Debbie shares her insider knowledge of this eclectic, shambling city.
I have carried on a long-distance romance with York, in the north of England, since my husband and I spent a night there over a decade ago. So when a friend tells me that this is where she is relocating, I jump at the chance to spend a day helping her ‘settle in’. Fortunately, this coincides with a trip to Scotland to see my parents, so York is a mere three-and-a-half hours by train.
The sun is shining when I arrive around lunchtime and the city walls, which can be so imposing on a grey day, make me feel as though the city is opening its arms in welcome. Not wanting to waste any precious time, my bags are dropped and I hit the town. Despite it being a few years since my last visit, not much has changed, which is strangely comforting.
First, I head to Newgate Market, which is open each day and is a great place to buy fresh produce. York has an abundance of places to eat, and the cream teas at Betty’s Tea Rooms are probably the most famous fare, if a little touristy. However, given the beautiful weather I decide lunch should be alfresco. With its narrow medieval streets, York has few outdoor eating areas, unless you head down to the banks of the River Ouse, but I know a little roof terrace which serves tasty tapas and a cooling glass of Sangria. La Tasca is one of a chain of restaurants, but the food is cooked fresh and the small plates are both affordable and just enough to sustain you for the afternoon ahead.
At this point most people would head straight for the Minster, but I have other plans. Fairfax House is situated right in the heart of York and is one of the finest examples of a Georgian townhouse I have ever visited. Oh, and of course, it's worth taking a walk past the Minsiter on your way.
With my cultural thirst abated for now, a bit of retail therapy is on the cards. Shambles (more commonly referred to as ‘The Shambles’) is possibly the most famous street in York and thanks to its higgledy-piggledy leaning buildings, has officially been voted the most picturesque street in Britain. Home to many gift shops, it’s certainly worth taking a walk along. From discount designer Mulberry handbags and one-of-a-kind teddy bears, to hand made lace (there’s even a shop just for cat lovers), York does not disappoint serious shoppers.
All shopped out, it’s time to take a breather in the oldest pub in the city, Ye Old Starre Inn. While relaxing in the courtyard with a cool glass of cider, the signs on the wall tell of the historic significance of the pub, which dates back to 1644.
Next I ask Fred, a local, the best place to have dinner. He directs me to the Guy Fawkes Inn, famous as the birthplace of the instigator of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.
Located in the shadows of York Minster, the Guy Fawkes Inn serves hearty pub food in a dining room lit by candles and gas lamps. The nooks and crannies in which the tables are nestled offer the perfect spot for plotting, or just having a chat about the day’s events. Real ales are the order of the day from the bar, with an ever-changing line-up ensuring you’ll want to go back time and time again. And if you plan to try them all, it may be best to book a room upstairs!
As I have an early start in the morning, I call it a night, with a plan to tackle the Minster in the morning.
If you have the time, and the budget, consider staying overnight in the Deansgate Hotel. Not only is the hotel luxurious, but also breakfast is served in the dining room which overlooks York Minster, the city’s medieval cathedral, which is a perfect way to start the day. Sadly for me breakfast is on the hoof as I try to squeeze in the two-hour walk around the Minster. The building which stands today is actually the third version to be built, taking 250 years to complete from the beginning of construction in 1220.
Although the Minster is open 9–5 most days, the best time to see inside is when the morning sun streams through the stained glass windows, casting a rainbow of colours on the intricate stonework which lines the cathedral. And, if you’re fit enough, it’s worth climbing the 275 spiral steps to the top of the Central Tower for views of the city that you simply won’t find anywhere else.
And so, as my train departure time draws closer, it’s with a heavy heart that I leave the city walls and head back north, but I know it won’t be the last time I give in to the yield of York.
Manchester and Leeds are the nearest international airports
Book rail tickets from any UK station to York at thetrainline.com.
View the menu at the Guy Fawkes Inn.
Find out what’s on at Fairfax House.
Learn more about York at York Tourism.
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