Although I no longer live there, I spent the first 18 years of my life living in York. It’s a lovely city, but one that, as a resident, you often don’t appreciate. The thousands of tourists who come every year just get in the way when you want to go somewhere. New building schemes get held up for archaeological surveys, and inevitably the archaeologists will find something interesting so by the time they’ve finished digging the developer has gone bankrupt (this has happened on more than one occasion, although I’m totally in favour of the archaeological excavations). It’s expensive. The city centre is full of stag parties, hen nights and other drunken idiots on weekend evenings. And, when I was growing up, there wasn’t all that much for young people (i.e. under 18s) o do.
Of course, now that I don’t live there, I actually like York more. I can be one of those tourists who gets in the way. I can marvel at the medieval architecture of The Shambles. I can stop to take photos of things that I’d have otherwise ignored.
And as a tourist I can get around to visiting all of the attractions that I’ve not bothered with for years. Now as a resident I got into many of York’s museums – the Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and the York Dungeon, amongst others – for free, and the Art Gallery and National Railway Museum are free for all anyway. But there was one attraction that I hadn’t visited since I was a child, over 20 years ago – the Jorvik Viking Centre.
Jorvik opened a month before I was born, in April 1984, and I went a couple of times in the late 80s in its original formation. Back then, you sat in small cars that moved around on rails through various scenes depicting Viking York, with the sounds and smells recreated.
But until last month I’d never been back, despite its major refurbishment in 2001, and again two years ago. The queues for Jorvik are legendary – on a busy day they will stretch all of the way around the nearby St Mary’s Square. And it wasn’t free, unlike some of the other attractions in York. However, faced with a free bank holiday Monday, and the fact that you can book timed tickets on the web site up to the night before to skip the queues, Christine and I decided to go.
It’s certainly changed quite a bit. The cars now hang from the ceiling, sort of a bit like a slow, sedate version of Nemesis at Alton Towers, and you can select one of five commentaries which play from speakers next to your head – three foreign languages, English and a children’s English version. The new cars mean that you can swing around to face certain key scenes, and the characters interact with the commentator. Unfortunately, the machinery is very loud which detracts from the experience somewhat. Also, this part of the museum only lasts for around 10 minutes, although there are rooms either side which give some more context, including some hands-on sessions.
Adult tickets are a little under a tenner, and child tickets are around £6, which will entertain you for just over an hour. To me that’s at the higher end of reasonable value for money, but on a par with other paid-for attractions in York like York’s Chocolate Story which opened at Easter (and is very good). Booking online is definitely recommended, as it’ll save you what could be hours of queueing outside in the rain. And, until early November, your tickets are also valid for entry at a temporary exhibition called Valhalla, which looks at Viking burials in York and has a couple of complete excavated skeletons on show.
It’s been nice to be able to enjoy York in the way that most people do.