York in North Yorkshire, England, has a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, a fabulous selection of places to eat and drink and there's plenty to see and do. It's one of my most loved cities and here is a brief list of some of my favourite things to do in York. This is very much a hand picked and personal list of a small selection of the attractions in York and you'll find more detailed information on the Visit York website.
The obvious place to start is with the York Minster, one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Europe. It is truly magnificent with its beautiful medieval architecture and stunning stained glass windows.
When you visit also take time to walk round the outside of the cathedral and look out for the stonemasons working in the Stoneyard employing the same traditional skills used in medieval times to maintain the cathedral.
Evensong, a service which is usually song and held in the late afternoon, takes place near to the high altar and the congregation sits in the intimate space of the quire stalls and even if you are not religious it is a beautiful experience.
York's well preseved walls are the longest town walls in England, stretching for just over two miles (3.4km). The original City Walls were built in Roman times have been rebuilt and extended over the centuries.
View of the Minster from the City Walls
The walls offer an elevated walk with commanding views of the city. It takes about 2 hours to walk along the entire walls or visitors can chose to walk just part of them. There are five bars, or gateways, and my favourite section is walking along the walls from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar as there are fabulous views of the York Minster. On the Friends of York Walls website is the York's City Walls Trail which offers an excellent, detailed online guide to walking the walls including maps, pictures and text.
The Shambles (official name Shambles) is one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe, this narrow lane with its over- hanging timber framed buildings is extremely picturesque. It was originally a street of butchers' shops. The animals would have been slaughtered on Shambles and the meat displayed on the wide wooden shelves beneath the windows (on the left side of the photo above). Don't worry nowadays York's most famous street houses charming cafes and shops.
Don't forget to look out for the Shrine to St Margaret Clitherow half way along the street. St Margaret lived on Shambles and she was charged with holding Roman Catholic services in her home. However for refusing to plea at her trial she was subjected to "peine forte et dure", a method of torture where the defendant is crushed with heavy weights until they entered a plea. However Margaret still refused to plea and so the weights remained in place until she died.
York's Streets and Snickelways
York has retained much of its medieval character with its narrow cobbled streets and snickelways (alleyways or ginnels) and some have intriguing street signs such as Lund's Court, formally known as Mad Alice Lane. It is quite a compact city so perfect for walking around and exploring all its quirky and unexpected features. I particuarly like the interesting street decorations and here are a few of my favourites.
A statue of Minerva is at the juction between High Petergate and Minster Gates. The Roman goddess of wisdom is seated with her books and owl.
A statue of a red devil is outside number 33 Stonegate. The devil denotes the site of a former printer's shop and their errand boys were known as printers devils.
The Little Admiral is the name of the of the figure of a naval officer standing on top of the overhanging double sided clock attached to St Martin's Church Coney Street. The church was damaged by bombing during World War II and was subsequently rebuilt incorporating the the remains of the original building. The Little Admiral, believed to date from 1779, has be restored and he rotates. On the side of the clock is Father Time's head.
Holy Trinity is a remarkable small, medieval church. Tucked away just off a busy shopping street and almost out of sight, this is a real hidden gem. Walking through an iron gateway, just off Goodramgate, you find yourself in a secluded churchyard with a little parish church and the whole scene wouldn't be out of place in the middle of the countryside.
It has an exceptional interior and is full of character with rare seventeenth century box pews, uneven flooring and memorials. Inside there is no electricity or heating so even on warm days the church can be a bit chilly but that just adds to its wonderful atmosphere.
The medieval timber framed guild hall was built for the Merchant Adventurers, a trade guild. Most their members were mercers, trading in luxury materials such as fine silks and linens. The hall was a place where they met socially and conducted their business. The company still exists today but is no longer a trading association, instead it administers charities and the hall is open as a museum.
The Great Hall (above) is the largest room with magnificent wooden beams. Downstairs is the Undercroft, which was originally used as a hospital and there is also a chapel.
In medieval times the house was the home of the treasurers of the York Minster. Today this beautiful town house surrounded by a charming, secluded walled garden is owned by the National Trust. It contains period rooms displaying a fine collection of antique furniture and paintings. Below Stairs Cafe housed in the original kitchens, can be visited without paying the admission charge to the house. My favourite thing about the cafe is their delicious home made speciality scones and I featured their toffee apple flavoured ones in my Scones of the Month blog.
Fairfax House is one of the finest Georgian town houses in England. Originally the winter home of the Viscount Fairfax with interiors designed by John "Carr of York" (or more correctly Horbury as that is where he was born and is buried). The house later became a cinema and a dance hall but has now been returned to its former splendeur.
Noel Terry's, of Terry's chocolate factory, Georgian furniture and clocks have been donated to the house. It is an absolutely stunning home but what makes this place so special, for me, is their knowledgeable volunteers who really bring the house to life with their delightful enthusiasm.
York has a number of museums, one of the largest is the Castle Museum which is located on the site of York Castle. It houses an impressive collection telling the history of York. My favourites galleries are the recreated Victorian street and the former prison cells.
The National Railway Museum tells the history of rail transport in Britain. It's a huge museum which is just as well as it houses a national collection of locomotives and railway artifacts. In the Great Hall there are railway legends such as Mallard (above) the world's fastest steam locomotive, a replia of George Stephenson's Rocket and Shinkansen, the only bullet train outside of Japan. In the Station Hall are a collection of royal carriages including Queen Victoria's "Palace on Wheels".
The railway museum also has the Euston Station gates (above) from the Doric Portico that formed the entrance to the original station, until it was demolished in 1961. They also host very special temporary exhibtions and events and in recent years I've really enjoyed visiting an early morning viewing of Mallard 75 to see the six surviving A4 class locomotive reunited, and Churchill's Final Journey, displaying the locomotive, the baggage van which carried Churchill's coffin and the Pullman carriage Lydia which carried his family.
I love Bettys, it's a Yorkshire institution and for me a visit to their traditional tearooms is a must do everytime I visit York. They have two branches in York, one in Stonegate, which is the smaller one, and St Helen's Square which you can read more about it in my Bettys blog.
York also has some great historic pubs and here's a quick list of some of my favourites: Yorkshire Brewery Pubs, The Maltings, Trembling Madness and York Tap, very conveniently located inside York station for that final drink.
Nearest Train Station: York. There are frequent trains from London's King's Cross Station to York and traveling time is about two hours.
Britain Express website has a great introduction to the History of York
The area surrrounding York is also well worth exploring and the official visitors site for Yorkshire provides information about England's largest county, fondly known as "God's Own Country". The region offers beautiful countryside, gorgeous coastline, with traditional seaside resorts (my favourite being Whitby), and delightful market towns and cities.
If you enjoyed this blog post you might like to read about my visit the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate (near York) which has connections with Agatha Christie or Whitby with it's connections with Bram Stoker and Dracula.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds