Panorama of a field in Yorkshire, England

A rural scene in Yorkshire, England. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Yorkshire

One of England's loveliest regions, and home to some of its friendliest locals, the northern county of Yorkshire is packed with fun things to do with kids. Visits to this area combining scenic countryside and historic towns should start with a trip to York, a fascinating medieval town with everything from Roman ruins to the world's largest railway museum.

Only two hours by train from London and on the main line north to Edinburgh, York is ideal for a two- to three-day stopover for those traveling without a car. One of the first things you'll see as the train pulls into the main railway station is the impressive bulk of York Minster, one of Europe's great cathedrals. Here, kids will enjoy climbing the central spire for 360-degree views of the city, or delving underground to ogle Roman and Norman ruins deep in the foundations. Musically inclined families will also enjoy the nightly Evensong choral concert. This is the perfect time to appreciate the atmosphere and craftsmanship of this impressive Gothic structure, mostly built over a period of 250 years from the 13th century.

One of York's great charms is that it's a walkable city. Amble down the narrow and iconic alleyway called the Shambles, circumnavigate the city along its sturdy, well-preserved 13th-century walls, or snack on ice cream while walking through Museum Gardens by the banks of the River Ouse. Inquisitive families might also consider taking a guided or audio tour to get a full sense of the city's rich history. The York Tourism website (www.visityork.org) lists a variety of walking-tour operators, including free tours by volunteer guides.

The Jorvik Viking Centre is another popular family draw. Learn how those marauding Norsemen settled the area in the ninth and tenth centuries, bringing relative peace and prosperity to the region despite their popular fearsome image. The interactive tour in a "time-traveling car" is a fun way to get a sensory taste—complete with dung smells—of life in the Viking era. Jorvik does get very busy, especially during school vacations and the popular summer months, so pre-book tickets to avoid long lines.

Train-loving tots can go crazy at the National Railway Museum, a massive factory-size hangar housing historic railway carriages, beautiful steam locomotives, and modern marvels like the Japanese Shinkansen. You could spend days in here, but the good news is that it's free except for certain special events. There's also a fun miniature railway beside the main train station called the York Model Railway, which Thomas the Train Engine-loving tots will adore.

York offers good rail and bus connections to England's impressive northeastern coastline, including the resort towns of Whitby and Scarborough. Whitby is the more scenic of the two, located about two hours' drive from York across the bleak and impressive North Yorkshire Moors. The ruins of a 1,500-year-old abbey stand watch on the cliffs above this bustling fishing port. It was also here that Bram Stoker penned much of Dracula, although the town itself only merits brief mention at the beginning of the seminal vampire fest. Whitby's Dracula Experience will give you the full-on, blood-sucking experience, including the novel's ties—tenuous and real—to the town.

Scarborough, a little further south, is a more touristy and tacky seaside option, although the big sandy beach (the one at Whitby is smaller and rockier) and boardwalk are ideal for younger kids. However, this does also spell crowds when the sun's shining, plus the occasional unwelcome glimpse of the British lager lout in full flourish. For families without a car, however, Scarborough is easier to reach with better rail connections.

As with the Yorkshire Moors, the more westerly Yorkshire Dales have been immortalized in film and print for their meld of picturesque country villages and bleak moorland scenery. The genteel spa town of Harrogate offers an entry point into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where you can skip between impossibly picturesque medieval market towns and long stretches of wide-open moorland. You will need a car to get around, or you can take a scenic ride on the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle rail line. Younger kids might get a little bored on the three-hour journey (one-way), although you can always jump off at one of the small village stations along the way for a walk and a picnic lunch. Those with a car might also consider unfurling the picnic blanket by the 12th-century ruins of Fountains Abbey, a World Heritage site tucked away in the folds of a secluded valley alongside the tranquil River Skell.

Tip: Save your pennies by purchasing a York Pass for free access to 28 popular attractions in and around York, including York Dungeon, York Model Railway, and Castle Howard (the sprawling country estate where Brideshead Revisited was filmed).

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