christmas attraction—especially for the young ones. The ice skating rink with the Christmas tree in the middle is probably the most popular, but you can also see Santa and (of course) do some shopping.
9) Making a Daytrip to Castle Howard
York is just 15 miles away from Castle Howard, a beautiful stately home located in the Howardian Hills. Castle Howard goes all out for Christmas, and seeing the house decorated for the season was one of my favorite things about the holiday season in York last year! Read more about the experience here.
The Christmas season makes York come alive: Christmas trees dotted in squares across town, special Christmas decorations and events on at most of the city’s many museums, lights strung around the streets, and genuine festive atmosphere. The city looks so beautiful over Christmas, which is almost a bonus reason to visit in and of itself!
So do yourself the favor, and make a trip to York over the Christmas holidays!
You can read about the top 5 things to do in York here!
Have you ever visited York or another place over the holidays?!