If you have never visited York, then you really should put it at the top of your bucket list. I fell in love with York within 10 minutes of walking around the winding, medieval, cobbled streets and I am already desperate to return as soon as possible.
As I only spent three days in York, I cannot bombard you with the pros and cons of different forms of transport (as I will in my Guide to Canterbury post).
However, I did travel by train from London King’s Cross Station to York Station, which took 2 hours 9 minutes. I would STRONGLY urge you to buy your train tickets really really really far in advance because if you buy them on the day, a single off peak ticket from London to York can cost up to £105.20. I booked mine just over a month in advance and it only cost me £17.40. Just a little pre-planning can save you so much money.
Outside the station there were plenty of taxis and a bus stop. As our Travelodge was only 10 minutes away from the station, we decided to walk. However, if your hotel is further away, it might be worth looking into the bus timetables or getting a taxi. We found that everywhere in York was walkable and we did not end up using any of the public transport- this saved money and counterbalanced the amount of food we were eating.
Places to Visit
The Shambles is a bustling jumble of shops and side alleys; full of tourists attempting to capture a perfect shot of the Diagon Alley-esque style street. It was almost impossible to get a photo of this beautiful, medieval street without people sneaking into shot. However, after many attempts and visiting the street on numerous occasions, I managed to capture it in a sudden moment of eerie emptiness.
Interestingly, even though the street had originally been a butchers row, from what I could see… it was completely meat free. (I may be wrong).
The minster was incredible. I live near Canterbury and I think that Canterbury Cathedral is magnificent but I dare to say that the York Minster was even more impressive. So much so, we missed lunch because we spent just over 3 hours in the Minster! As I am someone who loves food, something amazing has to distract me from lunch.
Honestly, I initially found the £10 tickets a bit pricey. However, as with most of the York tourist attractions, the tickets are valid for a year. Therefore I visited the Cathedral again just before I left York and it will still be valid when I return to York in November with my Mum and my Nan. Also, the ticket price is high because it has to fund the upkeep and running of the Cathedral. Vast amounts of money are required in order to maintain such a spectacular building.
Just like the rest of York, the Cathedral is rich with history. We managed to hop onto a guided tour (at no extra cost), which gave us an insight into so many fascinating aspects of the Cathedral that we would have otherwise missed. For example, one of the Victorian sculptures on the nave depicts the Virgin Mary bottle-feeding the baby Jesus rather than breast-feeding him!
Our guide was particularly knowledgeable about the stained glass windows and I must admit that I will never look as stained glass in the same way ever again. In fact, York Minster has more than half of the medieval stained glass windows that survive in England today. The Glazier Trust was restoring the Great East Window, when I visited in April (2017), so unfortunately there was scaffolding around it. However, it is the biggest medieval stained glass window in England- It is the size of a tennis court! It is also worth checking our The Five Sisters Window and The Rose Window.
The Minster also contains a crypt and a museum with an exhibition about the Roman ruins beneath the Cathedral in the Undercroft. There is also the opportunity, for an additional £5, to climb the central tower to the top of the minster. However, my stomach was rumbling by this point so we didn’t get to do it.
Unfortunately I did not take any pictures within the Jorvik centre but it was truly incredible. This year I have been studying a module about Vikings at University so it was fantastic to actually see and even touch some of the artifacts that I have been writing about. My favourite section was the ride through a reconstructed Viking village. We got to experience the smells and sounds of a Viking village as well as see waxwork faces that had been reconstructed from actual Viking skulls! The Jorvik centre is definitely worth a visit because it has something to engage everyone.
It is worth climbing the steep steps up to the remains of Clifford’s Tower, especially if you are an English Heritage Member because you then get in for free. From, the top you get a fantastic 360 degrees view over the city. The tower has served as both a prison, in which it imprisoned the Dick Turpin, and a royal mint. It was also the site of the anti-semitic massacre in 1190 in which the Jewish inhabitants of York committed suicide before they could be murdered or forcibly baptised.
Bettys Tea Room
Everyone that I spoke to about York strongly advised me to visit Bettys Tea Rooms. They have two in York, within 2 minutes of each other. Since they both have the same menu, I do not think it particularly matters which one you visit. However, the one on St. Helens Square was busier than the one on Stonegate. The menu was expensive and the queue was long… but the food and experience was worth it. The Bettys at Stonegate had a quaint interior; with wooden beams, antique cabinets and old fashioned cake trollies. You can have a proper meal at Bettys but we were sat right next to the cake trolley and the temptation for something sweet was too strong. The trolley was full of different flavoured Tortes, fresh raspberry Macaroons and Cheesecake. I went for the Vanilla Slice, which had the best puff pastry I have EVER tried. Even though they had every type of tea under the sun and milkshakes, we order tasty and refreshing homemade lemonade and homemade raspberry lemonade.
You cannot visit York without going on a Ghost tour. I am not one for horror stories and I am not the biggest fan of things that go bump in the night but I ended up on a tour that began at York’s most haunted pub- The Golden Fleece. I do not want to give away too much about the tour and I was not allowed to take photos but it was fascinating. Rather than telling us stories about ghosts, vampires and monsters, our guide told us true horrors of the past. Real life stories that opened my eyes to the ugly reality of human nature, the corruption laced within the city and the dangers that have existed and are still present in York. Our guide was extremely enthusiastic, engaging and interactive. Also, at the beginning of the tour, he explained that at any point we could leave and that he would not take our money (£5) until the very end. As someone who was slightly apprehensive about going on a ghost tour, the knowledge that I could leave if I did not enjoy it was surprisingly comforting. Nevertheless, I laughed the whole way through, I almost cried at one point and I was truly captivated for the entire walk! It is a must!
There was so much to see, do and eat in York that I could not get everything done within just three days (perfect excuse to organise another trip). I think everyone should experience a few days in York and if you have already booked a trip- Have an AMAZING time.
Ps: If you are from the South of England (or anywhere below Yorkshire) take warm clothes! I visited in April and took lots of spring clothes…. and it ended up snowing three times. I have never been so cold in my life!