“The history of York is the history of England.” King George VI
Hardly a more true word could be said of this city which could be described as Roman, Anglo Saxon, Viking, Medieval, Georgian, Victorian… the list is endless… it’s a city which had been considered a capital on numerous occasions and it’s golden age seems to have continued even today as thousands of tourists continue to flock into the environs of York’s ancient city walls to take advantage of everything the city has to offer. The walls, however, are actually a Victorian renovation of the walls built by the Normans around 900 years ago, and even they built on walls and a mound originally constructed by the Romans and then the Vikings so what we see in York is truly a mish-mash though best described as ‘layered’ history. Nowhere is that history more layered than in York Minster which always feels a great place to visit at this time of year and I can’t recommend enough that any visitor to York take the opportunity to attend Evensong at the Minster (5pm weekdays, 4:45pm weekends). Regardless of your faith, hearing the sound of the choir in such glorious surroundings is simply divine and is something which can be enjoyed by everyone.
The city has some great places to eat, whether it be for a leisurely meal, or food on the go. I tend to head for what is now called York Hog Roast and they also now have 2 outlets – one in in Stonegate (near St Helen’s Square), and one in Goodramgate (near King’s Square). The meat in their hog roast sandwiches is always so very tender that it almost melts in your mouth, and they’ll serve you it with all the trimmings if you like, including a bit of crackling if you have a pork sandwich! On the other hand you could have a meal in the quintessential British surroundings of Betty’s in St Helen’s Square where you’ll find waitresses dressed in black and white with pinafores and wheeling around cake trolleys for diners to see what’s on offer, making you feel like you’re back in the 1940s in one of the old Lyon’s tea rooms. My favourite dish at Betty’s is the Breakfast rosti which is grated potato cooked with cream and cheese and served with mushrooms, eggs, and bacon but you can just go in for afternoon tea, or a nice pot of coffee but if you do visit Betty’s, don’t forget to head into the basement to check out the mirrors beside the doors to the wash rooms where you’ll find the 1940s inscriptions made by airmen from the Canadian, American and British air forces who used to meet at Betty’s during the war.
As far as things to do in York are concerned, you could easily spend a week here and probably still feel like there are things to bring you back! The National Railway Museum is a short walk from the city centre (or for a small fee you could take the Road Train which leaves from the front of the Minster) and consists of various outdoor exhibits as well as two aircraft-hanger-like buildings with various famous engines not just from the UK, but from various parts of the world. You’ll also see the Royal carriages used by former King’s & Queens, since the time of Queen Victoria in the 1800’s when the railways in the UK first began to emerge. There are various activities daily at the museum so check their website for details in order to plan your visit effectively (http://www.nrm.org.uk/PlanaVisit/VisitYork/WhatsOn.aspx)… and the best thing about it all of course is that you don’t have to pay a penny to get in!
There are plenty of other museums in York though: for the history buffs, there is the Yorkshire Museum (displays about archaeology around Yorkshire); and the Castle Museum (a huge collection of various items brought together since the Georgian period, including 2 entirely reconstructed streets!); for chocolate lovers there’s the Chocolate Museum in King’s Square which has only opened recently so is generating a lot of attention… I haven’t managed to get there yet but it looks great fun!; the National Trust Treasurer’s House behind the Minster is worth visiting to see various reconstructed rooms from centuries gone by or to see the famous ghost cellar; the Merchant Adventurers Hall is one of the most spectacular timber framed guildhalls in Europe and has a great audio tour; and of course the Jorvik Viking centre which takes you on a ride through a reconstructed Viking village.
There are also a plethora of walking tours on offer which you can find out about at the York Visitor Information centre in Museum Street next door to the Assembly Rooms. I gave my group today a general walk around the city finishing the famous old street of The Shambles (see main photo), but there are guided walks available of the Snickleways (the many ancient passageways between the buildings of the city); confectionary themed walks; ghost walks; Roman history walks; guided walks of the walls; and there are also plenty of leaflets with self guided walks which you can do in your own time.
Shopping in York is also enough to distract you for most of your visit as the selection of high street stores is excellent, but also interspersed with some fabulous boutiques selling all sorts of things to attract the more discerning shopper whether you’re after clothing which is not the run-of-the-mill fashions, or gifts which are just that bit different from the gift shops you’d find in most towns.
One way or another, York is a city which has something for everyone and while it’s become especially popular with the staycationers in the past few years it’s location on the London to Edinburgh run places it in the ideal location to stop for a few days en route between the 2 capitals in order to find a piece of Yorkshire fayre and something most quintessentially British.