The ghosts of Roman legionaries, Viking raiders and Saxon princes still seem to linger in York’s cobbled streets. With its medieval spires and ramparts, this is a city for lovers of English history and heritage. However, the narrow lanes of York’s historic centre also offer lively bars, riverside cafés and trendy boutiques.
York: city layout
The River Ouse winds its way through York. The oldest part of the city lies on the east bank, with newer districts across the river.
A three-mile ring of ancient walls, pierced by fortified gateways such as Monk’s Bar, defines York’s historic centre, where the spires of York Minster soar above streets skirted by half-timbered houses.
Three blocks north of the river, High Petergate, Low Petergate and The Shambles link end to end to create the old town’s main thoroughfare. These streets are lined with boutiques and antiques shops.
Most of York’s compact city centre is pedestrianised during the day, so exploring on foot is a pleasure. Lendal Bridge and Ouse Bridge carry traffic across the river.
Top attractions in York
Gothic gargoyles gaze over the city from the spires of the 13th-century York Minster. Within this huge yet serene church is the Great East Window, the world’s largest medieval stained-glass window. If you’re feeling fit, you can climb the 275 steps to the top of the Minster’s central tower for panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside.
For more vistas, it is possible to climb the ramparts at the 13th-century Clifford’s Tower, the only surviving remains of a castle built by William the Conqueror.
You can find out about York’s pagan past at Jorvik Viking Centre, built on the site of a Viking settlement dating from more than 1,000 years ago.
Portraits of rich and powerful figures from York’s past hang in the 14th-century Merchant Adventurers’ Hall.
For a change of historical pace, you can cross Lendal Bridge to Holgate and the National Railway Museum, with its collection of gleaming steam locomotives and carriages.
The concierge recommends…
York’s historic centre, inside its ring of walls, is full of hotels, inns and restaurants with rooms. Many are housed in ancient buildings that have been turned into stylish places to sleep.
Racing fans, business travellers and visitors to concerts and trade fairs at York Racecourse can stay at hotels on Tadcaster Road, next to this busy venue. A couple of miles south of the city centre, this part of town is only a short bus or taxi ride from York’s train station.
Travelling by car? You’ll find no-frills hotels with free parking handily located in suburbs like Hopgrove, next to the A64 highway, which links York with Leeds and Scarborough. Hopgrove is also close to the park-and-ride facilities at Monk’s Cross Shopping Park, with fast and frequent bus services to the city centre.
York has a well-earned reputation as one of England’s gastronomic capitals.
Its restaurants serve produce and wild game from the rich farming country and wild moorlands nearby. The North Sea is not far off, so freshly caught seafood also appears on many menus. Other favourite local flavours include dry-cured York ham, which has a distinctive crumbly texture.
You’ll find contemporary European bistros and café-bars in the city centre and overlooking the River Ouse. Tex-Mex, Turkish, Indian, Thai and Chinese eateries are also dotted around The Shambles and Stonegate, in the town centre.
Traditional tea shops and cafés supply pots of Yorkshire tea, while confectioners sell mouth-watering chocolates.
York Food Festival, each September, is the high point of the city’s culinary calendar. Events include wine tastings, cookery classes and chef demonstrations.
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Shopping in the car-free streets of York’s compact historic centre is a pleasure. Residents find all their everyday needs here, while visitors might be more drawn to shops selling antiques, vintage clothing and arts and crafts, along with confectioners who maintain York’s chocolate-crafting traditions.
Locals have been buying household goods in The Shambles for 500 years. There are almost 90 market stalls in Shambles Market, selling fresh local produce such as fruit, vegetables and artisanal cheeses. You can also find arts and crafts from as far away as India and Nepal here, and snack on street food from North Africa and the Middle East.
High Petergate, Low Petergate and Stonegate are dotted with antiques dealers, antiquarian booksellers, vintage boutiques and gift shops. York Minster’s own gift shop sells faithful reproductions of medieval carvings, stained glass and tapestries, as well as music recordings by the Minster choir.
Chain-store outlets cluster around Coney Street, where you’ll find clothes, footwear, fashion accessories and mobile phones.
Best antiques and retro shops in York
York’s medieval heritage still influences the city’s cultural scene. But this is also a university town, and a large student body helps to support a lively nightlife in bars and clubs.
For many, a recital by the young singers of the Minster Choir is a high point. York’s National Centre for Early Music hosts the York Early Music Festival each July, as well as year-round performances of medieval, baroque and classical music.
York’s Grand Opera House provides lighter entertainment, including musicals from London’s West End, live bands and stand-up comedy. York Theatre Royal is a favourite venue for pantomime and youth theatre.
Unique to the city, the York Mystery Plays, performed every four years, recreate a medieval religious spectacle on wheeled stages that are pulled around the streets of York. The next production is due to take place in 2018.
Music bars and clubs in York
Families visiting York will find plenty of attractions to keep children of all ages entertained.
Kids can become archaeologists for a day at DIG York, where they can rummage for relics in four replica excavation pits.
There’s more recent history at York Castle Museum, with its lifelike reconstructions of 19th-century shops and houses, plus a huge collection of old-fashioned toys and games.
At the National Railway Museum, children can clamber aboard mighty steam locomotives and sit in classic carriages that once carried kings and queens.
Young (and older) Willy Wonka fans are bound to love York’s Chocolate Story, where they can find out how York became England’s chocolate capital, then sample the product in the shop and café.
Taking the family back in time in York