What's on in York: 10 events to experience the best of the city

Discover the different sides of York through its events, with things to do from food festivals and quirky trails to celebrations of the city's heritage.

York has plenty reasons to celebrate. There’s its famous beauty, from monumental landmarks like York Minster to the narrowest snickelways (small streets). There’s the history, with displays of Roman heritage and shops selling artisan goods made using centuries-old techniques. And, of course, there’s the food.

The city doesn’t miss a chance to show off its many attributes, with fun events and festivals offering a lot of fun for both locals and tourists. From delicious culinary celebrations to quirky ghost hunts, here’s the best of what’s on in York throughout the year.

Watch colourful parades at Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is always a spectacle in York. Pockets across the city burst with vibrant, fiery colours. The festival, which falls between late January and February, sees events at different venues and restaurants.

The entire event is a visual treat, though the elaborate parades and the gala — with live music and dancing – is always a highlight.

Follow the York Ice Trail

Why should winter wonderlands be just for Christmas? The annual York Ice Trail brings a little joy into two days each February, just enough time for people to spot the 40-odd sculptures before they melt.

The magnificent artworks are located across the city, with past years seeing giant teapots, intricate roses and elegant swans shimmering on streets and in squares.

Revel in Ancient Rome at JORVIK Viking Festival

York’s Roman heritage is etched on its streets, buildings and, most of all, the remains of the walls that once protected the heart of the city. Nowhere is this history more vividly brought to life than at the JORVIK Viking Centre, and there’s no better time to visit than during the annual JORVIK Viking Festival, a nine-day event featuring banquets, battle reenactments and friendly competitions.

Indulge sweet teeth at York Chocolate Festival

The city’s chocolate heritage is as rich, deep and delicious as the stuff itself, which is why there’s a dedicated Chocolate Festival held over the Easter weekend around Parliament Street and Shambles Market.

Chocolatiers offer free demos and tastings, bars and restaurants have cocoa-themed cocktails and menus, and ticketed workshops offer a chance to try making some chocolate yourself.

Cheer on the Dragon Boat Challenge

All eyes turn towards the Ouse one Sunday each July as the river hosts the spectacular York Rotary Dragon Boat Challenge. People of all ages gather on the riverbank to watch as 30-odd crews battle to paddle their huge flat water racing canoes to victory.

Team members usually don fancy dress which, together with the characterful, dragon-headed boats, makes for a dazzling spectacle.

Dress up for Yorkshire Ebor Festival

Ladies’ Day is the highlight of Yorkshire Ebor Festival, a four-day race meeting that’s been held at York Racecourse since 1843 and still provides a legendary setting for days out. It’s a fashionably fun event, and a great excuse to get dressed up with a group of friends.

Sample local delicacies at York Food and Drink Festival

Surrounded by verdant landscapes and with artisan makers down pretty much every alleyway, York has a proud food heritage — and the 10-day Food and Drink Festival held each September offers the best opportunity to devour it.

The hub is Parliament Street, where market stalls sell local and regional specialities from cheese to chocolate. There’s plenty to sate anyone’s appetite, from street food to cooking demonstrations and tasting trails, all with a soundtrack of live music.

Dine out during York Restaurant Week

In case you need an excuse to go out and sample the city’s best cuisine, York Restaurant Week provides it. Many of York’s most highly rated restaurants participate each October, offering specially designed menus with great value offers priced between £5 and £20.

It isn’t just about sitting down in a fancy restaurant, though; you can purchase vouchers for tasters at pubs, cafes and street food stalls, too.

Join the hunt during Ghost Week

One of York’s quirkiest stores, the York Ghost Merchants, have been tucking their tiny, handcrafted ghosts in the city’s nooks, crannies, cobbled streets and alleyways for years. What started as an informal game of hide-and-seek became the annual Ghost Week in 2020.

On each evening leading to Halloween, around 100 ghosts are placed on ledges and in niches along a route marked out on a map people can find on the website or in the store. The little treasures are numbered and (best of all) it’s a case of finders, keepers.

Discover new talent at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival

November’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival is effectively a warm-up for the BAFTAs, with many works screened during the November week eligible for the prestigious awards. A few have even gone on to win gongs at the Oscars.

All of which means this is a unique chance to see some world-class films and perhaps discover some fresh talent. Screenings take place across a dozen venues along with masterclasses hosted by experts in everything from animation to virtual reality.