York is a city with a rich heritage and stunning architecture. It is also incredibly compact, meaning that a visit to York does not require you to use much, if any, public transport to see most of the famous attractions. Furthermore, the size of York means that 36 hours is just enough time to really appreciate the diverse range of shops and the wealth of local restaurants. I chose to visit York as a short city break on my way home from St Andrews to the South coast of England. The prospect of making that journey in one go was not an appealing one, and so, any opportunity for a city break is always welcomed.
As soon as you arrive and have dropped off your stuff, take a stroll around York before dinner. The Gothic architecture of the cathedral, the York Minster, is a spectacular sight, and the quaint cobbled streets of York take on a picturesque quality in the evening light. However, emerging from these tiny streets to the more modern parts of the city, where some of the local clubs and bars are found, it becomes apparent that although York is one of the great medieval cities of the world, it has a vibrant nightlife. This was particularly evident on the Saturday evening, which coincided with one of York Racecourse’s popular events. There were lots of impeccably dressed, although somewhat tipsy locals, milling around the various clubs and bars which resulted in a lively atmosphere and gave me an insight into the contrasts of this ancient city. That said, a downside of arriving in York after a race day was that many of the restaurants were fully booked. After being told several times over the phone that there were no tables available before 9 pm, Delrio’s, a small Italian restaurant, finally offered a table at a more appealing time. A trip to this hidden gem of a restaurant is a must. The downstairs seating area is decorated in a rustic Italian style, and the attentive service and authentic food makes it a welcoming introduction to the high quality of independent restaurants that York has to offer.
Once you have enjoyed a hearty breakfast complete with a mug of infamous Yorkshire tea, head to the shops of York City Centre where you can window-shop to the sound of York Minster bells pealing through the streets. The range of shops is astounding, with designer labels, high-street favourites and smaller independent stores providing clothing opportunities for any taste or budget. Furthermore, if you are looking for souvenirs, you can find both cheaper tourist shops and those selling a range of more upmarket goods. A personal favourite of mine is Il Gusto, a small shop selling a range of vinegars, oils, wines, exotic liqueurs and spirits. This shop offers a unique gift-buying experience, as once you have selected your chosen product, you can pick from a selection of fancy bottles, which you can then personalise with a message or drawing.
Once you have finished exploring the shops, visit Betty’s Tea Rooms. The extensive coffee and tea menu is not to be scoffed at, and if you want to splash out on a traditional afternoon tea, this is definitely the place to go. The founder of Betty’s commissioned the store in the style of the cruise liner, Queen Mary, and so, the Art Deco interior of Betty’s gives you much to admire whilst sipping on your chosen brew or blend.
After this, head over to the York Museum Gardens. Entry is free and makes a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. The Gardens are home to a wealth of birds and plants as well as impressive historical ruins, reminiscent of our own beloved St Andrews castle ruins. If you are so inclined you can also buy entry to the Yorkshire Museum, where you will find collections of Yorkshire’s archaeology, geology, palaeontology, and natural history.
After this, head to lunch in one of the many local restaurants. Although there is a diverse range of independent restaurants, the tucked-away location of York’s Jamie’s Italian and the sunny outside seating area tempted me away from a more adventurous lunchtime location.
After lunch, either head back in to the city centre to pick up a bus tour or head down to the river for a guided cruise. In a close toss-up between the bus and the boat tour, I decided that the novelty of having a river running right through the middle of the city was enough to sway me in favour of the river cruise. However, I soon found out from the tour-guide that having this river at such close proximity to the city centre is not always such a good thing. I had myself seen the footage of the floods in December of last year, but seeing how much the water had risen was slightly unnerving. Charmingly, one pub famously stayed open during the floods by hosting kayak parties, demonstrating the resilience of the locals. The river cruise proved to be a worthwhile experience, giving me a wealth of knowledge about York including where Guy Fawkes went to school and even the tannin levels of the river Ouse.
Head to the Shambles, a Tudor street in York with overhanging timber-framed buildings, reminiscent of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. Many of the buildings on the street date back to the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and famously, in some sections of the Shambles it is possible to touch both sides of the street with your arms outstretched.
Afterwards, make your way back in to the city centre for a smoothie at Filmore & Union, a trendy juice bar and restaurant. I would also recommend having one of their amazing cakes, such as the pecan loaf, which was originally intended for the long drive home that afternoon but did not quite last that long.
For your final tourist stop, make it your mission to walk along the City Walls. These walls total about 3 miles in length and offer great views of the city from a different perspective. This will help you build up an appetite for lunch, which I would recommend having at Lucky Days. Here you can enjoy a selection of fresh salads and deli items in a relaxed atmosphere. If you manage to grab a window seat there is also ample opportunity for some quality people watching.
After lunch, I continued on my journey back to the South coast. For any students who are looking for a city to visit on their long journey from St Andrews to Southern England, I would highly recommend York.