Not only is York a great place to visit and tick off the bucket list. With its reputation as the City of Festivals there’s plenty of reasons to keep coming back time and time again.
We take a look at the very best festivals within York’s city walls and beyond. From Vikings roaming the streets to media arts lighting up the skies, York embraces both its glorious past and exciting future. It’s also the test bed for the best comedy acts en route to Edinburgh Fringe, the launch pad for new talent in filmmaking and a melting pot of the world’s best chefs and cuisines in York Food Festival.
Great Yorkshire Fringe is a force to be reckoned with on the comedy circuit, bringing the hottest acts in comedy, cabaret, theatre and music to the north every year. The jam-packed festival features household names including Michael Palin, Reginald D Hunter, Paul Foot, Ronnie Scott Jazz Club, alongside the best of what’s next with its New Comedian of the Year competition. It’s well known that laughter is the best therapy so get yourself down to the festival hub for your annual dose of hijinks and laugh-out-loud punchlines.
27-30 September 2019
Flying high with totally free entry is York Balloon Fiesta. This spectacular gathering of hot air balloon pilots, enthusiasts and adoring crowds is returning after a wildly-successful debut in 2018. Expect a full programme of live music and children’s entertainment building up to the finale of a chorus of hot air balloons set to light art displays and ferocious fireworks. Not to be missed.
6-10 November 2019
The Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) is a celebration of independent film from across the world. It showcases films diverse York locations including medieval halls, ancient city walls, boutique cinemas, galleries and museums. Alongside the screening of 400 films ASFF also presents over 100 events, including a series of masterclasses and workshops with leading industry figures. A must for movie buffs and young filmmaking talent.
15-23 February 2020
Prepare York’s annual invasion of Vikings at the largest festival of its kind in Europe. The nine-day programme of family-friendly events, lectures, concerts, guided walks and battle re-enactments attracts over 60,000 visitors each year from around the world. Walk around York’s streets and you can’t fail to bump into a Viking battle march, an ancient settlement or an unmissable photo opportunity. Organised by the oracle on York’s heritage, York Archaeological Trust, the festival is still going strong in its 35th year.
Quite simply the biggest and the best celebration of Yorkshire food and drink. Sample the tasty treats from hundreds of product traders on Parliament Street, top-up on your cooking skills with a workshop or cookery demo, or work up an appetite on one of the official taste trails. The York Food & Drink Festival has seriously upped its evening game in recent years too, offering a number of free and ticketed events all tied together by a love of great food and drink.
Did you know that York is the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts? Picking up the mantle from Illuminating York and taking it to a whole other level, York Mediale is an international digital arts festival across the city. The inaugural festival was in 2018, presenting work by over 100 artists, with more than 20 world premiere pieces, covering interactive installations, live performances, cutting-edge innovations, new music and much more. Expect it to be back with a bang in 2020.
18-21 September 2019
Clear your diary and reserve your spot at the ever-popular York Beer & Cider Festival.
Proudly pitched as the friendliest beer festival in the UK it carries a warm welcome whatever your tipple. Choose from a huge selection of over 500 beers and ciders from home and abroad. Or perhaps wine, prosecco or gin is more your thing.
The mammoth pop-up marquee also hosts plenty of live entertainment and street food stalls, ensuring that you don’t have to leave until last orders.
Tapping into our imaginations and uniting best-selling authors with emerging local talent, York Literature Festival has been a staple in York’s cultural scene since 2007. Events include talks, performances, workshops, poetry, theatre, cinema and reading groups across a 16-day period. Writers who have appeared at the festival include Simon Armitage, Germaine Greer, Mark Billingham, Kate Atkinson, Matt Haig, Tony Benn, Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Ian McMillan, Diane Setterfield, and Amanda Vickery. There’s lots for inquisitive young minds too, including storytelling, book readings, songs, creative writing competitions and all manner of word-based fun.
Bursting with brainfood and provocation, York Festival of Ideas is made up of 120 stimulating events featuring world-class speakers, performances, guided walks and interactive experiences for people of all ages. It consistently attracts audiences in excess of 40,000 people ready to be inspired by the greatest thinkers in academia, current affairs and culture. What’s more, almost all of the events are free to attend!
14 November – 22 December 2019
Officially ‘Britain’s Most Festive City’, York is transformed into a festive fairytale at Christmas. While we can’t guarantee snow you can be certain of the return of York St Nicholas Fair, with more than 100 stalls selling one-of-a-kind stocking fillers and Yorkshire produce. Festive entertainment can also be found across the city, such as the Christmas lights switch-on, a popular winter wonderland ice rink and Santa’s grotto, pantomimes and carol concerts, and more traditional services at York Minster. Finally, warm you cockles with a mulled wine sat around the roaring fire at Thor’s Tipi.
1-2 February 2020
Join us for the biggest outdoor ice trail in Britain. Show-stopping ice sculptures adorn every corner of York’s streets as artists interpret the briefs from 50 local businesses, including yours truly. The resulting trial brings in crowds from far and wide as they try to see them all and boost their steps count. The 2019 trail saw hand-carved depicting myths and legends across York.
It’s been 20 years since we served our first drink on Little Stonegate and we’ve seen it all in that time. But which York bars and pubs do it best?
Officially the UK’s Most Festive City, York comes into its own at Christmas with markets, mulled wine and festive takeovers of our much-loved attractions.
Venture beyond the guidebooks and you’ll find a wealth of free things to do in York - the UK’s favourite city.