When I think of York, I think of medieval buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, the beautiful York Minster, and Vikings. This small city is filled with an abundance of historical and cultural heritage; and it can be seen in every corner, every building and every street. Everything is so well preserved that walking into the boundaries of York’s city walls is like walking back into the medieval times.
The city of York is located in the United Kingdom, and was founded by the Romans in 71AD. It was later captured by the Vikings in 866, and they had a large influence on the city– it was renamed Jorvik, which largely influenced its current name; and the city became the center of Viking trade in northern England.
York later became the second city of medieval England, as a preferred base of the Kings. Industry came to city with the arrival of railways in the 20th century, and York is now of the most visited cities in England, after London.
I love York. I loved walking its streets and admiring the gorgeous preserved buildings. I fell in love with York Minster and I was awed by the history of the Vikings. I think this city makes the most romantic weekend getaway.
York is small in size and pretty easy to walk around in. I spent 2 days in York, and this is my list of the 10 things not be missed while you’re visiting the city.
1) Admire the York Minster
This majestic Roman-Catholic cathedral is one of the most beautiful in the world. Dominating the skyline of York, if you only have time to visit one place in the city, this is it. The current building of York Minster was completed in the late 15th century, and made out of creamy-white limestone.
It was absolutely awe-inspiring walking through the cathedral; admiring the stained glass windows, the intricate designs, and it’s many treasures and artifacts. I made a visit to the top of the tower as well, just to see the stunning view of York.
2) Visit the Jorvik Viking Center
The Vikings played a very huge part in the history of York, and it can be seen and experienced at the Jorvik Viking Center. This museum and exhibition center has a special train that takes visitors back 1,000 years to the Viking-age, passing by reconstructed traditional villages and streets. They even added the sounds and smells of that era to give it a realistic feel.
The experience was a great way to learn about the Viking’s influence on York, and how they lived and survived all those years ago. Kids would definitely enjoy this– I did.
3) Walk Along the Shambles
The Shambles is York’s oldest street, and Europe’s best preserved medieval street– that is why it is one of the most visited streets in the UK. The term “shambles” used to mean slaughterhouse, or meat market; which was the main business along this stretch during those days. The Tudor-styled 14th century buildings that line the street have roofs that are almost touching each other, some even hanging over the street in an odd angle.
I had a lovely time walking along the Shambles– it was fun looking into the glass windows of the many traditional shops selling everything from chocolates and sweets, to toys and little trinkets.
4) Climb Clifford’s Tower
All that remains of York Castle is the historic Clifford’s Tower, located on a hill in the center of the city of York. It was initially built by William the Conqueror, then rebuilt by King Henry III in the mid-13th century, and later used increasingly as a prison.
Getting to the tower involves climbing a flight of stone staircases up the hill. The tower itself is almost circular, with four round bastions. It has 2 stories with a hollow middle; and though its walls have undergone severe deformation, it is still possible to climb to the top for stunning panoramic views of the city and the countryside. I visited during sunset, and the vista was absolutely stunning.
5) Explore the York Castle Museum
The York Castle Museum has pretty impressive exhibitions including the recreation of a Victorian Street and several period rooms. The museum is housed in prison buildings which were built in the 18th century on the site of the York Castle. Therefore, there is also a display of the old prison cells, depicting the lives of prisoners during that time.
Another interesting part of the museum is the exhibition of old period costumes– which are so elaborate and pretty, and the history of children’s toys.
6) Visit the National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum in York tells the history of rail transport in the United Kingdom; with over 100 locomotives on display, as well as artifacts, equipment, documents, articles and pictures. If you are searching for anything to do with trains and rail travel in the country, this is the place to find it– after all, it is the largest railway museum in the world.
I had one of the most educational visits in this museum– discovering the history of rail travel, learning how trains work, looking under the trains and visiting inside the trains. Best part of all, I got to see Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express, and climbed aboard a Japanese bullet train without going to Japan.
7) Go on a Ghost Tour
There are many signs promoting ghost tours, walks and hunts displayed throughout the city of York. I wasn’t very picky with which tour I wanted to follow– so I joined the one that was most convenient to me. The ‘Ghost Hunt of York’ begins from the Shambles at 7.30pm daily; and is led by a Victorian guide dressed in a frock coat and top hat, who looked pretty ghostly himself.
I thoroughly enjoyed my little ‘ghost hunt’. The guide was absolutely hilarious and captivating– and he managed to entertain the crowd with a mix of horror and humor. He told us stories about the lone girl crying by the window and the murders of York, and pointed out several streets and corners where wandering spirits have been spotted. Thankfully, we didn’t see anything supernatural during the tour!
8) Get Lost Inside the City Walls
York has always been defended by ‘walls’, and several portions of these walls still remain. The old walls encircle the city of York, and it is possible to walk and explore them.
From the walls, you can admire the maze that makes up the city– medieval buildings of different shapes, sizes and color from thousands of years ago. Take time to walk along its streets and you’ll chance upon a gorgeous old building, a secluded lane, an empty corner and surprises at every turn. The city is just so classically beautiful.
9) Dine at Betty’s Tea Room
If there’s a restaurant that deserves to be in the mix of things to do in York, it’s Betty’s Tea Rooms. There are six of these tea rooms located around Yorkshire, and they are world-famous for their delightful pastries and desserts. The cafe is styled in the 20’s era, and provides a cozy, nostalgic atmosphere for a lovely cuppa.
I was there for lunch and the cafe was packed to the brim, so I had to queue outside for about half an hour or so. Upon entering, I was escorted into the tea room downstairs; and I felt like I was being welcomed into someone’s house for a tea party. The food was absolutely delicious, and presented in such a pretty and dainty manner– it is not cheap, but worth every penny.
10) Eat the Yorkshire Pudding
Honestly, I don’t know the history of the Yorkshire pudding (actually no one really knows)– where it came from, or if it even has origins in Yorkshire. But because of its name, you have to at least eat a Yorkshire pudding when you’re visiting York!
The name itself baffles me– I always thought of pudding as a sweet dessert. In actual fact, the Yorkshire pudding is a dish made out of batter consisting of eggs, flour and milk; and is podgy, light and airy. I ordered mine with beef and gravy, and had a fantastic meal.