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Festivals in York You Cannot Miss

york christmas

York is a beautiful historic city in Northern England, and is well worth visiting in its own right.  But if you can time your visit with one of its fantastic festivals you are in for an extra treat.  York has a year-round calendar of events, and with so much going on you are sure to find something to suit every taste!  These are special festivals which bring together the very best of York’s talent and history, offering a unique insight into the city and its wonderful people. Here are my picks of the festivals in York you simply cannot miss!

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Jorvik Viking Festival: February 

Jorvik Viking Festival
Jorvik Viking Festival. photo credit:

The largest Viking Festival in Europe, the yearly JORVIK Viking Festival celebrates York’s Norse heritage.  The festival harks back to the ancient Viking celebration of Joloblot, which heralded the end of winter and celebrated the coming of spring.  Reinvented by the York Archaeological Trust in the 1980s, the festival returns to York every February during half term, and includes a packed calendar of events including lectures, guided walks and battle re-enactments as well as plenty for the kids.  This is a unique chance to experience living history, culminating in a spectacular finale weekend.  Watch out for the armies of Vikings marching through the city!

For more information visit the website

Throughout the year you will also find JORVIK on Tour.  Since the flooding of the JORVIK Viking Museum in December 2015, Jorvik has taken to the road to keep the vikings alive until the museum re-opens in April 2017.  The special exhibitions take place around three of York´s iconic locations, the York Minster, the York Theatre Royal, and York St Mary´s on Coppergate, next to the JORVIK museum.  Find more about JORVIK on tour at their website here:


York Literature Festival: March

Festivals in York - York Literature Festival
Sue Perkins will perform in York as part of York Literature Festival. photo credit

Featuring a wide range of author-related events, this is York’s celebration of the written & spoken word.  Over 40 events across the city will include live performances, poetry competitions, talks from some of Yorkshire’s top authors, and guided tours of York’s places of literary interest.  See what inspired York’s authors, and learn more about the next generation of writers as York’s students present their best works.

Productions at the York Theatre Royal also form part of the program, and one of the first events to be announced is Sue Perkins performing as part of her “Spectacles” tour.

For more information visit the website

York Races: May to October

Festivals in York - Ebor Festival at York Racecourse
Festivals in York – Ebor Festival at York Racecourse. photo credit

Horse Racing is a time-honoured tradition in the UK, and York’s racecourse Knavesmire has been popular with racegoers since it was founded in 1731.  Nearly 300 years later it is still going strong, with meetings running between May and October.  One of the most popular is the Ebor Festival in August, so make your bookings early to secure places.  The events are exceedingly popular, with one record-breaking race in 2010 being attended by more than 42,000 people.

Knavesmire has a rich history of its own, and is also known for being the place where highwayman Dick Turpin was hanged in 1739!

For more information visit

York Food and Drink Festival: September

Festivals in York - York Food and Drink Festival
Festivals in York – York Food and Drink Festival

The York Food & Drink Festival is a fabulous showcase of the very best of Yorkshire’s food and drink.  Enjoy live demonstrations, wine tastings, cooking classes and live music amid rows of stalls selling delicious food to take home or enjoy then & there.  This is a must for foodies everywhere, and a perfect way to spend a weekend in York.

Read more about my visit to the York Food & Drink Festival here.  For more information on the festival see the website

Illuminating York: October/November

Festivals in York - Illuminate York
Festivals in York – Illuminate York. photo credit

Experience York in a new light, in this 4-day festival celebrating light in all its forms, from sunlight and flickering flames to the bright lights from artificial sources.  Providing an opportunity for York’s artists, designers & engineers to creatively work with light in new ways to explore how people experience York in all its lights.  The festival opens up some of York’s most famous and intriguing buildings by night to allow visitors to experience them in a completely new way, and installations will also take place in outdoor spaces too.

Other attractions & businesses will be open after dark too, and in 2016 the festival included a ‘Bunny Trail’ of illuminated rabbits to help visitors find their way between the attractions.  The festival didn’t run in 2018, so we’re waiting to see if it comes back in 2019!

Aesthethica Short Film Festival: November

Festivals in York - ASFF Film Festival
Screenshot from Take Me to the Moon, 2015 . Directed by Hao Ying Chen & Lee Bang Hao (Spacebar Studio), Taiwan. Drama Finalist in ASFF 2016. photo credit

Film buffs will love York’s Short Film Festival, organised by the international art and culture publication Aesthetica.  The festival is now in its sixth year, and celebrates independent film from all over the world.  This year, the festival will include showings of over 400 short films across a wide range of genres such as advertising, animation, comedy, music video and more, in 14 locations across the city.

Over 25 masterclass sessions with key speakers from the world of film will take place, including speakers from the BBC, Industrial Light & Magic, Jagex and other leading organisations, to allow budding and experienced filmmakers the chance to get advice and tips from the people shaping the film world today.  There will also be plenty of networking opportunities for film-makers and fans alike.

For more information visit the website

York Christmas Festival: November to December

Festivals In York - Christmas in York
Festivals In York – Christmas in York. photo credit

Christmas comes early in York, with various events throughout the city all with a festive feel.

The newly extended Christmas festival beginning in mid-November, and the St Nicholas Fair returns to Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square, with wooden chalets housing stalls of a range of gifts including jewellery, ceramics, homeware, crafts and locally produced wines and cheeses.   The Shambles market is open daily too so be sure to stock up for your Christmas feast with local Yorkshire produce.

Theatre productions include The Snowman at the York Barbican, and panto at the York Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House.  The York Early Music Christmas Festival is host a fantastic line up of musicians too, with something to suit every taste.

And why not catch a carol service in the York Minster, for a unique experience in this splendid Cathedral.  With all this on offer, Christmas is a perfect time to visit York!

For more information visit

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23 thoughts on “Festivals in York You Cannot Miss

  1. Sally says:

    All of these festivals in York look like fun. I couldn’t go past the Christmas one with all the pretty lights. The food festival also sounds like my cup of tea 🙂

  2. Anne says:

    Now this is totally shameful. I am a very proud Yorkshire lass and had no idea half of these existed. I love the idea of the illuminations. York races are also so much fun although to be honest the day after usually isn’t! Lol

  3. Svetoslav Dimitrov says:

    I would really like to immerse myself into a Viking festival. I have so much respect for these people and I cannot explain why. Thanks for sharing this article!

    By the way, I wanted to pin it, but your image seems to not load in Pinterest.

  4. Kate Carter Hickey says:

    Food festivals always top my list! I wonder what the Yorkshire pudding situation would be like. My mum calls me bunny so seeing all the illuminated rabbits guiding the way would be precious. Seems like there’s tons to see in York!

  5. Ami says:

    Viking and the Christmas festival for me. Seems like so much fun. Glad to know about the rest of them too. Did not know that NYC had so many fests.

  6. Joanna says:

    I never knew that there are so many cool festivals in York. The food and drinks one sounds really exciting, I would love to visit and try a bit of every cuisine present in the festival. The Illuminating York festivals sounds very interesting also, I bet you can take some really cool photographs by playing with the light.

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