A Weekend Guide to York
For any traveler visiting the UK (especially first timers), it's easy to get wrapped up in the lights and glamour of London and overlook other places to visit throughout England. But seriously... How can you not be drawn like a moth to the flame by that city? There's loads of history to be learned, pubs to drink in, incredible architecture to see, markets to shop in, and different cuisines to try. I had the same exact thoughts until a friend of mine suggested expanding my horizons and visiting other cities in the UK besides London. That's when I came across this little gem: the city of York.
York, which is located in the northern part of the country, is just a quick 2 hour train ride from London. This picturesque and historic city is full of fascinating stories and landmarks that date back over 800 years! Just one walk around the city's medieval walls is enough to fall in love with it. If you're traveling to York for the weekend, or even just for a day trip, use this travel guide to plan your trip and find out where to eat, sleep, and play on any budget!
Best Ways to Get to York from London:
- Train: Approx. 2 hrs
- Bus (such as the Megabus): Approx. 4-6 hrs
- Drive: Approx. 3.5 hrs
My preferred method is the train because it's the fastest and most efficient way to get there. Plus, you're not responsible for driving or worrying about traffic to get there on time.
York is perfect for: Couples, solo travelers, families, groups of friends, history lovers, and cultural travel
The city of York might be petite in size, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to the food scene. Within the historic city walls, there are tons of amazing places to relax from a day of walking around to grab a pint and some delicious food. The best part is that visitors can really find a wide range of dining options within any budget--including plenty of gluten free, vegetarian, or vegan options. Here are some of my favorites!
- Shambles Kitchen, 28 Shambles, York, YO1 7LX -- Very well known for their pulled pork and other tasty sandwiches
- Cafe La Tazzina York, 12 Blossom Street, York, YO24 1AE -- Great place for breakfast
- Los Moros, Shambles Market, York, YO1 7LA -- Incredible Northern African food in the heart of York
- The Sea Catcher, 1B Clarence Street, York, YO31 7EL -- Perfect spot for a quick plate of fish and chips to go
- Croque Monsieur, Multiple Locations -- Good for coffee and sandwiches on the go
- The Fossgate Social, 25 Fossgate, York, YO1 9TA -- Ideal place to stop and take a break (and eat+drink) at any time of the day
- Goji, 36 Goodramgate, York, YO1 7LF -- Best vegetarian and vegan restaurant in York with plenty of organic and fair trade options available
- KREP, Silver St, Shambles Market, York, YO1 8RY -- Popular food truck near the Shambles that serves delicious crepes and galettes
- Dough, 73 Bootham, York, YO30 7DQ -- Great for an Italian treat in the heart of York (think coffee, pizzas, calzones, bread, pasta, pastries, cakes, etc.)
- Rodgers of York Tearooms, Monks Cross, York,YO32 9JR -- Hidden gem just outside of the city center where you can relax for tea and lunch
Also try: Tower Vue Cafe, Jenny's Fish & Chip Shop, The Village Deli, The York Roast Co., House of the Trembling Madness, Bamboo Thai Takeaway, or Penny's Bespoke Foodhouse
- Betty's Tea Room, 6-8 St Helens Square, York, YO1 8QP (Multiple Locations) -- This place is a classic York institution. A trip to York isn't complete without a stop at Betty's. More info below under the "Things to Do" section!
- Skosh, 98 Micklegate, York, YO1 6JX -- Creative and contemporary cuisine
- Barbakan, 58 Walmgate, York, YO1 9TL -- Authentic Polish food in the heart of York
- Café Concerto, 21 High Petergate, York, YO1 7EN -- Good breakfast/lunch cafe for all types of diets
- Pairings Wine Bar, 28 Castlegate, York, YO1 9RP -- Lovely wine bar where you can get delicious pairings of food + wine
- Delrio's Restaurant, 10-12 Blossom Street, York, YO24 1AE -- Hidden gem and a cute, quirky Italian restaurant
- Yak & Yeti Gurkha Restaurant, 63A Goodramgate, York, YO1 7LS -- Unique and authentic Nepalese cuisine for those wanting to try something different
- Little Italy, 12 Goodramgate, York, YO1 7LQ -- Another quality Italian establishment that is a favorite with locals
- The Rattle Owl, 104 Micklegate, York, YO1 6JX -- Popular place for lunch that includes a contemporary menu of European dishes
- Khao San Road, 50-52 Walmgate, York, YO1 9TJ -- Excellent place if you're craving delicious Thai food
- Source, 1 Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN -- Healthy "street food" with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and meat choices
- Thompson's Fish Restaurant, Hazelbush Malton Road, York, YO32 9TW -- Popular choice for some fish and chips
- Pavement Vaults, 2 Piccadilly, York, YO1 9NU -- Best known for their finger-licking BBQ dishes
- El Gaucho, 48 Walmgate, York, YO1 9TJ -- Cozy Argentinian steakhouse with hearty portions in the middle of town
- Ambiente Tapas, 31 Fossgate, York, YO1 9TA (Multiple Locations) -- Lively and stylish tapas bar that is great for groups, couples, or even parties
Also try: El Piano, Bicis y Mas, Drake's Fisheries, Masala Craft Fine Indian Kitchen + Bar, The Lime House, Loch Fyne, Rustique, or Lucky Days Cafe
- The Park Restaurant, 4-5 St Peters Grove, York, North Yorkshire YO30 6AQ
- Melton's, 7 Scarcroft Road, York, YO23 1ND
- Oxo's Restaurant, The Mount Royale Hotel, York, YO24 1GU
- Le Cochon Aveugle, 37 Walmgate, York, YO1 9TX
- Hudson's, Station Rise, The Grand Hotel & Spa, York, YO1 6GD
Also try: The Blue Bicycle Restaurant or The Star Inn The City
Like I said earlier, York is an easy day trip from London, so you can definitely get away with just visiting for less than 24 hours. However, after seeing the city and what it has to offer, I've already been planning my return for an overnight stay.
The hotels around the city are just as breathtaking as the sights around them! The best part about accommodations in York is that everything is pretty budget friendly. I'm not joking! Some of these luxury hotels can go as low as $150 per night!! It's hard to say no to luxury at that price tag...
The Luxury Getaway
- The Principal York, $$, Station Road, York, YO24 1AA
Formerly known as the "The Royal York Hotel," this property seems to effortlessly exude elegance, style, and grace at every corner you turn. They have managed to incorporate the perfect hint of modern design to the decor, which makes you feel like you're in a palace built for the 21st Century traveler. It's also extremely affordable for a luxury hotel, with some rooms costing under $150 per night! I stumbled across this gem after meeting a lovely couple at lunch (at Betty's!) and they told me that it was their favorite place in all of York. This place is definitely high on my list for where I'd like to stay upon my return.
The Budget Friendly Hotel
- The Churchill Hotel, $, 65 Bootham, York, YO30 7DQ
The Churchill is a wonderful budget friendly option for visitors coming to experience what York has to offer. The quirky hotel is situated in a stone mansion from 1827 and has all the modern luxuries and conveniences of today. Each suite is different from the next, but they each share a unique and eclectic aesthetic that appeals to people who love contemporary design.
The Trendy Boutique Hotel
- The Parisi Hotel, $$, 51 St. Denys Road, York, YO1 9QD
This cozy, colorful boutique hotel is right in the heart of the city, making it perfect for people who want to have easy access to walking anywhere in York. The fully restored Victorian-era house has 11 quaint rooms that are each have their own personalities. Guests can enjoy time in the gardens overlooking the St. Deny's Church, or curl up to a book in the library downstairs.
Also try: Hotel Indigo York ($)
The Elegant Country House
- Grays Court Hotel, $$$, Chapter House St, York, YO1 7JH
If you've ever wondered what it would feel like to live in an English cottage circa the 11th century, then Grays Court Hotel is for you. This idyllic hotel could be a charming getaway for couples or families looking to get a taste of the English life without moving across the pond. Each suite comes with antique furnishings and modern, convenient touches to make your stay the most comfortable. The garden, which boasts an incredible view of the York Minster, is a lovely place to relax with tea.
Also try: Middlethorpe Hall & Spa ($$)
15 Things to Do in York
1. Meander through The Shambles and the Shambles Market.
Rumor has it that The Shambles was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. I can't officially confirm this, but one look at the historic street and you'll totally see how it's entirely possible. I highly recommend seeing it with this WORD TO THE WISE: Due to the small space constraints, it gets really crowded really fast. To avoid the crowds, go very early in the morning or later in the afternoon when things are closing up.
The Shambles Market is a great place to stop by too! Think of it as an eclectic farmer's market. PS: (This came as a bit of a culture shock to me being from NYC...) When the shops say they are closing at 5pm, they mean it. Like the doors are practically shut at 4:45pm. This might be a good or bad thing depending on what you're looking for. I liked it because at 5pm the streets were basically deserted, which made for some better photos. But on the flip side, I also couldn't shop in some of the stores I really wanted to.
2. Climb up to the top of the York Minster to see the spectacular view.
You'll need a ticket to get up to the top...and you have to walk single file line up the winding stairs...but it's totally worth it. The view from the top of the Minster is spectacular--especially on a clear day.
3. Walk around the city's historic, medieval walls.
The city of York, like many other medieval cities, was originally surrounded by a large wall to protect the kingdom. Today, the walls serve as a great way to walk around the city's perimeter and take in the views.
4. Stop in at an English Tea Room, like Betty's.
Betty's is an absolute must when you're coming to York. Betty's was founded in 1919 by a young Swiss baker and confectioner who came to England in hopes of expanding his skills. He accidentally boarded the wrong train, ended up in Yorkshire, and the rest is history. He opened up his first tea room in the region and called it Betty's. To this day, no one knows why. The identity of Betty is still a complete mystery, which kinda makes the story more interesting!
Think of Betty's Tea Room as a step back in time to the 1930s and '40s where you're surrounded by the social elite in a room full of art deco luxury. Waitresses, dressed fully in white, would come to your table pushing sterling silver carts full of fancy treats and delicious goodies to serve with your warm cup of tea or glass of crisp champagne... That is basically what you still get when you come to Betty's. It's as if they've managed to keep the ambience frozen in time. Prices are a little steep and there's almost always a line, but it's worth it for the unique atmosphere of being somewhere with so much history behind it.
5. Go on a ghost tour.
York is said to be one of the most haunted cities in the UK, so naturally there are tons of ghost tours and walks that you can join to learn about the history of the city's hauntings.
6. Take a photo in front of the famous Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate sign.
As silly as that might sound, it's the actual name of York's shortest street. Allegedly, the original meaning was "What a street!" but either way, makes for a good photo opp!
7. Learn about the history of chocolate at York's Chocolate Story.
I had no idea that my beloved Kit-Kats were brought to us by famous chocolateers of York. If you're a chocolate fan or even just a foodie who likes to learn new things, I definitely recommend stopping by this place during your visit.
8. Shop at local places and boutiques, like the Minster Gate Bookshop.
I'm a sucker for old bookshops and this one really satisfied my craving. Besides the quaint bookstores around the city, there are also plenty of other shops, boutiques, and even designer outlets for people to explore if you're looking for some retail therapy.
9. Visit museums.
It's hard to choose just one when there are so many wonderful ones like the National Railway Museum (where I also recommend having tea in the vintage train carriage), The Fairfax House, The York Dungeon, The York Castle Museum, or Merchant Adventurers' Hall.
10. Relax in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens.
If you need a little break from the city life, consider heading to these gardens for a little afternoon picnic or relaxing time. It is a beautiful oasis in the heart of the city that you can't miss.
11. Do a double decker bus tour to see everything at once.
Confession time: I love double decker bus tours. I absolutely love them. What better way is there to get around the city quickly, understand your surroundings, and note where you want to go back and explore deeper? It's a shameless touristy thing that I'll admit I love.
12. Take a river cruise to see the city by water.
Think of the Yorkboat as the double decker bus on water. It's a great way to take a load off your feet after walking around all day. You can also walk along the river via the city's bridges to get a different perspective during your visit.
13. Explore the streets and get lost.
This is probably one of the best things to do in York (and easiest) because the streets are all pedestrian friendly and you're bound to see something charming around every corner. You really don't need a car at all to get around either. If you're coming in from the train station, just head straight into town and walk from street to street. It's the best way to stumble upon new places and corners you probably wouldn't have seen.
14. See the view from Clifford's Tower.
The tower is basically the last thing standing from what used to be an incredible castle of York. You can get some sick panoramic views when you head to the top!
15. Grab a pint of beer by the river or in a historic pub.
Orrrr maybe even do a pub crawl...? It's not a bad idea when the city is full of so many unique pubs! It can be the perfect way to end a long day of exploring. Always remember to drink responsibly though :)
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO York? WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO EAT, PLACES TO STAY, OR THINGS TO DO? COMMENT BELOW WITH MORE RECOMMENDATIONS!
Thank you to Visit York for providing me with a day pass to the city's attractions. This post may include affiliate links, which comes at absolutely no cost to you. All proceeds go directly back into maintaining this website and making it better for you. All opinions are my own.