Situated amidst some of Britain’s wildest and most scenic countryside at the point where the River Ouse meets the River Fosse, the city of York gathers together medieval, Roman and Viking history, English tradition and a thoroughly modern city vibrancy to produce a destination that is simultaneously fascinating, entertaining and educational. York is an almost unending succession of surprises, discoveries and amazing things to see and do; with so much going on you’re unlikely to get bored in York whether staying for a few days or a fortnight. However, some aspects of York are truly unmissable so if you’re planning a holiday in or near this most historic city here’s our guide to the very best of York’s attractions.
Dating from medieval times, York’s defensive Bar Walls (a ‘bar’ is a large gateway) are the most intact surviving example of city walls in the UK. Stretching for two miles around York’s perimeter at a general height of thirteen meters, the walls can be walked upon and provide spectacular views of the city. The best place to start the walk is in the Museum Gardens; ten acres of beautifully-maintained botanical gardens that contain a number of historic buildings and ruins including St Mary’s Abbey, St Leonard’s Hospital and a Roman fortress as well as the York Observatory.
The Yorkshire Museum itself has benefited from a recent refurbishment and houses one of the most comprehensive collections of archaeological artefacts in Britain, including a rare sword and helmet dating from Anglian times. The museum also hosts fine geological and biological collections. York benefits from many museums, covering subjects such as farming, the English Civil War, military aviation and more but if you only visit one other museum during your stay in York, go for the National Railway Museum. Train enthusiasts will be in heaven: this is the largest railway museum in the world and contains three hundred rail vehicles and around a million exhibits covering three centuries of railway history. Famous locomotives here include the Flying Scotsman, the Mallard and the Evening Star.
For a more interactive historic experience there are few attractions that can match the Jorvik Viking Centre. Fascinating fun, York’s premier family attraction recreates the sights, sounds and smells(!) of the ancient city (Jorvik is the Viking name for York) on a magical ride that takes back a thousand years in time. Braver souls might like to steel themselves for a trip to the York Dungeon to learn about the darker and more nefarious side of York’s history. Here you’ll meet, in the flesh, famous York villains such as Guy Fawkes and Dick Turpin and learn of their fates, as well as finding out what happened to witches, Vikings and gladiators in York’s olden times.
If all of this exploration of York’s history leaves you feeling a little hungry and thirsty, you couldn’t be in a better place. It was once rumoured that three-hundred and sixty-five pubs lay within York’s city walls – one for each day of the year. Whilst this may not be strictly accurate there is definitely no shortage of fine places to partake of traditional English ale and a bite to eat. Otherwise, York’s most iconic eatery is perhaps Bettys Café Tea Rooms. Since the 1930s this elegant and historic art-deco café has become famed for its traditional afternoon teas, although breakfast, lunch and dinner are served too. However, York is crammed to the rafters with fine restaurants, cafes and bars to suit every palate, appetite and budget.
If you fancy a stroll along narrow cobbled streets lined with beautiful half-timbered buildings, don’t miss The Shambles. Voted the UK’s most picturesque street in 2010, The Shambles is the perfect spot to pick up souvenirs, stop for a coffee or simply admire the amazing architecture of the oldest street in York (it’s more than nine hundred years old). Shopaholics will enjoy York because alongside its many quaint and eclectic independent shops there are plenty of high street names too, as well as a designer outlet and a daily open air market featuring a hundred stalls and selling fresh local produce.
In time-honoured fashion, we’ve saved York’s most magnificent, inspiring and impressive landmark until last. York Minster is simply breathtaking. A masterpiece of Gothic architecture that took more than a quarter of a century to complete, York Minster is the largest medieval cathedral in northern Europe. For the best overall views of York and the surrounding countryside, climbing the Minster’s central tower, known as the Lantern Tower, is a must. On the clearest day it is possible to see the city of Lincoln almost sixty miles south of York.