This is your free York City Guide! It’s a city that’s famous for its medieval walls, cobbled shopping streets, huge cathedral and the creation of the world’s most popular chocolate bar. York is currently marking its 800th year as a city, so it’s a great time to visit. We used the York Pass which is a great way to see lots of attractions for free.
WHAT TO DO IN YORK
Walk The Walls – York has more miles of intact city walls than anywhere else in England and they’re well worth walking. Going all the way around will take about 2 hours, but along the way you’ll feel part of the history of the place and you’ll get to see most of the major sights too. There are a few sections where the walls are missing, but maps on each set of stairs should show you where the next section begins. There are benches to rest your legs every so often but if you don’t feel you can do the whole route, we think the best bit to walk starts at the river on Bishopgate Street and continues round to the river near the War Memorial Gardens. If you walk this way round, you’ll get a tremendous view of York Minster as you turn the corner near the railway station.
York Walls: Walking routes, wall museums & map…
The Shambles – Europe’s oldest shopping street was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086 and is best known for its period properties that almost touch across the street as the levels go up. Hundreds of years ago, these were ordinary homes lived in by people practicing some of the traditional professions, mainly butchery, but today the street is packed with traders of all kinds from gift shops to tea rooms. The street often gets busy and it’s tiny, so at peak times don’t expect to be able to stand in the middle of a large crowd taking photos. If you want to stop for tea here, a popular choice is the Earl Grey Tea Rooms.
York Shambles: Read more, pictures & map…
York Minster – It’s described as “one of the world’s greatest cathedrals” and when you visit, it certainly has the wow factor! Building began on the current church in 1220 but was not declared complete until 1472. There are lots of features to look out for. The stained glass windows are particularly impressive, as are the carvings on the choir screen. We also enjoyed sitting in the octagonal chapter house. For an extra fee you can take a tower tour up the central tower for great views of York.
York Minster: Full review, admission prices & map…
Shopping – Over the years, York has become renowned for shopping and as such most of the city centre’s cobbled streets are packed with shops, boutiques and cafes. You’ll find all the big name reatilers here, but what’s extra special is the huge range of independent shops too. Many sell their own products like jewellery, clothing, crafts or gifts. For the independent shops, start at Petergate, for the big names head to Parliament Street, but pretty much every street in between will also have shops and boutiques to visit. If you have a car, there’s also out-of-town shopping at the York Designer Outlet.
York Shopping: Read more, pictures & map…
Walking Tours – Evenings in York are about two things. Eating and drinking or walking tours. The most common tours are the ghost walks and there are lots to choose from, but there are plenty of other options too. The Guy Fawkes Trail, The Historic Toilet Tour and the Graveyard, Coffin & Crypt Tour are all available under the banner of “YorkWalk”. The ghost walk we took was led by an excellent guide who looked and played the part and over the course of an hour introduced us to 3 ghosts in the major tourist streets of York.
York Walking Tours: Full list…
Betty’s – The York branch of this famous Yorkshire name in tea shops has become the flagship branch and was particularly famous during World War 2 for the bar which was located downstairs. Both upstairs and downstairs are now places to enjoy the best that Betty’s has to offer and the best example is the traditional Afternoon Tea of sandwiches, cakes and scones. If you want to eat here, there’s normally a queue to be seated and at busy times you can wait a while, but it’s worth it as this is one of those life experiences you’ll want to say you had! Betty’s also has a cake and bread shop inside if you’d prefer to take away. Again, you can expect to queue to be served in the shop at busy times and be careful, it’s very easy to spend a fortune in there!
Betty’s York: Full review, booking ahea & map…
Clifford’s Tower – This tower is pretty much all the remains of what was once York Castle, but it’s become known not only for its history, but also for its terrific views of central York. The original wooden structure here was built by William the Conquerer, but was later rebuilt as the stone keep you see today. The site is operated by English Heritage and when you enter there’s a small courtyard with information boards explaining more about the building. Then there’s the opportunity to climb to the top of the battlements via the chapel – the only surviving room in the keep. The views over York are good, but not quite as good as the ones from York Minster.
Clifford’s Tower: Full review, admission prices and map…
National Railway Museum – Some of the world’s most loved steam locomotives are housed inside a huge hanger-like structure at this museum. The iconic Mallard and the Duchess of Hamilton are shiny and polished, but you’ll find the Flying Scotsman in the workshop as it’s being fully restored and when we visited had just had a black undercoat applied. Also at the museum, there’s the only Japanese bullet train outside Japan, a collection of Royal Trains from over the years and a massive storeroom full of railway memorabilia. It will take you quite a while to see all of the exhibits and exhibition areas here and as admission is free, it’s worth going even if you only want to have a quick look.
National Railway Museum: Full review, opening times and map…
Jorvik Viking Centre – The Coppergate shopping centre in York is built on an ancient Viking settlement called Jorvik and to demonstrate what has been learnt from excavating the site, this attraction takes you on a Disney-style ride to guide you through a typical Viking community. The anamatronic Vikings in the village interact with the narration and there are traditional smells along the way to enhance the experience further. When you step off the ride, your journey continues with some of the artefatcs and skeletons that have been dug up. If you went to Jorvik Viking Centre many years ago, you’ll find that the whole place is very different now as it’s all been renovated and updated in recent years.
Jorvik Viking Centre: Full review, admission prices, opening times & map…
York’s Chocolate Story – This is York’s newest attraction and it’s designed to celebrate the rich heritage in the city for chocolate and confectionary manufacturing. Terry’s, Rowntree’s and Craven all started life here giving birth to classics like Fruit Pastills, the Kit-Kat and the Chocolate Orange. When you visit the attraction, you arrive by lift on the top floor where the origins of chocolate are explained with a cine screen and a taste of cocoa water, which is particularly unpleasant! Next door, the bit that impressed us most, was the explanation of how chocolate arrived in York using photos from the past that come to life, Harry Potter style, and interact with the tour guide. Very clever! Next a trip to the demonstration area where chocolates are made in front of you. There’s a handy dose of nostalgia at various points along the tour too with choclate bars and commercials from the past. All in all, an very enjoyable experience, although we could have done with a bit more chocolate!
York’s Chocolate Story: Full review, secret pics, reduced tickets & map…
The Treasurer’s House – This house at the rear of York Minster was bought by millionaire Frank Green in 1897 and he set about converting it to his taste with different rooms laid out to represent different periods. He then passed the house to the National Trust in 1930 with instructions that it must be open to the public and nothing should be changed. Most impressive is the great entrance hall which uses fake wooden beams and an extra high ceiling to represent a Tudor style hall complete with minstrels gallery. You do get the feeling that the whole project was a bit of an ego-trip for him, but it’s fascinating all the same.
York Treasurer’s House: Full review, opening times, extra tours & map…
Roman Bath – Head down the stairs in most British pubs and you’ll find the toilets, but not this one! When the pub wanted a larger beer cellar in 1929 they began digging out the basement and discovered the remains of the former Roman Bath of York. It’s thought that this bath may have been used by Emperor Constantine. When you visit the ruins, you can clearly make out the layout of the baths and there’s some history on the walls to explain more about how they were discovered and how they would have been used. Your visit will not take long as the ruins are small, but it was a fascinating bit of York that we didn’t even know existed.
York Roman Bath: Full review, tickets & map…
OUR TOP TIP IN YORK
York Castle Museum – Don’t mistake this place for an average city museum, because it’s much more of an attraction than that. Best of all is the period building where the centrepiece is a huge replica of a Victorian street complete with traditional shops you can visit and talk to the period-dressed shop workers inside. You can buy a sugar mouse, explore the apothocary and visit the carriage stables. The whole thing was really well done. We also enjoyed the period sitting rooms laid out as they would have been at certain points in history like the 1950s front room and the displays on vacuum cleaners and washing machines over the years. Elsewhere at the museum, the exterior water mill at the rear has just been restored to working condition and is well worth a visit.
York Castle Museum: Full review, ticket prices & map…
We stayed at the 4* Grange Hotel which is just a short stroll away from York’s medieval walls. It advertises itself as a country house hotel in the heart of the city and it certainly feels like that! There’s a lovely friendly atmosphere all around the hotel and the sitting rooms are laid out like a luxurious country home. Our room was a lovely period one with a large, comfy modern country-style bed and decent sized bathroom. The friendly touches continue right down to simple things like the tea and coffee making facilities. If you use them, they’ll be topped up without having to wait till the following day. Complimentary fresh milk was available in the room fridge too – a nice touch. The hotel has 36 rooms spread out around the grade 2 listed Regency Townhouse and they’re all individual and luxurious. Some have four poster beds, and there’s even a suite available. The property was originally built for a member of York’s clergy and you can imagine that he must have lived in style! We had a really realaxing stay at the hotel and if you’re looking for luxury within a short walk of the attractions of York, we’d thoroughly recommend it. Another plus is the free parking in the private car park at the rear. The hotel also has two restaurants and the Ivy Brasserie in particular is renowned for its food. See our secret photos and read our Ivy Brasserie review.
GETTING AROUND YORK
York city centre is really compact and simply walking around within the walls is the best way to see everything. If your legs do hurt or you fancy a change, another option though, is the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour which takes you to all the major locations.
MORE ON YORK
VisitYork.org – Official York Tourism Website
York Pass – Free entry to York’s attractions
York Hotels – We recommend Hotels.com with their lowest price guarantee
Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour – Stops at all the major locations in York
York Dungeon – Buy tickets in advance for the best prices
More Things To Do In The North Of England
York Insight Guide – Amazon.co.uk
York Pocket Guide – Amazon.co.uk
Rough Guide To Yorkshire – Amazon.co.uk
Yorkshire Travel Guides – Amazon.com (USA)