Beautiful historic York is conveniently located on the LNER East Coast line just a couple of hours from both London & Edinburgh as well as a couple of hours away from Manchester and less than an hour by car from Leeds. This makes it super easy to get to in the UK and its compact size packed with things to see, do and eat make it perfect for a weekend break.
I love visiting this city and I’m so glad it’s nice and close for me pop over for a few hours as well as spending a few weekends there over the years as well. I’ve compiled this list of 11 ways to spend a weekend in York so make sure to save it for your city break. And if you’re looking for some pretty photo opportunities while you’re there then take a look at my post 12 gorgeous Instagram spots in York for inspiration!
1. York Minster
There’s only one place that could come first on this list and that’s York Minster. With its tower stretching 72m into the sky it dominates the skyline and so many views of the city. A great way to learn more about this spectacular building is by heading inside where you admire its grandeur and the incredible craftmanship of the Rose Window. For more on tickets then visit the York Minster website. Next on my list is to take a tour of the roof…
The Minster was dedicated to St Peter and this is also who Lower Petergate is named after where you can get the view above of the Minster rising up over the street. There are plenty of views to catch the Minster including from the city walls – number 4 on this list.
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2. The Shambles
You absolutely cannot miss a visit to The Shambles on a trip to York. This is the most famous and also most likely the most photographed street in York due to its higgeldy piggledy charming Elizabethan buildings and cobbled stones. Its popularity may also stem from the Harry Potter shop that often has lines outside it because this is one of the places that is an alleged inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Today you’ll find shops selling pastries, soap and fudge but in its past this street sold something that left it smelling not quite as pleasant… For centuries, The Shambles was lined with butcher’s shops, notice the meat hooks and benches where butchers would display their wares. That channel down the middle is where all of the waste would have been dumped to wash down the street…
The Shambles is very popular with visitors to York so come early to avoid the rush – especially if you’re wanting to snap a photo of the quiet street!
The Shambles is one of my favourite Instagram spots in Yorkshire – if you’re on the hunt for some more then make sure to check out 10 locations in Yorkshire for a champion Instagram shot.
Top Tip: The Shambles Market is just a few steps away from The Shambles in the heart of York and open 7 days a week. From soap to gin, from honey to t-shirts you’ll find lots of local traders here and the perfect treat or gift to take home as a reminder of York. Stop off at Parlormade Scone House for a freshly baked warm scone to sit in or take home to enjoy later – we went twice in less than 24 hours… 😝
3. Betty’s of Harrogate
A visit to York isn’t complete without a stop at Betty’s. If you don’t fancy their afternoon tea then buy some of their tea or coffee blends or a signature Fat Rascal scone to try at home. Unfortunately the Betty’s pictured above is no longer open but the larger Betty’s at St Helen’s Square is still open but prepared to queue!
4. Walk the Walls
York has 3.4km of intact Medieval defensive walls surrounding it. They’re the longest surviving walls in the whole of England and a great way to get to know the city! It’s free to visit the walls but they close at dusk so plan carefully.
My favourite sections of wall are from Monk Bar to Bootham Bar which passes behind the Minster giving an excellent view of its tremendous size
5. Brew & Brownie
With so much of the city to explore on foot make sure you take some time to stop and refuel and Brew & Brownie is absolutely the place to do it! You can find both their main cafe and their smaller cafe (which can be quieter than the bigger one just a few doors up the road) on Museum Street. They’re actually handily located between two section of the wall on either side of the river so a perfect spot to take a break!
I’ve eaten both brunch and coffee and a slice of cake here and both have been delicious! Just looking at the cakes whilst waiting for fellow blogger Maja (Away With Maja) made my mouth start to water and I knew the choice was going to be difficult! Eventually I settled on the chocolate cake which came as a dense wedge smothered in creamy chocolate icing and finished with tangy raspberries 😍
6. Explore the Snickelways
York is full of intriguing Snickelways leading between streets or to unusual buildings. They’re narrow little alleyways and the word Snickelways was created by Mark W. Jones when he wrote a guide book to them in the 1980s. As you wonder the streets keep your eyes peeled for them and see how many you can spot.
Not only are they unusual little places they also have some unusual names with fascinating stories. Mad Alice’s Lane is supposedly haunted by the lady it was named for, after she poisoned her husband and was hanged for her crime. Pope’s Head Alley is less than 3 ft in width so make sure you don’t go in if someone else is coming by!
7. Wander down Fossgate
For the Romans, Fossgate was the South Easterly entrance to the city of York whilst it was the Vikings that made it into a street. There are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants to explore including this lovely facade of The Hairy Fig. Walk through the archway to find the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall which is a medieval guildhall built in the 14th Century.
8. Stroll along the River Ouse
The River Ouse flows through the centre of York cutting a wide split between the two banks of the city. Throughout the year you can see rowing teams powering up and down the river as well as smaller rowing boats and tourists boats chugging along. You can either hop on one yourself or stroll along the river banks which is especially lovely North from Lendal Bridge through the Museum Gardens!
On sunny days, join the other revelers enjoying a drink the pubs and bars that have terraces or balconies along the river.
9. Clifford’s Tower
The site of Clifford’s Tower has seen some treacherous events throughout its 1000 year history. A timber castle was built here by William the Conqueror but the present day medieval tower wasn’t built until the 13th century as part of York Castle.
Clifford’s Tower is owned by English Heritage so if you want to go all the way to the top you’ll need to purchase a ticket. Inside you can learn more about the history of the Tower as well as get some expansive views across the city.
10. Devour a Yorkshire Roast
There’s only one thing you should be eating for Sunday lunch in Yorkshire and that’s of course a roast dinner complete with big fluffy yorkshire puddings, crispy roast potatoes and plenty of tasty gravy. If you’ve never had a roast then you should certainly start by having one in York!
Most recently I’ve visited the Old White Swan which did a very reasonably prices and delicious meal in cosy rooms. Don’t get too comfortable because the pub is one of York’s oldest and said to be haunted…
11. Step back in time
York has been influenced by many different epochs that have shaped its history and architecture which can be seen through the city today. This means there are many ways to step back in time and explore what this has meant for the city. Some of these are already on the list (The Shambles, the city walls, Clifford’s Tower, Fossgate) but there are also plenty of museums to learn more about York’s past as well.
At the Jorvik Viking Museum you won’t only travel through Viking life in York but also smell it in this interactive museum which as a kid I LOVED visiting!
For transport lovers, the National Railway Museum shouldn’t be missed! Jump on board a Japanese bullet train or gaze at Queen Victoria’s cornflower blue decorated saloon. You can witness trains and locomotives from the past and present then marvel at what the future of train travel could hold. It was certainly a highlight for my cousin’s when we visited York as a family some years ago.
At the York Castle Museum you can discover 400 years worth of York’s history in one place through interactive scenes and exhibitions!
I haven’t used the York Pass but it may be something you want to investigate if you’re looking to make the most of your time in York.
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Make sure to check out these Instagram opps whilst you’re in York…