Cultural York: The best galleries, museums and shops

York is a treasure trove of cultural delights, where Viking history collides with the steam age and art-house cinema with Elizabethan painting.


Here we round up the best museums and galleries in York, and highlight some of the events and exhibits to look out for.

National Railway Museum 

The one for: kids young and old who love trains and railways 

See the fastest steam train in history and swoon at the romance of the railways at the National Railway Museum. Trains have captivated for generations, and here you can embrace their 300-year history.

Peer inside luxurious and ornate royal train carriages that ferried Queen Victoria and King Edward VIII to official engagements. Then step further back in time to the beginning of railways with the painstakingly constructed replica of George Stephenson’s Rocket – the first steam-powered locomotive. 

Round off your visit by invoking nostalgia for the steam-powered holidays of yesteryear with the vintage collection of railway posters.

Must-see: Mallard became the world’s fastest steam locomotive in 1938 – a record it still holds today. Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, Mallard is an emblem of British innovation in design and engineering. 

What’s onChurchill’s Final Journey (30 January – 3 May) The steam train and baggage van that carried former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill to his state funeral will go on display together for the first time. 

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York Castle Museum

The one for: remembering the swinging sixties and experiencing life in Victorian York 

Take a stroll down the cobbles of a typical Victorian street, go wild for the swinging sixties and embrace your childish side by exploring popular toys from years gone by at York Castle Museum. 

The museum is housed in two former Grade-I listed prisons, and explores 400 years of social and cultural history.

Get all misty-eyed over Beatlemania, mods and rockers and Mary Quant at The Sixties exhibition – all Dansette record players, vintage Persil packaging and Lambretta scooters.

The Rowntree’s confectionary business is weaved into the history of York. Here you can see a tin of its cocoa taken to the Antarctic by explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1909. 

Must-see: Kirkgate, a reproduction of a Victorian cobbled street featuring a schoolroom, a police cell, a Hansom cab and a range of shops based on genuine Yorkshire businesses such as Terry’s and Banks Music.

What’s On: 1914: When The World Changed Forever (until 2018)

See how Yorkshire folk were affected by World War One both on the front line and at home. 

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Yorkshire Museum

The one for: learning about  life in ancient York, when Vikings and Romans called the city home 

Explore artefacts from Viking and Roman times unearthed in the city of York.

A preserved Viking sword, a hairpiece that belonged to a Roman girl and jewellery found in a Roman burial site are among the treasures on show.

Perfect for families – history is brought to life thanks to specially-made films, while the stories of key historical players are told through fun cartoon characters.

After you’ve explored the museum, don’t forget to venture out into the stunning Museum Gardens, set against the backdrop of the medieval ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. 

Must see: The Cawood Sword: This 1,000-year-old Viking sword was pulled from the river Ouse in the 1800s. It’s almost intact and features strange wording along the blade. 

What’s on: History of York Audio-Visual Spectacular: Fasten your seatbelts for this whirlwind tour of York’s first 2,000 years, narrated by popular TV historian Dan Snow.

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City Screen Cinema

The one for: cool indie flicks, serious arty movies and fabulous cake 

Love indie flicks and art-house movies? Head to York’s City Screen cinema for movies unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex.

City Screen is part of the arty Picture House group of cinemas treasured by film enthusiasts, culture vultures and hipster students. 

There’s an extensive programme of live broadcasts from the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Bolshoi Ballet throughout the year.

Located within the cinema is the popular Riverside Café Bar where you can discuss films over a cup of gourmet coffee or a pint of real ale from a local brewery.

What’s on: Discover Tuesdays (ongoing) Cult classics and influential documentaries are among the selections for this weekly chance to broaden your cinematic horizons – just turn up.

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York Art Gallery

Some of the world’s finest artwork will be returning to York this summer following a two-year tour of the North of England when the York Art Gallery reopens its doors to the public. 

The gallery has been undergoing a major redevelopment which will result in 60% more display space as well as new gardens and a Centre of Ceramic Art.

Top 3 art and culture shops in York

1. Snowhome: Design store Snowhome on Gillygate is the place to be to pick up unique items for the home, inventive gifts and stationery. The majority of people working in the store are designers, illustrators and furniture makers themselves and many of their own creations can be found on the shelves. 

2. According to McGee: This contemporary art gallery is located opposite the historic Clifford’s Tower and sells a range of contemporary artwork by established artists and up-and-coming graduates at a range of prices. 

3. Blossom Street Gallery and Framing: This gallery space is dedicated to supporting local artists and craftspeople. As well as stunning works of art you can pick up jewellery, ceramics and a range of gift items, most of which have been crafted in Yorkshire.


Enjoy your cultural visit to York.