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.
Stay central at the boutique Judges Court Hotel, opt for the Grand for their deluxe spa treatments, or if you want something more quiet go for The Elmbank Hotel.
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.
I’m always trying and see and do more things outside London, but the actual travel to and from often puts me off. I can’t always be bothered to take a bus and a tube to get to King’s Cross or Paddington and then start an even longer trip. But when I learned Rochester is only 50 minutes away from my nearest train station I figured it might be interesting for a day trip to explore the castle, walk through the historical city centre and check out locations that were featured in the books of Charles Dickens.
Rochester Castle is 800 years old and while it might not be as impressive as the previous castle I visited, it was interesting to see a fort completely stripped back to stone walls, arches and steps, letting your imagination run wild thinking about how things must have been. Head to the top for some wide-reaching views of Rochester and the surrounding area, and see if you can spot where you’ll be heading next.
Across the street you’ll find the second oldest cathedral in England – Rochester Cathedral, which you can visit for free and enjoy its grand mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture styles. And if you’re lucky you might find a brilliant local food market if you visit on a Saturday.
With the two main attractions crossed of my list it was time to walk the cobbled high street packed with independent, vintage and charity shops housed in beautiful old buildings. Most of them scream #prettyshopfronts or #ihavethisthingwithshops.
After the cold castle and cathedral I needed somewhere to warm up and ended up at Deaf Cat Coffee. I was feeling like a sandwich or toastie to go with my coffee and this seemed like the place to go. Sadly the sandwiches looked like pre-prepared and the cakes and cookies not inviting at all.
I must have walked the main street three or four times and kept seeing new places like Baggins Book Bazaar – England’s largest second-hand bookshop and the Guildhall.
The idea was to have a sandwich around 11 and then go to Tiny Tim’s Of Rochester for a cream tea. But as Tiny’s Tims was fulled booked up we ended up having that sandwich at The Quills.
Next on the agenda was spotting some buildings featured within the pages of Charles Dickens’ works. My favourite was Eastgate House, which was a boarding school in Dickens’ time, and was featured as school for young ladies in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Pickwick Papers. When I visited I really enjoyed looking at all the Christmas decorations through the ages. There are sections dedicated to Dickens, the girl’s boarding school and the people who lived there afterwards.
Restoration House, which was used in Dickens’ novel Great Expectations as the home of Estella and Miss Havisham was my next destination. Sadly it was closed when I was there, if you are going during winter season it might be good to check the opening times as I was interested in the Six Poor Traveller House and Upnor Castle, but they had weird opening hours for the winter season.
How to get there?
Rochester is a short train ride (40-45 minutes) from either St. Pancras International or Victoria train stations in London. From Rochester station it’s a few minutes walk to the historic town centre.
Updated July 2019
Honestly? When I went to Brighton for the first time a few years ago I thought it was a bit of a faded seaside town. During my last few visits it was a completely different experience, I came across one lively spot after another which really excited me.
Brighton is sometimes called London-by-the-Sea (or even Shoreditch-on-Sea) so obviously there’s a beach and water to play in, but beware it’s a stone/pebble beach, so no sand for you! Even if the weather isn’t bikini proof you can still walk along the beach, dip your toes into the sea and take photos of the derelict pier. If you’re feeling a little peckish why not try a barbecue on the beach, after 6 pm you’re apparently allowed to, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch and roast a seagull – they are everywhere but sadly I doubt they taste very nice.
My favourite thing to do was walking through the Lanes and exploring the cute (vintage) shops and small markets in the tiny alleys. Also make sure to pop by the Photo Booth in Snoopers Paradise which comes with a dress-up box – I was a cowboy, safari ranger and crocodile all in the space of 3 minutes (I’m not crazy I swear!). These areas are full of street art too, so get snapping, staring or being inspired.
On my last visit I spotted Eden Perfumes on the Lanes and got very excited to see the shop. Eden Perfumes create vegan, cruelty-free versions of your favourite perfumes and I got their their versions of Black Opium and Flowerbomb last Christmas. Though they don’t claim these are identical I honestly can’t smell the difference, they only fade a bit quicker than the original. But at £15 for a 30 ml bottle that is still super afforable.
There are so many coffee places in the Lanes and it’s a definitely gamble if the place you walk into is going to be any good. Thankfully Bond Street Coffee do damn good mocha and latte as well as tasty treats, like their banana bread that I’m still dreaming about.
While one of its piers has been long since abandoned, the major Brighton Palace Pier is still going strong, with its cheesy arcade, fairground rides and fast food stalls. Ignore the trashiness and it’s perfect for an evening walk topped off with a portion of fish and chips, the walk was quite a while, the pier seemed to go on forever!
If arcades and rides aren’t your thing, then why not try a round or two of Mini/Crazy Golf? You’ll find three places to putt away on the promenade, two of them are themed – as we like it these days – but the one closest to the pier, which is simply called Crazy Golf, is a stripped down and no fuss old fashioned one where it’s all about simple joy of hitting the ball. And for £3, who can really complain?
When you’ve worked up an appetite crazy-golfing like a pro, head to Lucky Beach for a lunch. They have selection of top-notch sandwiches and delicious burgers and use locally-sourced and sustainable produce where possible and have lots of vegan and vegetarian options. But really, the hardest part for me was choosing between passion fruit, watermelon, rhubard and elderflower fizz.
Unsure on your evening food options? Well, 64 Degrees is the place to be. It has one of the best concepts ever: they serve 16 small and dishes (four meat, four fish and four vegetables) on the menu, the idea is that you share your food and that way try as much of the menu as you can. This is perfect for someone who can’t choose (yours truly). And because they feel the kitchen is the heart of a restaurant, you sit at the bar overlooking them prepare, just order dish after dish and watch them do some culinary magic. The portions are not huge and the menu is kept light so you get to have dessert without feeling too guilty. And in case you’re wondering, their name is after the temperature they cook their eggs at.
If you decide to lay your head to rest in the city then make sure it’s on a pillow at Arts Residence Brighton, a quirky hotel-meets-art boutique. I really loved the background story too: the hotel had been in the family for years and when times were harder they changed course and enlisted the help of local artists.The artists each took one of the 23 rooms and gave them their own theme. This really adds some extra character – and there is also the killer view.
Have you visited Brighton recently, and if so, have any good spots I should check out on my next visit?
In December I wrote a post on the places I’m hoping to visit in 2018 and now (only a few months in), I can finally cross off the first one! I went to the Cotswolds – even if you are not from the UK and the name doesn’t ring a bell, chances are you’ve seen pictures of the quaint brick houses in fairy tale-like villages where people seem to live the slow life.
And things are definitely slower in the Cotswolds – I get frustrated when I miss a tube/bus and have to wait 5 minutes – but if you miss the bus there you’re stuck for at least an hour if you’re lucky. A taxi came to the rescue and I was joined for a cab share with a local for a short ride to Stow-on-the-Wold where I learned that the recently opened Aldi and hospital are the talk of the day.
Cotswolds are a popular blogger destination so I have read a post here and there, but what no one mentioned was the noise pollution from the constant stream of cars, which is understandable as it’s the main way of going from A to B, but it does take away from the fairy tale/slow life feel.
”Speak, friend, and enter. ” The doors of the St Edwards Church inspired Tolkien’s Doors of Durin – the gates of Moria. Thankfully there was not a monster-filled mine behind these doors, but just a small, peaceful religious spot. It’s also worth noting that a pub in the nearby Moreton-in-Marsh inspired the Middle Earth’s most famous drinking hole, the Prancing Pony Inn. St. Edwards Church is only a few minutes away from the main square and a must stop, even if you are not a Tolkien fan, just to appreciate how the mastery of combining large trees into the architecture.
As I had time to kill before the hotelroom was ready I had the option to go to a pub, have an afternoon tea or walk to the nearby village of Broadwell. As the weather was great and I wanted to find that slow life I went for the walk, which was an easy one – mud is probably your only obstacle, plus the fact that the alpacas on the route are not interested in you and will avoid any form of communication (ghosted right!?). Broadwell itself is tiny, with one main street with a church, bus stop, lots of B&B places and one inn.
My favourite bit of Broadwell was watching these sheep – the one on top of the stone wall seemed to be on an adventure of his own and braved a perilous walk on the wall instead of taking the longer safe route on the ground. Better than anything Netflix released in the last 3 months.
During most of my teenage years I worked in a country hotel/restaurant that would fit the boutique hotel category these days and I love staying in similar places that bring back these memories. The Old Stock Inn did all of that and came with a lovely interior and map art work adorning its walls. There are restaurants/traditional inns in Stow and the rest of the area where you can head to for your lunch/dinner and as well as more afternoon tea place than Pret-A-Manger’s in Central London, but I opted for dinner at the Old Stock Inn where they focus on regional and seasonal dishes. I couldn’t be more happy about the onion tarte tatin and the beetroot/goats cheese starter.
The walking trails to nearby villages are adventures on their own as you have no idea where it will bring you next – Google Maps hasn’t caught up yet, but that’s a good thing. The yellow arrows on gates and fences will lead you from walking next to the main road to a muddy meadow where the horses and sheep come and greet you. More than once you’ll start to doubt the trail and your map and wonder if they are real walking trails or if the farmer will wait for you with a pitchfork. They didn’t.
Which destinations have you crossed off your 2018 list?