When the Easter Bank Holiday weekend was nearing I felt the urge to leave London for a little while and explore somewhere new and interesting – to have a proper break from life and work and be a tourist for a few days. Places such as Dublin and Berlin were momentarily on the shortlist, but logistics and travel expenses eventually led us a little closer to home: York. Even though I've been living in the UK for over 5 years now I still thoroughly enjoy exploring the country and the historic town of York was one I had not yet had the chance to visit, so I was excited to discover what was hidden between the famous city walls.
On the first day of our trip we set off from King's Cross station around 8.30am and just over two hours latest we'd arrived in York, it was such a smooth and quick trip (I didn't even have time to crack open my book or laptop!) that I cannot believe I hadn't made it before. Our accommodation for the next two nights was going to be the Holgate Hill Hotel, which was in between a hotel and B&B and I was well impressed by it throughout our stay. The bedroom was bigger than I'd expected (and yay for a twin, it's so hard to find as most hotels are doubles – not ideal for two friends sharing), the inside of the hotel was decorated really lovely (the breakfast room reminded me of a tea room) and it was only about a 15 minute walk from the railway station. We ended up booking our accommodation quite close to the dates of our stay (and a Bank Holiday weekend at that) but I found it really affordable too. Definitely recommend.
Once we'd unpacked our bags and quickly refreshed ourselves from the journey, we set off to explore York. The very first piece of history we were greeted by was of course the famous medieval walls, the longest ones in all of England. We walked a little bit of it into the city, admiring the view from up above before we hit the historic part of town and popped by the Visit York information centre to pick up our York Passes for the weekend.
A few weeks ago I emailed the Visit York folks to enquire about specific literary and theatrical connections in York, as I thought it might make for an interesting blog post, and they were kind enough to offer myself and my friend a York Pass each to enjoy the city's sights. I don't normally buy these sort of passes but I have to say that after using them I've actually been completely sold. Not only did we end up doing far more than we'd planned, because it was so easy to get into everything (the pass offers free entry to over 30 York attractions) and the little booklet that came with the pass had all the sights clearly listed, but we also avoided part of a massive queue to get into York Minster (as mostly everyone was queuing up to buy tickets), which was a big time saver.
When we had our passes ready, we set off for our first York attraction, which was the aforementioned York Minster. Unfortunately the weather had turned for the worst at this stage and so there wasn't really an opportunity for me to take many exterior photographs, but once we made it safe and sound inside we did spend about 45 minutes exploring the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It was filled to the brim with history, beautiful architectural features (and interesting factoids such as how the centre stone keeps the entire building up), an impressive astronomical clock and stunning stained glass displays. Considering how unlucky this Minster has been, being hit by fire not once, not twice, but three times (most recently in 1984!) it's a wonder that there are any original elements left at all!
Next up, we set out to visit York's Chocolate Story but, it being the weekend of the famous York Chocolate Festival as well as Easter, the next few tours were already fully booked and so we ended up booking onto one of the last tours of the day instead. Top tip: book your tour well in advance so you can get your preferred time slot! It wasn't a problem for us, however, as instead we wandered over to the Shambles, the adorably-named medieval shopping area in York (formerly a street filled with butchers). With its cobblestone streets, medieval buildings and cute shops, it was the perfect way for us to spend a few hours browsing unique gifts and homeware.
When we were all shopped out, and to give our feet a little rest before the start of our tour, we took up a spot inside the cafe at York's Chocolate Story for some well-deserved hot chocolates and oh my they were amazing. We only found out about them because they were listed in our booklet for the York Pass (which gives a discount at the cafe) and I am so glad we did as this was honestly the best hot chocolate ever. It was so good, in fact, that it made my list of March favourites (read the full blog here). They had a plethora of delectable flavour choices and I ended up ordering the milk hot chocolate with caramel, marshmallows and whipped cream. My friend had the white hot chocolate with mint, oh nom nom nom.
The actual tour inside of York's Chocolate Story albeit quite small (I have been spoiled by Cadbury World both in England and New Zealand), was incredibly fascinating. I had no idea for instance that several chocolate making families herald from York as do famous bars such as Kit Kat, Aero and Terry's Chocolate Orange. The demonstration towards the end of the tour where they made white chocolate filled with lemon sorbet, which we were then allowed to sample, of course ensured we left on a high note. It's definitely an interesting journey through the chocolate making process, from cocoa bean to chocolate bar, and the links to York woven throughout added an extra fascinating element. I think this would be especially interesting for children, to learn more about the sweet they might enjoy so much, but as adults we learned a lot too on the tour. Photography wasn't allowed for the majority of the tour, but I did take some photos in the shop afterwards of interesting bits of chocolate.
After a long day of travelling and exploring York, we called it a night after our chocolate tour and headed back in the direction of our hotel. Though not before stopping by The Windmill Inn (one of over 300 pubs in York!) located just a few streets away from our hotel for a delicious steak burger and a cider, a great way to finish the night.
There are two more installments in my York travel blogs and next week's will be all about our second day of the long weekend getaway, which includes more wall walks, a boat tour of the city, Clifford Tower and a Ghost Hunt Walk. The third post, in two weeks time, is dedicated to our day trip to Castle Howard.
Many thanks to Visit York for the York Passes, which allowed us free entry into York Minster and York's Chocolate Story. All opinions are my own.