Check out our handy guide for everything you need to know about a mini break in the heart of Yorkshire
Growing up in York, my siblings and I used to roll our eyes when our mum would say: “Aren’t we lucky to live in York”. However, now that I am a bit older, have moved away and then come back to this ancient city, I hear myself saying this to my husband and children and I mean it. With a fascinating history, top attractions and a vast range of eateries, York really is a wonderful place to visit.
So here is a whistle stop tour of my compact hometown, giving you a little taste of what York has to offer.
Being only a two hour train ride from London, York is well-connected and easy to get to. It is a cultural hotspot with fantastic historical sites. One of the most impressive being York Minster which was built in the 7th Century. It is quite pricey to enter and you have to pay an additional fee to climb the bell tower but you can easily soak up the atmosphere walking around the outside of the building and sitting in Dean’s Park with an ice cream (LICC offers some of the most unusual flavours!).
York really is a historical mish-mash with influences from the Romans, Vikings, Normans, Tudors and Victorians. If you are a history buff, why not walk the city walls and then make a stop at the Jorvik Viking Centre – a museum that has reconstructed Viking life in York. The small carriages that take you around the museum are very memorable but be warned, the Viking street has a very pungent aroma! After the museum, head down Coppergate as you are only a stone’s throw away from Clifford’s Tower, one of York’s most iconic landmarks. It has recently been renovated and has a new roof deck, which offers excellent views of the city.
If, like me, you enjoy having a leisurely amble in a new city, why not go to the shortest street with the longest name, Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate, before heading up the bustling Shambles. It is believed that this street was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series so it’s no surprise that this street is teeming with Harry Potter-themed shops and memorabilia. For me, it’s not the Harry Potter merch that is the draw, it’s the amazing York Egg that you can purchase from the bakery: Shambles Sausage and Pie Company. It’s well worth elbowing your way through the Ghost Merchants‘ queues to sample this local delight.
Exploring York by foot is certainly the best way to get a feel for the city and it’s fun to stroll along the many narrow passages (known locally as snickleways) that connect the main shopping streets. But if you’re wanting to give your feet a rest and still see the sights, why not catch a ride on one of the river city cruises or hop on to one of York’s many city bus tours?
Did you know that York has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in Europe? So, if you are wanting a more exhilarating experience but still keen to explore the city, I would highly recommend a walking ghost tour or a comedy/horror (is this a genre?!) experience on the York Ghost Bus Tour. It’s definitely worth going on the bus during the later slot as it’s darker and adds to the spooky atmosphere.
Finally if you’re still looking for things to do, you could take a short walk to the National Railway Museum (this museum is free!), have a picnic in the Museum Gardens or treat yourself on one of York’s many shopping streets (Stonegate is my personal favourite and takes you straight to the Minster).
Eating and drinking
We truly are spoiled for choice with places to eat and drink in York. York famously has 365 pubs (one for every day of the year) but if you’ve only got a few days in York, I would suggest you head to the House of Trembling Madness (very quirky!), The Kings Arms (be careful as it’s notorious for being flooded) or The Fat Badger (it has a lovely outside terrace with great views of the city walls). For more informal eating, the Brew and Brownie is very popular (I prefer the sister cafe: the Brew and Brownie Bakehouse) – they do delicious and very filling cakes. There is also Spring Espresso (a family favourite), Partisan (amazing for brunch) and the Shambles Market (it offers a whole host of different street food). It can get quite busy but it’s well worth it.
If you fancy a little amble along the city walls away from the centre, Bishopthorpe Road is a friendly and quirky spot with a smattering of independent shops and cafes including Robinsons, Trinacria (amazing gelato) and The Pig and Pastry. For dinner, we would recommend Il Paradiso (we went here for our Christmas social in 2022), Ambiente (there are two in York but we prefer the one on Goodramgate), El Goucho, Kapadokya or Red Chilli. If you fancy a bit more of a treat, I suggest Skosh, Arras (we went here for our Christmas social in 2023), The Star Inn the City or Roots but you will need to book in advance and they can be quite expensive.
Places to stay
There are many places to stay from hostels and upmarket hotels to cosy little B&Bs. For great rooms on a budget we suggest York’s Youth Hostel (only a short river-walk away from the city centre), Safestay York (set in a Georgian town house) or the Diamond Inn (just 750 metres from the Minster). For something more mid-range why not try the Elmbank Hotel or the Delta Hotel both situated close to York’s racecourse: The Knavesmire. I’ve not stayed at the Impossible Motel but it looks really cool or you could try 23 St. Mary’s a charming little guest house on Bootham. If you’re wanting a bit more of a treat when you come and stay, I suggest one of these places: The Bishop and Bison Hotel, The Grand, The Principle or Grays Court.
I hope you enjoy your stay!
In York, 65% of the businesses are independently run. So if you’re looking for any more recommendations, then do check out Indie York which champions local businesses.