A beautifully well-preserved cathedral city in the north of England, York has long attracted visitors from all over the globe. With its quaint cobbled streets, some of the best preserved historical buildings in Europe, and a long, varied history, it’s no wonder that York is regularly ranked as the second most visited city in England.
Best Time to Visit
There actually isn’t a bad time to visit York; the city readily receives visitors throughout the entire year. Spring and summer are York’s busiest periods; during these months you’ll find yourself sharing the city with plenty of other tourists, but you’ll certainly get good weather during this time. If you do want to avoid the crowds, make sure to avoid weekends in July and August. Though the weather does turn a little chilly in autumn and winter, they are also delightful seasons to visit. The month of December is particularly wonderful, as this is the time when the Christmas markets are in full swing.
How to Get Around
The old city of York is mainly pedestrianised between the hours of 8am and 4pm, and most of the sights are within an easy walking distance of each other, making York a great place to get around on foot. A car isn’t recommended for the city centre as the roads were originally built for carts, plus the city council actively discourage people from driving within the city.
If you are bringing your car with you, leave it at your hotel and walk into the city. If you’re staying a little further out, try to make use of the excellent park and ride system; even the locals who live outside of the city use this system as part of their daily commute.
York is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the whole of the UK. There are many cycle paths both inside and outside of the city centre, and it’s really easy to rent them from a number of places in the city.
There are buses which run in and around the main tourist area, but they are relatively expensive and not really worth it, seeing as York is such a walkable city. Taxis are also in abundance; in fact, if you’re travelling a short distance and you are travelling with two or three people, they can work out cheaper than the buses.
How Many Days in York?
York is a pretty small city and it’s quite easy to see most of the major sights in a weekend. However, to make the most of your time there, to have time to see everything, to stroll around and capture the city’s unique atmosphere, four days is the recommended time for a trip to York.
Attractions and Things to Do
Due to its incredibly long and fascinating history, York has an abundance of things to see and do, including a number of award-winning attractions. Here are some of the things you should definitely check out when on a trip to York.
York Minster: the one place that everyone visits when in the city, York Minster is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe and is a stunning masterpiece of medieval architecture. It’s possible to climb the 275 steps up the tower for great views of the city, and also discover the history of the site, going all the way back to when it was a Roman fortress.
JORVIK Viking Centre: named after the Old Norse name for the city of York, this museum will take you on a journey through Viking times. As you ride around in a small carriage, you will discover the sights, sounds, and smells of past times, while learning fascinating facts about daily life of the Vikings.
York Castle Museum: located on the site of York Castle, originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, this fascinating museum features a number of galleries detailing life in York in different ages, such as Kirkgate, a replica of a Victorian street, and The Cells, an exhibition on life in the prison, which was also housed at this site in the 18th century.
National Railway Museum: the largest railway museum in the world, the National Railway Museum houses a vast collection of iconic trains, such as the Mallard, the world’s fastest steam train, and the only bullet train found outside of Japan. There are also a number of interesting exhibitions about how trains changed the world, as well as some artifacts from railways across the world.
Clifford’s Tower: once part of one of the two castles which existed in York in the 11th century, Clifford’s Tower now mostly acts as a viewpoint, offering fantastic views over the entire old city. However, there is also the chance to learn about the tower’s fascinating history.
York Dungeon: an attraction not for the faint of heart, York Dungeon leads you through the city’s dark past, where you come face to face with some of the inhabitants who once lived there. You’ll get to learn about how the city was affected by the Black Death, and to meet local men Dick Turpin, the highwayman, and Guy Fawkes, conspirator of the Gunpowder Plot.
The Shambles: characterised by its overhanging timber-framed houses, some of which date back to the 14th century, the Shambles is one of the oldest streets in York. Once known for its abundance of butchers’ shops, the street now has a number of restaurants and independent shops, as well as housing a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was married to a butcher who lived in the street.
Walking tours and ghost walks: because of its history, York has many stories to tell. One of the best ways of doing this is by joining one of the many walking tours which take place in the city. If you’re particularly interested in the darker side of the city’s history, it’s highly recommended to go on one of the ghost talks, where you will hear tales of all the lost souls still roaming the city.
Eboracum Legion Bathhouse: now the site of a public house, in the cellar you can see the remains of a Roman bathhouse. The bathhouse was once part of a Roman fortress which housed up to 5,000 men – known as a legion. The bathhouse gives an interesting insight into military life and hygiene in the Roman period.
Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey: the remains of this 11th century Benedictine abbey are impressive in themselves, but what really makes this spot wonderful is the gardens it is set in; on a sunny day, they make a great place to have a picnic.
York is known for its large number of independent shops and boutiques, attracting visitors from all around to buy unique items and gifts. If you prefer high street shopping, you’ll find all the usual brands in different areas of the city centre. For discount shopping, head just outside the city to the York Designer Outlet, containing 120 top brand clothing stores at great prices.
Festivals and Events
York is known as the ‘City of Festivals’ for the huge amount of events which take place in the city throughout the year. Here’s a short guide to the best of them if you want your visit to coincide with one.
York Races: York is home to the third biggest racecourse in the UK, with six to eight horse races taking place every year. The racecourse also holds a number of concerts and events throughout the year.
Viking Festival: the largest Viking festival of its kind in Europe, this festival takes place every year in February and celebrates York’s Viking heritage.
York Festival Food and Drink: with the main festival taking place in September, the focus is primarily on Yorkshire food and produce with many stalls selling a variety of items. There are also lots of cookery demonstrations. A couple of smaller festivals also happen throughout the year, including the chocolate festival.
Christmas Festival: one of the best festive celebrations throughout the whole of the UK, the York Christmas Festival is filled with winter-themed markets, activities and attractions, taking place from November to December.
Eating Out in York
York is an amazing destination if you love food. There are a wide variety of cafes, restaurants and gastropubs catering to all tastes and budgets. One place which is highly recommended for everyone who visits York is Betty’s Tea Rooms; a 1920s style cafe, it is particularly famous for its traditional afternoon tea. It isn’t cheap, but it is definitely worth the money. Most eateries fall within the mid-range pricing range, but there are also plenty of budget options as well as fine dining establishments.
Accommodation in York
York has a wide range of accommodation options, from hostels to upmarket hotels. It is worth noting that because of the popularity of the city, accommodation tends to be more expensive than other cities of similar size, especially during the summer, weekends, and the Christmas period. Booking.com usually offer the best deals on all kinds of accommodation.
Holidaying with Children
Children will absolutely love York; a lot of the attractions in the city are geared towards children, such as the JORVIK Viking Centre, the National Railway Museum, and the York Castle Museum. If you’re travelling with older children and they aren’t easily scared, they will enjoy the ghost walks and York Dungeon. Most eateries are family-friendly, as are many accommodation options.
Like the majority of cities in the UK, York is generally very safe. Of course, there are areas outside of the city centre which should be avoided after dark, but if you’re basing yourself within the old city, you should have no major problems. Like you would anywhere else, stick to well-lit paths at night and be sure to plan your route before heading home.
Take extra care at weekends in York; the city has perhaps the largest number of pubs per square mile of any other in the whole country, and is also a student city, so you may come across young people who can’t handle their drink.
Tips for Travelling in York
To make the most of your trip to York, follow these dos and don’ts.
Soak up the wonderful atmosphere of the cobbled old city.
Divulge in the amazing culinary scene.
Book accommodation well in advance, especially if you’re visiting in the summer or Christmas period, or at a weekend.
Discover the city’s long and fascinating history.
Try to attend one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year.
Miss out on the unique shopping opportunities the city offers.
Forget to join one of the many great walking tours.
Take your car if you can help it; it’s of no use in the city centre.
Plan a very short trip to York; the city has lots to offer, so make sure you book at least three nights.
Avoid the small backstreets; they will surprise you.