24 Hours in York: A First-Timers Guide

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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 in York


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
Top of York Minster

View from York Minster bell tower

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


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


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.

Book the Ghost Bus tour here.

York, England
This building is older than my country!

Where to eat in York

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 in York

There are actually quite a few hotels in York. However, my mom and I managed to visit multiple UK cities when special events 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.

We ended up booking an apartment through Airbnb instead (get some free Airbnb credit here!), which worked for us.

But if you're more of a hotel type, here are the ones we would have checked out if they hadn't been booked solid:

York from above

How to get to York

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. You can usually buy train 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

The best tours in York

We only had 24 hours to explore York, but if you have more time to spend, here are some more tours worth checking out:

READ NEXT: The Adorable Town of Beverley, England

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


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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  1. national railway museum, Jorvik, Dig, Yorkshire museum, whip ma whop ma gate (just for the name!) a walk round the walls, the fudge kitchen, yorkshire soap company shop, chocolate story

    Going to York in a few weeks. This post made me infinitely more excited. Thank you!

    I loved York! I too just had 24 hours there. It is such a gorgeously ancient city! I would totally love there! My favorite things besides the York Minster & shambles were the Jorvick Viking center & the Dungeon. Definitely two fun attractions!

      I certainly hope to go back and explore some more!

    I was in York in April 2017, and thought it was a charming, intriguing place. We walked the city walls, such a great experience and a good vantage point for photos, walked through The Shambles (I think you and I got precisely the same pictures!) and tasted some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had at the chocolate shop there-can’t remember the name but it says it is the oldest in York. Another great experience is climbing up to Clifford’s Tower with all its horrific history (climbing to the top is another great angle for photos). We were there only for 24 hours, but definitely plan to go there again. We stayed at Middleton’s, an easy walk to all the sights. On our way out of town, we even saw something I’d been looking for and was disappointed as I thought I’d missed it: Whip-ma-whop-ma Gate!!

      It’s definitely a city I plan to return to!

    I live in York, and it’s amazing! Grantid my days go by where I don’t really go outside that often, and I can’t remember the last time I actually went into town for some Shopping or Hanging out. But I see the Minster from my school, and I’ve walked the entire lengths of the bar walls. I have been in the Museum before, which was great, but I mainly love the Meuseum Gardens because it’s FULL of Squirrels! I have been many times to the Theatre Royal to see Theatre Productions, the last one I saw was Things I Know To Be True. Also, I’ve been on a ghost tour before and since I was younger then it freaked me out. But I’m happy to say I live in the most Haunted Place in England.

      It seems like it would be a pretty cool place to live!

    Just rediscovered this post as I’m planning to go there next month! I can’t believe it’s one of the few cities I haven’t actually been to in the UK! Pretty sure I’m going to love it. 🙂

      I have a feeling you will, too!

    I stumbled across this article whilst searching for cities to visit in Europe, York is my home town and I now live only 20 minutes from the outskirts. It was so lovely to read through so many kind and wonderful comments about lovely York. It truely is a beautiful city but the surrounding areas are not to be missed either especially the North Yorkshire Dales and Moors if you love countryside. One of my favourite things about York is that you can be in a busy city centre with all the amazing history and tourist attractions and then 20 minutes later in the stunning North Yorkshire countryside. I hope you return to York again sometime!

      I definitely hope to return and see more of that part of England! I was in Hull and Beverly earlier this year and really enjoyed that, too.

    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.

      I imagine it must be beautiful at the holidays!

    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.

      Those sorts of city passes are definitely great if you already plan to do a lot of the included activities!

    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!)

      York is definitely a must-see! Glad you found this post helpful!

    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.

      It seems like a nice part of England to call home!

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