If you ask any travel blogger about a particular destination, chances are they’ll say ‘xx has ALWAYS been on my bucket list!’ Well, York, UK actually HAS always been on mine. I remember seeing the beautiful pictures of York Minister Cathedral when I was freshly landed in England thinking: THIS is what Britain looks like! Five years later, I’ve finally made it and my fairytale English city dreams were fulfilled.
We hopped on one of the fancy new LNER trains with coloured red/green lights per seat, so you know if there’s any free space in the carriage – it looked like Christmas! The journey from Kings Cross is just under two hours up to York, Yorkshire.
Quite quickly my time in the North of England was spent looking at real estate shops and attempting mental math to figure out how much money I’d need to put away each month to afford a deposit on a Georgian house. It was one of the quaintest places I’ve visited and I loved every minute of it. People are SO friendly and hospitable and there’s a lively food / drink scene and of course, shed loads of history. One particularly infamous Brit hails from here – read on to find out who!
If you’re looking for a weekend away to a destination packed with activities for the whole family: York is it! Here’s what I suggest as the perfect weekend away in Yorkshire, especially for history lovers.
Sights to see in York
York City Walls
If you train up, you’ll very quickly notice when you get out of the train station that there is a giant city wall hugging the medieval centre of York. Within the walls, lies beautifully preserved buildings and cobblestone streets maintaining the authentic architectural feel of the city.
To get yourself acquainted with the city, what I suggest is to take a wander along the 3.4 km York City Walls to orient yourself. If you have time to go the full way around would take about 2 hours. There’s lots of places you can get down and explore the streets below. The walls are England’s longest medieval town walls and each year 2.5 million people retrace the steps of the Roman soldiers who used to guard them 2,000 years ago! You also get stunning view and a well framed shot of York Minister.
La piece de la resistance! Northern Europe’s largest medieval gothic cathedral, York Minister is a sight to see! It took over 250 years to build (twice the age of my country, casual), and is the highest point on the York skyline. Nowadays, if anyone requests planning permission to build new infrastructure taller than the Minister, they’re automatically rejected! If you take a look at my instastories you’ll see the cracks of York from the crypt of the building, and the story of the incredible engineering works done to repair it.
One of the most beautiful parts of the Cathedral is the stained glass, Great East Window, the oldest medieval stained glass in the country. When the light dances off the reflections, the space fills up with colours. While I visited, there was a queue waiting to do your own little photo shoot in front of it – classic Brits and their queues! It’s well worth lining up for!
Cost: Adults £11.50 – £16.50 OR included in York Pass
Maybe I can blame my North American education, but I never actually realised that vikings were in the UK, I assumed they were all confined to the Nordics (although fun fact: there’s an 11th century viking settlement in Canada at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland). I was a little skeptical about visiting a viking centre and thought that maybe it would be a cringey tourist attraction but everyone I know who visited the space before raved about it, so I thought I’d give it a go.
It’s located not far from the Shambles, and by the time we got down to it in the morning, there was already a giant line 20 mins long waiting to get in! Once inside, you travel back in time to get a glance into 10th century York, including sights, sounds and smells (yes… smells) of the town.
I thought it was really well done with a good level of family friendly fun, but also enough interesting and well laid out content for adults, too. There’s an interactive ride you can take which guides you through how the old Jorvik viking settlement would have looked back in the day, as well as stories about the people, food, customs and life. By 1066AD, 15,000 people were living in Jorvik making it England’s second city.
In the artefacts section they have a huge variety of vikings trinkets, household items, jewellery, socks etc. They even have a hair comb which has fossilised lice in them! It’s located right around the corner of my favourite part of the entire thing: a giant log of fossilised poop … Yes. Ye Olde Viking turd. How many places in the world have that accolade! It’s worth visiting just for that!
Cost: £12.50 OR included in York Pass
Let us all put our hands together and give praise to York for delivering us such iconic chocolate like; KitKat, Smarties, Aero, Quality Street, After Eight, Yorkie, Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and Rowentree chocolates. *Praise be*
One of the chocolate apprenticeships who worked at Rowentree, George Cadbury, then broke off and went to create his own, now iconic brand. It’s thought that the rivalry between the two was inspiration for Roald Dhal’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book.
The city creates 80,000 tonnes of confectionary each year, and 5 million bars of KitKits every day – York really is a sweet place. This three story interactive attraction takes you through the history of confectionary in York, all the way back to South America when cocoa was discovered. The guides on the tour are actors and play the part well, dressing in period costume and asking questions (with candy rewards) as you navigate through the history of chocolate York. You get to meet the founding families of York, learn about the impact bars like KitKat have had on the world, and at the end make your own chocolate lollipop!
The experience is 90 min long, last admission at 4pm daily.
Cost: £12.95 or FREE with York Pass
York’s Shambles are the perfect example that Harry Potter is real, and us muggles just can’t see it.
During the day there’s a crowded market with food and trinkets (lots of Harry Potter related goodies), but way back when, it would have had store fronts with blocks of meat hanging to dry, bakeries, watch makers etc. Nowadays, there’s lots of HP swag and tourists. My best pro tip would be to go and see it after the sun goes down and everyone has headed home. I think this is the best way to enjoy it. You might even get lucky like us and get it fully to yourself! That’s when it’s truly magical.
Clifford’s Tower was built by William the Conqueror and has great scenic views of York stretching all the way to York Moors. You can also see two original chocolate factory buildings: Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Nestle off in the distance. The castle is crooked and located up on a hill and used to be a prison for years.
It’s also meant to be haunted. I learned on the Ghost Walk that in 1190, 150 local Jews locked themselves in the tower and committed mass suicide in fear of being forced to convert to Christianity, or killed. If anyone knows the story of Mount Masada in Israel, it’s similar and just as heart wrenching.
Cost: £4.20, OR included with York Pass
Cruise along the Ouse with City Cruises York – by boat
After having done a City Cruise with Ellie from the Wandering Quinn several years ago, I’ve been convinced that the best way to see the city is from the water. On my last (rainy) day in York, we hopped aboard the site seeing cruise from Kings Staith and went on the 1 hour tour around the central River Ouse and watched as the mill houses along the banks sailed by.
Unfortunately, as it was raining and foggy, it was difficult to fully appreciate the scenery. But, as this is in England, there is always a backup rain plan! So, we left our outside rooftop seats and headed indoors for refuge where warm drinks (and wine!) was for sale which helped warm us up.
I was shown some pictures of the true beauty from the water by one of the first mates and I can assure you, if the weather had cooperated, it would have been lovely!
Cost: £10 or FREE with York Pass.
Do you believe in ghosts? Fans of the supernatural unite in York! Apparently this is one of the most haunted cities in Britain and after hearing a bit of the gruesome history, I can understand why! This tour was established in 1973 and is meant to be the first ghost tour in the world!
We met our very eccentric guide at 8pm where a small crowd was gathering at ‘the pub that always floods’, the Kings Arm not far from where the CityCruise tour docks.. He was dressed in a period costume and had a booming, raspy voice which told us tales of the macabre, torture and execution from the Romans, the Vikings the Plague and modern day York. I would say the tour verges more towards a theatre performance than a regular walking tour and engages audiences from all age groups. The tour isn’t scary, and lasts for about an hour ish and takes you across the city to ghost ‘hot spots’ where paranormal sightings are still seen today!
Meeting point: Kings Arm Pub, 3 King’s Staith, York YO1 9SN nightly at 8pm.
Cost: £5 cash on arrival
This sensory experience visualises Van Gough’s life through projections of his creations onto the walls of York St. Mary’s church. You watch as his paintings dance to life and engulf the space with a beautiful and relaxing soundtrack playing over head. The whole experience takes no longer than an hour. Once you’ve watched it all, through the back there’s another small room with a VR experience where you get to walk in Van Gough’s shoes and see the famous sights that he got inspiration from to paint. I really, really enjoyed the whole thing.
The price is a bit steep at £13/pp (and £5 extra for the VR), but if you use your York Pass it’s included in the price. Either way, it’s 100% worth it (I’m not being paid to say that).
The exhibition is running from July 5th – January 5th, 2020.
Cost: £13 entry + £5 for VR or included in York Pass
York St Mary’s
York YO1 9RN
Have you figured out who the infamous Brit who hails from York is? It’s Guy Fawkes – the terrorist who attempted to blow up the House of Parliament. Remember, remember the fifth of November.
Looking for more UK staycation ideas? Take a look at my other City Guides or subscribe for more:
- City Guide: Sheffield, UK
- City Guide: Lancaster, UK
- Log House Holiday in the Cotswolds
- Discovering Dorset and the Jurassic Coast
My trip was paid for by VisitYork.