England is more than just London, and if you are visiting the country, exploring a bit further north can be really rewarding. Located about 2.5 hours from London by train, York is one of the most historic cities in England. It was founded by the ancient Romans, previously a Viking stronghold called Jorvik, and was home to the 15th century Plantagenet King Richard III, famous for his role in the Wars of the Roses. York has beautiful old buildings, including the 13th Century Cathedral, and city walls which are still in good condition which you can walk all the way around.
It’s a beautiful city, and here are some of the main things to see in 2 days there. Please excuse the crazy variation in photos, the weather was all over the place!
Day 1 – Historic York
For your first day in York, it’s a focus on history – which is everywhere in this wonderful city.
A. York City Walls
Start your day orienting yourself with the city with a walk around its walls. York has been protected by city walls in one form or another since Roman times. Very little of the original Roman walls remain, but you can still walk round the later dated walls, the highlight of which is the views to the Cathedral.
The walls are punctuated by four main towers, or ‘bars’, which were defensive and also restricted traffic in medieval times. Within the Bars are some lovely cafes and interesting museums – for example in Monk Bar is the Richard III experience, which talks about the life of the last King of the Plantagenet line. The Henry VII Experience is then inside Micklegate Bar, and tells the story of Henry’s life. For those who don’t know about the Wars of the Roses, these 2 Kings fought from the Crown of England in the 1400s, with Henry ultimately victorious following the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 (special to me as I grew up in Market Bosworth).
Walking the walls, including visiting the Museums takes about 3 hours, and so makes for a lovely way to spend your first morning in York. Also an extra bonus if your path is blocked by geese like mine was!
B. York Minster
One of the most famous cathedrals in the country, York Minster is truly amazing. A church has been in this location since at least 627 AD, however; the present building was largely built between the 13th and 15th centuries. There is plenty to see if you visit inside the Minster, including a beautiful chapter house, the Great East Window (the largest medieval stained glass window in the world), a crypt you can visit and a wonderful tower you can climb for panoramic views out over the city (though it was closed when I visited due to the rain).
C. Yorkshire Museum and Gardens (incl. St Mary’s Abbey)
The Yorkshire Museum has five permanent collections, covering biology, geology, archaeology and the city’s Roman history. It’s also situated in a park which houses the lovely Merchant’s Hall building, as well as St Mary’s Abbey – a grade I listed Benedictine Monastery. This area is well worth spending 2 hours visiting.
Inside the museum, learning about Roman York
D. Treasurer’s House
Discover a house with a 2,000 year history by stepping through Treasurer’s House near the Minster, set up with rooms furnished from Medieval to more recent times over the various periods of history. Also be sure to explore some of the beautiful little streets alongside the Treasurer’s House, home to lovely houses and picturesque views to the Minster.
E. Pairings Wine Bar
One of my favourite spots in York for drinks and dinner is Pairings Wine Bar. It’s a beautiful laid back spot with the best wine menu in the city, as well as incredible cocktails. It also offers delicious sharing boards, platters and desserts (all with wine pairing recommendations of course!)
Day 2 – Pretty streets, castles and food
Today is spent exploring York’s beautiful streets and architecture, as well as visiting its castle and a few more fun and interactive attractions in the city.
A. The Shambles
This pretty street is a must for anyone who wants some nice Insta shots, full of wonky buildings that date back as far as the 14th Century!
B. Clifford’s Tower
This is a castle with a lot of history. The first motte and bailey castle was built in 1068 on the site following on from the Norman conquest of York. The Castle was destroyed by the Vikings in 1069 and was then rebuilt including a moat. In 1190, 150 local Jews were killed in the Castle keep. Most of them committed suicide to avoid being lynched by the mob who had locked them in there. Henry III then rebuilt the castle in the 13th Century, and during the wars with Scotland in the 1300s, it was a strategic and important military base.
In the 15th and 16th Centuries, the castle was used as a jail and fell in to disrepair, but during the English Civil War the castle was repaired and used by the Royalists. Again in the 18th and 19th centuries, the castle became a jail – eventually demolished in 1935 and turned in to a tourist site, which I spent about an hour enjoying.
C. York Castle Museum
This Museum tells the story of York Castle through all of its stages of history. It also talks through the history of York itself, and includes a full replica of a Victorian street where you can visit a Victorian school, sweet shop and even prison! It also includes the York Castle Prison where you can learn about the stories of York’s prisoners over the years. It’s great for kids as well, and is worth a couple of hours for a visit.
Inside the museum
D. York Dungeons
The York Dungeons are an interactive experience which tell the story of the city’s history through its macabre stories using live actors and special effects. The experience lasts about 1.5 hours (and the queues get long, so book in advance), and tells the stories of everything from The Plague to the Wars of the Roses to Guy Fawkes. We thought it was lots of fun.
E. Betty’s Tea Rooms
Betty’s Tea Room was established in the 1960s and serves amazing cakes, pastries and treats. It’s a family owned, Yorkshire business and I really recommend having the English tradition of Afternoon Tea at Betty’s – definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. It was delicious!
F. Merchant Adventurer’s Hall
The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is a Grade I listed medieval guildhall in the centre of the city. It’s a beautiful spot to visit and well worth looking inside.
G. Jorvik Viking Centre
Finish off your visit to the city with a museum telling the story of York when it was a Viking city known as Jorvik. The Museum is really interactive and kid focused, rather than educational boards or anything like that. You sit on a ride and it takes you through lots of recreated Viking streets including the smells of the time! Again I recommend booking in advance as the queues outside get long.
And that bring a close to a weekend in York. York is a great long weekend destination in the UK and well worth a visit. If you have longer in York, then please check out my other Yorkshire posts which are all manageable as day trips from the city:
- Whitby & The North Yorkshire Coast
- Helmsley & Rievaulx Abbey
- Ripon & Fountain’s Abbey
- Knaresborough (post coming soon)
- Thornton-Le-Dale & Ellerburn
Hopefully this post will be helpful in planning your trip – stay safe and happy travelling!