From magical crazy golf and encounters with vintage steam trains, to interesting cuisine and an unforgettable chocolate experience, these are the most fun, quirky and unusual things to do in York right now.
York is a gorgeous city that is ideal for a weekend getaway. It’s compact enough to wander around on foot, yet the city has a lot in the way of attractions, shops and restaurants. Whether you’re planning a trip with your other half or fancy a break with friends, you’ll want to make a good plan before you go. Many attractions and restaurants require reservations, and it’s the kind of city that can get busy, especially during the holidays.
I was really excited to go on short break to York with Macca, especially as he hadn’t been to the city before. It was my turn to play tour guide and show him some of my favourite spots! Along with Bath, Brighton and Oxford, I think it’s one of the best places in the UK for a romantic city break.
When we visited, it was just coming up to Valentine’s Day and it already felt like love was in the air! What could be more romantic than strolling the picturesque streets hand in hand, diving into cute cafes for tea and cake, enjoying some fun attractions and feasting on gourmet food in the city?
We visited for a two-day trip and decided to focus on some of York’s quirkier and alternative activities. I’d visited all of the classic attractions a few years ago on this trip. I’d climbed the tower in York Minster, walked the city walls, learned about the city’s Viking history at Jorvik Viking Centre and done laps of all the prettiest streets. I was ready to uncover another side of the city!
So, if you’re looking for some quirky and unusual things to do in York, perhaps for a fun date with your boyfriend or girlfriend, this blog has it all! From one of the coolest crazy golf courses in England, to a unique brewery and some weird and wonderful shops, consider this your alternative guide to the city!
How to get to York
We travelled from London to York by train. The journey takes around two hours from London Kings Cross to York Train Station. It’s such an easy way to travel and happens to be a good two hours faster than driving! York isn’t the sort of city where you’d use a car anyway, so I’d definitely recommend catching a train.
As an example, for this journey, our tickets were reduced from £118.80 to £78.30 using our Two Together Railcard. That’s a saving of £40 on this one trip alone. So, we’ve made the money back already just on this one trip! No doubt we’ll be using it plenty more over the next year too.
Once you arrive at York station, it’s a short walk to the shops and city centre attractions.
Where to stay in York
If you’re visiting the city for a romantic break, I’d recommend staying at The Grand Hotel in York. Yorkshire’s only five-star hotel is in an ideal location, close to both the city centre and York Railway Station. The impressive building dates back to 1906, when it was the HQ for the North Eastern Railway Company.
It’s a smart and sophisticated hotel, with chic bedrooms, some of which have views of the city (as ours did). The service was amazing too, with a touch of old-fashioned manners, including a traditional doorman at the entrance.
The Grand is home to a beautiful cocktail bar with a great ambience – I recommend the passion fruit mojito! Plus, there’s AA Rosette awarded restaurant The Rise, which has a classic menu and a great selection of steaks. The breakfasts here are top quality too!
One of my favourite things about staying at The Grand, and what sets it apart from other top hotels in the city, is the spa. In the basement you’ll find facilities including a lovely swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. As we visited in winter, it was such a treat to go and warm up there!
Since I last visited, The Grand has also opened its very own cookery school. I had a peek inside and it looks amazing! I’d love to book a course next time I’m in the city.
8 Fun, Quirky And Unusual Things To Do In York
If you’re planning a trip to York but haven’t quite figured out your itinerary, there are plenty of fun ideas coming up.
Learn all about chocolate
If you’re a self-confessed chocoholic like me, you’ll love the York Chocolate Experience! This interactive tour takes you through the history of chocolate, and its association with York. Huge brands including Rowntree’s and Terry’s were created in York, and some of the most popular chocolate bars (including KitKat) are still produced just a mile from the city centre.
I was fascinated by the stories of the people behind the chocolate brands I know and love, as well as how the chocolate we eat today is made. We even got to make our own chocolate lollies to take home, and watch a demonstration by a top chocolatier.
Visiting York’s Chocolate Story is one of the coolest things to do in York and would be ideal as a daytime date activity too. What could be more romantic than feasting on delicious chocolate as you get to know each other better?!
Play a round of magical mini golf
We’re big fans of crazy golf! Call us big kids, but we consider this to be one of the best date activities! Yes, it gets competitive, but a bit of healthy competition is good, right?!
The Hole In Wand Wizard Golf is a crazy golf course with a difference! The 9-hole course is really immersive, with paintings you can climb into, bubbling cauldrons and plenty of magical spells along the way. Just don’t mix up your golf club with your wizarding wand!
At the end of the course, we relaxed with some Harry Potter inspired drinks in the Wizard Tavern café with a cup of warming Hotterscotch (ginger hot chocolate) and a classic fizzy Butterbeer.
We had so much fun at The Hole In The Wand. The attention to detail within the “magical theme” was just amazing – it’s definitely one of the most creative courses we’ve played on our travels. If you’re looking for quirky and unusual things to do in York, it’s perfect!
Mooch around York’s independent shops
It’s been sad to see so many of our local high streets closing down, with fewer and fewer independent stores surviving. Thankfully, that’s not the case in York. The city centre’s shopping streets such as Stonegate, Petergate and The Shambles are full of quirky and interesting boutiques, selling jewellery, fashion, homewares and kookier items too.
Some of the quirkier stores include The Potions Cauldron on The Shambles, which specialises in magical drinks and treats, The Cat Gallery which is filled from top to bottom with cat-related items, and Stonegate Teddy Bears which sells traditional teddy bears and stuffed toys.
Also, if you’re a beer drinker, The House of Trembling Madness (one of the city’s best bars) has a store on Stonegate selling an enormous selection of craft beers and ciders, as well as a pretty large spirits collection in the basement.
Enjoy a meal with wine pairings
This romantic restaurant in York does things a little differently! At Pairings Wine Bar, the focus is on the way that wine and food can work in harmony together, each element complementing the other.
The relaxed wine bar has a lovely menu of small plates and sharing boards, ideal for a fun evening with friends or a date night in York. Many of the items are locally sourced too, including cheese and charcuterie produced in Yorkshire and bread baked at one of the local bakeries.
We decided to go for the deli platter along with one white wine flight and one red wine flight.The staff were so knowledgable about the wines. The experience was educational, but in a really fun and engaging way!
I also loved that they offered sharing desserts paired with sweet wines, so you really could go for a full three course paired experience! This is a popular place so I’d recommend booking in advance if you want to squeeze it into your trip to York.
Cruise down the Ouse
Are you ready to see York from a different perspective? Then hop on board a tour with City Cruises and you’ll get to see some of the main sights from the water. There’s a commentary on board too, so you’ll learn as you go.
One bit of advice, if you’re visiting in the winter, wrap up warm! It gets chilly out on the top deck, but that’s the best place for the views!
If you’re looking for a gourmet dining experience in York, I’d recommend booking a table at Arras. This restaurant offers a modern British menu, with ingredients, textures and flavour combinations that are both punchy, yet refined.
Arras is ideal for foodies as you’ll be choosing from a set menu of fine-dining dishes. The 2-course lunch menu is just £25 – a bargain for a dining experience of this quality. I started with a dish of pumpkin and spiced cauliflower, which had intense bursts of flavour, with the zing of lime, sharp pickle, aromatic spicing and more. It was such a colourful plate, and beautifully presented too.
I chose the market fish for my main course, which that day was a fillet of salmon. This was cooked to perfection (crispy skin and fish flaking away) and served with a brown shrimp, celeriac puree and a fresh lovage oil.
The dining area at Arras is pretty special too; a chic white room with textured wall panelling and accents of blue, plus a skylight and large central table for the waiting staff to serve from.
Visit The National Railway Museum
You don’t need to be a train spotter to appreciate the National Railway Museum. It’s one of York’s biggest and best attractions. Inside the various buildings are vintage locomotives from over the years, including steam trains and royal carriages, as well as modern options including the Eurostar and Japan’s amazing bullet trains (Shinkansen).
Even though I’ve visited once before, there was still plenty more to see on my return trip. In particular I liked the little retro café on the platform right by the vintage choo choo trains!
Sample some local craft beers
If you’re into craft beer then you simply have to visit Brew York. With beers made right in the city, and a really good range of pilsner, IPA, American Pale Ale and more, you’re guaranteed to find something you like.
Their warehouse-style building on Walmgate is particularly cool, with all the beers on tap for you to try, a shop downstairs and Asian street food courtesy of Yuzu. While Macca knocked back a pint of Haze of Thunder, I tucked into a hearty bowl of miso chicken ramen. What’s not to love?!
There are so many fun, quirky and unusual things to do in York… isn’t it time you planned a trip to the city? If you want to find out more great things to do in the city, take a read of my guide to spending the weekend in York.
Enjoyed this post about unusual things to do in York? Pin it for later…