York was somewhere I had dreamed about going for a long time. It’s beautiful, historic and quintessentially English. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how I went this long without going.
I’m so glad that I made it to York – it’s a really fun city with an amazing past; it was founded in 71AD by the Romans, survived the Baedeker Blitz during the Second World War and recently became the UK’s first human rights city. In this way, there are plenty of old buildings and pieces of history to see around almost every corner.
However, don’t worry if history isn’t your thing because there’s plenty more to experience. The city has a big student population, plenty of tourists and in turn, places to hangout for everyone.
Across the weekend we spent there, we did a real mix of things and out of those, these are what I would recommend:
Betty’s Tea Room
A visit here certainly isn’t cheap but it definitely is worth it, if you want a real English tea experience. Yes, it will be full of tourists but so what? Their earl grey is the best I’ve ever tasted. Their piggledy wiggled building houses multiple rooms so you can find the perfect spot to eat finger sandwiches and sip tea.
We didn’t book but it was busy and so I probably would recommend doing so, if you don’t have a lot of time.
York City Walls (Free)
The longest town walls in England, they provide a nice elevated walk around York from which, you can see a lot of the sights around the city. We didn’t walk the full length of them as it takes about 2 hours, but we did choose to walk on them whenever we were near.
Thought of as one of the best preserved medieval streets in the world, The Shambles is a lovely (albeit narrow – you can literally touch both sides of it at once) street to wander down, with lots of independent boutiques (a lot of them with their own shop dogs).
This area is also considered as inspiration for Harry Potter’s ‘Diagon Alley’ but I swear I’ve been to about 5 cities now that try to claim that (Exeter, Edinburgh and Oxford included in those). I won’t lie, it does have a bit of a Diagon Alley feel to it and with a lot of Harry Potter themed shops around, there’s no harm in pretending that’s where you are.
We were very lucky with the weather and spent some time in between gawking at York’s architecture, just relaxing in the gardens. It’s a popular spot for picnics and people exercising but if like us, you just need somewhere for a rest, I highly recommend it as a space to meander until you find a suitable spot to simply lay down for a bit. Maybe even nap if you feel like it. Just check the weather forecast first, England’s weather means you never know when you might be woken up with a surprise rain shower.
I’m a big craft beer fan (yes I know, I’m a little millennial hipster, it’s not a surprise that I’m into IPAs), so I like to try and sample the local wares if I have the opportunity. We went on a Saturday night and it had a good atmosphere, and a really mixed crowd of students but also people of all ages.
They have a wide selection of beers on offer, the list for which can be viewed on their website. Plus, you can get BBQ food there. One tip though: be careful, as some of the beers are super strong and you might be rolling, rather than walking home.
National Railway Museum (Free)
If you’ve ever read a blog of mine, you’ll know that we kind of like transport here. If there’s a transport/train museum nearby, we’ll probably make a beeline for it. York of course, was no different, as it holds the National Railway Museum which is absolutely ginormous. Honest to god, it just keeps going with a varied collection of royal trains, Japanese trains and the world’s fastest steam train. Whether you have kids, are a train enthusiast or are just a big kid yourself, I really recommend it. Funnily enough, it’s situated right by the train station.
If my boyfriend was writing this and saw that I was writing about the independent shops, he would probably make a sarcastic comment about me and spoons. Yes, spoons. I don’t know if it’s due to me moving into my mid-20s or something completely random but yes, I’ve become a big fan of antique spoons at this point. If you also like spoons, I can promise you that there are lots on offer.
If they aren’t your thing (which I assume is the more likely option), I can promise there are loads of other things on offer; super nice little galleries, candle shops, bakeries, jewellery shops and more. The Shambles is a good place to start with this but the city as a whole has some lovely boutiques to fit every taste. AKA not just spoons.
York Minster (Free, though donations recommended)
York’s Cathedral; we didn’t actually go inside but it’s a beautiful building from the outside and worth a stop by whether you feel like going in or not. It has recently finished a decade-long restoration and conservation project, so definitely worth popping your head in if you have time. There’s also a tower, if you can muster the energy to climb the 275 steps to the top.
Board Game Cafe
Random Encounter is a sweet little cafe, not far from York Minster. If you’ve never been to a board game cafe, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – a cafe, with lots of board games there. You pay a small amount for the time you’re there, to make use of all the board games, and then for any other food/drink you have (usually coffees/baked goods etc).
The weather did turn slightly on us and it was nice to have a spot to retire to, while also getting out some of our competitiveness.
If I had more time, I would have liked to have gone to the Yorkshire Museum and the Art Gallery but I’ll save that for my next trip.
How to get there
We went by train from London, which only takes a couple of hours, leaving on the Saturday morning and coming back on the Sunday afternoon. If you book ahead then you can get tickets for a really good price.
Where to stay
It’s quite a pricey city, so we stayed in a small apartment calledMcMillan House Studio Apartments which cost us £120 for one night. I won’t lie, it wasn’t anything particularly special but it had everything we needed and was the best we could find within our budget at the time that was a short walk to the train station and into the city centre.
After spending some time in Canada and realising how lucky we are to have our incredible train network, that gets us to tons of cities in only a few hours, I’m somewhat disappointed in myself that I haven’t made it to more. My current personal Wishlist is Leeds, Glasgow and another visit to Liverpool, where I went as a teenager (without any money to really do anything).
If you’re also looking to check a few British cities off your travel wishlist, I’ve also written posts on Oxford, Brighton, London and Devon, which could help with some further inspo!