• Fri. Jan 14th, 2022

where to stay and what to do on a getaway to this historic city

ByKeith M. Jones

Dec 10, 2021

Travel essentials

When should we go

Besides its established charms, there are many seasonal attractions to enjoy in this compact city. It could be the horse races in Knavesmire from May to October, the food festival in September or the St. Nicholas Fair as Christmas approaches. This year it features an Alpine chalet village on Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square (1) selling gifts, seasonal dishes and local produce – from Wakefield and York gins to Yorkshire candles – with festive accompaniment through to December 23. To learn more, visit visityork.org.

Map: news

Where to stay

York has a good selection of hotels near or within its Roman walls. The Principal York (2) is perfectly placed for train arrivals. Built in 1878 as the largest of the hotels in one of Britain’s most important train stations, it carries off its Victorian grandeur with panache after a contemporary renovation. The dining hall kitchen is bright and spacious, serving a bistro menu and a generous breakfast. B&B from £ 200 (theprincipalyork.ihg.com).

Nearby, Malmaison (3) is one of York’s newcomers. Transformed from a lousy office building into a swanky hotel, it’s quickly becoming a popular landmark with locals thanks to its trendy Sora Skybar. Bed and breakfast from £ 139 (malmaison.com/york).

The Grays Court Hotel (4) borders the Roman walls of York. It breathes history and claims to be the oldest inhabited house in the city, today a stylish haven for connoisseurs. B&B from £ 200 (grayscourtyork.com).

Middleton’s (5) is also part of the City Walks, a listed historic building complex that includes a hospital, almshouses, Georgian townhouses and a sawmill. Inside, everything is bright and stylish, with doubles starting at £ 99 (middletonsyork.co.uk).

How to get around

Once inside the walls, walking is your best option. Buses run to the city center from the parks and merry-go-rounds (£ 3.30 return) and, as a major rail hub, York is well served by trains. Cycling is also a good choice – this part of Yorkshire is unusually flat – and electric scooters are also available for hire throughout the city (tier.app/en).


Start the day

Get the major sights under your belt. The Cathedral (6) is not just any church, it is an exquisite example of Gothic ingenuity. Go up to the roof or admire the patterns on the ceiling of the Chapter House. An exhibit on 17th-century master sculptor Grinling Gibbons highlights details of masonry through July 2022 (opening hours vary, from £ 12, yorkminster.org).

The Yorkshire Museum (7) (yorkshiremuseum.org.uk) is closed until spring, when it will reopen to display its Roman artifacts, including a Greek-inspired mosaic floor from a villa.

If Vikings are more your thing, then the Jorvik Center (8) is fascinating. Travel in a “time car” through their world based on what has been excavated under the city streets. Open 10 am-5pm, £ 12.50, reservation recommended, jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk.

Hit the stores

St Sampson’s Square, York, at Christmas (Photo: Benedek / Getty)

York has a bustling retail scene with 65% of businesses run independently – head to Stonegate and Swinegate to browse. A good cross-section of high street chains happily rub shoulders with family-owned department stores – Browns (9) and Fenwick (10). The daily market in Shambles (11) sells a selection of products, from flowers to fruits and crafts.

Do not miss

York Gin (yorkgin.com) quickly became synonymous with the city. Taste the range of gins at his boutique (12) on Pavement – and find out how the city inspired their styles and names.

Time for a drink

They say there is a bar for every day of the year in York. They come in all shapes and sizes and there’s even a walking tour that traces their history; some date back to the 16th century. Keith Martin will share his passion for York’s oldest pubs in exchange for a donation to Keep Your Pet, a charity that helps people keep their pets through tough times. (yorkpubwalks.wordpress.com)

Dinner reservation

Sora’s Rooftop Terrace (13) (malmaison.com/locations/york/sora) is the perfect spot for sunset drinks and dinner. His Asian-inspired tapas are the perfect accompaniment to watching the setting sun play over the city’s rooftops. Don’t miss the KFC (Korean fried cauliflower) or the spectacular dragon roll sushi made with tempura tiger prawns, salmon and avocado.


To stroll

Access the online guide (yorkwalls.org.uk) and take a tour of the city walls. A complete high-level tour in the Roman footsteps is no longer possible, but for a convenient bird’s-eye view the map can’t be beat. For a less active excursion, take a boat trip and soak up the city from the River Ouse. Guided tours of the city’s landmarks depart from King’s Staith (14) and last 45 minutes (£ 11.95) with a festive sightseeing cruise in December (£ 15, cityexperiences.com).

York Shambles, which was voted Britain’s most picturesque street (Photo: Getty)

Tea break

When in York, you have to “make” afternoon tea. Bettys (15) is the most well-known destination but to avoid the inevitable queues, Café 21 in the Fenwick store serves up a feast. The delicate pastry creations and sandwiches designed under the direction of celebrity Northeastern chef Terry Laybourne are served in elegant luxury – Champagne optional. £ 40 for two, fenwick.co.uk.

Treat yourself

York is the homeland of chocolate – from its roots in the famous Rowntree’s and Terry brands to its modern, artisanal chocolatiers, you can really get down to business. A Making Tasting Tour at Cocoa Works (16) (yorkcocoahouse.co.uk) is a great introduction to the craftsmanship of artisan chocolate making (daily, £ 9.50, book in advance), while Chocolate Story (17) (yorkchocolatestory.com) surprises with the list of household names – from Kit Kat to Chocolate Orange – who were born in York (open daily from 10am, £ 15).

Get out of town

Mother Shipton’s Cave (mothershipton.co.uk) in Knaresborough is just over half an hour’s drive west. The streaming water through the limestone and its strange collection of petrified objects are a curiosity. There is also a wooded park with a museum, cafe and adventure playground. And Knaresborough – an attractive destination in itself – is four stops from York on the Harrogate train.

The Howardian Hills AONB is also easily accessible and popular with hikers, with a network of easy sealed country trails and plenty of walking and bridle paths.

Ask a local

Pamela Ross, teacher

“Cycle along the River Ouse via the Perky Peacock Cafe which serves great coffee, or to the village of Acaster Malbis where the charming Ship Inn sits beside the river. There is also the cycle path to Selby via York Marina in Naburn and its beautiful riverside cafe is a great place to stop and watch the boats go by. ”

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