Museums Tour (Self Guided), York

Start your tour of York’s museums at York Castle. See Kirkgate and enjoy the elegance of the Fairfax House. Be a guest in a Viking village and be sure to stop at the Yorkshire Museum to see its Roman and medieval exhibitions. Discover the city's recent history at the National Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the world. Take this tour to become acquainted with York’s colorful history.
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Museums Tour Map

Guide Name: Museums Tour
Guide Location: England » York (See other walking tours in York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: val
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • York Castle Museum
  • Fairfax House
  • York Dungeon
  • JORVIK Viking Centre
  • St. Margaret's Clitherow Shrine
  • Richard III Experience
  • Barley Hall
  • Yorkshire Museum
  • National Railway Museum
  • Henry VII Experience
York Castle Museum

1) York Castle Museum (must see)

Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068, York Castle now houses the York Castle Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of the York area and showcases recreations of many of the living conditions of the era. Start your tour of the museum by exploring the recreated Victorian street before moving through the period-themed rooms. Also on display are a variety of military uniforms and memorabilia, as well as visual demonstration of many of the rites of passage of the time. The museum's most popular attraction is the debtors' prison display, which showcases the life of an inmate.

Why You Should Visit:
Much work has gone into making this as authentic an experience as possible and it's very well done. Lots to see, and the sounds & smells really add to the experience.
The café has a great cake selection and the shop isn't half bad either. There's also an outside area with a working flour mill beside the river – an ideal spot for a picnic.
For an extra fee, you can climb the remaining castle tower for great views over York.

Try to time your visit with the half-hour guided tour through Kirkgate (very interesting and informative) and take some 20p coins to have a go on the machines from the olden days.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm
Dec 24/31: 9:30am-2:30pm
Dec 25/26, Jan 1: CLOSED
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fairfax House

2) Fairfax House (must see)

Designed in fine Georgian style, the Fairfax House was built in 1762 as a dowry for Anne Fairfax, daughter of Viscount Fairfax. The house’s interior is the masterpiece of John Carr, the most eminent architect in York at the time. In 1982 the house was restored by the York Civic Trust and it became, as mentioned in the best-selling book England’s Thousand Best Houses, “the most perfect eighteenth-century townhouse to come across anywhere in England.” Discover its decorative flourishes and artistic treasures, including the Great Staircase, the Venetian Window, and its decorative wrought iron.

Why You Should Visit:
To really get a feel for what it was like to live as an aristocrat in a Georgian home. Better than visiting a castle or a palace, as you can get very close to all of the displays – no velvet ropes here!
Friendly volunteers are stationed throughout the house offering an excellent level of historical detail and their own color commentary, complete with pithy British humor.

If available on a Monday, make sure you catch one of the tours as it will make your visit more personal, with less external chatter from other guests.
Remember to look up at the ceilings. They also have a gift shop which is well stocked with unusual gifts and interesting in its own right.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 11am-4pm
On regular Mondays, entrance is by guided tour at 11am & 2pm. No bookings required. Please just arrive 10 mins early. Tours last approx 1 hour.
On Bank Holiday Mondays, the House is open as normal (10am-5pm) and there are no guided tours.
York Dungeon

3) York Dungeon (must see)

The York Dungeon depicts local horrible history using actor led shows, special effects and displays of models and objects. Opened in 1986, it was the second Dungeon attraction created, the first being the London Dungeon in 1974. Like the London Dungeon, it was designed as a live-action interactive horror show loosely based on factual events throughout history.

The dungeon operates on the basis of tours which start every 7 minutes and last between 1 and 1.5 hours. In these tours, visitors are led around a sequence of shows and exhibitions which are loosely based on historical events and practices.

The Great Plague show is set in 1551 in a recreation of a plague doctor's surgery, led by one of the recently-deceased plague doctor's assistants. There is also a recreation of a York pub, The Golden Fleece Inn where visitors are told ghost stories. Other shows include the Judgement of Sinners where visitors are accused of various crimes and the Torture Chamber where visitors are shown demonstrations of torture devices. During the tour actors playing plague doctors' assistants, innkeepers, night watches, torturers, judges, executioners, stagecoach guards and witch-burners tell visitors gruesome stories.

Why You Should Visit:
Atmospheric and realistic. The actors are very good and the stories are entertaining. Some surprises and audience participation used well.
At the very least, you get an insight into some of the poor living and health conditions that folks had to put up with along with the barbarity of those in power.

Pre-book online so you can turn up at your time and just go straight in; otherwise, risk being turned away or waiting in a lengthy queue.
Sight description based on wikipedia
JORVIK Viking Centre

4) JORVIK Viking Centre (must see)

Between 1976 and 1981, prior to the building of the Coppergate Shopping Centre (an open-air market now occupying the site), the York Archaeological Trust conducted extensive excavations in the area. Well-preserved remains of timber buildings of the Viking city of Jórvík were discovered, along with workshops, fences, animal pens, privies, pits and wells, as well as various artifacts such as pottery, metalwork and bones. In all, over 40,000 objects were recovered. The excavated part of Jórvík was recreated on the site, including figures, the sounds and smells, pigsties, a fish market and latrines, bringing the Viking city back to life by innovative interpretative methods.

The Jórvík Viking Centre, designed by John Sunderland, opened in 1984. A new museum was opened on 13 February 2010, coinciding with the start of the annual Viking Festival in York. The centre contains new exhibitions and features and has been called "one of Britain's most popular attractions." The BBC spoke of the "Time Warp" experience as "a new art form".

Why You Should Visit:
To experience a really fun narrated ride through a Viking village, plus you can see real Viking treasures on display, some of which would not be found anywhere else as they would have rotted away centuries ago (but were preserved due to the waterlogged condition of the ground in York).

It is worth booking in advance – for a little extra you jump the queue. Tickets are also valid for a year's worth of visits.
Once inside, ask the staff lots of questions about what to look out for and they will point out some interesting things about the place you would never have realized.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm (Apr–Oct); 10am-4pm (Nov–Mar)
Sight description based on wikipedia
St. Margaret's Clitherow Shrine

5) St. Margaret's Clitherow Shrine

In 1970, Pope Paul VI created St. Margaret's Clitherow Shrine. The story of her life is told on a plaque created by the Catholic Women's League, to which Margaret is the patron saint. She lived during the time of Queen Elizabeth I’s rein. Born into a family of Protestants and married to a Protestant, she discovered the Catholic faith, helping fugitive priests. The Clitherow home was one of the main places of refuge for Catholics in England. The museum offers a chance to see the secret cupboard with vestments, wine and bread for mass, as well as the "priest's hole," where clergymen hid. Margaret's activity was discovered and on March 14, 1586 she came before the court, refused to plea, was proclaimed guilty and imposed a penalty of death by crushing.
Richard III Experience

6) Richard III Experience (must see)

The Richard III Experience is located in the tallest of the four gatehouses, Monk Bar, in the historical city walls of York. It describes the life of Richard III, the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty.

The museum explores his early life, and the battles that raged between the houses of Lancaster and York during the Wars of the Roses. It describes his reign and his death at the Battle of Bosworth. There are two great videos to view, helmets to try on, and a fascinating skeleton with savage battle wounds to study. The museum also contains a medieval execution chamber, a working portcullis which visitors can operate, and what is said to be the world's smallest prison cell.

Get the £20 pass and you also get entry to the JORVIK Viking Centre, DIG: An Archaeological Adventure, Barley Hall, and The Henry VII Experience. Valid for a year.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm (Apr-Oct); 10am-4pm (Nov-Mar)
Sight description based on wikipedia
Barley Hall

7) Barley Hall

Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse. Originally built around 1360 by the monks of Nostell Priory, it was later extended in the 15th century. The property went into a slow decline and by the 19th and 20th centuries heavily sub-divided and in an increasingly poor physical condition. It was bought by the York Archaeological Trust in 1987, renamed Barley Hall, and heavily restored in a controversial project to form a museum.

On the ground floor, Barley Hall comprises a number of rooms. The store room, used as an admissions area, contains a large quantity of original 1360 woodwork, which leads onto a second store room, now called the Steward's room. At the heart of the building is the Great Hall, a 1430 construction, decorated on the basis of equivalents elsewhere in the city of York. The building also includes a pantry and a buttery. On the first floor is the parlour, which overlooks the hall, a gallery and several bedchambers. Barley Hall is a grade II listed building.

Operation hours: April 1 – November 3: 10 am - 5 pm; November 4 – March 31: 10 am - 4 pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Yorkshire Museum

8) Yorkshire Museum (must see)

The Yorkshire Museum is the home of the Cawood sword, and has four permanent collections, covering biology, geology, archaeology and astronomy. It underwent a major refurbishment from November 2009 to August 2010, with major structural changes and a re-development of all existing galleries. The £2million scheme was largely carried out by the museum's own staff, who restructured and redecorated the interior of the building.

The four permanent collections at the museum all have English designated collection status, which means they are "pre-eminent collections of national and international importance". The collection began in the 1820s with the collection of animal bones and fossils from Kirkdale Cave.

Why You Should Visit:
From showing the connection to the Jurassic period with full plesiosaur skeletons to the artifacts left from the Romans & Vikings over the ages, this is a very informative and interactive museum.

Be sure to see the amazing Middleham Jewel (a most amazing medieval goldwork) and the beautiful old library with first editions of well-known and historically significant books.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm
Dec 24/31: 10am–2:30pm
Dec 25/26, Jan 1: CLOSED
Sight description based on wikipedia
National Railway Museum

9) National Railway Museum (must see)

The National Railway Museum was established on its present site, the former York North locomotive depot, in 1975. It displays a collection of over 100 locomotives and nearly 300 other items of rolling stock, virtually all of which either ran on the railways of Great Britain or were built there. Also on the 20 acres (8.1 ha) site are many hundreds of thousands of other items and records of social, technical, artistic and historical interest, exhibited mostly in three large halls of a former motive power depot.

It is the largest museum of its type in Britain, attracting 727,000 visitors during the 2014/15 financial year. It has won many awards, including the European Museum of the Year Award in 2001.

The museum is a short walk from the railway station in York, either on the road or via a staircase from the rear of the platforms. A "roadtrain" runs from the city centre (near York Minster) to the museum on Leeman Road during half term, holidays and summer. York Park and Ride also serve the museum from the car park entrance, on Line 2 (Rawcliffe Bar-York).

Why You Should Visit:
To get close and familiar with all sorts of famous engines from history – the Rocket, Mallard, Flying Scotsman, Eurostar and Shinkansen among them.
This is a living museum with real-life trains and the way in which dining is incorporated is a true delight – you can sit and eat while you look around.

Make sure you go up the staircase and through the big doors that appear to be off limits – they are not. It's the workshop area where you can see how the trains are looked after and/or renovated.
If you want to go on the steam train (only on certain dates so you would need to check the website), note that they only accept cash so remember to take some with you.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm (winter); 10am–6pm (starting middle of February)
Free to enter but a donation is suggested
Sight description based on wikipedia
Henry VII Experience

10) Henry VII Experience (must see)

The Henry VII Experience is located in Micklegate Bar – the southern gatehouse of the historical city walls of York. The museum explores the early life of Henry VII as a Lancastrian in exile, his reign as king after the Wars of the Roses and the impact of the establishment of the Tudor royal dynasty on the city of York. It does this through a combination of interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations, displays of items such as suits of armour and 'grisly facts' from Terry Deary (writer of Horrible Histories).

In October 2014 and February 2018 the Henry VII Experience was awarded the 'Hidden Gem' accolade by Visit England. In 2015 it was a finalist (with the Richard III Experience) in the Visit York Tourism Awards in the Visitor Attraction of the Year (Under 50,000 Visitors) category.

Start at the top and work down, or you'll end up seeing everything from back to front. The museum is hands-on so you can try things on and feel the artifacts.
You can also buy a joint ticket to visit this museum and the similar one devoted to Richard III (at the Monk Bar) or get a 'pastport' ticket to gain access to 5 attractions.

Opening Hours:
10am-4pm (Apr-Oct); 11am-3pm (Nov-Mar, weather dependant)

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