Pip's Pages • Doing York - a city guide
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York one of the few designated British Heritage Cities, largely due to the well-preserved nature of its Medieval past. It is also home to the largest Cathedral in Europe north of the Alps, and is an ideal base for exploring the north of England.

Before you go   Getting around   Where to stay   Sightseeing   Places to eat/drink   Miscellaneous

  • Flying - whilst there is a York Airport (I think), it's certainly not the kind of place you're going to find trans-Atlantic jets landing in. If you really must fly, you're probably better off heading for the Leeds/Bradford International Airport and then making the rest of the journey by road.
  • Buses - a quick and easy means of getting to York from London is the National Express 426 or 563 services from Victoria Coach Station. Barring adverse traffic, the trip takes around 5 hours and it's cheap too, especially for students. The coach will drop you off at the railway station, bizarrely enough.
  • Trains - speaking of which, York's railway station is pretty central. On arrival, you'll get your first sight of the city walls. Anyway, turn left out of the station and head up the appropriately named Station Road and you'll find you're just a few minutes walk from the city centre. Trains from London run from King's Cross and, if you get a direct service, you can be there in about 1 hour 50 mins. Anyway, for all train timetable enquiries check out National Rail.
  • Taxis - if you've made your way to York by public transport, taxis make a reasonably cheap way of getting around during your stay. Prices are much the same the between companies - expect to pay time and a half after midnight though. I used Ace Taxis (01904 638888) with no problems.
  • Driving there - if you're driving, the RAC can help plan your route - you might also want to check the traffic. Be aware that city-centre parking isn't always easy here though, so you might want to consider one of the "Park and Ride" schemes in operation.
  • Maps - a fully scalable map of the city is available here.
  • Going upmarket - probably the fanciest hotels in the York area are Middlethorpe Hall and Le Meridian York. Rooms are not cheap (from 100+ in both cases) but staying in this kind of place adds a little something to your holiday. Middlethorpe is five minutes drive out of the city, whilst Le Meridien is much more central. That's not the only difference either: parts of Middlethorpe date back to the 17th Century! If fitness room, sauna, solarium and a pool are important to you though, your best bet's Le Meridien. Anyway, these are definitely the places to stay if money is no object, or if your employer is footing the bill!
  • For maximum historical impact... - why not try the Dean Court Hotel which is literally in the shadow of York Minster. As you would expect from a hotel with such a fantastic location, the owners have made a big effort here to bring a trace of luxury to your stay... at a price (single rooms are 85, four-poster rooms are 180). If you're taking your other half to York for a romantic break, this is probably the hotel for you.
  • B&B and guesthouses - my personal choice would be the Heather's Guest House in Shipton Road. Rooms are spacious and well-presented, the welcome (from Graham and the eponymous Heather) is friendly and the price is reasonable, yet you're only a reasonable stroll from the city centre. Alternatively if you're looking for other budget lodgings try the University of York halls of residence, about two miles south-east of the city centre. The rooms are pretty cheap, large facilities (8-person suites) are available, and numerous buses take you right into town. Not available during term-time, obviously.
  • Hostels - there are three hostels of note in the City, Backpackers (in Micklegate), the York Youth Hostel (in Bishophill Senior) and the YHA (in Water End, Clifton). I'll let you review their relative merits for yourself here.
  • Let someone else find a hotel for you - for more info, or for a wider choice of hotels, check out the AA's excellent hotel finder.
  • York Minster - York is rightly famous for the colossal Minster which, as mentioned earlier, is the largest cathedral in Europe north of the Alps. Not only that, it's also the largest Medieval building of any sort in England! The Rose Window in the South Transept is particularly famous - a visit around lunchtime (to maximise the available light) will give you the best chance of getting a decent photograph of it. Also, keep an eye out for the astronomical clock in the North Transept; it was hand-made at the Royal Greenwich Observatory and given to the Minster to commemorate the 18,000 Allied airmen who lost their lives in World War II when flying out of local airbases. It's probably also worth the (somewhat long!) climb up the Central Tower for unrivalled views over the city and its environs, although there is a token charge for the privilege. There's also the Foundations Museum under the Minster itself - again, this carries an admission fee but it is certainly worth it if you want to find out more about how the present building was constructed on the site of a Norman cathedral, which in turn was built on a Roman fort.
  • The Castle & Clifford's Tower - a steep flight of steps lead up a mott to Clifford's Tower, which was built by Henry III in the 12th Century after its wooden predecessor burnt down. There's not much to see in the tower itself, although it makes a good viewpoint. The slightly pink colouring of the interior walls is supposed to have appeared after a number of its occupants dies in a siege - it represents their blood, apparently! Just next to the Tower is the Castle Museum which is certainly worth a look - it recreates different historical periods with detailed sets, some using original artefacts. The life-sized street (the Victorian Kirkgate and Edwardian Half Moon Court) are especially good. Also very interesting for people my age is the "Every Home Should Have One" exhibit, which includes early TVs, vacuum cleaners and other household appliances. See how many you can remember!
  • Jorvik - The Jorvik Viking Centre in Coppergate takes visitors around a reconstruction of a Viking settlement. Basically you sit in a little car and get wheeled round the set, highlights of which include a busy market, smoky houses and a wharf. The sights and sounds (and smells!) are quite entertaining - kids in particular seem to love it. Also worth a look are the well-preserved remains of 10th Century buildings that were unearthed during an archaeological dig on the site. There's also a comprehensive display of other artefacts found during the dig, with pride of place going to a virtually intact Viking helmet (which also provides the inspiration for the Centre's logo). Beware long queues in the summer though - as I said, it's a very popular attraction.
  • National Railway Museum - now I'm not one of those guys who's mad-keen on trains but even I enjoyed this museum. Situated in Leeman Road, by the station (funnily enough), the National Railway Museum is the largest and most comprehensive railway museum in the world. Particular highlights come from the era of steam, with Stephenson's Rocket and the Mallard - the fastest ever steam locomotive - both being on display. There are also some old Royal carriages on display, which are worth a look. The Brief Encounter restaurant in the South Hall doesn't really live up to its name (how could it?) but is okay for a cup of tea or a light snack.
  • Yorkshire Museum - This museum, to be found in Museum Gardens funnily enough, is home to one of England's richest archaeological collections, including Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and medieval artefacts. Particularly worth a look are the 2nd Century Roman mosaics and the beautiful Middleham Jewel. The latter is an incredibly detailed piece of Gothic jewellery, and cost the Museum about 2.5 million to acquire! But that's not all - nip outside into the Museum's botanical gardens and take a look at the remains of a Roman fortress and the ruins of St Mary's Abbey. Please do note my use of the words remains and ruins though - don't expect to see whole buildings or even whole walls!
  • York Dungeon - You know the drill by now - wander round a dimly-lit attraction where the grisly facets of York life in days gone by are vividly recreated - typical fayre includes branding, beheading, boiling, roasting and drowning as means of punishment. Sounds pretty tame, right? Maybe, but the York Dungeon in Clifford Street is worth a visit as it has a special exhibit on the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes (who was from York) tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. There's also a bit on fabled local highwayman Dick Turpin.
  • Houses... - York is almost groaning under the weight of its numerous historic buildings. For a start there's the Treasurer's House in Minster Yard which, as the name suggests, was originally home to the Minster's Treasurer. Although a 17th Century building, it was extensively refurbished in the late-19th. Even so, there are interior designs from Georgian right through to Victorian on show; the highlight for me was the ornate lavatories! Note: this is closed on Fridays and during the Winter. Fairfax House in Castlegate is also worth a look, being one of the finest 18th Century townhouses in the country. Once a cinema and dance hall, this has now been fully restored by the York Civic Trust, and is home to a fine collection of old clocks! Again, this is shut during the winter. Best of all is the Merchant Adventurer's Hall between Piccadilly and Fossgate. This dates back to the mid-14th Century and, incredibly, the basic structure remains virtually unaltered. You can see the great timbered upper room, where merchants once plied their wares, and the old hospital (with chapel) below. There are also exhibitions on the history of trades and guilds. There are also numerous displays of items used by the guilds over the centuries, dating back to Elizabethan times.
  • York brewery - you might not think so to look at it from the outside but the York Brewery makes for a very interesting visit. There is a very informative guided tour that takes you round the brewery, so you can get to see how their beer is made, and there's a small bar at the end of the tour where you can sample the merchandise! If you have any kind of interest at all in real ale, or just need an indoor attraction for a couple of hours, then the York Brewery is very highly recommended.
  • Shambles, bars and snickelways - York is a great place for just having a walk around. Particularly famous is The Shambles, a Medieval street full of craft shops that lean precariously towards each other. Stonegate is another street worth a look - this one dates backs to Roman times, when it was known as the Via Pretoria. It's also worth exploring the numerous snickelways - narrow passageways - that interlink many of York's major streets. Whilst you're out and about, take a stroll along the city walls, which are intact virtually all the way around the city. This is an especially good way to see York's famous bars - not pubs but fortified gateways. Bootham Bar, to the North, dates back to the 12th Century, whilst Monk Bar is the tallest of the gates, and has a working portcullis. Walmgate Bar is the best preserved gateway, whilst Micklegate Bar has the most gruesome history: the decapitated heads of traitors used to be displayed over this gate as a warning to others! Anyway, to do a complete lap of the city walls takes 1.5 hours at a steady pace. The section between Monk Bar and Bootham Bar provide the best photo opportunities for the Minster.
  • Tours - One of the best ways to see York is by open-top bus - a Guide Friday service runs every ten minutes from 9.20am during high season, with main pick-ups points at the railway station, Museum Gardens, Exhibition Square and Clifford's Tower. You pay once and then can hop on and off all day. I personally recommend sitting on the top deck with your camera poised, as this is a great way of getting to numerous photo opportunities without having to walk too far! Alternatively, Castle Line Cruises offer a variety of differently themed cruises from mid-March to October, departing from Skeldergate Bridge - the lunch-time cruise is popular as it includes an hour's stop at The Ship Inn for a pub lunch... after which you may want to sign up for a walking tour to burn off a few calories! There is a free guided tours, staffed by knowledgeable volunteers, that leaves from Exhibition Square on a regular basis. This is recommended but be warned, it is quite a trek though - it takes getting on for two hours, and incorporates a fair chunk of the city walls. There are also a number of evening ghost walks which are fun - I went on the Ghost Walk of York which leaves from outside the Minster but there are others too, so you might want to shop around.
  • Go Down - Clifford Street. The Go Down is a wonderful basement bistro/brasserie, and was probably my favourite dining experience in York. Not only is the food very good, the service is friendly and attentive too - you feel like you're being well looked after. They also have live music on a couple of nights per week (Wednesday and Saturday, I think).
  • Caffe Uno - Clifford Street. Okay, so I don't usually go in for restaurants that are part of a chain but this Caffe Uno is nice enough and handily placed for Clifford's Tower, being just a short stroll down its eponymous street. As with most Caffe Uno's you can see your food being cooked too, which is always nice. I would have to recommend the pollo al rosmarino, followed by a pana cotta for dessert...
  • St William's - College Street. For maximum historical impact you could eat at St William's, which is located in a half-timbered building in the shadow of York Minster. The food lives up to the surroundings too, with fish dishes being a speciality (the smoked haddock is recommended - the spinach fish cakes are also worth a look).
  • The Deanery - Low Petergate. If you like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (which I do) then try The Deanery, as it is their speciality. This restaurant is part of Galtres Lodge Hotel and is situated in a nicely restored Georgian brick building.
  • Bengal Brasserie - Goodramgate. If you prefer something a little livelier, try this Indian, voted Restaurant of the Year by the local Evening Post newspaper back in 1996. Not only is the food pretty good, the restaurant itself is nicely decorated, with traditional Indian screens and pictures taking prominence.
  • Oscar's Wine Bar - Little Stonegate. This is neat little bistro with a resolutely old-fashioned feel. The relaxed atmosphere that pervades Oscar's makes it the perfect place for a simple meal - it is especially good for burgers and does a nice homemade lasagne too.
  • Delifrance - Low Petergate. For lunch, you could do a lot worse than pop in here. Okay, so it's not really a local menu (check out the name, after all) but it does a good line in freshly-made baguettes.
  • Whitehead and Schmitter - Goodramgate. A quiet restaurant set in a 16th Century building with exposed timbers. Especially good if you have a taste for seafood, so I'm told (I'm not big on seafood personally). I should probably warn you that they are closed on Sundays though.
  • Bella Pasta - Low Petergate. A pretty good place to try for a reasonably priced pasta or pizza-based meal. Okay, so it's part of a chain but I'm not a food-snob. Al least it's open on Sundays!.
  • Kings Arms - Kings Staith. A traditional and atmospheric pub with a nice line in lunchtime food. You can also sit outside on the riverside, weather permitting. Be warned though - this is the pub you often see flooded on TV when the River Ouse bursts its banks!
  • The Maltings - Tanners Moat. One of the best/widest range of beers in York. Not the most salubrious of surroundings, but you can't have everything in life...
  • Victor J's Art Bar - just off St Sampson's Square. If you can get past the stupid name and bright yellow signs, this is a neat place to hang out. The food is good, the beer is okay (although the range is quite narrow) and the atmosphere is relaxed and pretty chilled. Worth a look.
  • The Mason's Arms - Fishergate. Worthy of a recommendation for both the well-kept beer and the good food (and big portions) - both are keenly priced too.
  • Ackhorne Inn - St Martin's Lane. A little off the beaten track, so quieter than many city centre pubs. The real draw here is the well-kept beer and (regularly changed) guest beers. Food available is a bit basic but cheap!
  • The Royal Oak Inn - Goodramgate. Don't let the fact that this was 'Tourist Pub of the Year 2001' put you off! The Oak does has quaint features, like lots of wood panelling, but more importantly it serves a good pint of ale in a central location. What more could you want?
  • Club life - York is reasonably well served in this respect. Ikon & Diva are very popular with York's bright young things. At the other end of the scale, and more to my taste, you'll find The Gallery in Clifford Street. Particularly good are the Club Culture Northern Soul/Mod/Motown night on Thursdays, and the "More Tea Vicar?" indie theme on Sunday nights. Somewhere between these extremes you'll find clubs like Sly's and Ziggy's, so you could always take pot luck in any of these. Alternatively, you could always check out clubbed.com for more up-to-date clubbing info.
  • And finally... - for more detailed information about pubs in the area (but not actually in York, sadly), Ant Veal's UK Pub Guide has some very handy info.

Page updated 21-Nov-2006 10:56:55 GMT

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