Monday, 25 February 2019

13 things to see and do in York // a York travel guide

"I'm going to a York for a couple of days" I tell my colleagues.

"New York!" they exclaim. "How exciting!"

"No, York. As in Yorkshire, England."

"Oh." they reply dejectedly.

Why is it that overseas vacations are met with so much more enthusiasm? What's wrong with domestic vacations and staying put? As much as I love travelling abroad to sunny and exotic locations, I also love exploring my own home turf. So when booking a trip, I knew I wanted to champion the great British staycation and locally sourced food.

There are so many beautiful places in England, and I am ashamed to say that I have barely scratched the surface despite being British born and bred. Repeatedly I hear people praising York and what a beautiful city it is, so this was one place sat firmly on my travel bucket-list.

WHERE TO STAY

In York there is a wealth of accommodation for all budget types. There are hotels right by the station, self catering apartments in the city centre, and also more purse friendly options dotted around.

Walking around York I stumbled across Gray's Court York (this guy), the oldest inhabited house in York which I would love to stay in another time (I mean, check out these bedrooms!) It had the most beautiful garden and outdoor seating area which would lend itself well to a cup of tea. Or six. Oh and I spotted the cutest husky bouncing around. Whether he / she belonged to the hotel owners or a guest, I haven't the foggiest. But it made my heart do silly things in my chest.


Further along the city wall, I found this delight which I really hope is an Airbnb so there is every chance of being able to stay here in the future. Knowing my luck, it's probably someone's home and not somewhere you can actually stay. Either way, I loved the roof terrace garden, and the building itself was like something out of Grand Designs.


Being a massive foodie, I booked up at the Grand Hotel & Spa York as I'd heard that it was one of the top places in the UK for food. Just a stone throw's away from the station, right up close to the city walls, and in proximity to some of York's main attractions like York Minster, it was ideally located.  For a closer look at the hotel, I have written a hotel review here


HOW TO GET THERE

York is easily accessible by train (fast trains to/from London take just 1 hr 50 - 2 hrs). I used LNR (London North Eastern Railway) on the way there and opted for the quiet carriage because being up at 5am that morning, it meant that I could sleep through. Both on the way there and the way back, there were spectacular countryside views - so I really do recommend taking the train if budget allows.

I used Grand Central for the return journey which was an interesting experience... Despite pre-booking seats, some lady thought she had a right to sit in our seats because a member of staff had told her they were available. Correction: they'd told they were available for her to use until York and then she'd have to give them up. But she chose not to hear that part it seems. It was late in the day, all seats were taken, and it was a direct train to London. I was not going to stand for 2 hours after being on my feet constantly for the last 48 hours. This lady was stubborn as and refused to budge. Even when I called over a member of Grand Central staff. Even when this multiplied to three members of staff who were standing over her. It was a very frustrating experience and seeing as she didn't even have a ticket to present to staff, she should have been forcibly removed. However Grand Central did very kindly upgrade me to first class. I've never travelled first class before in any capacity and it was a real treat having the extra leg room and being offered tea and biscuits from the trolley.

WHAT TO EAT

York has a wealth of restaurants. Many of these in the city centre and include well known restaurant chains and family restaurants like Nandos, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express and so on. I visited York during the week and found that restaurants in the city centre were PACKED due to the 12-2pm lunch rush. So I'd recommend taking a later lunch from 2pm onwards to beat the crowds, or alternatively scoping out food away from the city centre. The latter I did myself on the very first day. Right by Clifford's Tower, I found a lovely restaurant called The Olive Tree.


And let me tell you now, their lunch menu was an absolute steal. I opted for pizza as I'd been up since 5am that morning and wanted something to keep me plodding along. And at only £6.50 for a massive pizza I couldn't argue. Mr Curiouser & Curiouser had his favourite man food: pepperoni pizza. I had mushroom and asparagus on mine and it was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten (I went to Franco Manca in London for the first time recently and their dough and service weren't anywhere as good!)


The York Roast Company (here) also comes very highly recommended. If you go to York, you need to have a Yorkshire pudding! For as little as £7.40 you can have a gigantic Yorkshire pud filled with your choice of meat, gravy, stuffing and vegetables. And oh my god, it was good. This one's in the town centre so I recommend going after the lunch rush because it gets PACKED. I learnt it's also open late (until 11pm some nights!). If I lived in York, I would so be stopping there after a night out!



I'd read good things about The Star (here) which is located right by the river. I sadly ran out of time so only passed it briefly - but well worth further investigation next time I'm in York.


Same goes for The Perky Peacock. Another enviable riverside location.


On those hot British days we see oh-so-regularly [insert eye roll here] grab an ice cream from the - I kid you not - ice cream boat The Full Moo (during my visit this was located round by The Star).


THINGS TO DO

WALK THE YORK CITY WALL

Originally used as the city's defense, York's city wall supposedly takes approximately two hours to walk around fully. I'll be honest, one side of the wall was nicer than the other (or at least I thought so). The side closest to the Grand Hotel was a lot more 'city' with the noise of traffic. Whereas the other side of the wall had a lot more greenery and was like going for a walk in the woods. Access to the City Wall is free and the beauty of it is that it's a great way of finding new places. For example, we bookmarked a hotel we looked the look of for a future visit, found a Grand Designs type house (both in my WHERE TO STAY section) and found lots of cafes and restaurants that we may have otherwise not come across.



THE SHAMBLES

The cutest, quaintest of streets. All cobbles, timber frames and crooked buildings full of character. Reportedly this street inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, however this has since been confirmed to be false. But fair play to York, they play towards this well with its Harry Potter themed shops which bring in the tourists from afar. I was astonished to find a Christmas shop (is it there all year long?!)


GO TO YORK'S CHOCOLATE STORY

Did you know that York is central to chocolate in the UK? It all started with the Rowntree brothers who trained with Cadbury (who subsequently moved to Birmingham later on) and the rest as they say, is history! As soon you walk in, you are drawn in with wafts of chocolate from their in-house café. What I loved most about York's Chocolate Story is that it's a fully immersive tour which includes tastings every step of the way. Starting with early Inca hot chocolate (composed of raw chocolate, water and chilli) right at the beginning of the tour. Later in the tour we were able to run riot and create our own chocolate lolly to take away with us. I kept mine fairly simple but oh my, the chocolate was amazing. I seriously regret not picking up any chocolate from the gift shop - but hey, a great excuse to go back another day!


GO SEE THE ORIGINAL ROWNTREE SITE

In York's Chocolate Story tour, they mentioned that the former Rowntree site - and birth place of Joseph Rowntree - is marked with a plaque and is now a Pizza Hut - and so it is!



GO TO YORK MINSTER

If you're short on time, put York Minster at the top of your list. It is magnificent. Annoyingly it was a bit cloudy on the day of my visit so I didn't do the tower, however when you buy a ticket to the Minster (£10) your ticket is valid for 12 months so you can get back again for free! If like me, you didn't pay for the tower the first time around, you can add this on as an extra next time. I don't believe it was much, maybe £5 extra? We were one of the last visitors of the day and we got to hear choir practice which was mesmerizing and one of the purest sounds I've ever heard.


GO SEE THE UMBRELLAS

I'm assuming they're there all the time, but apologies if they're not. But if you head round to Coppergate Walk you hit shopping heaven with the likes of Primark and even a Yankee Candle store (something I have never seen before!), and that's where they are.


CLIFFORD'S TOWER

What I loved about York is that most of the attractions are in close proximity to each other. Not far from Coppergate Walk and WHAM there is this huge patch of green (read: hill) with a tower on top. On day one it was too cloudy to make the most of the views, but on day two we had clear skies and sunshine. And what a view.


YORK CASTLE MUSEUM

Just around the corner from Clifford's Tower, is a museum I was expecting to spend a hour or so in, but enjoyed it so much I was there most of the morning! What's great about York Castle Museum is that there is something for everyone. I loved the room sets and vintage toys which took us down memory lane.


At the time of visiting there was a Vivienne Westwood exhibition on which unlike the V&A in London was included in our ticket price and not an extra cost. So definitely worth checking out what exhibitions York Castle museum have on.


My favourite part of the museum was an immersive going-back-in-time taste of York with shops galore. Some you could peep in the windows of, others were actually open for you to go in! The sweet shop for example was open for business and you could buy all sorts from there. Naturally, I was drawn to the book store with its beautifully ornate book covers on display in the shop window,.


I thought the visit was over and then we were directed past the gift shop to the other side of the museum which contained the castle prisons (these famously housed Dick Turpin).


MUSEUM GARDENS

In our final less-than-an-hour-left-in-York, we didn't stray too far from the station and visited Museum Gardens. The clue is in the name (the site also contains the Yorkshire museum which I would have loved to visit if we had more time). The park had ramparts, beautiful gardens and a lovely timber framed building that can hired out for weddings. Imagine having wedding photos here. IT'S LIKE HOGWARTS.



EXPLORE EXPLORE EXPLORE

Walk everywhere. The best sights are those you stumble across by accident / happenstance. I saw some very on brand Curiouser and Curiouser sights this way.


At the back of  York Minster were amazing buildings and cute cafés bookmarked for our next visit.


We also went down an alley way which looked like that creepy one in Harry Potter when he said 'diagonally' and cocked up his first use of the floo network.


Have you ever been to York?