YORK is the north's most compelling city, a place that stood at the heart of the country's religious and political life for centuries, and until the Industrial Revolution was second only to London in population and importance. The capital of the Roman empire's northern European territories and the base for Hadrian's northern campaigns, by the seventh century York had become the fulcrum of Christianity in northern England. In 867 the city fell to the Danes, who renamed it Jorvik, and later made it the capital of eastern England (Danelaw). These days a more provincial air hangs over the city, but relics from its glory days abound.
The Minster is the obvious place to start, and you won't want to miss a walk around the walls. The medieval city is at its most evocative around the streets known as Stonegate and the Shambles,impossibly narrow and lined with perilously leaning timber-framed houses, while the earlier Viking city is entertainingly presented at Jorvik, perhaps the city's favourite family attraction. The two major museum collections are the incomparable Castle Museum and the National Railway Museum (where the appeal goes way beyond railway memorabilia), while the evocative ruins and gardens of St Mary's Abbey house the family-friendly Yorkshire Museum.
Chances are your visit may also coincide with one of York's lively festivals. Major annual events include York's Viking Festival (Web: www.vikingjorvik.com ) every February and the Early Music Festival (Web: www.ncem.co.uk ), held in July, perhaps the best of its kind in Britain. The famous York Mystery Plays are traditionally held every four years (2010, 2014) (Web: www.yorkmysteryplays.co.uk ).
York is essentially a small city. Its city center is a hive of activity surrounded by the safety of its ancient walls and looked over by the watchful spire of the giant Minster. The following are descriptions of some key areas in and around York and the kind of attractions, shops and businesses you are likely to find in each of them.
Located on the outskirts of the city is this pleasant little village, home to the Archbishop of York's Palace. Just a short walk away is the Selby cycle track, built on top of the old railway line. As such, this is a superb flat, straight path, great for cycling and marvelous scenery to boot. Those with a keen eye will notice that every few meters there are curious metal globes. These are in fact scale models of the planets in our solar system and the ten miles between York and Selby have been mapped out accurately so that the distance between these models is relative to that of the real planets in space.
Despite being known by locals for its hospital, this is a predominantly residential area which is also home to Bootham Crescent, the playing grounds of The Minster Men, York City F.C. Only a short distance away from the city center, Bootham Bar is yet another piece of history left by the Romans. This large archway acts as an entrance to the city center as well as being in sight of pubs like The Exhibition and The Hole in the Wall , although they are an entirely different type of bar altogether.
Where else to start but with St. Peter's Cathedral, or as it is known to most people, York Minster . It is a truly inspirational sight, towering above all other buildings in York and visible from miles outside the city limits. From the amazing stained glass windows to the tolling of its bells, observing the York Minster in person is an incredible experience.
The most famous street in York has to be The Shambles , with its narrow cobbled alleyways and its half-timbered medieval shops; it most certainly is the most picturesque and the most photographed. Being a city so generously enriched with history, York has its fair share of museums, one of the most popular being the Jorvik Viking Museum , but it would be an injustice to overlook either the Castle Museum or the National Railway Museum. York is also famous for its medieval walls, which run through the city center and are the best-preserved city walls in Great Britain. Walking along them is an ideal means of navigating your way through the city whilst simultaneously achieving a privileged vantage point for viewing York.
This large area in York toward the northern edge of the city is home to the Clifton Moor Shopping Centre . It is a continually growing retail park with a lengthy list of major stores, including Tescos and Toys R Us. A large Vue Cinema is also found here, next to the Frankie & Benny's Italian American diner.
A quiet village on the edge of the city. It is, for the most part, residential and although there are only a few small shops here, you will find some fine, traditional English pubs like The Tiger .
York Racecourse/Tadcaster Road
Horse racing is one thing that York is especially famous for. Head to the York Racecourse to get your fill of betting and horses. Tadcaster Road is usually most peoples' entrance (or exit) to York, and is host to many pubs such as The Fox & Roman and The Starting Gate and hotels including the Marriott and The Posthouse .
Micklegate is possibly the most famous street in York with the exception of The Shambles . This is home to many of the best pubs in York from the lively Harry's Bar to the more traditional Ackhorne . The chain of pubs is commonly referred to as "The Micklegate Run" and some of the most hardened drinkers of this world have felt their knees turn to jelly at the thought of tackling all of them. This is the usual approach path of young revellers making their way towards clubs such as The Gallery , Ziggy's and Toffs , so the faint of heart should perhaps take care.
This is a small area of York on the edge of the city center whose main feature is the Monk Bar . This Roman gate has now been converted into a museum dedicated to the life of that son of York, Richard III . Was he a monster or was he simply misunderstood? Once your history lesson is over, you can enjoy a meal in an excellent restaurant such as The Viceroy of India or perhaps eat a hearty Sunday roast in The Tap & Spile .
About ten minutes drive from York is this small village, known to many as the home of the Bass Brewery, John Smith's Brewery and Samuel Smith's Brewery. It's a wonder the locals aren't pickled.
Located on the edge of the city, this area of York contains an ever growing shopping area as well as numerous places to eat and drink. The Wetherby Whaler serves up some of the best fish and chips in York and for those who like a bit of spice, there is The Bengal Brasserie . The area also contains a range of businesses like the family-orientated pub The Millfield .
York is not only a place of infinite historical interest but also a bustling metropolitan city. This is a duality reflected in the many and varied places to eat and drink in the city. By day there are a multitude of cafes and old fashioned tea rooms which shoppers and tourists flock to and by night there are bars and pubs galore. Dining in York is a particularly rich experience due to the sheer variety of restaurants on offer. The majority of York's pubs and restaurants are located in the winding Snickelways and lanes of the ancient city centre, although such places as Frankie & Benny's Italian/American diner and The Flying Legends pub can be found at the out of town Clifton Moor Retail Park .
Probably the most vibrant part of York is its ever growing coffee shop culture. In the city centre there are such places as the colorful Cappuccinos , popular amongst students and young people, as is Victor J's with its notably laid back, trendy atmosphere. Close to York's most famous landmark, The Minster, is Coffee Culture , another fashionably small cafe with an excellent range of baguettes and light snacks for those on the go. Harking back to more traditional times are the splendid tea rooms found throughout the city, such as the Earl Grey Tea Rooms , James' Tea Rooms or the ever popular Betty's Tea Rooms . This elegant establishment offers a wide range of teas from around the world, all served up in 1920s style. For those who prefer a more European flavour, there is Cafe Rouge , which serves continental food as well as fine tea and coffee, all within easy reach of the city centre.
Ask any local and they will tell you that there are 365 pubs in York, one for every day of the year. Although in reality the actual number may vary from year to year, this figure is never far from the truth. From traditional English-style pubs like The Five Lions , The Golden Ball and The Three Tuns , to the more modern, clubber-orientated bars like McMillan's and Harry's Bar . For the real ale aficionado, York has a wealth of watering holes, such as The Ackhorne , The Bluebell and The Maltings .
The city is also host to several annual beer festivals, which as well as showcasing the nation's lesser known breweries, often gives beer drinkers a chance to sample international ales. The most popular pubs in York are found along the famous student pub-crawl known as the Micklegate Run, which runs down the middle of the city center; local favorites like The Windmill and The Punch Bowl are joined by popular chain pubs like The Phalanx & Firkin . Although many have attempted to drink a pint in every pub on "The Run," few have succeeded. In fact as the chain has grown over the years, most tend to skip a couple along the way. Having run the gauntlet of Micklegate, some people may manage to venture in to one of York's nightclubs while others may find they've built up a hearty appetite.
Those who enjoy international cuisine will be well suited in York. For the Italian food lover, there are places like, Bella Pasta , La Piazza and La Romantica . South American and Mexican meals are served in establishments such as El Piano , Fiesta Mehicana and Plunketts . As curry is one of Britain's most popular dishes, it is only fitting that York should have plenty of top class Indian restaurants for those that like their food with a little spice. The Jinnah Balti House and Akash Tandoori both serve authentic Indian meals which will satisfy newcomers and old hands alike. The Jade Garden , The Phoenix and The Willow will satisfy those with a taste for Cantonese. As well as all this, people who like more traditional English fare will be well catered for and the likes of 19 Grape Lane , The Patio and Oscar's have varied menus that will have plenty to satiate most tastes. Some of the finest seafood can be found at The Blue Bicycle and the fish and chips specialists at The Wetherby Whaler serve the old favorite par excellence.
It's fair to say that York has something to offer for just about every taste and has enough places to eat and drink to satisfy the most diverse of appetites. Though its roots may be in the distant past, its eyes are set on the future, ensuring an enjoyable gastronomic experience for anyone visiting York.
Tour One: Historical York on Foot
This tour starts and ends at York's famous Minster and includes a small section of the York Wall . The city is quite compact which makes walking by far the best option. Also try The World Tour of York . If walking is not to your liking then there are open-top guide buses, which can be joined at Exhibition Square and at other pick-up points around York.
First you'll need a map, which you can get from the Tourist Information Centre at the De Grey Rooms , then find the York Minster , which is located nearby at the northern end of the city. If you don't know where north is then the Minster's spectacular twin towers can usually be found dominating the skyline from all over York. The Minster's size and beauty is awesome. Marvel at the famous Rose Window , which commemorates the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486, marking an end to the War of the Roses and once inside the York Minster make sure you visit the Chapter House .
On leaving the Minster you will find that St William's College and the Treasurer's House are in the same vicinity and don't forget to see the Roman Column , which marks the place where Constantine was proclaimed Emperor in York. On leaving Minster Yard turn left into Chapter House Street and right into Ogleforth. At the end of this road turn left to join the York City Wall at Monk Bar , one of the four main gateways or Bars to the city and the one which houses the Richard III Museum and also boasts a working portcullis. Look up before you enter the narrow stone staircase and notice the beautifully carved protectors of the towers waiting to drop stones on the invaders below.
The walk along this stretch of York's city wall gives superb views of the Deanery Gardens, Dean's Park and, of course, the ubiquitous Minster. You have now traveled in a small circle, arriving at Bootham Bar , York's oldest gateway. From here you can enter High Petergate and turn right into Stonegate. These two roads were once known as Via Praetoria and Via Principalis and formed the two main roads crossing the Roman Garrison. The façades, of the many tourist gift shops in this area, are mainly Georgian and Victorian but the tiny shops themselves and the narrow streets are very much medieval. In Stonegate you'll find Mulberry Hall with its impressive Tudor façade and Ye Old Starre Inn , reputed to be haunted and whose sign indicates that it is York's oldest licensed Inn. Turning left half way down Stonegate, into Coffee Yard, will bring you to Barley Hall, a restored 15th century town house which offers visitors a hands-on experience of life in that century. From Coffee Yard, where, yes, you can still buy coffee, take a left into Grape Lane, then right into Low Petergate, where you'll find the medieval Holy Trinity Church with its quaint uneven floor, then on to Goodramgate. Just past Goodramgate you'll arrive at King's Square where often you'll find jugglers and musicians drawing a crowd.
To the right of King's Square is the famous Shambles , a narrow medieval street that used to be known for its butcher shops. The most famous of these is the house and shop where Margaret Clitheroe once lived—now the Shambles Gallery and Manor Prints & Pottery .
Moving on through the Shambles to the Pavement, notice the half-timbered building next to the Golden Fleece , it once belonged to Sir Thomas Herbert who was with King Charles I on the eve of his execution. From Pavement turn right into Fossgate and enter the Merchant Adventurers' Hall , one of the best surviving examples of its kind; exit into Piccadilly. Cross the road and take the cutting beside the river, through to Clifford's Tower . The tower is the only part left of the original York Castle and although there are a lot of steps to climb, the view from the top of the tower is well worth the effort. Opposite Clifford's Tower is the Castle Museum and the cell where Dick Turpin was held before his execution in 1739. Behind Clifford's Tower is Tower Street, on the left is the Military Museum . Follow this road round to the left and you'll find the Coppergate Centre on the right. A Viking street lies under this modern shopping center, which you can explore in the Jorvik Viking Centre . Fairfax House is also close by. Turn left at the end of Coppergate and you'll be in Parliament Street, keep going and you'll come to Davygate, which terminates in St. Helens Square . By now you'll be needing a refreshment! Betty's , York's most famous teahouse, is close by. When you're ready to start again St. Helens Church , the Mansion House and behind it the Guildhall , are all situated around the square.
Leaving the square, take the road called Lendal, passing the York Antique Centre on your left you'll come to Museum Street. Turn left, cross the road and take the path leading alongside the river. You will come to the side entrance of Museum Gardens . The 10 acres of gardens are quite beautiful. Watch the peacocks strutting, feed the squirrels or just sit and watch the tourists! Within these gardens you'll find the Observatory , the Hospitium , St Mary's Abbey and the Yorkshire Museum . Don't miss the Multangular Tower on your way out through the main gateway then turn left once again into Museum Street and left again at the traffic lights into St Leonard's Place. This junction links the Assembly Rooms and the Red House with Exhibition Square. On your right is the Theatre Royal and the De Grey Rooms whilst on your left you will be approaching Exhibition Square, it's here you'll find King's Manor and the York City Art Gallery . Opposite the Art Gallery is Bootham Bar and now the Minster is once again in sight.
Tour 2: Shopping & Dining in York
Shopping is great fun in York. The real beauty of this remarkable city is that it manages to cater for everybody in every capacity and shopping is no exception. Whether you are searching for a special outfit, looking for a memento of your visit, or simply browsing, you will likely not come away empty handed. All good shopping trips begin with a spot of breakfast. Coffee Culture or The National Trust tearooms & shop in Goodramgate can both provide you with an excellent start to the day. Here also you will find the Chocolate Store , a truly charming sweet shop, which should not be overlooked as you head off to York's main shopping areas.
Leaving Goodramgate turn into Kings Square, where some of York's best street entertainers perform. This leads into The Shambles , York's oldest street, and home to an engaging collection of unique gift shops full of character and individuality. Try Shambles Souvenirs & Gifts or Woodcarvers of York for an unusual gift or a reminder of the city. Avoiding peak times when visiting these small shops is a good idea, as they do get very busy. On leaving the Shambles you will enter Newgate Market . Amongst the wide variety of stalls, look out for Italian bread, English cheeses, fresh flowers and a good selection of fabrics. Newgate leads you into Parliament Street and St. Sampsons Square. This now pedestrianized area houses such names as Marks & Spencer , the Disney Store and Browns department store. Parliament Street hosts occasional events such as the St. Nicholas Fair in the run up to Christmas and York's Food & Drink Festival . The local farmers market, a French market and fun fairs staged here are very popular with both locals and visitors. At the end of Parliament street is the Coppergate Centre. This modern centre features another Marks & Spencer store, this time containing homeware and a cafe, also The Body Shop , and the more upmarket Fenwicks . For a brief diversion away from the world of consumerism the Jorvik Centre is also here, along with the Impressions Photography Gallery with its relaxing cafe.
Next look out for Waterstone's for books in High Ousegate, which leads you to Coney Street, one of York's premier shopping streets. Amongst the many women's and men's fashion retailers you'll find the more specialist in Mango and Kaliko, the popular Gap and Racing Green , as well as the reliable and oft found in the likes of Top Shop and River Island . If it's sporting or outdoor gear you're after First Sport and Free Spirit are nearby.
Now is probably a good time to stop for some lunch and it just so happens that Betty's Tea Rooms are situated at the bottom of Coney street in St Helens Square . This famous, stylish cafe offers a good variety of light meals and a mouth-watering selection of delicious cakes. Don't forget to take a look at the goodies displayed near the entrance, including handmade chocolates, Betty's gift boxes and Yorkshire specialty cakes. Alternatively, opposite Betty's is Harker's , a spacious bar serving meals throughout the day.
Off St. Helens Square is Stonegate, where you will find some impressive jewelery and antique shops such as Stonegate Antiques Centre and Mulberry Hall with its exquisite china and porcelain.
Turning right at the end of Stonegate leads you into Petergate, and more quality fashion stores. For designer labels you must visit Sarah Coggles , which houses two floors of possibly the most stylish womenswear in York. Although Sarah Coggles does also stock quality menswear, for a wider range of men's styles Mannix , Robert Smart , Clubhouse and Paul Smith are a few excellent examples. Compagnia, around the corner in Church Street has more exclusive labels, and if you turn into Swinegate you'll find vintage clothing at Priestley's , the perfect place for tea dresses, twin sets and fashions of the past. For those in need of refreshment, the Swinegate area has some of York's best cafes including El Piano , The Patio and wine bars such as Oscar's and Wilde's .
Swinegate now forms one part of an area which recently generated the name "The Quarter" for itself. The United Traders of the Quarter include a variety of specialist crafts and clothing shops, printers, hairdressers, cafes, bars and restaurants who together have organized fundraising events and other community-based activities. The Quarter is constituted of Little Stonegate, Back Swinegate, Swinegate itself, Grape Lane and Coffee Yard. Back into Davygate which runs between Stonegate and Parliament Street there are yet more big name fashion stores to tempt you, including French Connection, Laura Ashley , Hobbs , East, Monsoon and Gap Kids for the little ones tugging at your sleeves.
By now you should be suitably exhausted, but pleased with your selection of clothes and gifts, the quality and diversity of which reflect this lovely city.