York is the understated quintessential English town you just haven’t discovered yet. I know because even though I’ve visited the area a million times and lived in London for 14 years which is only a few hours away its only just now I have discovered just how charming it is. Dating back to Roman times steeped in history its a must visit if you’re in the UK even if it’s just for the weekend.
Ultimately what you look for in a city break is great hotels, good food and a little culture or history thrown in there. If your lucky you might get two out of three and well I always want the fourth. Shopping. Never fear York is here. This is a totally bullseye in all departments. Its steeped in history and its chocolate box Tudor streets of the Shambles make you feel like Oliver twist will skip past you any minute and Fagin will snatch you wallet. The flip side is that the restaurant scene is buzzing and hotels, guesthouses and holiday rentals are everywhere and within walking distance of all the action. The shops are a great mix of high street regulars interspersed with some great independent and local purveyors of Yorkshire’s finest goods too.
Lets start with a transport basic. York is only 2 hours away from London and – from Edinboro so if you’re visiting either one you have no excuse not to come to this fascinating city. I love the Grand Central railway company that works the London route and have traveled it many times with no delays. The station itself is extremely central and has great taxi, car rental and bus routes to take you everywhere in the area.
Accommodation wise I can honestly say I have never stayed anywhere in York as my family are locals however a quick search on my favorites Trip Advisor and Airbnb will show up a wide selection of option. A few spots featured do have hotels attached so keep reading for more info.
So now let’s get down to the good stuff what is un missable in this city. This is of course personal choice only and as I said there really is a lot on offer so feel free to add some of your discovery’s in the comments below.
HIGH TEA AND AFTERNOON TEA
When in Yorkshire it would be just rude to not take yourself to one of the hundreds of tea shops and have a traditional British high tea. My two favorite venues for this are the Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa and Grays Court. The setting at Grays Court is just so unique, I’m sure I have the era all wrong but the space makes me feel like I’m in a miniature medieval castle and when I come out again there will be a jousting contest in the courtyard. One day I’m sure! The rooms here also look amazing. The Cedar Court Hotel has a far more contemporary feel with all the good old traditional stuff thrown in such as silver teapots (big fan) and a majestically high ceilinged dining room. We were here for a very special day so the pomp and ceremony felt like such a treat. The rooms here look amazing too and the hotel has been a proud winner of a number of prestigious travel awards. Another local favorites is of course Betty’s Tea shop and judging by the lines around the block on a freezing winters day there are fans out there that think its worth it, although I am told by the locals it doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
Home of the smallest pub in York and dating back to Roman times this street was a late discovery for me and I wish I had found it earlier in my visit. I also didn’t realize it has a whole website dedicated too it too. Interesting. Link in the title incase you were wondering. There really is an eclectic mix of shops, local businesses and curious looking restaurants on this street. Vintage shops, paper purveyors a really interesting bike shop Bicis Y Mas and round the world restaurant line up. Take your time to discover this street because even after three visits I felt like I had scratched the surface. It’s worth a few evening meals too. I’m told many of the restaurants here especially the Blue Bicycle and very good. There is a charming humpbacked bridge over the canal too which is a perfect photo spot (just saying, everyone needs a good snap to add to the trail files). If you’re a bookworm like me don’t miss Lucius books an amazing rare books specialist.
No trip to York would be complete without a visit to its most imposing landmark. What a stunning symbol of human endeavor. It’s just breathtaking, rain or shine, winter or spring. It sandy walls absorb the light around them and a really intense energy radiates from the building. Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. Well its pretty and you should see it and please please I implore you to go inside. I have been lucky enough to go to a Christmas service here and religious or not its hard not to feel a little more enlightened upon your exit. If your there around lunch time pack a picnic. The surrounding grassy area is beautiful and bustling and a good people watching spot. If your into churches and want to see something even quainter, a little gem can be found at Holy Trinity Church. It is entirely lit by candles and is so simple and rustic in its design and fixtures you feel like the souls of a dozen centuries are washing calmly over you. It’s so peaceful and meditative after a busy day of sightseeing or shopping too. For more info take a look here.
SOME CHILD FRIENDS SPOTS
If you’re visiting York with the kids it has a few hidden spots around town that I have used frequently to give Oscar Chang a little down time from all the sightseeing and shopping. Here are my three favorites in no particular order.
Before you think you’re lost. Yes its a church. This is no gourmet pit stop and the coffee is really bad (sorry church people!) but if you want to give your kids some play time and will settle for some simple fare along the lines of Quiche and soup and a sandwich this is a great spot. The soft play area is really great and there is a selection of toys in boxes under the pulpit. I know it’s slightly weird but it works so hey ho. It’s also all totally free so for that reason alone a total godsend, excuse the pun.
I love bookshops any day and this is a great British chain. The fact it has a great play area including a slide and an elevator to the cafe are all just an added bonus and yet another excuse to go look at or buy some books.
THE LIBRARY & CAFE
See above. Except everything is on one level here and its right next to my next must visit spot.
THE MUSEUM GARDENS
Ok if your here in mid winter this is still a lovely place to visit and that really is saying something about a park. The grounds are really well-kept and house the Yorkshire Museum which I have not visited but you can read about here. There is a path leading down to the very scenic river Ouse with its picturesque bridges and groups of ducks, geese swans and of course boat tours. During the summer there are some great activities here too. We saw quite a few birds of prey shows which were totally free and fascinating with giant owls and hawks swooping around snatching up bits of food from some unsuspecting crowd volunteer. The ice cream at the entrance is pretty good too!
Its was not entirely intentional that my guide was free overall but it does highlight one important fact. You don’t have to visit York and spend a shit ton of money to experience the best bits. There are lots of other amazing places to visit too that I haven’t mentioned here but want to. One which again is free and an amazing family experience is The National Railway Museum. The Yorvik Viking Centre is also a fantastic family activity even though we haven’t visited it recently I have in the past and its fascinating.
OTHER NOTABLE SPOTS
GOJI a great vegetarian spot.
MANNIONS one of my favorite coffee and lunch spots.
BREW & BROWNIE for the best toasted cheese sandwich I have ever tasted. I even ate the chutney!
An essential guide to whats on and happening in and around York is the brilliant Visit York site. Hats off to these guys it’s a tremendous resource.