Did you know that last year York was crowned the most festive city in the UK? From carol concerts at the Minster to the picturesque Christmas Markets, it may come as no surprise to alumni that the city is magical this time of year. We revisit our favourite things to do on a winter day out in York, along with some recommendations for if you’d like to continue to make memories inside this wonderful city.
Visit the Christmas Markets
Any winter day out in York has to begin with a trip to the iconic Christmas markets. Hundreds of students over the years have wrapped up warm and made the pilgrimage to the city centre to pore over these charming wooden stalls offering mulled wine, gifts, and hot food (there’s even a carousel too!). Thor’s Tipi in Museum Gardens also provides a cosy place to curl up with a drink.
“My favourite memory of a winter day out in York would have to be the first time I went to the Christmas Markets! We went to a cafe afterwards for hot chocolate and cake”Aiko
Watch a pantomime (he’s behind you!)
If you missed visiting the York Theatre Royal or Grand Opera House as a student, now is the perfect time to return to York and watch a pantomime inside these beautiful historic buildings. The grade II listed York Theatre Royal dates back to 1744, and offers an exciting rendition of Jack and The Beanstalk this winter. Meanwhile, the 19th century Grand Opera House is staging a captivating tale of Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates of the River Ouse.
“As an alum from the University of York who now works at York Theatre Royal, I would definitely recommend going to watch Jack and The Beanstalk this winter – it’s a brilliant production!”Matt
Grab Christmas decorations from York’s Christmas Shop
Since opening in 2016, Käthe Wohlfahrt, the all-year-round German Christmas shop has become an iconic stop on York’s ancient Stonegate street. After stepping through the shop’s vibrant red doors you’ll be greeted by an eclectic mix of hand-painted baubles, wooden clocks, and life-sized nutcrackers. Even if you’ve already completed tree shopping, a trip is worth it alone for the fairytale-like enchanting interior.
Experience a Carol Service
From Heslington Church to York Minster, many alumni will remember the magic of attending a carol concert in York. York’s abundance of beautiful and old churches means that it’s easy to find a carol concert that will take your breath away – and of course, is there anything better than belting out ‘Away in a Manger’ alongside your friends?
Our annual carol concert for alumni and friends of the university is taking place on the 14th December, tickets are still available. Book here.
Explore the Christmas Tree Festival
Held at York Minster, York’s Christmas Tree Festival is an ideal opportunity to revisit the much-loved cathedral while getting in the festive spirit! Set against the stunning backdrop of the Minster’s Nave, the festival features an impressive number of 60 trees decorated by local schools, businesses, and charities. Running from the 2nd December to 5th January, entry is free with admission.
Go ice skating at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland
More recent alumni may remember getting the bus down to the Designer Outlet to visit the ice rink at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland, and if you’re looking for an activity that will guarantee laughter, why not add ice skating to a trip back to York? If you’re not a fan of ice skating, you can warm up with a hot chocolate at the on-site cafe instead (we won’t judge you).
“Christmas in York takes me back to ice-skating at Designer Outlet – big ridges between the fake ice floorpieces tripped many skaters. I also remember bundling up for the Minster carols service (chilly!),Savannah
scraping the grass outside Central Hall when it snowed to make a snow-woman and having a
snowball fight outside Vanbrugh halls!”
“We went ice skating at the Designer Outlet in our final year of uni. It was so fun (although we fell over several times)”Patience
Winter walk at Beningbrough Hall
This National Trust property north of York makes the perfect walk for frosty winter mornings. There’s over 8 acres of grounds to explore and take in the natural scenery and local wildlife, which looks all the more impressive in the snow. Bring the dog.
“For a winter day out in York, I’d have to recommend a walk at Beningbrough Hall. See the cute pic of my dog Lemon!”Em
Make chocolate treats at York’s Chocolate Story
If you’d prefer to stay in the warmth and eat chocolate instead, York’s Chocolate Story runs a range of Christmas-themed chocolate making workshops in the centre of the city. As the home of famous chocolatiers Terry’s, Rowntree’s, and Craven’s, the attraction also hosts tours diving into York’s chocolate history.
“Me and my girlfriend went on a tour of York’s chocolate story last Christmas. I learnt a lot about the history of chocolate in York (including the chocolate orange), and we even got to make chocolate lollipops at the end!”Kyle
Take in the decorations at Castle Howard
Countless York students have made the visit to Castle Howard over the years, and winter makes a great time to return for a trip back. Every Christmas the stately home is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with decorations so that they’ve even featured on TV. This year the theme for the house is ‘Christmas in Neverland’ inspired by the classic tale of Peter Pan.
“The same year I graduated I worked at Castle Howard over the Christmas period. My favourite thing about working there was watching people take photos of the amazing rooms, seeing the image they were capturing felt like looking at the room through their eyes. And I have to say, to visit a gorgeous building is a pleasure but to see it decorated with Christmas magic is something I will always go back for.”Cassie
More events happening in York this winter:
‘A Very Georgian Christmas’ at York Mansion House (15th November – 23rd December) – Explore York Mansion House as it steps back in time for the festive season, including a free cooking demonstration with admission.
Yorkshire Yuletide Village (16th November – 17th December) – Visit the historic venue of the Guildhall and discover a range of handmade gifts from independent Yorkshire makers.
York Nutcracker Trail (16th November – 4th January) – Look out for unique nutcracker statues around the city this winter! If you manage to spot all 10, you could win £250.
York Ice Trail (3rd-4th February 2024) – Walk around the city centre and spot mesmerizing lifesize ice sculptures. The theme for 2024 is ‘City of Dreams’, and the two days will also feature live carving, interactive experiences and the chance to win great prizes.
Jorvik Viking Festival (12-18th February 2024) – This festival celebrates York’s rich Norse heritage, featuring a Best Beard Competition, 10th Century Traders stalls, a Viking march through the city centre and much more
We hope you’ve enjoyed reminiscing on winter days out in York! Why not add your own memories of winter in York to our virtual memory map?