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Visit York

From the Gothic majesty of the Minster to the courtly beauty of its city walls, York is unique among British tourist destinations. Lacking the pretentiousness of the UK’s more famous university towns (despite its own well regarded educational institution), and way more spectacular than some of the country’s other well preserved cities, York is a magical mystery tour of cobbled streets and massive buildings so convincingly maintained you can practically hear the hoof beats.

Wander the streets of the fortified centre at night and you’ll mingle with students, history buffs and international travellers come here to soak up the prehistory. Get up on the walls themselves, and you’ll see it all laid out before you: castles and keeps, guild halls and cathedrals. This is the cream of England’s heritage, from Romans and Vikings to ghost walks and festivals. And it’s all served with a side order of trendy bars and chic restaurants.

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Top Attractions in York

National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum celebrates York’s importance in the UK railway network, its engineering legacy...

National Railway Museum

York Minster

York Minster is the biggest, grandest and most famous Gothic cathedral in the world – a vast block...

York Minster

Yorkshire Museum

The Yorkshire Museum is home to a huge collection of treasures, from archaeological finds to the flora and fauna...

Yorkshire Museum

Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower is more than just an ancient relic (the only surviving piece of York Castle, which was constructed by...

Clifford’s Tower
https://flic.kr/p/6RVpG
York Minster by M Poudyal
https://flic.kr/p/bELtb3
Jorvik Viking Centre by John Robinson

For a city so full of history, York’s much more than the sum of its buildings.

Events

There’s a public event for practically every month of the year, from the Early Music Festival (full of ethereal close harmony singing and mead) to the Beer and Cider Festival. Come in autumn and early winter for the St Nicholas Fair, traditionally a pre-Christmas gathering for arts and crafts merchants from the local area; or wait until the season is well and truly under way for the second Early Music festival of the year. Whenever you visit York, there’s something unusual to get your teeth into!

York Minster

If you only visit one church in your lifetime, make it the Minster. York’s most famous landmark – and in a city stuffed with important buildings, that’s saying something – is a day out in its own right: a huge pile of a cathedral whose epic exterior lours down over the surrounding streets, and utterly dominates the city’s skyline.

The Shambles

It’s not just individual landmarks that give York such a power to mesmerise. Amble through the Shambles, purportedly the most-visited single street in the whole of Europe, for a spectacular experience in living history. The Tudor buildings are so close together they practically kiss above your head, and if you can ignore the crowds of snap-happy tourists long enough to unleash your imagination, you’ll feel yourself whisked back in time.

The Jorvik Centre

If medieval magic isn’t enough to float your boat, try a Viking longship. The Jorvik Centre takes visitors on a whirlwind tour of York’s violent history, and magnificently recreates the legendary Coppergate excavation, which you can literally walk over on a glass floor. Discover how the Yorkshire coast was raided by the warrior tribe, walk in the mud of a medieval street and see the Vikings themselves, building and living in the city we know today.

Old and New

Everywhere you look in York, there’s something old and something new: a magnificent building, an entire preserved street, a city centre whose network of tiny lanes is the same as it was when murder and intrigue were conducted under the low ceilings of pubs – now surviving as elegant restaurants and city bars. There’s nothing like this anywhere else in England. Come and say hello to history.

York Station by Tony Hisgett
York Station by Tony Hisgett

York is nowhere near a major airport, though there are some domestic airports in the region. However, London airports serve York with fast trains from the capital, so your best bet is to fly to Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and connect via rail.

By train

York is extremely well connected to the UK rail system – it’s one of the major hubs for connecting lines. In keeping with the tone of the city as a whole, York station is magnificent and considered to be a visitor attraction in its own right: so prepare to have your camera ready as soon as you disembark! York station was the biggest anywhere in the world when it was built – it is still extremely busy, thanks to its status as an interchange between several mainland lines.

By car

It’s easy enough to get into the area outside the city in a car: but think twice before trying to get into the city centre and find a parking space. The layout of central York has barely changed since the primary mode of transport was walking, and its streets are either unfit for large quantities of traffic, or simply congested. Parking is notably expensive, and hard to find. There are park and ride facilities on the edge of the city, which are much more economical.

By bus

The national bus network picks up and drops off close to the railway station.

Within the city walls, all roads are closed to cars and motor vehicles, barring disabled drivers and the emergency services, between 8am and 4pm. Consequently, walking around York is a joy, and you can cross the whole of the city centre in under half an hour. Beware of the traffic flooding in after 4pm, when workers are trying to get home – if you’ve become used to seeing empty roads, the sudden congestion can be quite a shock!

There are bus services running between major tourist spots (i.e. most of York city centre), but they’re expensive and slow. Walking or cycling are your best options. Cycling in York is pleasant and easy: there is an improved cycle network, and the small size of the city ensures no distance is too great!

Tudor Café by Michael Coghlan
Tudor Café by Michael Coghlan

York’s history is everywhere. Walk down any street in the city and you’ll see multiple, excellently preserved historic buildings: come into the city centre, within the boundaries of the fortifications, and you won’t see anything modern at all.

Civic Evolution

Visiting York is like walking through a theme park dedicated to 2,000 years of British civic evolution, from the invention of the Romans to the bloody settlement of the Vikings; and through the dingy Middle Ages to the arrival of the railways. Indeed, York is unique among British cities in representing virtually every major historical period in its architecture. You will even find modern hospital buildings and housing estates, though they’re all but lost in the clutter of Tudor Streets and walled fortifications.

Roman Walls

The walls around the city were built by the Romans, almost two millennia ago. Parts of the original fortifications still remain. The Danes added to the walls nearly 1,000 years later, and the rest of the structure you see today was added to the hotchpotch between the 12th and 14th centuries.

16th and 17th Centuries

After a brief period of economic decline, York regained its status and importance in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was during this time that many of the city’s magnificent town houses were built, to cater for the wealthy northern merchants whose business interests were injecting capital into the city that would see it clear through to the present day. York is still a major centre of commerce in the north, with shopping to rival that of London or Manchester. You can discover the origins of its mercantile present in the edifices of the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House, the racecourse, the Assembly Rooms, the Theatre Royal and Fairfax House.

Railways

When the railways came to York in the mid 19th century, thanks to promoter George Hudson, the city added engineering to its list of achievements. The railway station was, at the time, the biggest in the world, and the railways linking York to the rest of the country powered manufacturing and distribution on a large scale – particularly of famous Rowntree’s and Terry’s chocolate.

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