York is a little slice of medieval times dropped right into the 21st century. The buildings are staggeringly gorgeous, with the towering York Minster cathedral looming over the city in all its gothic glory, echoing the chunks of walls still standing more than a millennium after they first went up. Streets are narrow and most are lined with small shops and doorways that practically demand you dawdle and chat.
This is no sleepy little city trapped in time, though; for all of York’s lingering Roman influences and cultural oddities, it’s also a popular tourist spot and home to a busy university. Housing is a mix of ancient properties refurbished with modern amenities, new builds, and old chocolate and wool-processing warehouse transformed into trendy flats and penthouses. It’s an apt representation of the city itself: old and new, congenially coexisting side by side, humming along with a welcoming energy that’s infectious.
Book a Room
The York Priory B&B offers cozy rooms in a Victorian residence, plus a full English breakfast, a licensed bar, and easy access to the city center and the riverside promenade.
It’s 5-star hospitality all the way at The Grand, a luxurious hotel with modern amenities housed in an Edwardian building. There are 107 guestrooms, a spa, and the requisite chef-driven afternoon tea. Gray’s Court is equally grandiose; sleep where kings slept, wander the lush gardens, and try out Head Chef Joe Clapham’s unapologetically British menu made with produce grown right outside.
Dine & Drink
Fuel up for your adventures with coffee and scones at Wheldrakes, a small, independent café that also cooks up heartier fare such as a full English breakfast. The menu at The Perk Peacock Coffee Shop is a mix of gourmet coffee, bacon butties, and freshly baked cakes, but it’s the setting that will leave you talking—the café is tucked into an 800-year-old tower under Lendal Bridge.
Take a midday break at Betty’s, a famous tea room that prides itself continuing the tea-and-sandwiches siesta established by the Duchess of Bedford way back in the 1840s. Opt for the traditional menu and delight in classics like coronation chicken sandwiches and sultana scones or trade in your tea for pink champagne if you’re in a celebratory mood.
Curry is epically good in England, and York has a brilliant example thanks to Bengal Brasserie and spiced-up dishes like Sylheti Special Lamb and sizzling Chicken Tikka Korai. Different but no less tasty is Refectory Kitchen & Terrace; the chef takes advantage of local sourced ingredients like Welsh rare breed pork and Yorkshire fettle cheese to create recipes that are as visually pleasing as they are gastronomically satisfying.
For lighter fare and a much-needed drink, it’s hard to beat Pairings. Gather around a spread of Spanish pork scratchings and charcuterie platters laden with artisanal cheeses and expertly cured meats along with a wine or spirit flight or creative cocktail such as the gin-and-lambrusco gem called Ruby Shoes. Just want a beer? Pub crawl through the Goodramgate/Swinegate area.
See the Sights
Start your sightseeing at the City Walls, where you can scale stable sections and score a stunning view of the city. Another ruin with a view? Clifford’s Tower. It’s the last remaining piece of a castle that once house a prison and then a royal mint. Next, head to York Minster, a 7th-century cathedral that doubles as a masterpiece of handcrafted stone and jaw-dropping stained glass. It’s still a working church, but visitors are welcome seven days a week to explore or take a tour.
Sink your teeth into a different kind of history at York’s Chocolate Story, or dig into the city’s Viking heritage at JORVIK Viking Centre, which offers immersive experiences and breathtaking recreations you have to see to believe.
The Yorkshire Museum contains exhibits celebrating everything from the Jurassic period to astronomical discoveries. Be sure to linger in the museum’s garden, a vast conservatory containing 40 species of birds, a fern garden, and themed borders dedicated to Chinese and Japanese species, American prairie flowers, and more.
Stop & Shop
Take home a taste of York with purchases from Hebden Tea—they have their own York breakfast blend—and Monk Bar Chocolatiers. For fashion finds, check out the Harris tweed jackets, ‘50s dresses, and vintage-inspired reproduction threads at Bowler Vintage.
Grab all your quirkiest souvenirs at Give the Dog a Bone, a shop that says it specializes in “things you don’t need but really want.”
There are many boutiques and artsy storefronts you won’t find on the internet, so don’t be afraid to wander and peek in windows—you’ll be greeted warmly.
What to Know Before You Go
- The Best Way to Travel: York doesn’t have its own airport, but you fly into Manchester, Newcastle, or Leeds/Bradford. The train is a great choice, especially if you headed to London or Edinburgh first, both of which are within a two-hour ride.
- When to Go: York is festival central. Time your visit to coincide with the races in May and August, the York Festival of Food in Drink in September, or Viking Fest in February, or skip the crowds and come in fall or winter when it’s chilly.
- Local Currency: Pound Sterling
- Native Language: English
- How to Get Around: Walking and biking are your best bets. Parking is a hassle, so use Park & Ride sites to ditch your vehicle ASAP. Bus service is also a possibility both in town and if you want to visit nearby attractions.
- Plan To: Hunt down a Yorkshire pudding. You know your friends are going to ask.
- Here’s a Hint: Steer clear of chain stores masquerade as mom-and-pop shops. There’s so much local flavor to be had, it’d be a shame to waste time on trinkets and treats you could find anywhere else.