How to have the ultimate Visit to York?
How do you have the ultimate visit to York? A question I wanted to answer. However before I go into the details, lets learn a little about the city. The City of York is one of historic significance in English history. York has Roman, Saxon, Tudor and Viking history throughout the city and it remains one of the only cities left in the UK still surrounded by its famous city walls. The city of York was founded by the Romans in AD 71 and quickly became the capital of Roman Britannia. York remained one of the largest cities in England since, even being named the capital city of England for a time.
York has a huge array of attractions and history. This is why York is a necessary visit if travelling to England. You will not be short of things to see and do within the city or surrounding area.
The City of York is 212 miles from London and 2 hours on the train. York is also famous for the trains and is home to the national railway museum (more on that below). If travelling to York by car York is approx. 4 hours away from London.
*this page contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you click on the link and make a qualifying purchase*
It is the top attraction in York and sees more visitors than any other. A visit to York would not be complete without it. York Minster is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. The minster is also the seat of the Archbishop of York, the third highest office of the Church of England. The Minster was completed around AD 1472 and devoted to Saint Peter. York Minster can also boast the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. The West and East Windows being the largest of their kind.
With so much history and such a huge building I wanted to share some of the best bits of York Minster if your time in the city is short. If you do have the time, I recommend taking the time to see and do all of these things.
- Tower Tour. I cannot recommend this enough. Now, this is not for everyone. With 275 steps to climb in a small, spiral staircase that is less then 2ft across in places. However, if you are up for the tour the views at the top are the best views of York. York Minster Tower is the highest point of York, the views are amazing.
- The Undercroft. This is a fascinating museum under the Minster. It tells the story from the 1960’s as the middle part of the tower started to sink. It looks back at the huge restoration project that got underway and the amazing Roman artefacts they found under the Minster. I will not spoil the surprise in this post but it is a must see.
- Minster Tour. After paying your entrance fee, join a guided tour. It is free to join and you just need to check the times on arrival. Tours take place throughout the day so there are plenty of opportunities to get on one. A tour will last approx. 1 hour. Get a first-hand look at the famous stained glass windows, the stunning chapter house and the nave. Hilary was our guide and she was funny, kind and knowledgeable. I cannot recommend enough a guided tour.
It does not matter how long your stay is in York I recommend a visit to the York Minster. We spent at least 3hrs inside the York Minster seeing all the sights and trying to learn as much as I could. It was a brilliant morning.
The Shambles is located in the heart of York City Centre. It is the oldest medieval street in the world. It is also one of the oldest known streets in England. The Shambles is a real look back at medieval Britain and gives a great insight into how people lived. It is lined on each side with independent shops and cafes all offering some unique items. From the York “Ghost Store” to “the shop that cannot be named”, the Shambles is a place everyone loves.
To get to the Shambles is easy; you just follow the main street from the York Minster. Head a southerly direction and after a short walk of around 6 minutes, you will end up at the Shambles. I have a full York City Centre map of all the places I visited below if you keep reading.
Built in January 1069, by William the Conqueror. He ordered the castle to be built and it was originally built out of timber and later from stone. Today Clifford’s Tower is owned by the national trust and remains an extremely important part of the history of not just York but of England.
The Tower stands in the city centre and is extremely easy to get to from anywhere in the city. Over the road is York Castle Museum which is also well worth a visit. I would recommend visiting them both on the same day one after the other as I did.
Clifford’s Tower costs £10 for an adult to enter and there are a few steps to get up to the entrance so strollers and wheelchairs would find it difficult. At the top of the tower the views across the city are brilliant. You can get some really good views of York Minster. If you are visiting the City of York I really recommend a visit to Clifford’s Tower.
National Railway Museum
The national railway museum is one of the top attractions in York. Entry is free of charge but they ask for a donation and this can be as little as £5 to help keep the museum open. The Museum opened in 1975 to the public. It holds the national collection of railway vehicles. The museum tells the fascinating story of rail transport and the impact it had on society from its early beginnings in steam engines to the more modern day electric trains.
Getting to the museum is easy. The museum is just outside the main railway station and in the city centre if travelling by car or bus. We were able to walk from our accommodation in the city. The museum does ask that customers book a time slot online before entry to ensure they are not fully booked and you can enter the museum. There are two cafes in the museum, one in station hall and the other in the grand hall.
With so much to see, I wanted to share some of the best bits of the museum. If your time in the city is short. If you do have the time, I recommend taking the time to see and do all of these things.
- Bullet Train. This train is from the first series of Bullets trains to debut in Japan in 1964 and was able to reach 130mph cutting travelling times by half. You can walk on the bullet train and learn much more about them in the exhibition.
- Mallard. An extremely famous locomotive. The Mallard holds the world speed record for a steam train. It achieved this amazing feat on 3rd July 1938 and this exhibition celebrates the locomotive in all it is glory. There is even a Mallard experience on a simulator so you can re-live the history making world speed record.
- Flying Scotsman Story. Arguably one of the most famous steam trains in the world. Famous for the London to Edinburgh route. The locomotive is still running the same route today, pulling special tours as the country’s oldest mainline locomotive. Celebrate its huge success in this fantastic exhibition.
- Rocket. Stephenson’s Rocket is the world’s first modern steam locomotive. Through his design, it became the template for steam trains for the next 150 years around the world.
- You are able to bring your own food and drink into the museum. This will help keep costs down, as the café is a little pricy.
- The car park directly outside the museum was offering all day parking for £11. If you are coming to the city for the day and doing something after the museum I would say go for it. However, if you are not I would recommend finding parking elsewhere.
- It can get extremely busy, I recommend getting there early before the tour buses arrive of later in the afternoon after they start to leave.
We had a great time in the museum learning about the trains and how they affected society immensely. The entire trip around the museum lasted 3hrs for us and that included a little sit down and coffee break. There are toilets throughout the museum and all the areas are accessible for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
Jorvik Viking Museum
The home of the Vikings. Jorvik museum is in the city centre of York and the museum pays tribute to its Vikings history. Jorvik, where York gets its name was one of the largest Viking settlements outside of Scandinavia. It was a prime location for the Vikings and this museum allows you to go back in time to hear, feel and see what it would have been like to live amoung them. Jorvik museum is located on what was the Jorvik site and all the artefacts discovered in the area are on display for visitors to see. From coins, clothes, weapons, tools and even a complete Viking skeleton. All on show for you to see and learn how these amazing people lived.
There is a small ride that takes you around the museum, then drops you off and you are free to wonder around at your own pace. If Vikings and history are something you enjoy, I really recommend a stop at the Jorvik Museum.
- Book your entrance tickets in advance online. It can get very busy and places fill up extremely quickly.
- During the ride, NO PHOTOGRAPTHY allowed. However, once you are through into the museum itself you can take pictures of the artefacts.
- The ride has many different languages you can set; it also has subtitles for hearing impaired or deafness.
City Tour (City Walls)
York is full of history; it is one of the oldest cities in the UK. Therefore, a visit to York would not be complete unless you did a tour of the city walls. I wanted to make sure we did not miss anything on our trip to York so I booked a 2hr walking tour of the city with a guide to ensure we saw everything.
I am happy we did. Our guide Nick was brilliant. He was extremely knowledgeable and funny. He told us all about the city and the places we visited along the way; we got to walk some of the famous York City Walls (the only city left in the UK with its walls still untouched). Nick took us to some of the best places around the city like York Minster, The Shambles, Lantern Towers, Clifford Tower, York Museum Gardens, and the River Ouse, Merchant Hall and the medieval walls and gateways. It was a good 2hrs spent and if time is not on your side it is a great way to see the best bits of the city. It also gave us an idea on some of the places to visit during our time in York. For example, a few days after we visited Clifford’s Tower.
River Ouse “Floodlight” Cruise
The river Ouse is the main river running through the city of York. We wanted to see the city from a different perspective. I thought seeing the city from the river and as it got dark would be a great way to do this. We booked our tickets that day for that evening as it also allowed us to make the most of the day as we had other things booked.
Finding the dock was easy, and the crew were great. We boarded the boat and got comfortable. Part of the ticket we booked allowed us to also have one free drink during the boat trip. The boat had a working bar and you can drink what you wanted.
The trip itself was OK. I would not say this is the MUST DO attraction in York. It was however a pleasant evening on the river watching the sun setting. I would say it would have made it a little better if there was some sort of commentary; someone was telling you what you were at while going past. In addition, as we got further into the boat trip it was pitch black and you could not see anything anyway. I did enjoy the boat trip, but it could have been better.
York Castle Museum
This is a must for any visit to York. York Castle Museum is a museum located on the site of York Castle. William the Conqueror originally built it in 1068. The only remaining structures left from the original site is Clifford’s Tower. However, inside the museum you get to see and hear from the people that lived within and around the castle, with artefacts and memorabilia.
The museum opened in 1938 to the public and was the first to recreate a late life-size Victorian street named “Kirk gate” which was to be the first of its kind. This attraction became necessary to see and drew visitors from everywhere. Today, Kirkgate is still going strong and uses modern day technology to really bring the street to life as you walk around.
There are also a number of different exhibitions within the museum itself, from Toy Stories, The Cells and the Sixties.
It took us around 3hrs to see all of the museum. So make sure you have something else planned for later in the day. Alternatively, do what we did and see Clifford’s Tower, then head into the York Castle museum. They are opposite each other and in the heart of the city.
Yorkshire Air Museum
Outside the city of York is the Yorkshire Air Museum. The Museum is located on the former RAF Elvington Air Base. Located just a 20-minute drive from the city. The Museum is also an Allied Forces Memorial telling story of world war two.
There is a collection of planes and helicopters including some of the most famous planes in the world like a Spitfire, Harrier Jet, tornado and a Lynx Helicopter. The displays are in detail and some of the planes you can even get on and sit in the cockpit. The museum tells the stories of the planes, why they are famous and how they ended up in the museum. The museum also has events throughout the year, which people can get even closer to these great machines.
As it is located on a disused RAF air base, it brings some real authenticity to your surroundings. I had a lovely morning at the museum trying to take in all the information on display. The planes are looking great but the real treasures are the exhibitions inside the huts. All are worth taking a little look at.
Once you pay your entry fee, it is valid for the next 12 months. There is a café onsite selling snacks, cakes, tea and coffee. The Museum is also accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs.
- Parking is free.
- Keep your entrance ticket. This will allow you to access the museum anytime over the next 12 months (event days are excluded).
- As the museum is set out over an old RAF base, some of the exhibits are spread out. I recommend grabbing a map. This will ensure you have visited everything, as you can cross it off as you go.
EATING OUT IN YORK
There are many hundreds of places to eat out in York. For your visit to York to really be special I wanted to share some eating places. It depends on what type of food you enjoy and what how much you want to spend. From top Michelin star restaurants to some amazing street food, York has something for everyone. Here are a few of the places I choose during my visit that I highly recommend. I have also used the following symbols for ideas on costs, (£ – Cheap Eats, ££ – Mid Range, £££ – A little more).
Guy Fawkes Inn (££)
Guy Fawkes Inn is the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. He lived in the building with his mum and dad before becoming famous for trying to blow up Parliament and the King of England.
These days, the Inn offers accommodation, a bar and restaurant. I choose the famous Guy Fawkes Pie and believe me, it is a very tasty meal. The Inn is next to York Minster, which makes it a great location. I highly recommend a meal and drink in Guy Fawkes Inn.
The Taylor Made Kitchen (£)
Some of the best street food in York. Located in the Shambles Market, The Taylor Made Kitchen offers an array of food. However, it is famous for the Pizza Fries and believe me it did not disappoint. I highly recommend a visit to the Shambles Market. More importantly, you must try the Pizza Fries from the Taylor Made Kitchen.
The Star Inn (£££)
Maybe set in one of the best locations in the city, over-looking the River Ouse. The Star Inn is a lovely place to sit, relax and indulge on some of the finest food in the city. I highly recommend a visit to this restaurant and I also recommend booking a table in advance as it gets very busy over the weekends.
(Picture shows, Venison with tender stem broccoli, raspberry’s and a Jux). This meal was on the specials so may not be available).
Valhalla is a Norse word meaning “hall of the slain”. It is a nod to the Viking history that the City of York pays tribute too. The bar itself is located right next to the Shambles and offers light snacks and drinks. The bar is completely set out as you have been transported back to Viking York or “Jorvik” as it was known. If you like your Viking history or want to feel some history of the city I really recommend a visit to Valhalla.
Betty’s Afternoon Tea (££)
Maybe one of the most famous places in the city to eat. Betty’s tea rooms has been a long standing attraction in the city, a must do if in York. It is the birthplace of the afternoon tea and no one does it better in my view.
The ambiance, staff, food and teas are fantastic. I highly recommend booking in advance. This venue gets extremely busy, the queue sometimes can stretch right around the block, and so booking way in advance is always the best. If you want to take just a little time to indulge then this really is the place.
YORK CITY CENTRE
One thing I do love about this city and is how close everything is. All the attractions and restaurants (not including the air museum) are in walking distance. The main part of the city is located behind the great walls, which is what makes the city famous. If you make sure your accommodation is centre based you will not need to use any transport during your visit.
Here is a map of the city centre of York and all the places I visited and stayed.
(Attractions in blue, restaurants in purple and accommodation in yellow)
It is hard to summaries such a great city. York has so much history within its walls and so many stories to tell. The city mixes modern day with its ancient history and celebrates its past.
York is one of only three UK cities to have its city walls still in place. However, York stands above them all for the largest amount of ancient walls still standing.
I had a brilliant 5 days and 4 nights in York. If you are looking for that UK city break for a few nights then I highly recommend a visit to York. There is plenty of activities do and places to visit. My time was limited on this trip. That meant there were many places I did not visit. I had an excellent stay at the Crescent Guest House. It is within walking distance to all the attractions. Room was clean, tidy and breakfast was great.
I highly recommend taking a tour of the city as if we did. It gives a great basic knowledge of the city and you are shown all of the “best” bits. You can always go back to places if you like the look of them. The city of York offers everything to ensure you have the best stay, weather you are splashing the cash, or wanting to save some pennies but have a nice city break.
I have had the pleasure of many city breaks in UK and York has certainly just gone into the top three without a doubt. A visit to York is highly recommend. The city had an impact on me and I will be returning sometime soon.
Until Next Time…