York at Christmas – Festive things to do in 2019

York at Christmas – York is a truly enchanting place at Christmas. With our lovely cobbled medieval streets providing a backdrop to the festive lights festooning every tree it really is a magical place to visit at Christmas.  Have a look below for lots of information of what’s happening this Christmas from festive markets, to pantomimes, visiting Father Christmas and where to stay.  

The Big Winter Lights Switch On

York’s city-wide festive celebrations will get underway from a new venue next month, when Duncombe Place hosts the traditional launch of St Nicholas Christmas Fair and the switching on of the city’s ever-growing collection of winter lights, from 6pm on Thursday 14 November 2019.


The event is jointly organised by Make It York and York Business Improvement District, and will be hosted by Town Crier Ben Fry and Laura Castle from Minster FM and BBC Radio York’s Georgie Spanswick.  A stage will be set up in Duncombe Place to host the festivities, with music performances ahead of the official lighting up of the streets, which takes place at 7pm.


“This is one of the most popular events in the city calendar, and with more and more people turning out each year to mark the start of the festive season, we’ve moved the event to the larger venue of Duncombe Place, where we can more comfortably accommodate the larger numbers,” comments Make It York’s Managing Director, Sean Bullick.  “The magnificent backdrop of York Minster reminds us of the reason behind our Christmas celebrations – and there are plans afoot to add some extra sparkle, too.”


York Christmas Market


Indeed, York BID – which organises York’s annual display of Christmas lights throughout the city centre – has commissioned even more lights for Duncombe Place, including sympathetic lighting that will highlight well known landmarks such as the Boer War Memorial, St Michael Le Belfry and the Minster.


“Creating a welcoming winter lights scheme for the city – including the historic Bar gateways themselves – has been one of the most visible parts of York BID’s work over the last few years, funded by city centre businesses to give the city even wider appeal during the darker, winter months,” comments Andrew Lowson, executive director of York BID.  “We try to extend the displays slightly each year, and with the move of the light switch-on to Duncombe Place, we’ve added a number of new elements here, which will no doubt delight hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the city centre to stay, shop and socialise at this special time of year.”


Lights and projections will also adorn the magnificent West Front of York Minster for the event, with plans to use the lights periodically in the run-up to Christmas when there are not services or events taking place inside.


York Minster’s Canon Chancellor, The Revd Canon Dr Christopher Collingwood said:


“York in winter is an absolute gem, full of light, energy and excitement and people preparing for the festive season. York BID and Make It York have worked wonders in extending the lighting show to Duncombe Place and in designing the Minster into the scheme. We hope that the lights will not only draw people to view the Minster but also encourage them to come inside. They will find a warm welcome and quiet spaces to rest and reflect upon the real meaning of Advent and Christmas.”

York at Christmas

The Gingerbread House (York Mansion House)

New for 2019, enjoy a magical visit to York Mansion House, brimming with Christmas wonder as it is transformed into a spectacular Gingerbread House, at the heart of the beautiful Gingerbread Square…

Escape the packed shops and busy streets, and step into another world, immersing yourself in incredible displays and decorations that will inspire and delight. From the cosy Historic Kitchens, to the decadent, glittering State Room, experience a feast for the senses as delicious seasonal aromas envelope the whole Gingerbread House, in the ultimate celebration of festive frivolity and feasting.  As you experience this spectacular transformation, all ages are invited to make our home their own. With our Gingerbread Trail and dressing up for little ones, and delicious mulled wine* and gingerbread for an indulgent spin on your visit, surround yourself with treats and let this enchanted wonderland wrap you in Christmas joy.  This event takes place during usual opening hours, and normal entry charges apply.

Gingerbread House, Yorks Mansion House at Christmas

To add to the atmosphere the York Christmas Market runs from the 14th of November to the 22nd of December 2019.  Do have a look at my York Christmas Market post as there is a great video of what to expect taken just last year. In Parliament Street. There are stalls to buy all manner of Christmas gifts, from wooden toys to handmade candles and soaps, as well as artisan food trucks sending enticingly savoury scents into the crisp winter air. Or you could warm your hands by holding a cup of Gluhwein or hot chocolate, laced with Bailey’s and topped with marshmallows!

In the middle of the market, you’ll also find Thor’s Tipi a great place to stop and relax in front of the fire, or have a drink and something to eat.

Thor's Tipi Bar York Christmas Market (12)

Looking for somewhere to stay in York?

We have some lovely luxury hotels in the centre of York like The Principal and The Grand.  We also have a list of some lovely family friendly hotels too.  This post contains affiliate links, please see my disclosure page for more info.


Pantomimes in York

We have a rich tradition of pantomimes in York. People travel from far and wide to see the famous York Theatre Royal panto triumvirate of Berwick Kaler (the Dame), Martin Barrass (lovable village idiot (sorry Martin!) and Suzy Cooper (lead girl).  This year sees Berwick behind the scenes writing and directing Sleeping Beauty.

What's on at Christmas in York

York at Christmas

Alternatively you could head over to The Grand Opera House to see a different style but equally fabulous pantomime. This year they are staging my favourite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and they star different TV celebrities and pop stars every year.

Christmas in York

Alternatively, for a truly special thing to do at Christmas in York why not take in a Carol Service in the magnificent York Minster?

On the outskirts of York – if you would like to visit Santa then consider taking the kids on the magical sleigh ride at Piglets. Or you can also see Father Christmas at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland. While you are there you could also ice skate or visit the vintage funfair.

Christmas in York

A bit further afield (half an hour’s drive) is the lovely Castle Howard and it is always a treat to visit to see the house decorated for Christmas.  This year the theme is A Christmas Masquerade.

Christmas in York

There are many medieval buildings in York that will captivate you at Christmas. Have a look at the festive events at Barley Hall, the Merchant Adventurer’ Hall or The Treasurer’s House for example.  Oh and don’t miss the York Castle Museum – it’s so Christmassy!

If you would like a decadent relaxed couple of hours in the day, in York at Christmas treat yourself to a elegant afternoon tea in York.

Christmas at York

There are so many great restaurants and places to eat in York, it’s hard to decide what to go for. Have a look at some of my the family friendly restaurants we have reviewed.

Christmas York

There is lots to do in York all year round, but for a lovely Christmas weekend away I don’t think you can find a more wonderful city!

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