An insider's guide to York
The city of York in northeast England, encircled by 13th- and 14th-century city walls, is rich in culture, delicious food and breathtaking historical sites. Offering around 160 km of shoreline, there is also an array of different cuisines to enjoy and incredible architecture to discover.
Founded in AD71 by the Romans, York's infrastructure still reflects the many footsteps that have fallen onto the streets of York in the past.
The city walls
To this day the walls around the city of York remain. Some of them have protected the city since Roman times and today they almost act as preservation for the beautiful city they encompass. With a panoramic view of the city from all angles, you can walk around these walls and exit them at various points in the city offering an alternate route to explore away from the bustling crowds in the centre.
The Minster: One of northern Europe's largest cathedrals
As well as being known to be one of the world’s most stunning cathedrals, the Minster has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England since the 17th century and remains open for worship today. Its features are breathtaking, with handcrafted stone and medieval stained glass windows. At an additional charge, you can also take a trip up the numerous steps of Central Tower to enjoy panoramic views of the city. The Minster is a constant presence in the city of York, its two towers distinguished among the rest of the York city skyline.
This almost immaculately preserved Medieval shopping street, composed of cobbled streets and overhanging buildings, is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the famous Harry Potter book and film series. The quaint old buildings, once used for medieval market stores, have now been restored to become independent boutiques and quirky cafes, most of which are inspired by the Wizarding World or the spooky history of the York ghosts. In the centre of the Shambles is the Shambles Market featuring cuisine from around the world and stalls selling products from various independent businesses.
The York art gallery is a public art gallery in Exhibition Square. There are parts of the gallery that are free permanently, ranging from fine art to internationally renowned ceramics. The York Art Gallery has been shortlisted for both the Art Fund Museum of the Year and the European Museum of the Year in 2015. In the spaces on the ground floor, various exhibitions are presented throughout the year to the public.
Currently running is the Sin exhibition which explores the concept of sin in art throughout centuries. It provokes the question of what sin means to the individual and how the concept has evolved over time. Sin first emanated from the concept of Christianity and religion, preceding the Christian story of the first sin performed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It also explores how the theme of sin relates to the seven deadly sins of lust, pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, wrath, and greed, all of which are considered immoral acts. A lot of the artwork is left up for interpretation making each individual’s experience unique and encouraging you to construct your own perception of Sin.
The next exhibition is Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels which explores the notion of villains in children’s literature, which runs from February 10 to June 4.
Dining: Delicious cuisines from around the world
York is a city known for its wide range of cuisines from all over the world and when it comes to fine dining, there are some fabulous options in the 5-star hotel The Grand York.
The Rise is an AA Rosette-awarded restaurant with a terrace and bar within The Grand York. One of its highlights is its open kitchen, creating a unique and more personal experience between the diners and the chefs.
The staff there are friendly, attentive and efficient. Book a table near the terrace for phenomenal views of the city skyline at night.
From Vintage and Non-Vintage Champagne to Old World and New World Wines, the wine list is extensive. On the bottom of each list is a section titled, ‘The Grand Connoiseur’ which offers expert opinions. The Domaine de Montmarin Viognier from Languedoc, France is superb — crisp and refreshing, with notes of peach.
The menu features British favourites with a Yorkshire flair including a Scotch Egg, Shepherds Pie and a Sticky Toffee Pudding, offering a refreshing spin on classic dishes. Perhaps opt for the Garlic and Lemon Thyme Prawns served on a crusty Focaccia with lemon aioli and dressed watercress to start and then the Honey Glazed Confit Duck Leg Cassoulet accompanied by a garlic and herb mash, kale, pancetta and cannellini beans.
You won't be able to resist the dessert menu either. The Sticky Toffee Pudding is rich and infused with toffee sauce poured over it, the quenelle of clotted cream on top aptly breaking through the richness with cool creamy notes.
Following the meal, retire to the resident’s lounge in which there is a live pianist to accompany your after-dinner drinks.
Delightful Afternoon Tea at Bettys
A must for visitors to York is a table at one of the UK’s first tearooms, Bettys. While you might have to wait up to an hour for a table, it will be worth the wait. You'll feel at home at the lavishly decorated dining room and if you can, sit facing the window to the bustling square.
No allergy or dietary requirements are seen as a problem by the staff as they welcome vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives.
The Tea Room Blend tea comes first, which is presented on a silver platter, with a jug of hot water. Then came the main event. The afternoon tea is made for one person, meaning that you can enjoy a range of delicious delicacies all to yourself. On your three-tiered cake stand, there is a sandwich selection, including cucumber, dill and cream cheese, coronation Yorkshire chicken, ham and wholegrain mustard and smoked salmon, a sultana scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream and a miniature cake selection, made up of an Engadine slice, lemon tart and a chocolate cube.
My favourites were the traditional coronation chicken sandwich, brown bread and fresh lettuce encompassing a curried chicken filling and the decadent Engadine slice, constructed with layers of hazelnut meringue, buttercream and almond paste and topped with a caramelised almond florentine.
Where to stay: The best five-star establishments
The Judge’s Lodging is one of the best five-star establishments that York has to offer. It's very central, just steps away from the Minster, and is a grand townhouse full of history. Set back from the hustle and bustle of the street, it's a peaceful haven to relax and unwind after a busy day of exploring the city. The welcoming and friendly staff will make sure that your stay is both carefree and easy.
The rooms are spacious and light, everyone individually designed so it is unique in its character. There are both Suites and Double Rooms that you can choose from, some of which are accessible to the courtyard or the terrace.
As well as impressive rooms, they also offer an amazing dining experience which you can enjoy in one of two locations depending on your preference. There is the Georgian restaurant which offers a more grandiose setting, or if you prefer something a little more cosy, the Cellar Bar is the perfect place to sit back and relax after a long day.
Their bartenders offer a wide range of cocktails in the cellar bar, which can be made custom to your taste so do not hesitate to ask, and, in the summer, there is an abundance of outdoor terraces to savour them on.
They have even created their own gin, named The Judge’s Lodging Breary, created using 17 different botanicals including mulberries and Hawthorne berries which you can buy to take home as a delicious souvenir from your stay.
Other amazing places to explore
The Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales is a National Park in the North of England and a place of breathtaking natural beauty. Here you can explore thousands of miles of unspoiled countryside, including hills, valleys and quaint villages.
One of the charming villages in the Yorkshire Dales is Malham. It is highly recommended for its impressive sights such as the Malham Cove, Gordale Scar Gorge and Malham Tarn. It is also a stone’s throw away from Janet Foss’ Waterfall, another unmissable sight in the Yorkshire Dales. If you fancy a change of scenery from the busy city of York, the small villages around the Yorkshire Dales offer a welcome serenity.
About an hour's drive away from the York city centre is the stunning coastline. Scarborough is a resort town on the North Sea coast offering Victorian architecture and a 12th-century castle to explore, as well as extensive sandy beaches and quaint seaside cafes.
A stately home belonging to many generations of the Howard family, Castle Howard features a grand interior, the grounds preened to perfection with various walled and woodland gardens and lakes and waterways. Perhaps the most stunning attraction is the 18th-century walled Rose Garden.
Among a range of events available throughout the year, there is a night photography event, in which you can take pictures of the beautiful clear skies around the grounds of the home. Considering the lavish interiors that almost seem as if they have been frozen in time, it is no wonder that the stately home has been chosen as a filming location for the Netflix hit TV series, Bridgerton, and various other period romances.
More Hidden Gems
York Ghost Merchants
Among the Shambles’ tottering streets is a small shop that seems to be frozen in time, the staff are all clothed in bowler hats and aprons and the interior and exterior are preserved to be reminiscent of a Georgian merchant shop. As a city renowned for its ghosts, it seems only fitting to have a shop dedicated to tiny ghostly figurines. Every ghost is unique and handcrafted in the shop itself, they are said to bring fortune and fortitude. In my opinion, it is the perfect little souvenir to bring back from your trip to York, honouring a tradition of ghost storytelling that stretches back many centuries.
In a single tower-like structure constructed as part of the aforementioned city walls, is a small cafe that offers fresh food and local drinks with a view of the River Ouse. It is a family-run business making it even more quaint. There are only four rooms for indoor seating but opt for the outdoor, terrace seating for stunning views. Order a frothy coffee to thaw yourself out on a frosty morning or a glass of iced York Gin and a Light Tonic to cool yourself down on a sunny afternoon. For special occasions, hire the Tower Room, enabling you to have a private dining experience with panoramic views.
A city with copious historical and cultural sites, fine dining and hidden gems, there is no doubt that you will end up falling in love with this city. There is so much to explore, so you might find yourself coming back time and time again.
For more inspiring travel tips, explore our travel bucket list for 2023 and our guide to Rome for art-lovers.
Credits for the Main photo: © Unsplash
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