Join me on my 3 day trip to York, in Yorkshire, northern England. Nestled amidst the Vale of York, at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, and east of the formidable Pennine mountain range, York was first settled just post-Ice Age and has changed hands many times, from Roman to Anglo-Saxon to Viking to Norman. And it is layered in charms from the iconic Shambles, York Minster, and the famous walls to a multitude of engaging museums, ghost walks, art installations, tea shops and pubs. Here’s my thumbnail itinerary…now get on your walking shoes, and let’s do this!!
Driving into York is a fairly straightforward proposition from any direction. Lodgings both inside and outside York’s historic walls can direct you to park in one of the many public lots (carparks, in British English), although some of the hotels have their own lots (for a fee as well). This trip, I chose to sample a couple of lodgings between the Ouse and the smaller Foss rivers, then try a lodging on the east, quieter side of the Ouse. I parked at Marygate Carpark and walked to my first lodging, Guy Fawkes Inn.
After checking in, I headed straight to the Shambles, which is the oldest street in York, and dates from about 1000 AD – arguably one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval streets. “Shambles” is from the medieval word “shamel”, meaning booth or bench. It was previously called “Flesshammel”, a word that means flesh – this street used to house butchers shops (there were 26 as late as 1872). The buildings are charmingly topsy-turvy and must be the inspiration for Harry Potter films’ Diagon Alley. It’s a charming amble to help get oriented in York, sticking your head into the shops, shrines, and alleys.
Next stop was Jorvik Viking Centre (Jorvik is the Viking name for York), a place I first visited a few years ago on a backpacking trip with my teen daughter. And again, it enchanted. Note that I purchased the York Archaeological Trust’s Pastport, which allowed me to visit not only Jorvik, but also Barley Hall, the Richard III and Henry VII Experiences at different points along the walls of York, as well as Dig!, an experiential place for younger folk. After a charming 30-45 minutes spent exploring Jorvik and immersing myself in Viking York, I headed out to Barley Hall, a medieval hall fortunately re-discovered in the 1980s. More about Barley Hall and the other Pastport experiences here!
I knew I would head to all the Pastport spots on my sojourn, but was pretty hungry for a spot of English comfort food, so headed to Betty’s Cafe at Stonegate next for a midday repast. Betty’s has two locations, but I went to the quieter spot upstairs on Stonegate.
After that fabulous meal, I headed to the Merchant Adventurers Hall, another medieval building which claims to be the largest guild hall in the UK, and the brief, self-guided tour is certainly worth the 30 minutes to an hour you’ll take to visit – longer if you’re an architecture or history buff.
I hadn’t yet walked enough for the first day, so headed to the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar (Monk Bar, the tallest of four gatehouses in the York walls, was originally built as a small fortress. Also the last of the gates that had a working portcullis, which was finally retired in the early 1970s.) The Richard III Experience is an interesting pocket museum and a good way to understand the War of the Roses (Yorkists were represented by white roses, Lancastrians by red).
I wandered the wall for a bit, then headed toward Toft Green to check out the York Brewery, and learn more about how cask ales, also known as real ales, are brewed and distributed, along with just over a pint of samples. Finally, as twilight deepened, I ambled back to the Guy Fawkes Inn for a very welcome dinner, after loads of history, shopping, and 3 miles of walking!!
A haunted sleep later, I enjoyed the included breakfast buffet-plus-hot dish. The kippers I selected as my hot dish were superb. I then checked out and moved to my next lodging, Judges Court Hotel – another great spot, reputed to be haunted as well… perhaps by some of the criminals sentenced to death by the judges who lodged here.
The first stop on Day 2 was the York Castle Museum, which is part of the York Museum Trust. Confusingly named (the museum is set within two former prisons, and atop the remains of York Castle, originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068), it’s a wonderful spot to while away a couple hours, and is engaging for young and old. And if you’re feeling really energetic, walk to the top of Clifford’s Tower next to it.
Next on the agenda – Yorkshire Museum, another of the attractions covered by the York Museums Trust card. The museum, accompanying gardens and abbey ruins were truly spectacular, and remains one of my favorite places in York. The museum is set in the absolutely gorgeous Museum Garden next to the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. Before going in, I had a coffee outside at Coffee Bike – a delicious americano with milk. While I was sitting at one of their tables, enjoying the beautiful weather and people watching, I realized they also serve fresh orange juice, squeezed when you order.
The museum itself is a great little spot for adults and children, with many experiential areas. I spent around 30-45 minutes meandering the halls; if you’re with kids, expect to spend at least 1 hour or more.
The museum grounds include an observatory, the oldest working one in Yorkshire, as well as the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, built in 1088, one of the wealthiest and most powerful Benedictine orders in England. When Henry VIII changed from Catholic to Protestant, the monks were pensioned off, and the abbey converted to a palace for Henry to use when he visited York. The walls around the abbey were built in the 1260s are the most complete walls in England. The ruins, accompanying graveyard, and gardens are absolutely beautiful and well-worth a ramble around.
After two museums, I was ready for lunch at Star Inn The City, at the edge of the Museum Gardens, and right near the bridge to my next exploration. Since it was Sunday, I had to have Sunday roast – rare steak fillet, duck fat roasted potatoes, gravy, leeks, a monster-sized Yorkshire pudding (not pudding, and not even dessert in this case – pudding is a British dish, savory or sweet, that’s cooked by being boiled or steamed in something, like a dish or a piece of cloth), as well as the daily vegetable, this time tender stem broccoli. The restaurant has great service, coffee, incredible food, and an inviting atmosphere.
Next, I ambled over the Museum Street bridge to the National Railway Museum – what a great spot to spend a couple hours!! If you’ve ever ridden a train, thought of riding a train, heard about riding a train, seen a train on the rail line….go!
Since it was still a gloriously sunny day, I wandered the walls to the Henry VII Experience and had a fairly quick look around. This Henry was Henry VIII’s father, who won the War of the Roses, taking power from the Plantagenet dynasty for the Tudors.
Finally, happily tired and hungry, I headed to Skosh, a fusion-tapas (Skosh comes from the Japanese word “sukoshi” meaning a little) restaurant on Michelin’s 2017 list (“Globe-trotting chef-owner Neil Bentinck gets a Bib Gourmand for his delicious small plates.” Michelin tweeted last year). Prebooking is a must.
Afterward, I stopped by the House of Trembling Madness for a nightcap and a gander at the interesting decor. It’s a great spot for meeting locals, trying a taste of really unusual craft brews, and noshing on freshly prepared food throughout the day. A steep and twisty climb to the pub area (and two floors down to the loo), but well worth the effort. After, I headed back to Judges Court for a well-deserved rest.
My final day in York, I popped out to Bill’s Restaurant for breakfast (Judges Court doesn’t offer a hot breakfast), and really enjoyed the fresh locavore selection. After a quick check-out at Judges Court, I left the bags in their able care. Afterward, I had the fright of my life at York Dungeon. Only try this if you enjoy experiential and audience-participation-required haunted houses.
A quick lunch at Byron’s Burgers restored my equilibrium, then after dropping the bags in the car, I headed to York Art Gallery for a quick gander. Lastly, I took time for reflection in York Minster – what a serene, beautiful, spiritual spot (and the perfect ending to my time in York).
I personally love history, art, and museums, as well as wandering twisty-turning streets with flickering lights and a mysterious air, and had a fantastic time on this trip. York offers a vast variety of attractions, and at Dragon in Your Pocket, we pride ourselves on handcrafting a travel experience to fit everyone’s interests and budget. Book with us, you’ll be glad you did!!
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