The historical city of York is renowned for its enchanting beauty and fascinating heritage. Indeed, it’s a veritable treasure-trove of historical attractions.
But York also boasts a rich assortment of unique and unusual experiences waiting to be discovered.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveller seeking offbeat adventures or a local yearning to uncover the city’s lesser-known stories, our list of 15 unusual things to do in York will take you off the well-trodden path and into the heart of this ancient city.
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Ghost Hunt at the Golden Fleece
Step into the realm of the supernatural at The Golden Fleece, considered one of the most haunted pubs in York, and arguably, the country.
This quirky York experience invites brave souls to encounter its ghostly residents. Dating back to 1503, this historic inn’s timbered walls and wonky floors have countless eerie tales to tell.
Its reputation as a hub for paranormal activity makes it a key stop on many of York’s ghost walks.
But for those who dare, a night’s stay offers an ‘offbeat York’ experience like no other. It’s not just ghost hunters who are drawn here.
The traditional British pub ambiance, complete with cosy corners and a selection of local ales, also makes it an inviting place for a casual visit.
Step off the usual tourist trail and venture into The Golden Fleece; you never know who (or what) you might meet!
Golden Fleece, 16 Pavement, YO1 9UP
Explore The Snickelways
Wander into the heart of York and discover the charm of its labyrinthine network known as the Snickelways.
It’s name is a portmanteau of ‘snicket’ (a passageway between walls or fences), ‘ginnel’ (a narrow passageway between or through buildings), and ‘alleyway’
This entwining maze of narrow streets and footpaths forms an integral part of York’s architectural character.
Meandering through these lanes, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of the many generations that have shaped this historical city.
The main starting point for exploring the Snickelways is often from Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, one of the smallest streets in York, which is adjacent to the city centre’s focal point, St Helen’s Square.
This lesser-known, unexplored York activity, tucked between the city’s picturesque houses and historic buildings, offers a unique way to delve into the city’s past.
Be sure to add the Snickelways to your alternative tourist spots list when visiting York.
Visit the York Cat Trail
If you’re an animal lover, art enthusiast, or simply a fan of all things quirky, the York Cat Trail is an unusual activity that you should enjoy.
This charming pursuit involves hunting for the decorative cat statues that are poised on buildings all around the city.
These delightful feline figures, scattered on rooftops, windowsills and tucked within the architectural details, have been a part of York’s skyline since the 19th century.
Originating from a local superstition that stone cats ward off wandering evil spirits, they add a unique quirk to the city aesthetic.
This ‘hidden gem in York’ offers an alternative way to explore the city’s streets and alleyways while providing an entertaining diversion that is sure to put a smile on your face.
Whether you’re visiting as part of a family trip or on an offbeat York adventure, the York Cat Trail is a unique experience that adds a playful twist to your city exploration.
The York Cat Trail, 45 Low Petergate, YO1 7HT
Visit Holy Trinity Church
Box Pews in Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, England © Thedavegray / CC BY-SA 4.0
Discover a serene oasis tucked away amidst York’s bustling city centre at the Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate – one of the lesser-known historical attractions York.
This quaint and atmospheric church, accessed via a small, narrow alleyway off Goodramgate street, offers an unparalleled glimpse into York’s historical religious life.
The ancient timbered roof, beautiful stained glass windows and charming box pews all date back to the medieval era.
Like many religions places its stillness is quite remarkable, offering visitors a moment of calm amidst their city exploration.
The churchyard, with its wildflowers and ancient gravestones, is a peaceful retreat often referred to as one of York’s secret spots.
Be sure to add the Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate to your list of ‘unique activities in York’ for a taste of tranquillity within the city’s walls.
It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of the vibrant city life just outside its quiet, aged walls.
Holy Trinity Church, 70 Goodramgate, YO1 7L
Experience Clifford’s Tower at Night
Experience a different perspective of York’s rich history with a visit to Clifford’s Tower at night.
This well-preserved medieval monument, perched atop a hill within the city centre, offers a striking view of the city’s skyline under the stars.
Its strategic location once served as a vantage point for the kings of England. As the day turns to night, the Tower and the city it overlooks take on a completely different aura.
The city lights reflect beautifully on the stone structure, making it a unique and romantic spot for both locals and tourists.
A nocturnal visit to this alternative tourist spot in York will allow you to see the city at night – also well-suited to those of you seeking romantic things to do in York for couples.
Cliffords Tower, Tower St, YO1 9SA
Attend a Mystery Play
York Mystery Plays 2018, “Temptation”, the Fall of Man © Allan Harris / CC BY-ND 2.0
Experience a slice of York’s rich theatrical history with a viewing of the York Mystery Plays. This extraordinary event, dating back to the medieval era, is a living testament to the city’s vibrant cultural life and deep-rooted traditions.
The Mystery Plays are a series of short dramas, originally written by craftsmen and women of the city, depicting stories from the Bible.
They’re performed by local amateur and professional actors on wagons at various locations across the city.
Witnessing this spectacular display of community spirit and artistic talent is a unique way to immerse yourself in York’s historical and cultural fabric.
An outing that should be on every York travel guide and a chance to engage with a spirited local tradition.
Tour the York Cocoa Works
Indulge in a sensory treat at York Cocoa Works – an authentic chocolate factory nestled in the heart of the city.
York Cocoa Works provides not just a tour, but an in-depth, captivating journey into York’s chocolate heritage.
Delve into the city’s long-standing connection with chocolate, tracing its roots and understanding its continuing significance.
Witness the mastery of expert chocolatiers as they craft delectable treats, and even better, participate in one of their interactive chocolate-making workshops.
No matter if you’re a dedicated cocoa connoisseur or just someone who enjoys a sweet delight, York Cocoa Works presents a distinctive chance to broaden your knowledge and satisfy your cravings.
A tantalising and unusual York attraction if ever there was one.
The York Cocoa Works 10, Castlegate, YO1 9RG
Discover the York Cold War Bunker
Dive into a chilling piece of Cold War history with a visit to York’s Cold War Bunker.
Operated by English Heritage, this authentic 1960s nuclear fallout shelter provides a powerful and immersive journey into the past.
It was originally designed as a monitoring post for nuclear war but now stands as a testament to the tensions of the time.
Equipped with original furnishings and technology, the bunker offers a thought-provoking exploration of a period in history when the threat of nuclear attack was a genuine concern.
Join a guided tour to fully appreciate the stories and significance of this remarkable attraction.
This is a must-visit destination for history buffs and curious explorers looking for unusual things to do in York.
Cold War Bunker, Monument Cl, Holgate, YO24 4HT
See the Red Devils at the York Army Museum
Dive into military history at the York Army Museum, home to the miniature model display of the Red Devils – the Parachute Regiment’s world-famous parachute display team.
This museum provides a fascinating look into the history and exploits of these renowned paratroopers.
The meticulously detailed miniature display is a visual treat, showcasing the Red Devils in action.
For those interested in military history or seeking a less typical tourist experience, a visit to the York Army Museum offers a unique chance to learn more about this celebrated regiment.
York Army Museum, 3 Tower St, YO1 9SB
Visit the York Art Gallery’s Secret Garden
Discover tranquillity within the city at the York Art Gallery’s secret garden. This secluded spot is a hidden gem in York, offering a peaceful retreat from the bustling city life.
Tucked away behind the gallery, the beautifully maintained garden is an artful blend of greenery and sculptures, providing an ideal setting for quiet contemplation or a peaceful picnic.
Nestled within the garden, you’ll find Edible Wood – an intriguing concept where everything planted can be eaten.
This unexplored York spot provides a fresh perspective on the city’s charm, offering a delightful surprise for visitors to the gallery and a must-visit for anyone seeking unusual activities in York.
York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, YO1 7EW
See the Shambles Market at Dawn
Experience the early morning energy and activity of Shambles Market at sunrise. Being one of the biggest open-air markets in Northern England, it’s a lively part of everyday life in York.
And the dawn hours offer a different, more serene atmosphere than you’ll find later in the day.
Experience the unique charm as market traders set up their stalls, displaying everything from fresh produce to antiques.
This slice-of-life activity offers a chance to see a different side of York, away from the usual tourist crowd. If you want to add to your list of unique activities in York, an early morning visit to Shambles Newgate Market is a must.
Newgate Market, 5 Silver St, YO1 8RY
Visit the King’s Manor
King’s Manor © Richard Croft / CC BY-SA 2.0
Step into a lesser-known part of York’s rich academic history with a visit to The King’s Manor. Originally serving as the Abbot’s House of St Mary’s Abbey, and later a royal residence, this building is now home to the University of York’s Department of Archaeology.
Its captivating architectural blend of medieval, Tudor, and Stuart styles is a visual treat, while the serene gardens provide a tranquil escape.
Inside, the Refectory café serves as a popular spot for both students and visitors.
Although functioning as a university department, the King’s Manor offers public access to most of its areas, thus providing visitors with an interesting glimpse into the city’s historical and educational landscape.
King’s Manor, Exhibition Square, YO1 7EP
Go Fossil Hunting at the Rotunda Museum
Venture out of the city for a unique day trip to the Rotunda Museum for a spot of fossil hunting.
Located in nearby Scarborough, this museum, shaped like a rotunda, is one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the world.
Its fascinating geology collection includes various fossils discovered in the local area, providing insight into the region’s ancient past.
The museum encourages visitors to explore the local beaches and cliffs for fossils, offering a truly hands-on experience – a fantastic choice for nature lovers and aspiring paleontologists looking for unique activities in and around York.
Rotunda Museum, Vernon Rd, Scarborough, YO11 2PS
Join a York Food Walking Tour
Embark on a unique gastronomic adventure by participating in a locally run York food tour. This isn’t your typical food tasting experience.
These tours often focus on independent food outlets and traders, giving you a taste of the real York food scene beyond the traditional tourist offerings.
You’ll get to sample a diverse range of culinary delights from artisan breads, cheeses, craft beers to local specialities, all while discovering York’s rich culinary heritage.
Depending on your chosen tour, you might also get an opportunity to meet the producers and learn about their crafts.
This is the kind of offbeat York experience that’s a perfect pick for food lovers looking for unusual things to do in York, offering a feast for both the palate and the mind.
Visit the York Motorsports Village
Swap traditional sightseeing for an adrenaline-pumping experience with a visit to the York Motorsports Village.
This indoor karting and racing simulator venue provides a high-octane York experience.
Test your skills with their state-of-the-art racing simulators, or feel the rush of speed on their indoor karting track.
Ideal for motor enthusiasts or those seeking something a bit different, the York Motorsports Village offers a unique chance to get your heart racing and add a touch of adventure to your York visit.
It’s a must-visit for thrill-seekers looking for unusual activities in York.
York Motorsports Village, Monks Cross, Huntington, YO32 9JS
For more information about quirky and unusual things to do in York, visit the official York Tourism Website: https://www.visityork.org