Welcome to York! This vibrant city in northern England has been a favorite of mine while traveling throughout the United Kingdom. The times that I had visited were always filled with fun and funny moments; from climbing the tower of York Minster, to a ghostly episode inside the city’s most haunted pub. There are no shortages of great experiences while visiting York.
The city of York is rich in history, and can be dated back as far as 8000 to 7000 BC. It was also an ancient Roman town that later was taken over by the Angles, and then the Vikings. There is an interesting museum in the city that is dedicated to the Viking period, JORVIK Viking Centre, with a village recreation along with skeletons discovered by archaeologist.
Today, York is a popular market town with historical sites, and unique neighborhoods. If you are planning to visit this city and needing recommendations, I have composed a list of my York favorites – Enjoy!
Things to do in York
York City Walls
The city of York has been defended by its walls since the Roman times, although there is very little Roman stonework that remains. The course of the wall had been altered for centuries, but fortunately there are still substantial portions that remain. What is impressive is the city has more miles of walls intact than any other English city. These historic city walls have gone by different names- York City Walls, the Bar Walls, or the Roman Walls.
The city walls are accessible to the public, and are one of the most popular things to do in York. The walk takes about two hours, and the best time is in the early morning. If you are like me then you enjoy quiet time, and the morning hours are the quietest times to stroll the York city walls.
York Minster is the largest cathedral of it kind in Northern Europe, and it is centuries old. It was originally founded in 1230 and concentrated in 1472, and was constructed in an Early English Perpendicular Gothic style. There are three imposing towers in the cathedral, the two Western and the Central. The Central Tower which is 235 feet high is the one that I had climbed, which offered glorious views.
The Central Tower of York Minster is the highest point in the city, and offers magnificent panoramic views of York. The climb is 275 steps up inside a medieval winding stone staircase, and it is definitely worth the climb!
For more information –York Minster & St. Mary’s Abbey Ruins | Discovering York, England
St. Mary’s Abbey Ruins
Not far from York Minster are the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey that date back prior to the cathedral, as it was first constructed in 1088. The abbey was one of the most powerful and wealthiest Benedictine monasteries in England, but was ended during Henry VIII Reformation of the church.
By 1540, the monks of St. Mary’s were pensioned off, and the abbey was converted into a palace where the King would visit while in York. Eventually the abbey turned palace fell into ruins, and was used as agricultural buildings before the Yorkshire Philosophical Society started excavations in 1820.
The Shambles are one of my favorite neighborhoods in York. It looks as if the street came out of Harry Potter, and for good reason. It is said that the Yorkshire Shambles somewhat inspired J.K. Rowling to recreate this old cobbled street in the Harry Potter Book.
The Yorkshire Shambles are a historic feature that date back to the 14th century. It is a narrow street lined with preserved medieval buildings, many that are timber-framed with jetted second floors that overhang onto the street by several feet. This street was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles since butchers used to display their meat here. There were 31 butcher shops in 1885 that were located along this street, but today there are none that remain.
National Railway Museum
For those who love trains and transportation history, as well as those who are kids at heart, the National Railway Museum is a great place to check out. The museum offers an interesting historical glance of Britain’s rail transport, and its impact on society. It contains the national collection of historical railway vehicles, and a diverse collection of various objects that are transportation themed.
The National Railway Museum contains over 6000 objects that are on display, with about 100 of them being locomotives or rolling stock. It is the largest museum of its type in England, and has won many awards including the European Museum of the Year Award in 2001.
For more information, please visit – RAILWAY MUSEUM
JORVIK Viking Centre
This is a fascinating museum to visit while in York, as it offers you a glimpse of some of the earliest people who made their home in the area of York or Jorvik, the old Norse name for York. The center is built on top of an early Viking settlement where archaeologist had excavated artifacts from the period of around 900 AD. In all, over 40,000 objects were excavated from timber buildings, workshops, animal pens, privies, pottery, leather, textiles, and bones.
The center recrates Jorvik with lifelike mannequins in life-size dioramas depicting Viking Life. Visitors ride in small carriages equipped with speakers through the dioramas.
For more information, please visit – JORVIK Viking Centre
The Golden Fleece
The Golden Fleece is the oldest licensed premise in York, and the most haunted. This pub had been featured on an episode of Most Haunted, and is how I became familiar with this site. There is believed to be 15 ghosts who haunt the Golden Fleece, although only a few are experienced regularly.
On my visit to the Golden Fleece, my cousin and I sat at one of the back tables of the pub. As we were waiting for our food, I read about the resident ghosts in the menu book. I do not remember the story in detail, but it was about a man, a captain perhaps, who hung himself in the back of one of the rooms. When my cousin sat down she started to scratch her neck, and mentioned how her neck was bothering her. I took a look, and literally saw a red line across her throat.
I was fascinated and said, “Oh, that’s probably because of the ghost of a man who hung himself in the pub. Just tell him to go away. I read it in here, look!”, like it was no big deal. Her facial expression was priceless, and she did tell him to take it away. Then the scratchy feeling disappeared. We still speak of that story to this day, with a bit of laughter mixed with feeling creeped out.
There are many stories that you can read online about customers or staff that had ghostly experiences here. Apparently the spirits are not shy about making there appearance known to people, I know one of them was not shy with us!
For reservations and more information, please visit – The Golden Fleece
Shopping in York
If you are looking for a bit of retail therapy or shopping for a unique gift, the city of York offers a great shopping experience. There are winding streets that are filled with boutiques, designer stores, small business owned shops, and much more.
Each shopping area has its own specialty. Newgate Market has a variety of stalls that are opened seven days a week. There is Parliament and Coney Street that houses high street favorites. Gillygate or Petergate offers independent shops that are fun and eclectic. Then of course the Shambles Market that offer more than 85 stalls of diverse shopping.
The medieval city walls of York originally included four main gates (bars), which are Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar, and Micklegate Bar. These gates were built around the early 14th century, and were mostly intended to be a self-contained fort. They were also used as control points or toll booths to enter the city.
Visiting the old city gates and walking the walls is one of York’s best attractions. The gates are a formal and elaborate way to enter the city, as well as a clever way to find your way out!
Clifford’s Tower is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, and is the ruin keep of the medieval Norman Castle, also known as York Castle. It was originally built by William the Conquer in the 11th century, as a medieval stronghold and a Civil War garrison.
Today, Clifford’s tower has a modern roof deck that offers visitors unforgettable views of York’s historic skyline. The tower has currently been renovated to offer guests glimpses of sections of this fortified structure, which have been off-limits for centuries.
For more information, please visit – Clifford’s Tower
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