Friday 30 December 2022

5 reasons to visit York in December

York is a magical place to visit at any time of the year, but comes alive in December and is truly special at Christmas. I'd previously visited in the height of summer (my previous York travel guide can be found here here) so it was quite the contrast visiting in the colder season, with scarves and layers aplenty. York really is very beautiful at this time of the year, what with it's Christmas markets and decorated restaurant and shop fronts including The Ivy and Betty's tea rooms. 

Here is my extensive guide of my top 5 things to do in York at Christmas.

Christmas at Mansion House

Mansion House is a beautiful early Georgian style building and was built for the Lord Mayor in 1732 and is still in use to this day for the Lord Mayors of York to reside in during their term in office. The rooms presented to the public are set out as they would have been, and at this time of the year are decorated for Christmas.

The dining room table was laid with the extravagant foods they would have eaten at their many banquets and a helpful and passionate member of staff ran us through a typical inventory with a tally of how much food and alcohol was consumed and how much it would have cost (both were astounding). 

The working kitchen that produced these glorious feasts was simple in comparison - you couldn't imagine some of the extravagant meals hailing from there. This former working kitchen has since been restored to a fully functional eighteenth century kitchen and is now used for cooking demonstrations and workshops.

One of my favourite rooms had to be the state room. This was decorated in a beautiful light green colour not too dissimilar to Card Room Green by Farrow and Ball with elegant gold accents. 

Christmas at York Castle Museum

York Castle Museum has so much to see and do (I wrote about it at length before here), that we in fact lost track of time and spent our entire first day there! Highlights include:

  • An indoor back-in-time street with shop fronts and stores you can actually walk into
  • Room sets from across the years
  • A whole section devoted to old toys and games nostalgia
  • Walk through the trenches experience
  • The old York Castle prison (complete with Dick Turpin's cell!)

The benefit of visiting at this time of the year was that lots of it was decorated for Christmas. The room sets and their signage were updated for Christmas, and for the immersive street, lit garlands were strung up with a light dusting of fake snow on the ground. 

Christmas at Fairfax House

Fairfax House is a Georgian townhouse within a stone's throw away from Clifford's Tower and York Castle Museum, and was originally the winter bolthole of Viscount Fairfax (hence it's name) and was designed by esteemed eighteen century architect John Carr. It was reportedly used as a dance hall and cinema for some time, but was later restored by the York Civic Trust in the 1980s. It's beautiful at any time, but is especially magical at this time of the year, portraying the Christmas traditions of a typical Georgian townhouse.

Christmas at York Minster

York Minster is somewhere I visit every time I'm in York and I highly recommend if you're as into historical buildings and architecture as I am. York Minster reportedly costs an astounding £22,000 to run each day so I always make a point of visiting there and contributing whenever I'm in York. 

This was my first time visiting the Minster at Christmas and it was such a lovely place to be. This year in particular hosted a Christmas Tree Festival and contest, where local charities, businesses and schools all decorated a tree to a chosen theme. Visitors to the Minster all had the opportunity to vote for their favourites with the winner to receive a cash prize or donation. 

With about 40 trees to see and decide upon, choosing just one was tough! Highlights included:
  • A primary school whose tree represented their passion for reading, and each student contributed a homemade book complete with stories and illustrations (for the record, this one got my vote).

  • A charity which decorated their tree with all the essentials they typically give to the homeless and unemployed like toothbrushes and razors, as well as packaging from food bank donations. 
  • A jewelllers that hung open ring boxes (and rings!) wrapped in cellophane bags on their tree
  • A local ennvironment centre that recycled food packaging and made garlands, tinsel and decorations with them.
  • The Strictly Come Dancing themed Christmas tree complete with pink feather boa, glitter balls, scoring paddles and a giant cut out of Anton Du Beke.

Access to the Christmas Tree Festival is included with general admission to York Minster and runs through to January - so there's still time to visit (and vote) if you haven't already!

York Christmas market

The St Nicholas Fair is the the bustling hub of York at this time of the year, and runs from mid-November to December. So if you visit pre-Christmas around Black Friday sort of time, you'll be sure to see it even then! 

Alpine chalet huts line Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square with a plethora of food and drink options, as well as stalls selling gifts and artisan goods such as homemade fudge. It's worth checking it out each year as there are occasionally new additions such as The Winter Hütte, a swiss style chalet offering winter favoruites like gluhwein and mulled cider, as well as a dining experience from Michelin star chef Andrew Pern, a big name in Yorkshire.

It's generally worth wandering around York at your own leisure, as you will stumble upon more christmas markets and stalls. One is located right outside York Minster with plenty of seating and although on a smaller scale than the main street market, has a really lovely feel about it (plus it's quieter if you don't fancy the crowds!).

Let's be honest, there are many more than 5 reasons to visit York at this time of the year (or any time of the year for that matter) but these were just some of my top picks from a whistle-stop tour. Happy holidays!