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York is a time capsule of Roman and Medieval Britain. It is undeniably magical.
Narrow, cobblestone streets enveloped by timbered buildings lead you toward York Minster, a 13th-century phenomenon that inconspicuously looms over the city. The city’s pubs are legendary, each with its own history of ghosts or famous faces who once drank at the bar.
The Danes occupied the city in 867 and rebuilt much of the Roman Walls (remnants of which can still be seen to this day). The walls are free to walk on and provide extraordinary views of the city. As the flowers bloom in spring, there are few prettier sights in the country.
Start your day on Fossgate at one of the many cafes, such as the Hairy Fig or Kiosk Cafe, indulging in a specialty coffee with a buttery pastry on the side. From there, head into the city to the Shambles, one of the best-preserved medieval streets in the world. Mind your head as the 14th and 15th-century buildings hang over you.
‘Shambles’ is derived from Old English meaning “meat market” – which is exactly what this old street once was. Though now, its claim to fame is being the inspiration for the set of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.
It may be a small street, but exploring its shops and alleyways will take some time.
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Top up your energy at Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe and visit York Minster. For the best views of the Minster, walk to it via Stonegate; it will appear through a small alleyway called Minster Gates (where the old cathedral gates once stood). It’s a perfect view for photographs.
You can tour York Minster (tickets cost £12.50) and climb its 275 steps to the rooftop for sublime views of York.
Head round the corner for an afternoon drink at Guy Fawkes Inn. This old Georgian House was once the home of the infamous rebel Guy Fawkes 400 years ago; choose to sit in the cosy interior or sit by the murals in the pretty pub garden.
Head back to explore more of what York has to offer in the evening. Stonegate is one of the city’s main shopping streets and is lined with window displays, pubs and bars, should you choose to indulge in another drink.
House of Trembling Madness is an eclectic medieval-style bar serving niche Belgian beers – many of which you can buy to take home with you. For a classic pub, head to Ye Olde Starre Inne, the city’s oldest licensed inn (established in 1644), or the haunted Punch Bowl.
For dinner, treat yourself to a meal at nearby Forest, one of the prettiest restaurants inside and out. Its rustic setting matches its light menu of British classics with some European dishes too.
For a nightcap, head around the corner to Bora Bora for a colourful cocktail or two. For a quieter finish to the night, nearby Pivní serves artisanal beers in a 16th-century half-timbered townhouse.
Begin your second day at York Cocoa House with a luxurious hot chocolate to take away and stroll down the S Esplanade.
The cobblestone stretch runs directly by the River Ouse – a popular spot for rowers and people-watching. At the head of the path, you’ll come to a picturesque blue bridge which you can cross for a route back into the city centre.
You’ll pass Clifford’s Tower, a 13th-century castle and former prison built on a steep, grassy mound which dominates the area.
A great activity for the kids (or enthusiasts of Vikings in general), nearby Jorvik Viking Centre is an interactive exhibit depicting Viking settlements unearthed in the 1970s. Ride the monorail and see the 9th-century old city of Jorvik (Viking for “York”).
For lunch, the Shambles Kitchen is the perfect stop before your afternoon activities. This sweet hole-in-the-wall shop serves up eclectic, filling sandwiches for a reasonable price. Plus, it’s another excuse to see the Shambles, and even have a quick look inside The Shop That Must Not Be Named.
Now it’s time for the walk York’s Walls. From the Shambles, stroll up Stonegate and Peasholme Green and begin the City Wall Walk from Jewbury. From here you’ll arc north of the city and get wonderful views of the Minster amongst the trees, as well as the greens and gothic architecture of the city. Make sure you bring your camera!
You will descend from the narrow staircase back into the city at Bootham Bar (‘bar’ Old English for gate’).
Before your evening meal, explore York Museum Gardens, nearby Bootham Bar. The gardens are a haven of pretty paths and archaeological treasures, including Roman ruins.
Another gem is the Hospitium, located down a romantic winding path, built in the 1300s and now a Listed building was originally a guest house for visitors to the nearby St Mary’s Abbey.
Finish your weekend at the Speakcheesy – a hidden wine bar behind the cheese shop Love Cheese. Create your own cheese board and charcuterie from their array of local produce and relax into the night in their garden. They also serve up rustic pizzas too!
Need to Know Before You Go
Where Is York: York is in North England, two hours by train from London Kings Cross station.
When To Go: Spring is a beautiful time to visit the city; much of the city bursts into bright yellow as daffodils come to life. York warms up after hibernating in the atmospheric Yorkshire winter and yet doesn’t receive the throngs of tourists like the summer months.
York buzzes throughout spooky season so October is an ideal time for Halloween lovers to enjoy the city’s ghost tours and haunted pubs.
The city is also legendary at Christmas time with festive displays and markets set in and amongst the gothic architecture. But bring a coat and an umbrella.
Getting To York
Train: There is a train station with direct routes to Edinburgh, London and Manchester – this is a five-minute walk from the city centre.
Car: If your accommodation has car parking facilities, driving is an option too. Streets in the city centre are narrow and awkward, or pedestrian-only, so be careful.
Plane: The nearest airport is Leeds Bradford Airport. From there, you can call a taxi which will take 45 minutes or catch a bus from the airport to Leeds city centre then the train to York, which will take 90 minutes.
Moving Around The City
The city is completely walkable and very flat too. Many of the streets in the city centre are cobblestone, however, so just be careful with your footwear.
Where To Stay: York City Centre is small enough that wherever you stay, attractions will be walkable. For more affordable accommodation, consider City Centre West (south of the river).
Where To Eat
York is a treasure trove of fantastic restaurants making the most of the fabulous produce from its surrounding regions. Its meat is some of the best in the country, and its craft cheeses are some of the highest quality you can find in Europe.
The Hairy Fig: Expect homemade scones and pastries at this pretty Italian café on Fossgate.
1331: A cosy candlelit bar in the evening, 1331 starts the day as an airy cafe serving the best blueberry pancakes in the city. Their Full Englishes are also a winner too.
Shambles Market: It’s always important to support local businesses when you travel! If it’s sunny, indulge in the food stalls and take a picnic at York Museum Gardens!
Ye Olde Sausage Pie Shoppe: If it’s thick, freshly baked pies you’re after, then there are few better places than this iconic pie shop on the Shambles.
The York Roast Company: Found on the shopping street of Stonegate, the York Roast Company has immortalised itself in British food trends by perfecting the Sunday Roast Yorkshire Roll – yes, it is as good as it sounds.
Love Cheese: A wine bar behind a cheese shop which calls itself a “Speakcheesy.” A cute garden serving up rustic pizzas and artisanal cheese boards.
Forest: Opposite Grape Lane is one of York’s most picturesque restaurants serving great food too.
Where To Drink
FOR WINE: A women-owned business, Pairings is one of the best wine bars in the city, serving up Spanish tapas with French vibes. The perfect blend!
FOR PUBS: For a taste of history, the Guy Fawkes Inn is a must-visit. It was home to the infamous rebel, Guy Fawkes, who failed in his plan to blow up Parliament in 1605.
FOR A COCKTAIL: Bora Bora is a fun, no-frills cocktail bar tucked around the corner of Swinegate in the City Centre, allowing you to escape to the Bahamas in the middle of Yorkshire!
Despite York’s beauty, the city is not a playground for tourists. Please be respectful when you’re visiting the city and taking photos as locals and workers will be going about their business. The streets are incredibly narrow and get very busy.
If you want the city to yourself, get up at the crack of dawn and you’ll find many of the roads will be a lot quieter.
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Author’s Bio: Joshua Symons is a freelance travel writer based in London who focuses on European cities as well as UK destinations. He is one-half of Two Passports, a travel blog he runs with his partner Sasha, aiming to show travelers and wanderlusters how they can make the most of their annual leave without breaking the bank, whilst equally not feeling the pressure of a budget.