The city of York has retained so much of its medieval structure that walking into its centre is like entering a living museum. Much of the centre is pedestrianized which makes it very easy to explore.
York looks like it’s tucked away from London, and very often it’s been ignored as city break destination. It takes about 2 hours to get there by train and an advanced return ticket to London is approximately £70. Depending on the time of the year you go, you might be able to participate in numerous festivals and events happening all year round in York. Check out the events calendar on VisitYork’s official website. Hopefully today I will convince you to add this beautiful city to your travel plan in the future.
Things you need to know about York (to get you prepared for a pub quiz!):
- It was founded by Romans as a fortress in 71 AD that became a city – Eboracum
- Later the city fell to the Vikings and it was renamed to Jorvik
- It was the heart of the country’s religious and political life for centuries
- Until the Industrial Revolution, it was the second city in population and importance after London
- Guy Fawkes, the famous Gunpowder Plot conspirator was born in York
- York Minster is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe
- Kit Kat was created in York
We spent 2 nights in York, but I only had 1 full day to explore the city. Consider purchasing The York Pass which offers a free entry into over 30 York attractions and tours as well as restaurant and shopping offers. If you can arrive early, I strongly recommend to start exploring the city with The Shambles before it gets too crowded.
Explore The Shambles and York Minster
Probably the most famous and attractive part of the city, The Shambles is one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe. Although none of the original shop-fronts have survived from medieval times, some properties still have exterior wooden shelves; reminders of when cuts of meat were served from the open windows of butcher’s shops. The street was made narrow to keep the meat out of direct sunlight. It’s believed to be an inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley.
Places to explore nearby: Shambles Market, pretty Kings Square and York’s Chocolate story where you can take a guided tour and follow a mouth-watering journey on which you’ll experience all of York’s chocolate history, from its Central American roots.
Next, go to York Minster, Britain’s and Northern Europe biggest Gothic cathedral. It is also home to the largest collection of medieval stained glass in Britain. Make sure to walk all the way down inside the Minster and on your left you will a sign to the Chapter House – it’s gorgeous!
One of the areas I like to revisit is right behind the York Minster. College street is very picturesque, especially its part near National Trust gift shop where you can stop for a tea with a cake in The Vanilla Cafe. As it was almost the end of Autumn, this place was beautifully covered with orange and yellow leaves.
Go to the left towards the St.Williams College, and you will end up in a quiet medieval street – Chapter House Str. It feels like time stopped there a few centuries ago. I didn’t see this place at my first visit to York and I was super happy to discover it later on.
Walk the walls!
York’s famous medieval walls are the longest in England. They date mainly from the 14th century, though fragments of Norman work survive, particularly in the gates (known as ‘bars’). Monk Bar is a good point of access to the wall. It’s free to explore but no dogs allowed. From there you can see some beautiful views of York Minster.
I’m not a big fan of museums, but there are some that really impressed me. One of them was the Jorvik Viking Centre. Excavation of Coppergate in 1976 uncovered York’s original Viking settlement, now largely buried beneath a shopping centre. The Jorvik Viking Centre is a dynamic vision of York in the 10th century. It’s an unusual experience of traveling back in time to see, hear and even smell the Viking city. You sit down in a special capsule for 6 people that take you on a 15 minutes journey through the Viking settlement as it was over a thousand years ago.
I got so impressed by this experience so decided to explore a few more museums. A bit further away but so worth a visit is York Castle Museum which is housed in what was once a couple of prisons. One of the most impressive parts of the museum is a reconstruction of the sights and sounds of York’s Kirkgate during the final years of the 19th century. There are displays, too, of period kitchens, fashion, music and news stories of the 1960s. The cells in the basement of the prison building contain a series of real-life stories, told by video recordings of actors projected onto cell walls, gleaned from the prison’s records.
On the way to my last stop before heading to the hotel I went to the Museum Gardens for some quiet time and to walk around the ruins of St.Mary’s Abbey. The Abbey, the largest and richest Benedictine establishment in the north of England and one of the largest landholders in Yorkshire, was closed and subsequently destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
Finally, I visited The National Railway Museum which is the largest railway museum in the world. It sounds rather like a place of interest for men and kids but I actually liked it. The museum is divided into 2 parts: a train station where you walk along the platform and look into carriages of different periods and a Great Hall with an enormous exhibition of different locomotives and even a Japanese bullet train. Admission is free.
We stayed at The Principal York hotel, which is a few minutes away from the train station. Award-winning interior architects Goddard Littlefair have refurbished and restored the hotel’s rooms and public spaces to create 155 elegant, comfortable bedrooms and suits in balanced, neutral tones. It’s a dog-friendly hotel, and Loki was traveling with us. He was provided with his own bed a water bowl.
Afternoon Tea locations:
- Bettys York 6-8 St. Helen’s Square, YO1 8QP
- Countess of York Afternoon Tea (in a restored rail carriage) National Railway Museum, Leeman Rd, YO26 4XJ
- The Garden Room at The Principal York Station Road, YO24 1AA
- The Perky Peacock Coffee Shop North Street, Postern Tower, YO1 6HU
- The Fossgate Social 25 Fossgate, York YO1 9TA
- Brew & Brownie 5 Museum St, York YO1 7DT
Dog-friendly pubs and restaurants:
- Eagle and Child 9 High Petergate, YO1 7EN
- The Cosy Club 19-22 Fossgate, YO1 9TA
- The Nook 3a Castlegate, YO1 9RN
Thanks to VisitYork, and The Principal York hotel for making this trip possible for us. All opinions as always are my own.
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