Last month I finally made it to York for a short trip and loved it! It’s actually the first place outside London where I could see myself living long-term – the prices are great, the pace of life was just right and there is so much history. Walking through York city is a proper walk through time – a Gothic cathedral here, a Medieval city wall there and a Georgian town house around the corner. Here’s my take on the best way to spend a day in York:
Walk the Walls
Walk around sections of the grand stone walls that have stood the test of time for over 2000 years and the wind will whisper you their stories. The 2 miles / 3.22 km walk takes you around the edge of York, giving a different perspective of the city, and is a great way to scope out the sights ahead of time.
Check out Clifford’s Tower
While most of York Castle, which dated back to the 11th century, is no longer with us – one main part still remains, Clifford’s Tower. The tower looks great on top of that hill, but not worth the £6.30 entrance as there is nothing much inside and you’ll likely spend a max of 15 minutes walking around. So look at it from the outside and spend the money you saved to climb the tower at the Minster and enjoy the best view of the city.
Explore York Mansion House
This Georgian masterpiece was built in 1732 as a home for the Lord Mayor of York, and has been at the centre of York society ever since. Today you can explore it and see where all the banquets took place, dress-up and dance around in the ball room and even try to make a virtual meal in the Georgian kitchen in the basement.
Check out the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Dating back to the 1500s, this stunning medieval guild hall is the home of The Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York. As my visit was in the middle of the Jorvik Viking Festival I ended up in a hall full of dressed up Viking traders selling all things Norse. It definitely gave the visit an extra touch of authenticity, and the attention to detail on the costumes was as good as any comic convention!
Take A Break At Bakeshop
The Bakeshop should be your go-to place for very good coffee and delicious freshly-made cakes and pastries. While my favourite was their cinnamon orange bun, their salads and sandwiches looked scrumptious too. The only downside is there’s not too many seats inside, but takeaway will taste as good!
Visit the York Castle Museum
The York Castle Museum covers hundreds of years of York’s history with something for everyone: it has a recreation of a historical Victorian street, an area covering 1960s culture, a section on the Georgian Prison that was once on the place of the current museum and exhibits and stories spanning the First World War. As a historical ‘cultural’ museum addict, this was place was everything.
Walk Around The Museum Gardens
Well… in Summer or Spring this park, which is also home to the Yorkshire Museum, is the go to for a picnic, but during Autumn and Winter you might want to walk around and check out the stunning stone ruins of medieval St. Mary’s Abbey and the well preserved Tudor house down by the River Ouse.
Go Inside York Minster + Climb up the Tower
If being the largest gothic cathedral in Europe doesn’t impress you, then the stunning stained-glass windows, grand architecture and general ambience will definitely do the trick. If you’re brave enough, climb the 276 stairs to reach an amazing view from the top of the tower. If you’d prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground, the Undercroft underneath the cathedral has a fascinating exhibition on the Roman ruins and construction of the building.
Wander the Shambles
The Shambles is a small narrow medieval street in the centre that’s where butchers once plied their trade, which isn’t as glamorous as you might think – they also threw out the discarded bits of meat right into the street! Nowadays there’s no guts to be seen, and there are claims the street may have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley. You can judge for yourself – I give it 3/5 broomsticks (Nimbus 2000s to be specific!).
Eat and Drink at Spark: York
This social space and street food hub, pieced together with refurbished shipping containers is one of the best self-contained spots to eat, drink and relax in the centre, with street food, craft beer and cocktails! I can recommend vegan kebab at Doner Summer who also do a mean candy floss covered cocktail so perfect hideaway for when it rains.
Visit York Cold War Bunker
If you find yourself in York on the weekend then head to Holgate for a tour of a Cold War bunker that was built in 1961 to monitor nuclear explosions and fallouts in the event of nuclear war. Guided tours start every hour and last for about 1 hour, where you’ll explore the different parts of the complex and hear stories about how the people who worked there lived.
How to get there
London to York by train is doable in a day and most of the main York attractions are within walking distance of each other. Trains from London King’s Cross take around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Make it a weekend trip?
If you’re thinking of taking a weekend trip, combine a day in York with a day in nearby Leeds, which is only 20-30 mins away by train.