Visit York, England
The old town of York had been on my ‘Cities to visit in England’ list for a couple of years so I’m pleased to finally tick it off. If you’re hankering after a bit of Olde England yourself, simply book a Virgin train and get these places starred on your Google maps. Here are my things to do to while away a weekend in York.
1 – Book yourself a brilliant Airbnb
We stayed at Camille’s apartment in Gillysgate with views that overlooked the famous Minster (cathedral). It was one of those apartments that stood out against the rest with BIG rooms, bright white walls, wicker chairs and plants in the fireplace. Perfect!
We only got to know Camille very briefly but wish we could have found out more about the lovely lady from Canada who had come to York to study. She didn’t want to settle for student halls so started up her Airbnb’s to get herself friendly and interesting part-time housemates. What a smart move! As if the look of the place wasn’t enough to draw you in, Camille’s apartment sits on top of a cheese shop. But more on that one later…
Never stayed in an Airbnb before?
Get money off your first booking by using my code ›
2 – Walk the city walls
The brilliant thing about walking the city walls is that you can either do it all in one go (it’d probably take you just over an hour) or you can use the walls’ passages as great over-road paths to get from place-to-place a head above the rest (literally). We managed 3/4 of the route, all of which was charming in it’s own right. To the south I spotted lots of instagrammable doors and to the North, the backs of grand houses.
FYI: You will be forced to climb the steps up and down the ramparts as the wall splits into sections but using Maps and the sign posts, you can usually easily find the next section again and continue your journey.
3 – Eat Cheese
Just do it. This activity is made easier if you happen to be staying above a cheese cafe called Love Cheese. Something great we noticed about York was how many shops, cafes and restaurants boast seated spaces out back. Rarely what you see in the window is all they have to offer.
With views of the back garden of Love Cheese visible from our bedroom window, we made this one of our first stops, perfect for an aperitivo before dinner. Choose a cheesy tasting menu and wine then sit back, listen to the Minster bells toll and forget you’re in your twenties.
4 – Visit Clifford’s Tower
On your jolly jaunt of the city walls, you’re bound to eventually make it to nearby Clifford’s Tower, a 13th century keep built by William the Conqueror. Just hop off the ramparts at the Cromwell Road x Skeldergate intersection (along the southern side), cross over the river and you’ll find yourself with a view of a castle a-top a christmas pudding mound.
Suck up the entrance fee and clamber up the staircases to see the 360 degree views. Read the placards to hear all about the home of the mint-maker-cum-prison and the holiday home for the King who almost never came. Plus see what the rest of the castle that the look-out tower was a part of looked like.
5 – Have a Fossgate Social lunch
Luck had it that on the weekend we visited, the Fossgate Festival was on. Now don’t get too excited, it’s only a street party but there were Kizomba dancers, capoeira demos, live music and free-flowing beer from the streets, so you know, worthy of wink at.
For lunch, we popped into Fossgate Social, probably the coolest of the cafes along the street and nabbed a cocktail and eggy bready stack. People-watch and embrace the bohemian vibes whilst friendly folk (and animals) buzz in and out.
6 – Meander the markets
The only stall you really need to know about in the Shambles Market is the one on the end selling ALL OF THE CAKES. With every type of brownie and tray-bake under the sun, you’ll be stuffing caramel stodge into every pocket in your rucksack. Beware – They’re greasy, they’re in a paper bag, they’re gonna get squished. That’s all I’m saying.
7 – Explore the Museum Gardens
I’m all for sussing out the greenery in cities (particularly if there’s a palm house or similar). Get your plant life points in the 10 acres of the Museum Gardens in the north, just out of the city walls. I didn’t go into the museum (the grounds were entertainment enough) but by all means give it a go if you’ve got time.
The gardens are set amongst the ruins of an St Mary’s chapel and create a beautiful backdrop to leafy walkways. Catch bird-of-prey-holding or pigeon-spotting in the grounds or pay a visit to York’s oldest observatory. If you’re WELL into your flora, you can also join a tour on Sundays between 1-2.
What I wore in York:
8 – Have a brew and a brownie
Just as you exit the Museum Gardens on to Museum Street, you’ll spot Brew & Brownie, the popular cafe and brunch spot which EVERYONE will recommend you. I get it, there are trays of cakes, jam jar lights, colourful chairs and the ultimate thumbs-up-worthy statement, stocking Brew Tea Co. teas.
9 – Pretend you’re Victorian down The Shambles
Cloaks and top hats at the ready, we’re taking a step back in time (ignore the modern gift shops for a minute, jeez) to Google’s Most Picturesque Street in Britain. Originally a street of butchers, the residential walk way is flanked by overhanging buildings with some dating back to the 14th century! The famous Shambles street that will pop up every time you Google search ‘York’ is actually a very small part of the city. I’m just going to manage your expectations here – be prepared that this strip is one of the few really quaint tourist ticks you’ll see.
That’s why you’ve got to make the most of it! Pop into the shops, nod to the man selling ghost tours dressed from the old times and remember to look up! My favourite shop was one that sells a huge variety of teas from around the world (I’m so predictable) and displays tasters in glass teapots in the window to lure you in (damnit it worked)! Hebden Teas sells not only loose-leaves but all the paraphernalia you could ever need plus sugars and pressed leaf balls for pressies.
10 – Suss out a cool indie shop
York’s coolest shop award goes to Dog & Bone! Any shop with cheery turquoise exterior wins in my books. In the Founders’ words, the store is ‘York’s one stop Vintage, Retro, Fashion and lifestyle paradise’, which would probably be my words too.
I really had to stop myself from picking up a pink retro radio so I opted for a much cheaper hand-crocheted granny circle for my housemate instead. Head here for gifts and homewares with a tropical vibe that you’ll want to buy for yourself.
11 – Queue for afternoon tea
Ok so I could have very easily not have listed this, if it wasn’t for the fact that by some miracle there was barely a queue at Betty’s as we walked past. The famous tea room, an institution of sugar and silverware, is on everyone’s guide to York and for a good reason (it’s adorable) but only, and I mean, ONLY if there’s minimal queue-age. Oh and for goodness sake, refuse to sit downstairs unless you don’t mind getting badly lit photos.
12 – Discover the story of the Minster
Prepare yourself for the biggie. There’s no escaping the presence of the Minster – the huge cathedral punching the skyline at every angle. The unique aspect of York is how much of your trip has you looking right back there at the centrepiece. Once you’ve circled it, you obviously need to go in and check it out. As you’d expect, it’s impressive inside but outside is another story. Climb the towers to get a city view (if you’re not already all viewed out).
Then once you’ve gone to the very top, head to the very bottom. The exhibition in the undercroft details the near collapse of the entire Gothic-style Medieval cathedral in the late 20th century and takes you all the way back through time. Go past a forgotten Roman settlement and right through to the Vikings who first settled there, not forgetting the impressively ancient book of the York Gospels. Swotting up on 2000 years of history takes a fair amount of time so take a deep breath, allow yourself at least an hour and delve in. This 10 things to do guide is a good start to see all the Minster has to offer. Oh, and don’t forget to walk all the way around to it see the breadth of old architecture surrounding it.
13 – Have dinner, Spanish style (and with sherry)
Of all the potential dinner locations, Ambiente Tapas sounded like the best idea and boy, I was right. Tucked around the back of the Minster, the original of the two locations is a restaurant with excellent food, service and, err, sherry.
Curious, and all for trying a house speciality, we ordered a triptych of sherries for beginners. (Read: noobs who are used to sugary vino.) The face I pulled trying them was an Instagram Stories winner and my boyfriend didn’t even give no.2 a go. One for an acquired palette I feel. I’ll try again when I’m 50.
Anyway, the food! Ignore the oil dripping off the wooden boards, this was tasty, tasty stuff. The beans, pork, patatas bravas and octopus were absolute winners and washed down very well with a jug of sangria. We sat in the window and felt we could have been in Northern Spain not Northern England.
14 – Head home
After a good 2 days, you’ll be just about ready to head home. Luckily, on a Virgin train, it only takes around 1.5 hours back to London. Super speedy!
Big thanks to Virgin for working with me to get my ass up to York by offering us tickets. Book yours here!
If you’ve any suggestions as to which cities I should visit next, feel free to advise in the comments! If you liked my take on York, have a little look at my take on Manchester, Whistable and Margate.