There is nothing quite like the festive season, with all the fun holiday events and festive markets, and there is no place to celebrate it that compares to York. While there is never a bad time to visit this vibrant city, there is something very special about a York Christmas. The sights, sounds, and scents of the seasons surround you, as you browse the beautifully decorated shops and Christmas markets, dine at York’s Michelin star restaurants, and embrace the ambiance of this ancient city. If you are looking for the best Christmas markets and the most magical holiday ever, we have a guide to help you plan your holiday, with everything you need to know about celebrating the holidays in York.
One of the biggest Christmas markets in Yorkshire and one of the best in the UK, the City of York Christmas Market is part of the six week St Nicholas Fair. Here, you will find charming wooden alpine chalet market stalls, decorated with twinkling lights, primarily on Parliament Street but also in smaller pop-ups on Coppergate and Lendal, a short walk away. The market is free to enter, and features a wide array of gifts, crafts, and treats of the season. It is a wonderful place to find locally sourced, handmade gifts and locally produced food and drink. Buskers, brass bands, and carol singers add to the festive atmosphere, entertaining shoppers all day and night. In the historic Shambles street, you will find the Shambles Market, an outdoor market with stalls full of local produce, handmade crafts, and artisanal goods. For a cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate, visit Thor’s Tipi, a Viking-themed market with a cozy atmosphere, crackling fire pits, rustic décor, and a joyful ambiance. There is also Made in Yorkshire Yuletide Village, an indoor market that showcases the creativity of Yorkshire’s artisans. Be advised that, while many stalls will accept credit and debit cards, smaller vendors might only take cash. Carry some cash with you, just in case.
York Christmas Market runs from Thursday 16th November to Friday 22nd December, opening at 10 am and closing at 6 pm on weekdays, 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Thor’s Tipi is open from 15th November to 31st December, open from noon to 9pm Monday to Wednesday, noon to 10:30 pm Thursday to Saturday, and on Sundays, it is open from noon to 8 pm.
What is more festive than holiday lights? In 2023, it is estimated that 160,000 lights will adorn the city of York. In Coppergate, at York Christmas Market, and in St. Helen’s Square there will be decorated and illuminated charity Christmas trees, and on Coney Street, Parliament Street, the Shambles, and Stonegate, you can find even more lit Christmas trees, along with festive light displays and illuminated street garlands. Check out the festive window displays throughout the city, and various businesses draped in curtains of light. Do not miss York Minster and Clifford’s Tower, which will surely be amazing at night. If you are visiting York but have a car with you, take a drive up to Wigginton Village, 15 minutes north of the city centre. At Twin Pike Way, the residents decorate their gardens and light up their houses in support of a local charity. It is free to visit after dark through mid-December, but charitable donations are appreciated.
What is a Christmas Market without delicious festive food and drinks of the season? Roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, hot chocolate, gingerbread men and mince pies add to the holiday ambiance, filling the air with delicious smells and warming your belly and heart. At York Christmas Market you will find all of these things, along with international foods, like falafel, German sausage, pancakes, and more.
Wherever you go for Christmas dinner in York, you can expect to be served a Yorkshire pudding. You can find many different options for Christmas dinner in York, and plenty to eat throughout the festive season. At the Shambles Market, you will find many convivial places to eat, including pop up street food stalls and a central covered area to gather and eat together. If you are looking for a Christmas themed afternoon tea, you can find delicious options at Betty’s Tea Room, The Grand Hotel, and the Principal Hotel.
When you are looking for something beyond the street performers at the Market, there are plenty of places to be entertained in York during the festive season. One fun Christmas tradition is the York theatre pantomime, which is raucous and over the top but absolutely worth attending! In York, head to the Grand Opera House for ‘Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates of the River Ouse’, running from 9th December to 6th January, or check out ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ at the York Theatre Royal, from 8th December to 7th January. Alternatively, catch a Christmas movie in a York cinema, like Everyman York on Blossom Street or The Picturehouse on Coney Street. On 8th December, York Barbican will show ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’, accompanied by a live orchestra.
You can also head to a Christmas sing a long, a ‘must do’ for a York Christmas. On 17th December, the York Community Carol Concert will take place at York Barbican, where it has been running for more than 60 years. York Minster features free carol concerts, as well.
Looking for a place to take the kids ice skating? The Yorkshire Winter Wonderland is the perfect spot. Located at MacArthur Glen shopping centre, it features the largest open-air ice rink in the UK, made from real ice and centred around an enormous Christmas tree. At night, the tree is illuminated, for fun and magical skating, and very young skaters can use penguin shaped stabilizers to help them skate. You can watch the skating from a warm, enclosed marquee with a café. Yorkshire Winter Wonderland is just a 10 minute drive from York City centre, and has plenty of free onsite parking, but if you do not have a car, you can take the No. 7 bus from York City centre.
Another wonderful way to make memories with your children this Christmas is with a visit to Santa; in York, there are several places to find him. There are a few York city centre locations, most requiring pre-booking, but on Coppergate, near Jorvik Viking Centre, you can drop in on Santa in a cosy wooden chalet. Pre-bookable meet and greets can be found at York Castle Museum, York Chocolate Story, and the medieval Barley Hall. You can also visit Santa on a festive cruise of the River Ouse, on City Cruise’s Santa Experience, which includes a one hour cruise, a Santa meet and greet, a personalised present and goody bag for kids, and a drink and biscuit or mince pie for both children and adults. Pre-booking is essential because the Santa Experience is incredibly popular.
If you are looking for Christmas shopping beyond the market stalls, York Designer Outlet has traditional shopping options and seasonal sales and discounts. In York City centre, you will find well-known high street brands, as well as antiques and jewellers, quirky vintage stores, and independent stores. The city’s streets are pedestrianised, which makes shopping easy and stress free. If you want to find some beautiful Christmas ornaments to take home, the Käthe Wohlfahrt on Stonegate is a year-round Christmas shop selling traditional Christmas decorations made in the family’s workshop in Germany. You can also check out ‘The Nutcracker’ Christmas shop on The Shambles, a cute shop where you can find York and UK themed decorations.
You will never be at a loss to find something to do in York at Christmas. While York offers walking tours all year, the special festive themed walking tours at Christmas are particularly fun and interesting. They start on 19th November, take 90 minutes, and visit key sites while providing facts about the history and traditions of Christmas in York. You can also tour the historic house in York, in special themed events that take place each Christmas. The Treasurer’s House has a theme of ‘Gifts from Afar’ and will be decorated with eclectic ornaments from the collection of Frank Green, the previous owner of the house. The Georgian era Fairfax House on Coppergate, renowned for elaborate Christmas displays, will have a theme of ‘Night before Christmas’ this year, and visitors will look for hidden mice while touring the decorated house.
If you are in York during the Christmas season, make sure to take in an event at the Minster. The Minster kicks off its festive season on 3rd December, with a candlelit advent service. During the service, the Minster’s famous advent wreath is hoisted above the altar. Another candlelit celebration occurs on 11th December, in honour of Santa Lucia, the Swedish festival of light. The Minster also hosts one of the most popular free Christmas events in York, ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’, on 22nd and 24th December. There will be a Christmas Tree Festival from 2nd December to 5th January, with over 60 trees decorated by local schools and charities. There will be Minster Carol Concerts on 7th and 8th December, Carols by Candlelight, and ‘The Nutcracker’. But perhaps the most popular event of all is the York Minster Crib Service, held on 23rd December. Children can dress up as nativity characters and participate in the Christmas stories, or wear any costume they like at the service. This event is so popular that tickets must be booked in advance. For all of the Minster events, check out the website for more detailed information.
Why not plan a trip to this charming city during the festive season this year, to enjoy the enchanting atmosphere of York during Christmas? If you are looking for the perfect place to stay while enjoying the magic of a York Christmas holiday, Together Travel has stunning apartments, right in the city’s bustling centre. Choose from newly converted, fully-equipped, modern, self-catering apartments along the riverfront, or semi-urban, self-catering, modern apartments on a quiet corner in the heart of the city. Whether you are visiting York or you want to travel to any other of the amazing locations the UK has to offer, Together Travel Co. is here to bring your holiday dreams to life. Find out how we can make your trip amazing by contacting our expert concierge team at +44(0)1625 416430 or emailing us for more information.