York is one of the most beautiful cities in the United Kingdom, so we hope you are ready to have an exciting adventure on your York itinerary. A lot of fun and the best things to do in York, UK are coming your way!
Guest Post by Rachel and Nico from Average Lives
A Complete York Itinerary – Best Things to Do, See and Eat
York is in Northern England and indeed has not parted ways with its history. The Romans founded the city over two thousand years ago and today it is a treasure trove. Expect to find a magnificent Gothic cathedral, 15th-century buildings, quaint pubs, free museums, and also beautiful cobbled streets (the Shambles).
Undeniably, York’s history characterizes its charm, and with the heart of a city so tempting as York, you can do and see a lot in a short time. We will outline what you shouldn’t miss in York as a first-timer, but we will also give further options if you have been to the city before. We have you covered. Are you ready to join the 7 million visitors that come to York UK annually?
History of York UK
To understand the best attractions in York, it is undoubtedly an excellent idea to know about its history. The Romans founded York in 71 AD as ‘Eboracum‘, an important province in the middle ages. After surviving the post-Roman era decline, York came under the rule of a few other kings before coming under the Vikings’ control.
The Viking era saw the city’s development, with York becoming a major river port, part of the Vikings’ trading route. After that, the city once again went under the rule of an English King with occasional disturbances caused by Vikings to recapture the city. After the successful attempt of Vikings to capture York, the city was renamed Jorvik.
In two years, the city witnessed the Norman conquest of England and the destruction of almost everything upon William the Conqueror’s arrival. Then the introduction of railways in the 1800s by George Hudson helped in the city’s revival, and York became a major railway center. The establishment of railways helped establish another industry, starting with the expansion of Rowntree’s Cocoa Works.
The constant ups and downs of life are manifested in the history of York. And with its ancient and majestic artifacts and architecture, it stands as an essential historical sight, powerful enough to give a glimpse of its glorious past to a tourist.
How to get to York
Arriving in York is pretty easy because it is one of the most accessible cities in the UK.
By Air: international tourists can arrive at Leeds Bradford Airport, Manchester Airport, and Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport. Leeds Bradford Airport is probably the most convenient. Take the 757 bus into Leeds city center and then hop on a train to York.
By Train: York Central Train Station is only 2 hours away from London and Edinburgh and is well-connected to all other major cities in the UK. It’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance because last-minute train travel can be expensive in the UK.
By Car: York is situated about halfway between Edinburgh and London, and for convenience, the city center serves 6 Park and Ride sites. However, when we visit York, we park next to the river because we enjoy walking quickly to the center, but this can be a pricey option.
How to get around York
One thing that is never a hassle but rather an exciting adventure is getting around York. It is unlikely that you will need to use public transport with this York itinerary. However, you can get the bus, taxi, or Uber if you’re too tired of walking. We do feel like walking is part of the fun, though – so if you’re able to, then you should. Especially walking York City’s Walls.
When is the best time to visit York?
The historic city of York is a pleasurable destination throughout the year. However, the best time to visit York is during the spring and summer, with the flowers blooming and climate milder. The months of April to June are the ideal months for planning a holiday in York, with the added advantage of fewer tourists.
However, winter has its charms, and with festivities around the corner, it is always a good idea to visit York when the locals are celebrating too. We recommend visiting at Christmas time, for the markets and the fantastic carol services inside York Minster. Also, the pubs have cozy fires, and the mulled cider hits the right spot.
Good to know: horse racing also brings crowds from May to October, as York is home to one of the most famous racecourses in the UK.
Useful Information for your York Itinerary
On 1 Museum Street, you will find York’s visitor information center. It is not far from the station, and you can seek advice from the lovely staff or pick up a map of the city.
If you are planning on going to multiple attractions, you can purchase a York City Pass. It also includes a free 24-hour pass for the hop on hop off bus and a free meal at ASK Italian. Check their website for current prices!
Take an umbrella (you never know with the great British weather).
The currency is the Pound sterling (£), and cards are widely accepted.
Wear comfortable shoes to walk on the cobbled streets!
The 13 Best Things to do in York UK
An authentic experience of northern England is guaranteed on a trip to York. It is known for its cobbled streets, Gothic relics, and streets dotted with architecture that tells a tale of its glorious history. Here are our top things to do on your York Itinerary.
Missing out on York Minster is like visiting Sydney and not visiting the Opera House, so while enjoying your York itinerary, it is essential to make sure you see it. It is one of the largest Medieval cathedrals in Northern Europe and the most stunning gothic cathedrals in the world. It is not cheap to go inside the cathedral, but it is a magical experience. You can also climb the 275 steps to the top of the towers to see the city from above, but it is narrow – don’t attempt if you’re claustrophobic.
Cost: £11.50 for an adult ticket and also an additional £5 if you want to climb the steps (or free with a York City Pass).
Good to know: visit at evensong, which occurs at 5.15 pm Monday- Saturday and 4 pm on Sundays. This is one of the UK’s oldest choirs.
York City Walls
There is no better thing to do in York than walking around the majestic, medieval York City Walls. Apart from the fun experience and the fact that they are so well preserved, the city and Minster’s surrounding backdrop is serene. It’s easy to navigate the 3.4km (2 miles) walls, but it’s good to know that you can access the city at different points.
Good to know: you do not need to walk the full circuit if you are short on time, and the best views of the Minster are from the north.
The Shambles is yet another masterpiece that provides a sneak peek into the medieval history of York. Most of the Shambles buildings dated back to the 14th-century and were once full of butcher shops that used outdoor hooks to dry their meat. Today its overhanging timber-framed buildings house shops, including a Harry Potter shop. It is similar to the one in Kings Cross in London. The real question is: did this street inspire Diagon Alley? Or is it Victoria Street in Edinburgh? We will let you make up your mind! One thing is sure; you are now the main character of your very own movie!
Beside it is the Shambles Food Market – which is a great place to get a snack and browse the stalls on your York itinerary.
Cost: free to roam but not to snack.
Good to know: this street is so busy during the day. Walk around in the morning before the crowds arrive or in the evening after the shops close!
The River Ouse
Walk along the paths adjacent to the river and spot the rowers going up and down. It is delightful, especially on a summer’s day. You can also go on a 45-minute boat trip with York City Cruise. They leave daily at 12 pm and 1.30 pm. Another option is an early evening river cruise.
Cost: York City Cruise £10 for an adult ticket. Early evening cruise £12.50.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Another attraction that must be on your list of things to do in York itinerary is the Jorvik Viking Centre. It is a truly fantastic experience to learn about York’s Viking past through an interactive exhibition. It showcases a tremendous look into an archaeological discovery and will only take an hour out of your busy day.
Cost: £12.50 for an adult ticket.
Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms
People with a sweet tooth will not be disappointed. One of the best places is Bettys, where you can enjoy a wonderfully elegant afternoon tea. They first served afternoon tea in the 1920s. If you want this experience, we suggest booking in advance, and it is good to know that it isn’t one of the cheapest things to do in York. However, if you go inside the cafe instead, you can still sample the delicious cakes and pastries.
Cost: £19.95 per person for an afternoon tea, £24.95 if you want prosecco!
Good to know: if you have never experienced a British afternoon tea, then we think you should go for it here. It’s a treat!
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum is one of the finest and largest railway museums in the world. We didn’t realize how much we liked the trains until we visited. There are so many things to see and learn about. Among the 100+ trains, you can see famous trains such as the Mallard, the original Eurostar train, and even Queen Victoria’s Royal Train.
Clifford’s Tower was built from orders of William the Conqueror and had a violent history. The tower is all that remains of the 13th century Norman Castle and was used as a prison until 1929. Today you can visit the tower on your York itinerary to learn about its troubled past. As a bonus, you’ll get some 360 degrees views over the city.
Cost: £5.70 for adults or free with a York City Pass.
York’s Chocolate Story
If you like Kit Kats or Terry’s Chocolate Orange, then you will need to come here to learn about York’s Chocolate history and to sample some treats on a 90-minute tour.
Cost: £12.95 for an adult ticket.
Anyone who loves York will tell you that there are over 365 pubs in York. ‘One for each day of the year’. York is one of the only cities in the UK that does not see such a sharp decline in the number of pubs. But that’s not why you should visit the pubs. The reason is that the diversity of the pubs, vibes, atmospheres is surreal. Whatever vibe you want – it is here. Whether you fancy trying some classic British ales or you want to head to a swanky cocktail bar – it is here. You just need to find the right one for you.
Some recommendations include The Star in The City, Lendal Cellars, King’s Arms, and The Grapes. However, walking around and discovering your ‘own’ is part of the fun.
Cost: extremely varied! The average price for a pint is £3.63. But expect to find a pint for £1.90 to £9!
You should make time in your York itinerary to visit some of the incredible museums. These include:
York Castle Museum – to see artifacts from York’s history as well as replicas of Victorian streets, prisons, and homes. Pretty cool! £10.90 for an adult ticket or free with the York City Pass.
Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens – for Roman, Viking, and medieval artifacts.
Go on one of York’s Tours
A Walking Tour – White Rose Walking Tour is a ‘tipping’ tour that starts from the Art Gallery and lasts around two and a half hours.
Another option is a Best of York on foot tour, a 90-minutes tour that will help you to get acquainted with York UK.
York Dungeons – an interactive 75-minute walking tour for horror lovers.
Evening ghost tours – there are a lot of excursions to choose from – historical and medical. Do you want to be spooked? Go on the Bloody Tour of York. Do you want a laugh? Go on the Ghost Bus.
Where to Eat and Drink in York UK
Whether you want to drink a beer, a cocktail, eat cheaply or fancy an afternoon tea, York has something for everyone, and you will not be disappointed. Below are our favorite places, but you can find so many wonderful and independent businesses in York to eat and drink.
Evil Eye – for fabulous cocktails and lots of gin.
The Star in the city – a cozy pub with great mulled cider at Christmas. You can eat here too.
Stone Roses Bar– ‘the best indie bar in the north’.
Goji Cafe – the best vegan and vegetarian food in the city.
Are you exploring York on a longer trip in Northern England?
Popular Day Trips for your York itinerary include:
Yorkshire Sculpture Park – 500 acres of stunning greenery with contemporary sculptures throughout the park – 50 minutes by car.
Leeds – only 20 minutes away from York by train.
Brimham Rocks – prehistoric rock formations in the Yorkshire Dales – 45 minutes from York by car.
Manchester – read our 24-hour guide to Manchester-the city we call home – only 1hr 30mins by train.
Is it worth visiting York UK?
York is one of the UK’s gems, and this is coming from a true Yorkshire girl. This English city’s elegant and charming vibe is enough to make someone’s York itinerary memorable. There are also many free things to do in York if you are on a budget, so it is a city for everyone.
We love the city’s Viking heritage, the Gothic architecture unmatched, and you feel like you are traveling back in time. Indeed, there is so much more to explore, but you can make a fabulous start with this York itinerary! Keep your camera handy and enjoy the city.
About the author:
Nico and Rachel are affordable travel bloggers who currently live in the UK. They are passionate about the outdoors, hiking and road trips. Follow their adventures on Average Lives or on their Instagram page. @Average_Lives
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