As one of the UK’s most visited Cities, and according to my copy of the Rough Guide, “The North’s most compelling City”, York is always busy with a mix of tourists, locals, students at one of it’s two Universities, day trippers, hen and stag parties and business people. Although it is compact there is so much to see that I imagine it must be dizzying to decide on an agenda whether you are a first-time visitor or know it well. Here is our guide to the best York has to offer.
1. York Minster and the surrounding quarter.
York Minster, one of Europe’s finest Gothic Cathedrals is such a wonderful feat of architecture, and never ceases to amaze me. Even with the touring groups around it, you really shouldn’t be put off visiting. See the beautiful restored Rose Window, damaged in the famous 1980′s fire that threatened to ruin the Minster forever, or go into the undercroft and see the archaeological discoveries and understand how the Minster has developed since the Norman times. Inside you can marvel at the stone masonry, it is incredible.
The area immediately surrounding the Minster should be explored. Dean Park is a nice place to sit and have a picnic, offering unbeatable close-up views of the Minster. St Williams College has a great restaurant. There is also Treasurers House, a beautiful National Trust property that’s history spans 2,000 years and includes an old roman road in the cellar (hear about the ghostly sightings), and a walk through the cobbled streets of Chapter House Street and Ogleforth offers a delightful surprise. Gray’s Court is a recently refurbished country house, situated in the heart of the City. It has a fabulous cafe, with gardens looking out onto the City Walls. A real hidden gem.
For shopping, Petergate and High Petergate has lots of independent shops to browse.
Gray’s Court, Chapter House Street, York. Telephone: 01904 612613.
St Williams College.
2. Spend some time in the pub
York is famous for having 365 pubs within the City Walls. We haven’t counted recently but there are plenty -from historic boozers, to Gastropubs, to quirky, to the lesser-know real real ale pubs. One thing most of them have in common is selling good beer so you really can’t spend time in York without sampling some of them! York also has it’s own Brewery, The York Brewery which offers wonderful local beers, all brewed in their Toft Green Brewery (available for tours) and the Brewery owns three pubs in the centre of York where you can sample their beers, including Yorkshire Terrier, Centurion Ghost Ale and Guzzler. We’ll expand on this in a separate post soon, but here are a few suggestions:
Real ale pubs in York – The Maltings , on Tanners Moat is brilliantly located and always has a good atmosphere and decent food, the Blue Bell on Fossgate is tiny and atmospheric and Brigantes on Micklegate serves great beer and food. A short-walk through the Museum Gardens takes you to the Minster Inn which has a beautiful tiled bar and is a bit of a hidden gem.
York Brewery Pubs – The Yorkshire Terrier on Stonegate, one of York’s best shopping streets, The Last Drop Inn on Newgate, and The Three Legged Mare is a stones throw from the Minster on High Petergate.
For groups – the riverside has lots of bars that are perfect for groups, and most serve decent food. The City Screen is part of the Picturehouse cinema and by far the best choice, but All Bar One, The Pitcher & Piano and Revolution are good too.
3. Explore the Museum Gardens
An oasis in the City Centre, the ten-acre botanical gardens known as the Museum Gardens, sit in the former grounds of St Marys Abbey, who’s ruins are still present in the North West corner of the gardens. They were created into formal gardens by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and the Yorkshire Museum in the 1830′s. Bordered by the River and Marygate, the gardens pack in a lot for visitors; The Yorkshire Museum has recently been refurbished and tells the History of York as well as housing archaeological treasures from around the world. There is an observatory (open Saturday’s only), a hospitium that plays host to numerous events (including weddings) and the beautiful ruins and gardens are unbeatable on a summers day. There are lots of open-air events taking place over the summer too.
Opposite the main entrance is a fabulous deli, Cafe and take-away, De Clare’s, and on the other side of the gardens is a decent pub, The Bay Horse on Marygate which has plenty of outdoor seating.
De Clare, Lendal
The Bay Horse, Marygate
4. For vintage fans
York is becoming a great destination for vintage fans. As well as lots of excellent charity shops, there are some vintage gems, shops and even tea rooms. Starting with the House of Avalon on High Petergate. It bills itself as a “quintessentially English coffee shop with a dash of vintage couture” and is run as a social enterprise. There is also lots to see around Swinegate; Priestley’s Vintage boutique is full of finds, One, the ethically responsible boutique and when you are ready for a rest, Licc on Back Swinegate is a proper ice-cream parlour.
On the other side of town, Fossgate and Walmgate are thriving streets with lots of restaurants and bars. There are two good vintage shops; Deep Vintage Superstore and Purple Haze which sells everything from 1940′s up to today (men’s and women’s) including some of their own original designs.
York is also hosting a series of Vintage shopping events this summer organised by Alex Claydon of Audrey and Joans. Another good Cafe, with vintage crockery is Me and Mrs Fisher on Lord Mayors Walk, just by Monk Bar.
5. Learn about York’s more modern history
As well as York’s famous ancient history, in recent times it has been well-known for two industries that have been key to it’s success; chocolate and the railways. You can read my post about York’s chocolate history “It’s Not Terry’s, It’s Mine…is York Still a Good Bet for Chocolate Lovers“.
A walk around York looking at it’s chocolate history would be a very fine way to spend a day. Both Rowntree and Terry’s of York had very successful factories here. Rowntree left a huge legacy to the City of York; including a village (New Earswick) which fulfilled his Utopian ideals, and the Terry’s factory situated on Bishopthorpe Road is an iconic building. There are numerous artisan chocolatiers in the City, but best of all would be to take part in one of the workshops and tastings organised by Sophie Jewett of Little Pretty Things. There isn’t much she doesn’t kn0w about the history of chocolate in York.
Many visitors to York arrive by train, and it’s a good start in learning about the importance of the railways on the City. York Station took three years to build and at the time of completion (1877) was the largest station in the country, confirming it’s position at the heart of the industry. It revolutionised communications and, importantly, cemented York as a tourist destination. It was all thanks to York’s own ‘Railway King’, George Hudson who made it happen. We would thoroughly recommend a trip to the National Railway Museum for all ages, and it has the added bonus of being free entry.
Pizza Express in York has taken over the old Gentleman’s Club, where George Hudson would have once himself dined. It has great views over the river and you can eat al fresco in warmer weather.