Having loved visiting Durham earlier this week, we headed into nearby York via the easy Park'n'Ride option from Monks Cross... With Lottie gazing longingly at the myriad of shops at this 'out of town' shopping centre, we started discussing why York has grown in popularity in recent years to become one of the world's most popular cities for families. But what does York have in store for kids in a perfect wintry day in February?
Where better to start than the tourist centre beside the world famous 'York Minister' to grab a 'York Pass' (perhaps the best way to fully see cities when travelling with kids - e.g Porto, Oslo & Valencia .
So after a great chat with the informative & helpful 'Visit York' staff, we headed towards the largest Gothic Cathedral in N.Europe. Taking over 250 years to construct it certainly rivals both Exeter & Durham. The lengthy climb to the tower was worth it for the staggering views over the Plains of York and the city below. However, it's not for the faint hearted! Plenty of steep steps for little feet to climb, but the safe, enclosed tower at the top is perfect for kids to wander around and enjoy the views.
There is however one small walkway where you might want to grip your child's hand a little tighter.... but the view (see above) shows just how stunning the York Minister really is.... Walking above the Cathedral roofs just confirms that York certainly does adventure by the bucketful. If your kids love to find new adventures and you're thinking of visiting York, check this link out here . For those who love Instagram or love a 'selfie' you can even tag in @visityork with #yorkselfie to add your faces to their growing list of 'York Fans'... so we thought'd we'd offer our best efforts too!
Sandwiched between two of the UK's most stunning National Parks (North Yorks Moors & Yorkshire Dales), it's not hard to see why this city became a northern stronghold... perhaps not for the obvious beauty of the area, but for it's strategic importance. So both girls loved adding to their RoadSchooling Experiences as we set about discovering York's Roman, Anglo Saxon & Viking history in the Undercrofts under the Minister. (Tip - the short video about the Emperor Constantine who was crowned in York in 306AD is well worth viewing during this tour, as too was the Norman Arch building opportunity and interactive displays in the middle of the exhibition)
As we were late starting today after a busy last week, we headed towards Thomas the Bakers for a quick bacon/sausage roll close to the historic area of York - the Shambles! Another place with a Harry Potter link.
York is equally known for its extraordinary amount of ghosts (hence it's numerous ghost tours) It's easy to see why this may have been the case - old victorian prisons, regular hangings at the castle and small cobbled streets perfect to haunt at night... But none of this was of the least bit of interest to both girls, who both had their eyes set on visiting York's Chocolate Story!
So whilst York's most infamous son might be the chap who tried to bring down the Houses of Parliament, yes that's right, you guessed - Guy Fawkes... Perhaps it should be better known for its link to the more philanthropic Quakers - Rowntree & Terrys... Little did we know that York housed one of the very first 'large scale' attempts at improving the conditions for workers. Under the careful eyes of these Quaker families (much like Cadbury and Fry had done for Birmingham & Bristol respectively) workers were given public baths, parks, housing and even free dental care to work at one of Rowntree's factories!
So not only were we treated to a brilliant guided tour of the history of York's chocolatiers, but also a chance to see exactly how chocolate arrived on this continent courtesy of Cortez & the Aztecs... Having seen the Age of Discovery at first hand in Porto, both girls loved adding to their history/geography road schooling whilst enjoying the occasional tasting of the various stages of chocolate making! The perfect way to reinforce a little learning perhaps!
If you can spare the whole 1hr15min for the tour, you'll also get a chance to make your own chocolate lollies. Or see one of their own chocolatiers make intricate chocolate creations before your very eyes... Both girls were transfixed as the superb demonstration took them through the whole process from 'tempering' the chocolate to how individual fillings are made and inserted into the chocolates...
Leaving the Chocolate Experience, we would have loved to have seen the impressive Jorvik Viking Centre in Coppergate, much like the one we'd seen in Ribes, Denmark earlier this year. However it's currently closed, but reopens in April, but in the meantime you can work your way across the city to see ancient Viking mummified remains or exhibitions at various points including the Minister.
Sadly for our wallets, this trek to see the Viking remains was slightly waylaid by the wandering eyes of Libby who fell in love with these new boots near Stonegate!! So a little lighter in the wallet, we made our way further across the city, over the city walls and towards York Castle. (Tip - If you get a chance, try to find one of the 50 snickelways/ginnels to make any journey easier - who doesn't like a short cut!)
York Castle Museum is famous for its emphasis on both military and social history, but it also bears a brutal history of its own.... you only have to look at the timeline within the museum to see just how tortuous some of the deaths at the Castle must have been - from hangings in full body shackles to people executed by heavy weights being incrementally laid on top of their prone bodies... thankfully it is bearable for children and does give a very good account of the history of York and its castle
Any visitor will love the fantastic exhibitions within too... including the Victorian Street that resembles Diagon Alley. A place we'd seen one the Harry Potter Tour at the start of this UK Cities Tour (as part of our wider European Roadtrip.)
Or the 'Shaping the Body' exhibition that provided some great talking points for us to perhaps include in our 'Get Learning' section of this website
What we really loved is the authenticity of the museum. Nothing has been made or created to fit in... It's real and this gives a certain degree of truth to each and every section of the journey from Victorian life to present day life (as represented in the rooms for each decade) These domestic interiors fascinated the girls who love understanding the History that binds one decade to another...
But there's so much more than just this, the current exhibition sees the museum combine with the old prison and allows you to wander through the unlocked cells catching glimpses of audio-visual displays of the angst and pain of the inmates...
Before you find yourself in a thought provoking and brilliantly re-told account of WW1 and it's impact on the lives of people from Yorkshire.. Having seen the Somme and Flanders Fields at first hand, both girls were immersed in the displays which offer a painful reminder of how important peace has been to secure... and what a price has been paid by so many to live the lives we all live today.
If only we'd had more time in York, we'd have loved to have seen more.... perhaps the National Train Museum or taken a River Cruise (like Bruges of Aveiro) or even found time to see the DIGG or Cold War Bunker... In fact, given the time, we'd have loved to explore the food heritage too... but we'll return again, hopefully very soon to discover even more of this fantastic city in the North of England...However our next stop is Lincoln and a chance to see just where the Magna Carta was signed...
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