A First-Timers Guide to York

York, England

In the past handful of years, I've managed to visit the United Kingdom a grand total of 5 times. It's officially the country (outside of North America) that I've visited the most.

I've spent time in quite a few cities in the good ol' UK, from Edinburgh to Glasgow to Belfast to London to Oxford to Chester to Liverpool. But somehow I'd never managed to visit York.

Kind of crazy, considering that every single person I know who's been to York just raves about it.

So when I was planning my mom's “When I'm 64 Tour” around the UK, I knew I wanted to include at least one day in York.

As it turns out, you can actually see a lot in just 24 hours in York.

24 Hours in York, England

Here's my guide to York for the first-time visitor:

What to see

YORK MINSTER

York Minster

The number one attraction in York is undoubtedly York Minster, the towering gothic cathedral that can be seen from many points in town. The church – full name “The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York” – is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe.

Inside York Minster

The current gothic construction dates back to the 1200s, though there's been a church on this site since at least 627. Visiting this site, then, is kind of a must, even if you aren't that religious.

York Minster

My mom and I spent some time gawking at the architecture inside the main nave, transepts, and the chapter house. We listened to the famous York Minster choir preparing for their evensong. And then my mom headed down to the historical display in the church's undercroft while I climbed up the 275 steps leading to the top of the central tower.

Inside York Minster

From atop York Minster, you can see all of York and beyond. The ascent up the tower's steep, winding steps isn't easy (and definitely not for the claustrophobic), but the view is SO worth it.

York Minster

View from York Minster bell tower

Even on an overcast day, I could appreciate how pretty York is from this vantage point.

THE SHAMBLES

York's history dates back for centuries – millennia, even. It was founded in 71 AD by the Romans, and has been a major trade city ever since. Strolling through the city's old center is a must, but my favorite part was the Shambles. This short, narrow street has timber-framed buildings that lean over the street and make you feel like you've walked into a scene from Harry Potter.

The Shambles in York

This once would have been where you would go to buy fresh meat in York. Today, though, the Shambles is lined with restaurants, pubs, shops, tea rooms, and more.

The Shambles in York

GO ON A GHOST TOUR

With so much history, York also has a lot of ghosts. Or, so they tell me. If you take a stroll through the old city center and Shambles in the later afternoon/early evening, you're guaranteed to see at least 2 or 3 people dressed in gravedigger outfits passing out pamphlets for ghost tours.

There are several nighttime walking tours of York to pick from, but since it was a little drizzly my mom and I decided to buy a ticket for the Ghost Bus. It's a mixture of ghost tour and comedy show, which takes place aboard an old routemaster bus painted midnight black. We learned about the history of York as we drove around the city and got made fun of by our conductor/tour guide.

Was it scary? No. Was it entertaining? You bet.

York, England

This building is older than my country!

Where to eat

I'm by no means a foodie and will never pretend to be, but I got a recommendation from a friend from York and decided to take him up on it. He said we HAD to stop in at Bettys Cafe and Tea Rooms for tea at the very least.

This Yorkshire staple was opened in 1936 by Frederick Belmont, who, after being inspired after traveling on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary, had the interior of the tea rooms designed to resemble a luxury ocean liner. The cafe in St. Helen's Square is almost always packed, but we decided it was worth it to wait in line for 15 minutes for a table. We ended up having lunch – and delicious desserts off the treat trolley!

Bettys Cafe and Tea Rooms in York

If you want to have afternoon tea here, you should probably book in advance.

Where to stay

There are actually quite a few hotels in York. However, my mom and I managed to visit multiple UK cities when special event were going on during this trip. For example, the York Races were happening on the day we arrived, meaning packed trains, long taxi queues, and absolutely booked up hotels. When I went to start looking for accommodation 3 months before our trip, every single hotel in town was already sold out.

So we decided to rent an apartment off Airbnb instead. I usually won't turn to Airbnb when I'm just staying somewhere for one night, but since we didn't really have a choice I decided to go for it anyway. The adorable apartment we rented ended up being perfect. It was within walking distance of everything we wanted to see, and was super cute and comfortable.

York from above

(Also, PS, you can get a $25 Airbnb credit here!)

How to get there

York is well-connected to most other major cities in the UK by train. The train station is within walking distance of the main part of town (and taxi rides are short and affordable). We came in on the train from Edinburgh and left on the train to head to Liverpool – I highly recommend train travel in the UK!

My best tip is to book your tickets in advance. Virgin Trains sells tickets up to 12 weeks in advance, and the sooner you buy your tickets, the more you save. We paid less than 15 GBP each for most of our tickets by booking 2 months in advance – definitely a deal!

York, England

Have you ever been to York? What else would you suggest doing there?

 

39 Comments

  • Rashaad says:

    I’m so thrilled to read a blog entry about York! When I studied for my Master’s in the U.K., I lived in Leeds (which is roughly 30 minutes by train from York) and visited the city several times. During my first week in Yorkshire, my coursemates and I visited York and we played a fun little game having to do with the sites in the city.

    Did you visit the National Railway Museum? I’ve been there twice (when my father came to visit me, I took him there) and it just might be my favorite museum. It helps that the NRM is free.

    I also cycled through York once and it certainly is a very lovely city. Great place to cycle in.
    Rashaad recently posted..Home Sweet Home – Graduation

    • Amanda says:

      I really loved York, too – both me and my mom were sad that we didn’t plan more time there! I’ll definitely be back.

      And no, we didn’t have time for the railway museum, but thanks for letting me know it’s worth visiting! Next time for sure.

  • So jealous of your photos. When I visited York it was pouring rain and all my photos have rain drops in them! *facepalm*

  • rob says:

    I have a pretty pathological dislike of England (well, the English mostly) and I have avoided the UK for years. Decades, actually. Including the psychotically “designed” imitation of an airport that is Heathrow. I did like Edinburgh and Glasgow well enough the few times I have visited, so perhaps it’s time to revisit southern Scotland too. York certainly seems nice from photos. And I’ve heard good things about Wales. And then there’s Ireland, north and south..

    • Amanda says:

      I love Edinburgh, too! York is similar in architecture in some ways – you might like it!

      As for England/the English… well, my boyfriend is technically a UK citizen, so I like them pretty well. 😉

  • Renuka says:

    I know somebody who stays near York. So, whenever I’m in England I am sure I will be visiting York, too. Looks like a lovely city – sophisticated architecture, lovely walking lanes and great eateries.
    Renuka recently posted..Have Fun With Your Travel Photos!

  • Lucy says:

    Love York, it’s such a great city – love the walk around the city walls and the Castle Museum is one of my favourites, it has a really bizarre mix of totally unconnected exhibits but somehow it works really well!
    Lucy recently posted..A weekend in Cheltenham

  • Britt says:

    York looks lovely. There is so much of the UK that I haven’t even thought about visiting and then a post like this pops up and I think- wow the UK surprises me.

    I do love Chester though! My aunt, uncle and her three kids live there and I’ll be spending Christmas with them there this year, like I did a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful city! I also think its my safety blanket a bit for my trip in Europe that is coming up- if I get really sick, or get a bit of travel burn out I think I’ll be rocking up on my aunt’s doorstep so she can look after me 🙂
    Britt recently posted..My First Aid Kit For Travel

    • Amanda says:

      Chester is a pretty great safety blanket! Such a pretty city! But yes, the UK has lots of surprises – way more to see/do than you would expect since it’s a relatively small country.

  • kami says:

    I’ve visited York during my first trip to the UK, in 2006 and I don’t remember it that pretty! Actually I remember being really disappointed with the city as everyone keeps raving about it and I just didn’t feel it. But it looks and sounds so much different in here! Now I’m really thinking of revisiting, just to see how much it has changed!
    kami recently posted..Is it safe to travel to Ukraine?

  • Mel says:

    Ghost Bus sounds so cool, I wish I had done that when I was there! I love the really little streets in York, so beautiful.
    Mel recently posted..Interview: Duncan D’s Road Trip Through America, Part 2

  • jen says:

    great pictures, thanks for sharing. i love everything about the uk!!

  • Mike says:

    Lovely stuff. And soooooo sorry I couldn’t come to meet you! Next time for sure.

    Re. getting to York, if you’re on a budget, there’s a Megabus+ service from London (St Pancras station), which comprises of a train-ride half the way, and a bus the rest of the way – for prices ranging from £5 to £13 (that’s the complete price, train+bus). Insanely affordable, but not as comfy (or fun) as taking the train the whole way – although yes, book those train tickets at least a month in advance…

    Glad to see you got into Betty’s. 🙂 Best scones in England – and they even serve them warm, with fresh clotted cream….

    Regarding The Shambles: “Shambles” is the medieval word for “butchers” – and it’s a curious fact that this street, now so gorgeously picturesque, once ran with blood and offal and all sorts of other horrible things, because five hundred years ago it’s where all the butchers had their shops (the cattle market was next door, now called Saturday Market and selling very different things to tourists).

    Halfway down The Shambles is a shop that sells Yorkshire confection. Nobody should ever leave York without a bag of cinder toffee and peanut brittle in their hands. Nobody.
    Mike recently posted..So You Want To Be A Travel Writer?

  • Yok says:

    Hey Amanda: You removed my comment. 🙁

    Your post features a picture of a building and you share that the building is older than the US…but you don’t share what was actually in the building! haha

    Did you jump in and explore it? A restaurant perhaps?

    Perhaps my train of logic wasn’t clear and you suspected comment spam? 🙂

    Sooo…was there anything of interest in the building or was it the spectacle of being older than the US that appealed to you?
    Yok recently posted..ข้อมูลท่อง เที่ยวปีนัง: Beginner’s Guide

  • What a lovely post Amanda!

    Yes, I’ve been to York. I’m from Manchester and York is just literally next door LOL! The best part about Yorkshire is the fact that it’s pretty huge (by British standards) and is a Roman and Viking county. Yes, Vikings!

    Plus, if anyone is interested in the British monarchy then you might have heard of the War of the Roses – red and white. The red rose represented the House of Lancaster and the white rose represented the House of York. In the end the Red Rose won with Henry Tudor defeating Richard III (White Rose) and the rest as you know, is history!

    When we were young, even though Manchester is actually part of Lancaster (see what I did there!) we nevertheless, always used to go to the Yorkshire Dales, the Yorkshire Moors and the Peak District which are some of Britain’s best countryside. Lots of wild rugged land, cliffs, rocks and sea. When I get homesick, this is what I think of!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted..4 Days in Prague – 40 Things to Do!

  • Wow, the interior of the York Minister looks awesome!! The architecture and statues must have taken quite a while to build. York sounds like a lovely and cozy place! 🙂
    Luda @ Adventures with Luda recently posted..The 5 BEST Cafes to Get Work Done in San Francisco

  • Priya says:

    York looks lovely, beautiful pictures and post.. view from atop York Minster is worth the climb for sure. Will be adding to our list for our next visit to UK.
    Priya recently posted..Candy Cane arches of Cordoba

  • John says:

    Hi Amanda, visitors from the USA to York may be interested in a detour to Selby, a small town nearby. Selby Abbey was founded in 1069 and is beautiful inside and out. Of particular interest is the Washington Window, a stained glass window dating from the fourteenth century featuring the coat of arms of the Wessington family, John Wessington was the great, great, great.. .. grandfather of George Washington. It is considered to be the possible origin of the Stars and Stripes; the stars depicted in the window are actually five-pointed spurs, the stripes another heraldic device. The Wessington family were from the North East of England and had connections with Selby Abbey, John’s daughter was married there. I think John was an architect and also designed nearby Heminborough Church. Yours, John (a Selebian!)

  • sarah j says:

    Have always loved visiting York and im lucky enough to live in harrogate only a short distance away so lucky me! Lost count of mine and my famalies many visits to York Minster aswell as Jorvik the viking museum.
    sarah j recently posted..The beauty of York

  • Cyndi says:

    What a great article! I used to live in England years ago and on the ONE opportunity I had to visit York, it snowed so I was unable to go. This summer I’m taking my parents on a tour of the U.K., and I told them York is a must-see on the tour list. Your article has been really helpful in planning our York part, so thank you! (Btw, super clever name for a blog!! I love the little Hobbit hole in the header!)

  • Nikki-ann says:

    I’d recommend getting a York Pass. I’ve used one a couple of times and saved quite a bit of money! You pay for the pass and it gets you free entry into the tourist attractions and discounts on food, drink and gifts etc.

  • Chris Young says:

    Was very lucky to grow up 25 miles away from York. A stunning place – particularly around Xmas at night. The minster lit up, shopping in the Christmas markets, is heaven.
    Chris

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