I LOVE York.
History, beautiful architecture, culture, friendly locals, FOOD… York has it all. It’s tiny and easily walkable, the streets are cobbled, and lined with adorably wonky buildings. The gardens are serene, the food is delicious, and the people are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet.
It’s just… LOVELY.
I’ve visited several times over the years, and every time I go, I fall a little bit more in love.
There just always seems to be so many things to DO in York. Shopping, museums, theatre, tours, people-watching, eating… Not to mention their monthly calendar of special events!
A couple of weeks ago, Gary and I popped up North for a trip with Visit York. We stayed two nights at the super friendly Holiday Inn Express (seriously, their receptionist is possibly the sunniest and most helpful person I’ve ever met) and spent our days ticking things off my To Do list.
I’m splitting food and activities into two posts, so here’s what we got up to on our York Adventure!
1. York Minster
You can’t really miss the Minster. It’s by far the tallest building in the city!
York Minster is one of Europe’s largest Gothic cathedrals, and it’s easily one of the loveliest I’ve seen. I’ve admired it for years from the outside, but I’d never actually been inside before now. It’s been beautifully restored, so it’s really bright and clean, and the light streaming through the colourful stain-glassed windows is absolutely gorgeous.
Entry to the actual Minster is £10, but you might find it better value to buy a York Pass, if you’re going to be in town for a couple of days and plan on doing a lot.
Once purchased the York Pass offers you a choice of free entry into over thirty York attractions and tours as well as restaurant and shopping offers. You can buy a 1, 2 or 3 day pass making it a superb addition to your leisure break.
If you’re interested, you can also pay an extra £5 at the Minster to climb the 300+ stairs of the tower. Apparently the view is stunning. We didn’t actually do the climb in the end, because I was dragging my suitcase around with me, so it’s on my list for next time!
2. Shopping on the Shambles
If you go to York and don’t visit the Shambles, did you even go to York?
Whether you’re after a bit of classic fudge, a beautiful vintage poster, or just some yummy fancy bread, a visit to the Shambles is a must for every York newcomer.
It’s basically Diagon Alley for muggles. Cobbles, beams, wonky walls, tea shops, bakeries, trinkets… There’s something for everyone.
I picked up some vintage postcards in one shop, and we stopped in one of the bakeries to sniff at the cheese bread. (I still regret not buying any of that. It smelled AMAZING.)
And if you’re not into shopping, why not give the York Cat Trail a go? I did it with one of my friends a couple of years ago, and it’s a great way to get to know your way around. Simply look for all the cat statues and figurines, attached to buildings across the city! You can pick up a map for them at the shop pictured above.
(Ten house points to whoever spots the Sirius Black wanted poster!)
3. York’s Chocolate Story
When you think of proper GOOD chocolate, most people think of Belgian or French artisans.
But did you know that chocolate, the eating chocolate we know today, was actually invented by the Brits? OH YES. Yorkshire was home to a LOT of serious chocolatiers, including the founders of Rowntree’s, Terry’s, and Craven’s.
At York’s Chocolate Story, we learned where cocoa beans come from, how chocolate was invented, and how to properly taste-test a piece of chocolate. We tried an authentic chocolatl drink, nibbled on chocolate drops made with the very first chocolate bar recipe, and even got the chance to decorate our own white chocolate lollipops!
The whole experience is brilliant and our tour guide was full of funny stories, as well as providing lots of historical context and delicious samples.
It’s especially great for children, but 90% of our tour group was made up of adults, and everyone had a whale of a time!
Entry is £11.50 for adults, and it’s also included in the York Pass.
4. Ghost Tour
This was a spontaneous and unexpected addition to our trip.
We decided at the last minute to join one of the city ghost tours. We’d been sat in the pub for a few hours (see point number 7!) and I was getting a bit stir-crazy. Our dinner reservations weren’t until quite late, so we had a chunk of spare time.
I had a look at what was available, and voila! The Original Ghost Walk of York. (There is also a bus tour, but we were too late for that one.)
We weren’t sure what to expect, to be honest, but we both really enjoyed it!
A group of about 50 of us started at the King’s Head pub (by the river), then wandered up towards Clifford’s Tower and the Shambles. Our guide was a very talented actor who stopped us at various point throughout the city to tell us the local legends of each spot.
From terrifying hotel bedrooms, to pickpocket ghost children, and a horrifying story about an orphanage, it’s probably not one for the kids… But we found it really interesting, and very entertaining. (Even if I did have to hold on to Gary’s hand the whole way round!)
Tickets for the tour are £5, which is paid in cash on the spot. No booking necessary.
5. Walk the Walls
On our last day, we fortified ourselves with brunch, then headed out to sweat it off with a walk around the City Walls.
The Walls surrounding York are 3.4km long, and were first built in Roman times. It took us about 2 and a half hours to walk the whole route, stopping along the way for photos and a coffee, and it’s definitely worth the effort!
The views of the city are fantastic, and I especially enjoyed peeking into people’s back gardens! (How cute is that little Alice in Wonderland statue, right?)
You do have to go up and down stairs quite a lot, as the Walls are broken into sections, but it’s a fab way to get your bearings and stretch your legs. I’d love to do it again in spring and summer, when all the trees and flowers are in bloom.
6. Clifford’s Tower
I love visiting English Heritage places!
Clifford’s Tower is the largest remaining part of York Castle. The current stone structure was built around the 13th century on top of a mound of earth, for protection. It’s got a really tragic and brutal history, and you can actually still see some of the scorch marks from where the wooden structures were burnt down centuries ago.
It’s fascinating to look around the remains of the inside, but actually what I enjoyed most was the view! There’s a railed platform surrounding the walls of the tower, which you can walk around for a 360 degree view of the city.
Unfortunately the day we went it was a classic grey and drizzly January morning, but we could still see clearly enough. And I bet it’s STUNNING on clear days. Definitely worth the (small) climb!
You’ll find York Castle Museum right opposite the Tower as well, so you could always tie that in to your visit too.
Entry to Clifford’s Tower is £4.70 for adults, but it is also included in the York Pass.
7. Scrabble in the Pub
Culture and art and high-end cocktails all have their time and place, but when it comes to 5 o’clock on a Yorkshire afternoon, I just want to cosy up with a bottle of wine, a cheese board, and a couple of rounds of Scrabble.
Even if you’re not a drinker, I think everyone should experience a proper York pub!
They’re SO atmospheric. Wooden floors, wonky ceilings, old paintings, stone fireplaces, low lighting, and plenty of nooks and crannies to hole up in… A lot of them have a really interesting history as well. One pub even has the remains of a Roman bath in its basement!
We particularly enjoyed the Hole in the Wall pub. Good snack selection, good ale choices (for Gary), great Malbec (for me), and a whole stack of board games to choose from.
The perfect way to spend a chilled out evening in the city.
We had such a lovely weekend, and I already have a long list of things I want to do NEXT time we visit!
I want to see the National Railway Museum, climb up the Minster tower, visit the Viking Museum and the Castle Museum. I’d like to check out the Roman Baths, the Brewery, and the Dungeons…
Not to mention all the brunch and dinner spots we didn’t have bellyspace for!
So yeah. York. ♥
(And don’t be surprised if I turn round in the next year or so and tell you Gary and I are moving there… Cos it’s definitely something we’ve been looking into!)
If you want to book your own York City Adventure, you can do that right here: through the Visit York website (they have cute puppy videos, as well as all the info you need to have an AWESOME time on your trip!)
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All thoughts, words, photos and York loving are my own!