How have I never been to York before? Having lived in London for the past 5 or so years it seems madness that I didn’t make the short journey up north until now.
In less than two hours by speedy Virgin Trains East Coast (full review coming soon), you can be in the centre of one of the most fascinating historic cities in the country. York is amazingly walkable too, so even if you only have one or two nights to explore, that’s enough time as you’ll find that everything is nice and compact.
Here are my tips for spending the perfect weekend in York, and not hurting your bank balance.
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If you’ve got a couple of days and you want to tick off York’s main attractions then a York Pass is a brilliant investment. It gives you access to over 30 attractions including York Minster, the Yorkshire Museum and York Dungeon, plus some more off-the-wall ones like York Brewery and York Chocolate Story for a one off price. At the time of writing the price was £45 for two whole days of exploring, including the hop on hop off bus around the city.
So what should you not miss when in York?
Firstly, a walk around the city wall is a must-do as it’ll introduce you to York and give you some amazing views along the way. Start at the west gate (Micklegate) and walk north along the wall itself, and this will give you a beautiful view of York Minster. Cross the river, stop into Visit York‘s information centre on our right hand side after the bridge and pick up a map which will come in very handy for the rest of your trip.
Opposite the information centre you’ll find the Yorkshire Museum which gives a fascinating insight into York’s history, especially around Roman times. I’m really into the history of people and there is a great exhibition here which talks about how mass migration affected the populations in Medieval times, along with bones and skulls galore!
Seek out one of the volunteers to tell you more about the Roman artefacts (Paul Stein was there when I visited and was BRILLIANT – ask for him if you can!). You can even hold some relics from the past (coins, buttons, pottery) whilst he explains the history to you. Did you know that Hadrian was the first emperor to be depicted on a coin with a beard? Neither did I! Hadrian would fit right in with today’s beard-obsessed culture!
The museum gardens are also really beautiful and worth looking around for a while. You may even be lucky enough to spot a few birds of prey, and hold them for a small contribution to the conservation trust.
I’m not usually a huge fan of religious buildings however York Minster is undoubtably one of the best cathedrals I’ve ever seen so I’d highly recommend a visit there to start your trip off! I’ve seen the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and I have to say I was equally impressed with York Minster, and its incredible gothic architecture and towering ceilings.
A visit to York Minster should take about 45 minutes, or a little longer if you choose to go up the tower for a view of the city. You’ll need to book a tour when you arrive if you want to go up the tower (last one at 4.45pm) and it’s included in your York Pass.
Once you’ve had your fill, skirt the wall and finish up in the city centre where most of the main attractions are. Don’t miss a walk down The Shambles, a higgledy-piggledy collection of quaint buildings which look like they’ll fall down at any moment!
Close to The Shambles you’ll also find York’s Chocolate Story, which is an immersive experience showing you how chocolate is made, and of course also gives you the chance to taste some for yourself! A trip here is also included in your York Pass.
Stop for a cup of tea in one of the many cutesy tea rooms, or if you’re after a bit of the stronger stuff, then there are plenty of ale houses and craft beer pubs to try around here too.
If you’re into beer in a big way, then don’t miss the York Brewery, which is located near the city gate at Micklegate. You can smell it a mile away and it’s a great place to find out more about the brewing process and taste a few samples of the local ales. This is also included in the York Pass, and includes half a pint of beer to finish up with. I told you the York Pass was worth it!
By night, York is a lively university city with plenty of options for a night out whether you’re 20 or 80. Most cit centre pubs are clustered around the Stonegate area, but Micklegate to the west of the river is also worth checking out too.
For something a little different, why not try the Ghost Hunt of York, where you’re guided around the grizzly history of York by a seriously entertaining costumed actor. Just the right amount of freaky and funny! Tours leave from The Shambles at 7.30pm every night, rain or shine. Get £1 off the £6 fee one their website.
Where to stay
If you’re travelling on a budget or simply wanting to watch the pennies, I recommend Safestay York as a brilliant, clean and comfy option. The hostel is situated in an old Georgian house and has remnants of its past scattered throughout it. Plaques outside the rooms and dorms tell you what your room used to be used for, whether it’s a converted ballroom or a maid’s quarters.
I also love Safestay because it’s super-quirky, with pink flashes throughout, and nice break-out spaces to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Their bar is an old secret dining room, and their games room has freaky paintings of animals dressed as people!
It’s also brilliantly located just 10 minute’s walk from the train station and the same distance from The Shambles and the historic centre. It’s on Micklegate which is a lovely, lively road with plenty of bars and pubs, and a couple of trendy cafes too.
Dorms start from less than £20 per person per night, and they also have a couple of quirky twins and doubles with en suite facilities and everything you need for a comfy stay (iron, Yorkshire Tea and kettle, flat screen TV, Wifi in rooms). I highly recommend room 19!
- Safestay York dorms from £15 a night based on 12 person en-suite dorms. Private double/twin room starts from £75 a night.
- Book direct with Virgin Trains East Coast for the cheapest fares and best deals including free wi-fi in standard class.
- York Pass from £50 for two days. Buy now to receive 10% off 2 & 3 day adult and child passes. Enter offer code SEPT16 (case-sensitive) at the checkout until 30 September 2016.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Safestay during my trip to York.