York: A Medieval City with a Modern Heart

Introduction to York

York is a cathedral city with Roman origins, sited at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Foss. The city has many historic buildings and other structures, such as a minster, castle, and city walls. It was founded under the name of Eboracum in 71 AD.

With a population of 141,685, is one of 15 in England to have a lord mayor, and one of three to have “The Right Honourable” title affixed, the others being London’s and Bristol’s. 

What do to in York

Find below the best things to do in York.

Walk the City Walls

This is York’s favourite attraction by far and you should walk along a part of it, at least.

York has, since Roman times, been defended by walls of one form or another. To this day, substantial portions of the walls remain, and York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. They are known variously as York City Walls, the Bar Walls and the Roman Walls. The walls are generally 13 feet (4m) high and 6 feet (1.8m) wide.

These defences are the most complete in England. They have the only walls set on high ramparts and they retain all their principal gateways. They incorporate part of the walls of the Roman fortress and some Norman and medieval work, as well as 19th- and 20th-century renovations.

The entire circuit is approximately 2.5 miles (4 km), and encloses an area of 263 acres (106 ha).

Step into History at York Minster

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, commonly known as York Minster, is one of the largest Anglican cathedrals in Northern Europe. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the third-highest office of the Church of England.

The title “minster” is attributed to churches established in the Anglo-Saxon period as missionary teaching churches. It was completed in 1472 after several centuries of building. It is devoted to Saint Peter and has a very wide Decorated Gothic nave and chapter house, a Perpendicular Gothic quire and east end and Early English north and south transepts.

The nave contains the West Window, constructed in 1338, and over the Lady Chapel in the east end is the Great East Window (finished in 1408), the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. In the north transept is the Five Sisters window, each lancet being over 53 feet (16.3 m) high. The south transept contains a rose window, while the West Window contains a heart-shaped design colloquially known as The Heart of Yorkshire.

Wander Through the Shambles

Shambles Market

The Shambles is a narrow medieval street, lined with shops, boutiques and tea rooms. Its unusual name comes from an old English term for an open-air slaughterhouse or meat market.

Most of these premises were once butchers’ shops, and the hooks from which carcasses were hung and the shelves on which meat was laid out can still be seen outside some of them. The street also contains the Shrine of Margaret Clitherow, although it is not located in the house where she lived. Goodramgate has many medieval houses including the early-14th‑century Lady Row built to finance a Chantry, at the edge of the churchyard of Holy Trinity church.

The most iconic beer shop and pub is certainly the Ye Old Shambles Tavern. Find a great selection of bottled fine ales on the ground floor, plus a beautiful pub on the first one offering beer on draught and food. Another historic pub in the area is Ye Olde Starre Inne.

Another must is the Shambles Market, a long-established outdoor city centre market open 7 days a week selling produce, crafts & clothing.

The official website contains all sorts of useful information comprising shops, events and more.

Climb Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower

The York Castle consists of a sequence of castles, prisons, law courts and other buildings, which were built over the last nine centuries on the south side of the River Foss.

The now ruined keep of the medieval Norman castle is commonly referred to as Clifford’s Tower. Built originally on the orders of William I to dominate the former Viking city of Jórvík, the castle suffered a tumultuous early history before developing into a major fortification with extensive water defences. After a major explosion in 1684 rendered the remaining military defences uninhabitable, York Castle continued to be used as a gaol and prison until 1929.

By the 20th century, the ruin of Clifford’s Tower had become a well-known tourist destination and national monument.

Cruise the River Ouse

The River Ouse is a continuation of the River Ure, and the combined length of the River Ure and River Ouse makes it, at 129 miles (208 km), the sixth-longest river of the United Kingdom and (including the Ure) the longest to flow entirely in one county.

A relaxing tour of the river will let you see the sights of York from a different perspective, also learning some history and getting some expert recommendations.

Visit some museums

(source: girlmuseum.org)

There are over 20 museums in York, ranging from art galleries to history and science museums. Some of them are the following.

  • York Castle Museum. Displays and recreate various periods of history, with meticulously reconstructed Victorian streets that allow visitors to wander through the past.
  • Jorvik Viking Centre. An interactive journey that resurrects the sights, sounds, and even smells of York’s Viking past.
  • Yorkshire Museum. From its Roman artefacts to its natural history exhibits, the museum provides a comprehensive exploration of the region’s past.
  • Merchant Adventurers’ Hal. This medieval guildhall showcases the city’s commercial legacy through its architecture and artefacts.
  • National Railway Museum. For railway enthusiasts and history buffs alike, the National Railway Museum is a true delight. This expansive museum boasts an unparalleled collection of locomotives, carriages, and railway memorabilia that tell the story of Britain’s railway heritage.

Discover Castle Howard

(source: GetYourGuide)

Castle Howard is a stately home located 15 miles (24 km) north of York. It is a private residence and has been the home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for more than 300 years. Castle Howard is not a fortified structure, but the term “castle” is sometimes used in the name of an English country house that was built on the site of a former castle.

The house is familiar to television and film audiences such as the fictional “Brideshead“, both in Granada Television’s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and in a two-hour 2008 adaptation for cinema and also as the Clyvedon House, the family seat of the Duke of Hastings, in the Netflix series Bridgerton (2020).

Tickets are available on the official website and online travel agencies such as Get Your Guide.

Enjoy local beer

Ye Old Shambles Tavern

In June 2015 York CAMRA listed 101 pubs on its map of the city centre, some of which are hundreds of years old. These include the Golden FleeceYe Olde Starre Inne, noted for its sign which has spanned the street since 1733, and The Kings Arms, often photographed during floods.

On 18 June 2016, York CAMRA undertook a “Beer Census” and found 328 unique real ales being served in over 200 pubs in York, reinforcing the city’s reputation as a top UK beer destination.

The best ales I tried in York were from Theakston Brewery. It is not a local one, but they are located nearby in Masham. Other popular breweries in the city are Brew York, York Brewery and Half Moon Brewery.

Attend an annual Event

If you are lucky enough with the dates, you may be able to attend one of these recommended events:

  • Annual Festival of Food and Drink. The festival aims to spotlight food culture in York and North Yorkshire by promoting local food production.
  • The Assize of Ale is an annual event in the city where people in medieval costume take part in a pub crawl to raise money for local charities. 
  • The Knavesmire, home of York Racecourse, plays host to Yorkshire’s largest beer festival every September run by York CAMRA – York Beer & Cider Festival.

Where to stay in York

Malmaison York (source: booking.com)

Some recommended hotels and B&B in York are the following.

  • Malmaison York. A stylish hotel with a rooftop bar and restaurant with views of the city (see picture above), located just a short walk from York Minster and the city walls.
  • Clementine’s Town House Hotel. A charming boutique hotel with a beautiful garden just outside of the city centre.
  • Hotel Indigo York. A modern IHG-owned hotel with a chocolate-making theme. Well located.
  • Dean Court Hotel. A centrally located traditional hotel with a warm and inviting atmosphere.

And some budget alternatives are below.

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