Wednesday 12 June 2019


Top Tips for a Weekend Break in York

With cobble-stoned streets, riverside walks, medieval architecture, and the Yorkshire Dales on its doorstep, York is a picture-perfect representation of a traditional English town. It's also where many of our national chocolate originates from, it's the home of the Yorkshire pudding, and with multiple locations of Betty's famous tea rooms in the heart of the town, it isn't just a picturesque destination, it's a foodie one too. And as it's just a 2-hour train journey from London, you can easily make the journey for a day trip. However, there is so much to enjoy in York that a long weekend break is really the way to go – and here are my top tips to make the most of your visit.

1. Take a stroll back in time

With the medieval architecture and cobble-stoned streets, as soon as you set foot in York's city centre it feels like you've stepped back in time. And there are some historic features that are a must to experience on a visit. The historic town centre is partly surrounded by the original City Walls. Free to access during daylight hours, the nearly 3.5 kilometer long structure dates back to the 14th-16th Century – and makes for a great first exploration of the city, seeing some of its most iconic features from above. Clifford's Tower is one such a feature, and it is a wonderful stop along the way. The grass-covered hill the tower stands on is covered in buttercups and daisies in spring, and geese any time of the year. For £5.70pp you can go inside, climbing even higher for a better view over the surroundings.

Though if you truly want a birds-eye view of York, then the tower climb at York Minster is a must. It's a steep and narrow 275-stairs climb to the top of the Central Tower (that somehow feels even steeper and narrower on the way back down), but worth it for the magnificent view. A round-trip is estimated to last about 45 minutes and is £11pp. For a more leisurely scenic tour, for about the same price (£10pp) you can take a riverside cruise with City Cruises York. No climbing required, and for the 45-minute duration you'll learn plenty of interesting and fun York facts. Views are mainly restricted to what's within close vicinity of the waterside, but on a summer's day a rooftop seat in the sun is a delight.

For a step even further back in time, walk over to the Yorkshire Museum Gardens, flanked by the iconic Lendal Bridge. The gardens are an oasis of peace along the riverside, with plenty of beautiful flowerbeds and grassy nooks to hide away in with a good book. It also houses the ruins of the medieval St. Mary's Abbey (which makes for a stunning photo backdrop) and Yorkshire Museum (which not only has exhibitions on Roman and Medieval York, but a new one on dinosaurs too. Yup, we're going really far back in time!).

2. Satisfy your sweet tooth

After all that historic exploring you deserve some delicious sweets (after all, you can walk even more while on a sugar rush). There are plenty of sweet and fudge shops along the main streets of the town's centre selling all the nostalgic candy you can image, from humbugs to honeycomb and from rhubarb & custards to... chocolate fish (large, life-sized ones. No idea what York's connection to chocolate fish is, but there you go). So pick up some bags and continue exploring!

Bringing sweets and history together in one place is York's Chocolate Story (£12.95pp), an attraction that takes visitors through York's famous chocolate history with a guided tour and plenty of samples along the way. Some of Britain's most well-known chocolate-makers originate from York, such as Terry's (from the chocolate orange, though – fun fact – they started with a chocolate apple) and Rowntrees. Bars still famous today such as Kit Kat and Aero all found their humble beginnings in this northern English town, and are now worldwide phenomenons. The tour is interesting and fascinating, don't get me wrong, but the highlights by far were all the samples along the way. Starting small when we learn about the very beginnings of chocolate creation (a bitter cold cocoa drink from the Aztecs) through to a live demonstration of chocolate-making, with samples galore, and finishing in the cafe and shop where there are amazing hot chocolates with all the trimmings on offer. Just don't have lunch before your visit, that's all I'm saying.

Last, but most certainly not least, on the must-visit in York list for those with a sweet tooth is of course the famous Betty's Tearooms, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Originally from the nearby Harrogate there are now two locations in central York as well, but it's the big one on St. Helen's Square that you should add to your itinerary. Famous for their afternoon tea, they do a full day menu (breakfast, lunch, dinner) as well. We first stopped by for dinner on a Sunday night and we loved our dishes so much we went back the next day for lunch and ordered the exact same things. The entire menu looks delish, but from personal experience, treat yourself and get the Bacon & Raclette Rösti (a Swiss specialty of grated potato, gruyère cheese and cream, pan-fried with bacon and topped with melted raclette cheese), with the Grande Raspberry Macaroon (a super-size macaron with raspberry buttercream and fresh raspberries) as a dessert. Divine.

3.  Shop 'til you drop

York's historic town centre may not be very large, but the winding streets and alleyways hide a wealth of unique and independent shops that allow you to discover something new and exciting around every corner.

The most famous shopping area is the historic Shambles. The narrow and curvy cobble-stoned street is filled with overhanging timber-framed buildings, making it look like something straight out of Harry Potter. It's no surprise that many of the shops have been taken over by those filled with merchandise related to the wizarding world (i.e. The Shop That Must Not Be Named, and The Boy Wizard). Fun for once or twice, but it gets very samey very soon. Instead, the stores that stand out are ones that have slightly different wares on sale. The Potions Cauldron still takes its theme from the magical world but with its own unique products like drinkable potions and a rainbow of candles. Other standouts include The Nutcracker Christmas Shop (Santa can be found here all year around), The Hebden Tea Company, and art & paper shop Paperesque.

Not far away from the famous street, are some other iconic shops in York that are a must for every visitor to pop into at least once (though we didn't keep it to just the once!): Käthe Wohlfahrt (beautiful hand-made German decorations, including the famous incense 'smoking houses' and 'smoking men'), The Cat Gallery (a shop that sells all sorts of cat-themed wares. Also make sure to pick up a free flyer here for the York Cat Trail to spot all the cat figures throughout the town), The Yorkshire Soap Company (filled with colourful and fragrance-rich bath and body delights) and next door from it: curiosity shop The Imaginarium.

4. Explore scenic Yorkshire

If you made the journey down to York, why not explore some of the scenic highlights wider Yorkshire has to offer as well? It's easily accessible by car or with an organised tour, whichever way you prefer to travel. We were kindly gifted York & Beyond Explorer Passes by Visit York to make the most of our weekend (normally £70pp for three days), which also includes a day trip of choice courtesy from BOBH (normally £45pp), which is a small group coach tour. We choose the Haworth & Yorkshire Dales trip, which is a full-day outing running each Tuesday and Sunday from March to October and Sundays in November/early December.

During this trip we explored 'Bronte Country' and Yorkshire Dales National Park, including the West Yorkshire Pennine Village of Haworth (which had a festival on when we visited so it was VERY busy, the highlight here was another curiosity shop The Cabinet of Curiosity), impressive Bingley Five Rise Locks, the ruins of Bolton Abbey (a 12th Century Augustinian Monastery), and the traditional Yorkshire Dales village of Linton, which has limestone falls. It was a long day on the bus with only brief stops for all the attractions, save Haworth which was during lunch time so we got a good hour and a half to explore there.

Overall it was an enjoyable trip and we definitely saw some beautiful things. Given the opportunity, I do prefer driving around to have the chance to make more stops along the way as there were plenty of things we spotted that sounded interesting but we didn't get a chance to explore. However, if you don't have access to a car then this organised tour is a good alternative to still see the rolling Yorkshire Dales landscape and selected highlights along the way.

5. Walk around without a plan – and be surprised

York is beautiful and filled with so many wonderful things that just hopping on a train or in the car to the historic northern English town without a plan works too. Have a long walk along the riverside, be delighted by a family of geese crossing the road and stopping traffic for a solid five minutes, and have a giant Yorkshire pudding wrap because, why not, you're in York after all. Whatever comes on your path and you end up doing in York, you'll undoubtedly have a wonderful time.

If you want to plan an itinerary, or are just looking to pick up a map to find your way back to your starting point, pop by Visit York on 1 Museum Street (opposite Museum Gardens as you walk into town from the Station). They were very helpful to us, providing us with the aforementioned York Passes to enjoy the city to our heart's content and sharing lots of great tips and ideas for our visit. Thanks, team!

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