I first went to York when I was about the age of 12. I have vague memories of climbing to the top of York Minster and eating a bright blue ice cream.
Despite wanting to go back for ages, I’ve never quite managed to make the journey up there. I realised a little while ago that I hadn’t been further than Manchester since I was at University. Even my Manchester trip was over two years ago and was only to go to a work conference. I whacked it on my weekend visits in England bucket list for the year. I knew I would have to make sure I went in 2017. When my boyfriend got a hotel voucher from a friend as a gift, it was a sign and we used it to finally get our bums up to York.
Getting to York
I was quite surprised with how quickly you can get to York from London. It can only take around two hours if you book the right trains. They leave from Kings Cross on the Virgin East Coast Mainline. However, the one thing that’s stopped me visiting before is the expensive prices. I had never managed to find train tickets that wouldn’t have completely bankrupted me. And that’s with a railcard. Luckily, Virgin trains ran one of their amazing first class seat sales and included York on the list of destinations. I have never snapped up train tickets quite so quickly.
I know it’s not a particularly glamorous thing to have a chat about on your blog, but I really do think everyone should sign up to crappy marketing emails from train companies. We all know that UK train ticket prices are insane, but train companies often have sales and one of the only ways to know about them is by signing up to marketing. Virgin trains are particularly good at it.
And also, can I just mention how amazing travelling by Virgin First Class is? They cooked us a risotto on the way home. A risotto on a train. It blows my bloody mind because it’s just so ridiculous. Sod all that fighting for a seat in standard class if you can help it – I’m having a risotto and my third glass of free g&t, thanks.
Once we got to York, it’s pretty easy to walk around the city centre. You really don’t need a car. With most of the city centre pedestrianised, I think it’s safe to say that having a car in York would actually be a disadvantage.
Staying in York
We stayed at Judges Court hotel. The hotel is hidden away at the bottom of an alleyway in an incredible Georgian building. Small alleyways in York are apparently called “snickelways”. Personally, I think this is a much better word for alleyways. I reckon it should be put into use in other parts of the country.
The hotel itself was nicely decorated and it was in an incredible location in the middle of York. The best thing about it was the ridiculous shower room our bedroom came with. It was essentially another room down its own alleyway, hiding not one but three showers.
The hotel is full of history too, being the place many Judges stayed while they were in York. One judge gained fame after sentencing Dick Turpin to death.
But it was extortionately expensive for what we had. The only reason we could justify staying there was because we had a voucher which brought the costs down by about two thirds. The room didn’t even come with breakfast and we had to head up Bills ourselves the next morning to grab something to eat.
Would I stay there again? Probably not. I’m sure there are more reasonably priced options in York.
Eating & Drinking in York
We arrived in York on a Sunday – and ended up having a roast dinner at Cafe No8 Bistro on Gillygate. It had taken us ages to find anywhere we wanted to eat that afternoon, and after battling crowds of people through the town itself, we were quite happy to find Cafe No 8 because it was so quiet. We sat in their back garden and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The service and cocktails were good, the roast was good too but it was, unfortunately, let down by the Yorkshire puddings. Maybe we were holding them to a slightly higher standard because we were in Yorkshire…?
I actually had quite a bit of fun drinking in York. We headed first to Sutlers on Fossgate. They have over 100 gins to choose from. I felt slightly overwhelmed by the choice if I’m honest. But the vibe was quite good and I treated myself to some pretty fruity gin liqueurs, which are one of my guilty pleasures.
Afterwards, we headed to Evil Eye bar on the recommendation of a friend. It’s a bar hidden behind a specialist bottle shop, and even though it felt a little run down in places, they had one of the most extensive cocktail menus I’ve seen anywhere. Service was a little ropey – but not from the people behind the bar – more from one of the managers who had a go at the barmaid serving me because she’d dared to make me a cocktail and exclude one of the ingredients. It was super awkward and put a taint on a place which has quite an epic music playlist and such a variety of choice.
Boat Trip Along the Ouse
We started off our visit by jumping on a boat for a trip along the River Ouse. We caught the boat from the King’s Staith Landing but they’re also available from Lendal Bridge. I would usually say that doing a boat trip is one of the best ways to see an old city. However, I’m not sure it’s the best way to see York. We had a nice time, don’t get me wrong, and the weather was perfect for it. But there’s not much of interest around York to be seen from the boat. It’s all a little more inland.
Maybe it depends on the tour guide you get, but ours was determined to talk about lots of the different birds down the river, but when we passed another boat and I heard their tour guide, he sounded much better than ours.
Afterwards, our boat trip we headed down to see the Shambles. It’s the classic thing you must do when you’re in York. It’s a small street with over hanging timber buildings. It was built this way as the street used to be home to as many as 25 butcher shops in 1830. The lack of sun on the street helped to preserve the meat. These days there aren’t any butcher shops, instead, there are now a variety of shops – most on the touristy side. At number 10 there is a shrine to St Margaret Clitherow – a woman who lived on the street and helped to protect Catholic priests from persecution in the 1500s.
There’s also the Shambles market nearby which is worth a look around – especially if you’re peckish for a sweet treat. If you’re after another sweet treat, then you can always attempt to queue for the famous Betty’s tea room. We didn’t attempt the queue (it was huge) and instead headed to Brew & Brownie just around the corner.
We spent most of the afternoon exploring the maze of streets that make up York. The city must win the award for the best street names in Britain – with places like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate and Mad Alice Lane.
My only complaint about York is how busy the city is. It was crowds that stopped us from properly seeing York Minster. Although we wandered around the bottom, we missed out on the views from the top because the queue was just something else to get up there. We did get to see the Grand East Window, built in 1408 and that’s really something not to be missed.
Would I head back?
Of course. Yorks size and the sheer amount of history in one little town makes it one of the best locations in the UK for a city break – especially when the train journey from London takes barely any time at all. The city has pretty much every British historical time period covered, from the Vikings to the Victorians and you can spend ages walking around spotting how each period influenced this place.
Just maybe not on a sunny weekend in the height of the summer holidays…