York is one of those wonderfully quintessential English cities that manages to capture the imagination in a way that, to be honest, not many English cities do. We first visited in 2017 for a couple of hours, and again this summer for a couple of hours. Seeing a pattern? Us too, and it needed to change.
We needed to spend longer in York.
So after talking about it for months after our last pit stop there, we finally decided to treat ourselves to a weekend in the city this month! And it couldn’t have been more perfect, with the Christmas markets in town and a chance to catch up with some wonderful friends.
Here’s what we got up to on our festive weekend in York.
We’ve stopped by York Minster on every visit, but never wanted to pay to go inside. It’s so spectacular from the outside that I never felt the need.
This time, we finally did – and although it is HUGE in there and seriously impressive, it’s not as ornate as I was expecting. It didn’t help that we went in just as it was getting dark, so the stained glass windows weren’t as colourful and prominent as they probably should have been. That said, there’s a room with old Roman wall foundations inside, and we also had the pleasure of hearing a choir practising, which added a lot of magic to the place.
A ticket to York Minster is pretty steep at almost £12, but the ticket lasts for a year, so it’s not too bad if you plan to come back. It’s also free for York residents, which I think is really good – I wish Edinburgh did more of that!
The craziest thing I read is that York Minster costs £23,000 per day to run. PER DAY. How?!
Jorvik Viking Centre
Apart from walking around the city, the Jorvik Viking Centre is probably my top thing to do! If you’re going to pay for one thing in York, it should be this.
The highlight is an actual ride that takes you around scenes of life in York as it was inhabited by Vikings. It’s done really, really well! You get to visit people from all walks of life, including hunters, traders and blacksmiths.
The attention to detail is phenomenal – and you even stop by a hunched woman (she’s on the left there) trying to cross the road, before finding her actual skeleton in the museum. The amount of details they’ve managed to figure out about the way these people lived (and often how they died) just from the bones and tools they found is outstanding.
After the ride, the museum itself is admittedly quite small – I think most of the cost goes on the ride and the animatronics of the figures! But it’s well worth a visit, and was one of my highlights of York.
If you know two things about York, it’s probably York Minster and the adorable lopsided street with the equally adorable name: The Shambles.
Unfortunately that means The Shambles gets extremely busy, especially in the height of summer when some of these photos were taken. Given that the street is already narrow, huge crowds aren’t a great mix – but to be honest, if you’re just there for the atmosphere (rather than trying patiently to get photos with less people in!!) then it’s still completely adorable.
Two different days – almost identical photos. Both impossible to get without people in!
And after all, it’s rumoured that Diagon Alley was based on The Shambles, and you never catch Diagon Alley on a quiet day, do you?
You have The Shambles – and then Little Shambles, too!
This is my favourite Harry Potter themed shop, although too many are popping up now (much like Edinburgh!) – in fact, four have appeared in the past couple of years, which is ridiculous. This one is awesome though – I love the signs outside, and there’s even a place to park your brooms!
Apart from that, there are tons of really funky shops, including this potions one:
Along with plenty of other curious wares, I seem to discover something new every time. There’s so much to look at! It’s a great place to pick up some food too – if you haven’t found somewhere out in the market in the main square, there’s Ye Olde Pie And Sausage Shoppe (because OF COURSE on a street like The Shambles, there’s a shop with Ye Olde in the title) which Ash highly recommends.
Dinner at The Nook. Or Fancy Hank’s. Or, or–
When I had a quick look on TripAdvisor, I had no idea that I was delving into a huge food scene in York.
“Okay,” I said. “If you want burgers, we should go here or here. If you want pub food, I’m not sure whether to choose this, this or this. If you fancy Italian, this place looks amazing. How about some awesome street food? Actually, this place looks great. Let’s go here. And then let’s come back to York so we can go to all of the others.”
We had two nights in York, and on the first, we went to Fancy Hank’s, a Texan-style burger joint with a great reputation. Ash declared his burger delicious, but I lost out because I wasn’t in a burger-y mood and opted for macaroni cheese, and quite honestly it wasn’t anything special. I wish I’d gone for a burger! Their small plates look amazing too.
On our second night, friends were joining us, and I suggested The Nook. It was a FANTASTIC choice, with bao buns and street food and a quirky atmosphere that didn’t seem uncommon in York. I had the halloumi breakfast burger (in the evening because I’m a rebel, yo) and we shared some bao buns and everything was phenomenal!
We had cocktails too, of course, but another cool thing about The Nook is they have a fridge full of local craft beers to buy and take home with you. (And yes, in case you didn’t notice from the picture at the top, there are giant toy horses. I said hello to both of them.)
We walked past another place, Bill’s, and I said, “oh I read this place is really good.” It’s right in the centre of town, and so we walked past it a few times – and every time, somebody near us would stop and say, “ooh, this place is supposed to be good!” and we would laugh. So that’s a definite option for next time!
…if we stay for a week.
Brunch at Mad Hatter’s
A few months ago, my friend posted a photo… you know those freakshake crazy milkshakes? It was like that, but hot chocolate. Turns out it was also not far from a friend’s, and I immediately messaged her the photo and said she needs to go there. A few days later, she sent me a photo back because she had already gone with a friend!
Anyway, that place was Mad Hatter’s, and that friend was the one visiting us in York. So when I discovered there’s a Mad Hatter’s in York, my eyes lit up and my blood sugar levels shot up just at the thought of it.
The only thing is, it wasn’t the same. The hot chocolates weren’t as mental and we went for milkshakes instead which weren’t quite freakshakes – but the place itself was pretty mad! It’s set in an old shambolic house, and as we went upstairs, we felt like we were in a topsy turvy land. The room we ended up sitting in was literally lopsided, and I felt drunk when I tried to go to the bathroom!
I definitely had a sugar rush too, because my friend and I shared a brownie as well as our oreo milkshakes – yum yum!
In case you didn’t know, I live for ridiculous signs.
And so, in York, I am thrilled to have found the most ridiculous of them all. (Or rather, Ash found it and immediately came to find me.)
The last time we were in York, we had fish and chips from Drake’s, and Ash has been craving it ever since. It was a must-do on our return – but in case you hadn’t gathered, it turns out York has a lot of good food, and we *gasp* didn’t return to Drake’s.
Our other must-do was the Yorkshire pudding wrap! Again, I was stuffed after our Mad Hatter’s jaunt, but my friends indulged themselves in one each, and I have actually had one since and loved it!
Just walking around and taking it all in
I honestly think my favourite thing to do in York is just walk around and explore it. Sit outside York Minster and people watch. Walk down yet another adorable street while wondering if this is one I’ve seen already.
How many cute buildings could there possibly be?! Answer: too many!
In case you’re wondering, there ARE buildings in York that aren’t half-timbered, lopsided and/or completely adorable.
…but even then, they’re still pretty cool!
Bonus: Christmas markets!
One great addition to a winter visit to York is the Christmas markets. I’ll be honest: I’ve started to feel like Christmas markets blend into one, and it’s hard to compete with the fantastic one we have in Edinburgh. But in a place as magical as York, a Christmas market is only going to add to that!
I didn’t just go for a mulled wine, either. I went for a mulled wine PUNCH. It had rum in it, and we ended up walking back through the markets so one of my friends could pick up a second one!
We also managed to catch a regular busking band, Hyde Family Jam. Enticed towards them by a Balkan-esque gypsy folk version of Abba – Lay All Your Love On Me, we were treated to a whole set culminating in a crowd of people singing along to Fairytale Of New York. A Christmas market can’t get any more perfect than that, to be honest. Sorry, you’ve all been beaten.
Where to stay: Chelmsford Place Guest House
We planned this trip fairly last minute, and almost had to abandon the plan because everywhere was booked up apart from overpriced hotels. Chelmsford Place had a cancellation which we snapped up immediately, and I feel like we hit the jackpot – because I could not fault this place at all!
In a city like York, it’s great to stay somewhere locally owned rather than a chain hotel, so I was keen on staying in a B&B, and this was only a ten minute walk from the centre of town.
Janine offered a stellar service from check in to check out and everything in between, including helping out with parking, suggesting places to visit (and avoid!) and making us feel so welcome on arrival that it felt like we were visiting family for the weekend – Yorkshire hospitality at its best. The breakfasts in particular were fabulous – my only complaint is that they filled me up too much to try all those bazillions of places I wanted to eat in York!!!
York is a fantastic place to visit any time of year, but I honestly think winter has been my favourite so far! Especially as we got really, really good weather for it, which obviously is impossible to plan for. Every single time I’ve visited, The Shambles has been packed – but, unsurprisingly, July was the worst. So although a winter visit still isn’t going to be quiet, it’s got to be better than summer!
I think it’s safe to say now that York is one of my favourite cities in the UK – I felt like I couldn’t really say that after visiting for a couple of hours.
But with views like this – how can you NOT love it?!
Where have you enjoyed visiting this winter? Do you see any British towns as winter destinations?
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