Half-term and Halloween in York: 34 things to do this holiday

Gourd help us - it's half-term again. Photograph: York Dungeon
21 Oct 2015 @ 2.57 pm
| Entertainment, Family

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas – Halloween, when we’re actually encouraged to scare the living daylights out of children in exchange for a mini Milky Way.

Or, judging by the “treats” given to my own children over the years, a five pence piece (thank you, Rockefeller), a brown apple slice (binned), a small plastic spider (stood on repeatedly then binned) and an unidentified tin of something with the label ripped off (controlled explosion then chucked in the neighbour’s bin).

But half term is only partly about Halloween. Throw in Illuminating York and a whole lot else and the week will fly by faster than a witch-wielding broomstick…

Screamtastic – and child-friendly

Get a ghoulish guided tour of Barley Hall with Henry VIII and his wicked wives
Get a ghoulish guided tour of Barley Hall with Henry VIII and his wicked wives

York Maze Halloween Bonanza

York Maze, Elvington

Oct 24-Nov1, 10am-4.30pm


Maze website

The giant maize maze might have been harvested but York Maze still has a Haunted Maze Treasure Hunt for the October half-term holiday, plus 20 Halloween attractions and pumpkin carving competitions (pumpkins provided – you don’t have to lug in your own from home).
As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s also a giant pumpkin competition with a cash prize of £2,000 for a UK record-breaker – the biggest payout of its kind in the country.

Trick or Treat Walking Tour

York Dungeon, Clifford Street

Oct 28-30, 4.30pm, plus Oct 31, 12.30pm, 2.30pm & 4.30pm


Dungeon website

If you’re looking for some spooky fun that won’t leave your six-ten year olds quivering with fear for the foreseeable future, why not sign them up for walking tour round the murkier streets of York in the company of mischievous, storytelling Dungeon characters.

Children armed with glow sticks to illuminate their way will be regaled with Halloween tales about the most haunted city in England (Wolverhampton?).

Shock-olate Halloween

York Chocolate Story, King’s Square

Oct 26-Nov 1, 10am-6pm


Chocolate Story website

Are you brave enough to take part in a thrilling (and perhaps a little chilling) shock-olate tasting session this Halloween? Spin the wheel of misfortune and you might win a tasty treat or – more likely – a rotten trick chocolate made with scream rather than cream.

Among the many stomach-churning flavours on offer are sprout, stilton and garlic (vampires beware), which you can also buy in the shop as a delicious treat for that special someone in your life.

The Horrible Haunting of Henry VIII

Barley Hall, Coffee Yard, off Stonegate

Oct 31, 5-8pm

from £4.50

Hall website

A bone-chilling evening awaits you in the atmospheric gloom of Barley Hall, where King Henry VIII (such a nice man) is plagued by ghosts from his past, at least two of whom will presumably be wearing their crowns at a jaunty angle (because they haven’t got a head).

This is your chance to explore the medieval townhouse by candlelight and see what its cast of creepy Tudor characters has in store during a fun evening for all the family.

The Addams Family

Bet you're humming the theme tune in your head right now…
Bet you’re humming the theme tune in your head right now…

Grand Opera House

Oct 28-31, various times

from £12.50


They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky; they’re altogether ooky, the Addams Family. And you’ll be able to witness their complete ookiness at first hand when they bring their Broadway musical to York.

As the curtain rises, the last dead leaf of autumn falls from the family tree, and all is right with the morbid, macabre world of Gomez, Morticia, Fester, Grandma, Wednesday, Pugsley and Lurch.

Until more family members are unearthed – literally.

Ghosts, Rogues & Highwaymen

Fairfax House, Castlegate

Oct 27, 5pm

from £6

House website

Do you dare to gather in the fading light at Fairfax House to hear haunting true tales from the dark corners of British history?

There are smugglers and moonrakers, horse thieves and highwaymen, even the dreaded witch finder general. Thankfully, there are also hot drinks and refreshments to revive those brave enough to hear these spine-tingling tales.

Boris the Bat at Beningbrough

Beningbrough Hall

Oct 24-31, 11am-5pm

£11 (NT members free)

Hall website

Join Boris the Bat to solve mysteries on the spooky sound trail with the help of a friendly gang of Beningbrough Buddies.

Guess the weight of the giant pumpkin to win it or make a lantern in the Artrageous craft workshop (there’s a small charge for materials).

The Bloody Tour

From York Minster

Oct 28-31, 4pm, 6pm + 8pm


Tour website

Let Mad Alice take you on a candlelit tour of the city to discover tales of murder, arson, plague, witches, executions, highwaymen and gunpowder plots.

There are blood and guts aplenty, but this 90-minute tour is still suitable for all ages.

Pumpkin Festival

Piglets Adventure Farm, Towhorpe

Oct 24-Nov 1, 10am-5.30pm


Farm website

There’s a fright-load of spooky fun for all the family down on the farm. You can enjoy trailer rides to choose your pumpkin from the 10,000-strong patch, visit the creepy cottage and listen to spooky stories.

Terrifying fun – but not for tiddlers

Don't go in, you mad fools!
Don’t go in, you mad fools!


York Maze, Elvington

Oct 16-31, 7-11.30pm

from £18

Hallowscream website

Not one for the tiddlies in your family, this is for ages 14+ only because it is so absolutely pant-wettingly terrifying.

There are five separate live action haunted house attractions with added surprises dotted around the site. But when they say ‘surprises’, don’t expect gentle jesting; we’re talking zombie clowns carrying chainsaws and baying for your blood.

Body Snatchers – Dig Up The Dead!

York Dungeon, Clifford Street

Oct 17-Nov 1, 10am-5pm

from £11.95

Dungeon website

A gang of body snatchers is roaming the dark corridors of York Dungeon looking for fresh corpses. Led by John Hodgson, a cruel, remorseless character who actively enjoys digging up the dead, these 19th century resurrectionists are not averse to assisting in the death itself.

Expect lots of jumps, screams and more than a few laughs – and don’t forget to do a head-count before you leave.

Hell’s Domain

St Nicholas Way, Wigginton, York

Fri Oct 30 & Sat Oct 31 @ 5pm-9.30pm

Free entry, donations on exit

More details

For the second year, a purpose-built haunted house arrives in Wigginton. Featuring live actors in spooky costumes, animatronics and holograms, Hell’s Domain is quite something. And all money raised goes to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. Not for the squeamish, under 13s must be accompanied by an adult.

Halloween Tales

The Grimoire Bookshop, High Petergate

Oct 29, 7-9pm


For an evening of bewitching tales of Yorkshire witches, hauntings and Halloween history, get yourself along to the Grim Spookshop – sorry, that should be Grimoire Bookshop.

The event, which is for over 18s only, is a two-hour terrorfest punctuated with tea and homemade cakes.

A (Bit of a Frightful) Evening with John Connolly

York Explore, Museum Street

Oct 27, 6.30pm


Library website

The author reads from Night Music, his latest collection of tales about the uncanny and the supernatural.

Half-term (non-Halloween) fun

Illuminata Botanica - throwing a new light on Museum Gardens
Illuminata Botanica – throwing a new light on Museum Gardens

Illuminating York

Illuminating York

Oct 28-31

Illuminating York website

Bright lights, small city. Illuminating York is back with glitter balls on Shambles, the natural world in Museum Gardens lit up like never before and so much more.

For our full guide, go here. A few highlights below to get you started.

A Brief History of Light

DiG, St Saviourgate

Oct 28-31, noon-4pm


DiG website

Celebrate the UNESCO International Year of Light and discover how to make candles, how light is used in pinhole cameras and how to illuminate a room with a potato (no, really).

World War I Through a Magic Lantern

York Army Museum, Tower Street

Oct 29, 6-7.30pm

£12 (including wine)

Museum website

Lamps are going out all over York Army Museum to mark the continuing centenary of the First World War.

Magic lanternist Andrew Gill illuminates the history of the war using 100-year-old photographic slides to tell the story of a real serving soldier in his own words.
The show isn’t suitable for younger children.


Extinct: A Way of Life

Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens

Oct 24-Nov 1, 10am-5pm


Museum website

Discover some of the special features that help animals adapt to their habitats in this natural history exhibition by following clues around the Extinct Gallery. If you find the mystery creature (you will), you can claim a small prize.

Animal Handling

Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens

Oct 27-29, 11am-4pm


Museum website

Get your hands on fluffy, cuddly creatures and spindly, wiggly insects with guidance from experienced museum staff. Just remember not to squeeze too hard.

Holgate Windmill Open Day

Holgate Windmill, Windmill Rise, Holgate

Oct 24-25, 11am-4pm


Windmill website

Explore all four floors of this fully restored, working 18th century corn mill. If it’s windy, you might even see the sails turning and the machinery turning producing stoneground wholemeal flour for sale.

Arts and crafts

Enjoy a host of Arty Autumn activities at the Minster
Enjoy a host of Arty Autumn activities at the Minster

The Big Draw

York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square

Oct 24-30, 11am-4pm


Gallery website

Drop in for a host of art activities for all the family in the gallery’s studio to celebrate this year’s Big Draw, the world’s biggest drawing festival.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square

Oct 31, 11am-4pm


Gallery website

Artist Jo Walton leads a drop-in family art workshop, suitable for all (especially if you like glitter).

Arty Autumn

York Minster

Oct 26-30, 10am-4pm


Minster website

Every drawing tells a story at the Minster over half-term as visitors are invited to take part in the national Big Draw campaign.

There’s a daily drawing station in the north transpet, below the Five Sisters’ window, and professional artist Jake Attree leads a sketching skills class on October 24 (tickets £20; suitable for 18+) inspired by the Minster’s world-class examples of art and architecture.
There are also free trails to follow using Little Explorer Backpacks and books available from the Story Chest.

York Art Society 202nd Autumn Exhibition

De Grey Rooms, St Leonard’s Place

Oct 27-Nov 1, 10am-5pm


Society website

An exhibition showcasing the work of society members, reflecting a broad range of work produced across many styles and media.

History and books

Going underground… secret tunnels explored
Going underground… secret tunnels explored

Dick Turpin’s Hangman

York Castle Museum, Eye of York

Oct 24-Nov 1, 11.30am-4.30pm


Museum website

Highwayman Dick Turpin spent his last days in York Castle Museum, or rather in the prison it used to be (before they installed a gift shop), before being executed in 1739 for horse theft.
This is your chance to meet the hangman who did the deed and has lived to tell the full story of the notorious highwayman.

Secret Tunnels of England Folklore & Fact

York Explore, Museum Street

Oct 25, 3pm


Library website

Are there really labyrinths of hidden passageways under our ancient buildings, towns and cities, or are these another seam of England’s rich folklore?
Antony Clayton, author of the popular Subterranean City series, sorts fact from fiction in this illustrated talk.

Living History at the Hall

Barley Hall, Coffee Yard, off Stonegate

Oct 28 @ noon-4pm

From £4.50

Hall website

Forget the servants of Downton Abbey, volunteers at historic Barley Hall are preparing to bring a day in service in the late-medieval period back to life.

The Barley Hall servants group, which is made up entirely of volunteers, will take the Hall back in time to the late-medieval period and undertake the duties of the people who worked there, showing visitors such diverse tasks as household care & cleaning and herbal remedies to teaching the proper medieval table manners and etiquette.

Frances Brody: A Death in the Dales

York Explore, Museum Street

Oct 29, 7pm


Library website

Frances Brody, author of the Yorkshire-based Kate Shackleton Mystery series, introduces book number seven: A Death in the Dales.


TakeOver Festival

John Hinton as Johnny Acecraft, part of this year's TakeOver Festival
John Hinton as Johnny Acecraft, part of this year’s TakeOver Festival

National Railway Museum, Leeman Road

Oct 24-Nov 1, 10am-6pm

Free (some events are charged for)

NRM website

Inquisitive, adventurous, imaginative and challenging visitors of all ages are invited to get involved and expect the unexpected this half-term.

Events include Phantasmagoria, a show bringing Lewis Carroll’s darkest work to life, suitcase stories for 8-12 year-olds and a pigeon party (oh, come on, don’t be a party pooper).

A Restless Place

York Castle Museum, Eye of York

Oct 26-31, 6.30pm + 8pm



Pilot Theatre invites you to discover the lost voices and found stories of the museum’s snickelways and cells.

Verbatim testimonies blend with folktales as you meet characters drawn from both myth and reality on their journeys into the unknown.


Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Haxby Road

Oct 30-Nov 7, 7.30pm



Talented young performers from York Light Youth give purrfect renditions of Lloyd-Webber favourites.

Gino’s Italian Escape

York Barbican

Oct 31 @ 8pm



Chef, TV personality and best-selling author Gino D’Acampo blends his love of Italy, some signature dishes and a peppering of audience participation in a typically lively theatre show.
Selected fans will be invited on stage to cook with the excitable little chef, so don’t forget your spatula.
Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult, as this is a live show and will contain some colourful banter (well, he is Italian).

Made in Yorkshire Autumn Show

DiG, St Sampson’s Square

Oct 29-Nov 1, 10am-5pm


Made in Yorkshire website

Designers and makers from around the region bring their wares to York, including jewellery, ceramics, art, photography, wood, soap, jams, textiles and glass.

The Society of Strange & Ancient Instruments

National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate

Oct 30, 7.30pm


NCEM website

The musicians of Sound House explore some of the magical musical phenomena that 17th century philosopher and scientific visionary Francis Bacon sought to explain.

They’ll be playing some extraordinary instruments including the ancient two-metre-long tromba marina and the little known viola bastarda (charming).