Guide to York

Guide to York

Taking the train up to York for a quick weekend getaway from London is easy to do. The city has a fascinating history that goes back thousands of years to the Roman era. In addition to the Roman occupation, it was also a Viking settlement called Jorvik and then came under the dominion of the Anglo-Saxons a few hundred years later. All of these different eras contribute to the city’s magnificent architecture and unique history.

York Minster

Why visit York?

The fabulous display of desserts and scones at Betty’s of York

York is one of the most visited cities in the UK. One of the city’s major draws is that most of its points of interest are easily accessible on foot. It also has a fabulous array of restaurants, bars, tea shops and pubs that make it an enticing destination for foodies.

Fat Rascals at Betty’s of York

The city’s many museums and festivals also attracts history buffs from all over the world. Location also plays a major role in the city’s popularity, just a two hour train ride from both London and Edinburgh. There are also a large number of high quality and affordable places to stay, including many independently run bed and breakfasts that offer full English breakfasts with your stay.

Here’s how to plan your 2 day trip to York:

How to get to York:

The journey takes about two hours by train from London’s Kings Cross Station and a little over two hours from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. All trains arrive at York Railway Station. The train ride offers gorgeous views of the Yorkshire countryside in both directions, which are especially breathtaking when traveling to or from Edinburgh. York’s city center is easily accessible on foot from the station. Book train tickets ahead of time at the

Where to stay in York:

Full English Breakfast at Alcuin Lodge Guest House, York

Check in at one of the city’s many charming bed and breakfasts clustered around the city walls. You can find a list of recommended B&B’s on York’s official tourism website here: I stayed at Alcuin Lodge Guest House, a quaint bed and breakfast less than a 10 minute walk from Walmgate Bar, one of the main entry points to the historical city center.

Where to eat in York:

Café No. 8:

Salmon with shaved fennel and apple salad at Cafe No. 8, York

This family run restaurant has been serving approachable modern British cuisine to locals and tourists alike since 1990. The restaurant focuses on using locally sourced ingredients from Yorkshire in their elevated take on traditional British cuisine. Read my review of Café No. 8 here.

The Rattle Owl:

Modern British cuisine made with local Yorkshire ingredients at the Rattle Owl, York

A sophisticated restaurant serving excellent modern British cuisine with locally sourced Yorkshire ingredients. This beautiful restaurant has a fascinating history, housed in a 14th century building that sits on the site of ruins dating back to both the Roman and Anglo-Saxon eras. Read more about my experience at the Rattle Owl in my review here. Check out their menu here

Where to have Afternoon tea in York:

Betty’s of York:

Betty’s of York

Betty’s has been serving afternoon tea in the historical center of York since 1919. You can enjoy a more casual afternoon tea in their café and bakery downstairs, but for a more refined experience, book your afternoon tea ahead of time in the upstairs Room, named after the cafés founder, the Swiss baker Frederick Belmont. Read more about my afternoon tea experience at Betty’s of York here.

Afternoon tea in the upstair Belmont Room at Betty’s of York

Where to drink in York:

Bootham Tavern: Located on Bootham Street just outside Walmgate Bar, this historical pub has a lively atmosphere with live music and karaoke on weekends and quaint rooms for rent upstairs.

The Botanist: A cozy bar housed in a historical building specializing in gin-based cocktails.

What to do in York:

View of York Minster from the city walls

Day 1:

After arriving at York Station, check in at your bed and breakfast and head towards the city center for dinner at Cafe No. 8 and a walk through the city’s beautiful cobblestoned streets. Stop for a drink at one of the city’s many lively bars and pubs, including the Botanist, a gin based cocktail bar just a short walk from York Minster.

Day 2:

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of York: 

The City Walls:

A walk along the ancient city walls of York

The first stop of the day will be a walk along the city walls. Head down the street into the historical city center, passing through the massive ancient gate known as Walmgate Bar, built during the 14th century on the site of the original Roman wall.

View of York Minster from the city walls

To walk the city walls, access the stairways that lead up to the rampart. You can also walk to the other major bars located at several points around the city walls, including Micklegate, Monk or Bootham. Admire the Gothic style architecture of York Minster, the magnificent cathedral that rises up above the city skyline.

Afternoon Tea at Betty’s of York:

Afternoon Tea at Betty’s of York

Head down the road for an early afternoon tea at Betty’s of York in the upstairs Belmont Room. This elegant tearoom is a wonderful place for a relaxed and refined afternoon tea. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time, as the queue outside forms early. Read my review of Betty’s here. Check out their afternoon tea menu here

The Shambles:

The Shambles, York

After a relaxing afternoon tea, it’s time for a stroll through the shambles, York’s former meat packing district that dates back to the 11th century A.D. This impressive array of buildings, known for their comically lopsided, almost cartoonish appearance, is thought to have served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. Many of the buildings date back to the 14th century.

The Potions Cauldron, a Harry Potter themed shop in the York Shambles

The street has several Harry Potter themed gift shops including the Potions Cauldron where you can stop in for your very own “wand” or “potion.”

The Jorvik Viking Centre: Just down the street at the end of the Shambles is the Jorvik Viking Centre, an impressive museum featuring a re-creation of the 9th century A.D. Jorvik Viking settlement located directly on the premises. The re-creation includes animatronic Vikings as well as some human actors, showing a gritty portrayal of what life was like in York during the Viking occupation.

The York Castle Museum: Further down the road is the York Castle Museum, where you can spend an hour or two browsing through York’s more recent but equally fascinating history. The museum is located on the site of a castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068 A.D. The most impressive feature of the museum is a re-creation of a Victorian-era street, complete with shops and houses. The elaborate street magically transports visitors back in time to the late 19th century, to experience what life was like during this period.

York Minster:

York Minster

Walk back up the road towards York Minster for a guided tour to the top of the cathedral‘s central tower. This 275 step journey isn’t for the faint of heart, but is well worth the effort (if you’re physically capable) for the breathtaking views of the city.

View of York from the top of the central tower of York Minster

Amongst the cathedral’s greatest architectural features is the Great East Window, completed in 1408. This magnificent window is one of the oldest and largest examples of stained glass in the world.

The Great Window of York Minster

If you arrive by 3:45 PM you can line up to be seated in the minister’s inner chapel for the enchanting Evensong. The boys choir sings hymns that are hundreds of years old, making this a breathtaking example of British church history. Find out more about York Minster on their website here

Dinner at The Rattle Owl:

Sea bream with fennel jam and black olive tapenade at the Rattle Owl, York

Walk back down towards the York Castle Museum and cross the River Ouse to the cluster of restaurants located on Micklegate Street for dinner at the Rattle Owl, a modern British restaurant serving locally sourced cuisine in an Elizabethan-era building. Read my review of the Rattle Owl here. 

If you’re interested in a nightcap, York has many excellent bars and pubs, many of which feature live music. If you happen to be in the city on a Saturday night, enjoy the lively atmosphere brought by the hundreds of visitors who come to the city for the horse races, held four times a year. You may also have to compete for space in the bars and pubs with large groups of women who come to the city to celebrate “hen dos,” otherwise known as “bachelorette parties” in the US. Still, there are many great options for places to drink, including the Botanist, a specialty cocktail bar specializing in gin and the Bootham Tavern, a historical pub featuring live music and karaoke. 

The Shambles, York

I had a wonderful time during my two day stay in York. I especially enjoyed the friendly hospitality of the locals as well as all of the excellent cuisine the city had to offer. The city’s fascinating history and architecture also made it one of the most idyllic places to walk around in. The city also had more museums than I could possibly see in two days, leaving me yet another reason to plan a future visit. Whatever brings you to York, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your trip just as well!

To find out more about visiting York, visit their official tourism website here

The York Pass: This pass gets you admission to 35 different attractions in York as well as other destinations outside the city. Find out more about the York Pass here

Here are some other places to go in York:

The York Railway Museum: A fascinating look at British railway history

The York Art Gallery: A collection of more than 600 years of British art.

The Yorkshire Museum: One of the first museums in England, built on the grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey

The Yorkshire Museum Gardens: Stroll the ten acres of beautiful grounds at this nearly 200 year old botanical garden on the site of St. Mary’s Abbey.

St. Mary’s Abbey: One of England’s oldest abbeys built in 1088 A.D.

Clifford’s Tower: The remaining tower of the original castle built by William the Conquerer in 1068 A.D.

Fairfax House: A Georgian townhouse built during the 1740’s.

Barley Hall: A reconstructed medieval manor house built during the 14th century.

Merchant Adventurers’ Hall: A 14th century medieval guildhall.

The York Mansion House: The 300 year old house of the Lord Mayors of York, located in St. Helen’s Square.

Richard III Experience at Monk Bar: A small museum located in the Monk Bar gate exploring the life of Richard III during his short tenure as king.

Activities in York:

The York Theatre Royal: Watch a show at this historical theatre.

The York Chocolate Story: A historical tour of chocolate making in York:

The York Dungeons: An entertaining look at York’s macabre history:

Walking tours of York: 

The York Walls Walking Tour: Tour of York’s city walls.

City Cruises York: Take a sightseeing tour of York on the River Ouse:

The Original Ghost Walk of York: A haunted history of York, established in 1973.

The Bloody Tour of York: Hosted by “Mad Alice,” a dramatized overview of York’s darker history.

Ghost Bus Tour: Offering “comedy horror” tours of York:

Read more about the places mentioned in this post here:

Guide to afternoon tea in York

Best restaurants in York

Best coffee shops in York

Best bars & pubs in York