Exploring York: A perfectly British weekend away

Getting a flight to discover a new city is always exciting but it’s not necessary to travel far to experience a great weekend away. For my birthday this year I settled on seeing York. Somewhere I had not been before and at just under two hours drive from home it was easy to get to.  

All we had planned for the weekend was relaxing, eating good food and exploring a new place.

How to spend a day in York

As I do in every new place I visit I booked onto a free walking tour by Footprints. Our guide was an archaeology student from the university who, although originally from France, had made York her home, and shared with us her amazing knowledge of the city and its history. 

We started outside the famous Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms, which had been recommended as a must-visit cafe, but we didn’t make it so will have to keep it for my next trip. Instead we found Monty’s, an Italian owned cafe in The Shambles which was still fairly quiet and crowd-free at 10am. After a long drive and in need of a coffee, the cafe enticed us with a drink and doughnut offer, and they were amazing fresh doughnuts too still hot from the pan.

Betty's tea room

The first stop of the two-hour tour was York Minister – a grand building which can be seen from around the whole of the city. It is an impressive structure and you can easily spend several minutes just standing in awe and admiring the handiwork that went into it over the 250 years it took to build. (Entrance fee is £11.50 for adults or £16.50 for a central tower ticket included which is 275 steps to the top.)

From here we took a short walk to the York Museum Gardens next to the River Ouse , which was the former grounds of the St Mary’s Abbey. Now all that is left of the abbey is ruins as well as parts of the original Roman wall. A lovely little spot to sit and relax on a sunny spring day.

Next we ventured along The Shambles, a narrow, Medieval cobbled street which was once lined with butchers and a meat market. Some of the meathooks can still be seen in the walls although today the street is a tourist haven. There are souvenir shops, cute cafes and several Harry Potter inspired shops, including a tea shop which offers ‘potions’ from a small window. While there is no real connection to the books, it is thought the street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the films , which has led to the city milking this link for the benefit of international tourists.

Our last and final stop was Clifford’s Tower, built by William the Conquerer at the top of a mound, and giving great 360 degree views over the whole city. I have heard the climb is worth it for the view but hungry and in need of a sit down after a lot of walking we opted to find some lunch instead.

Food aplenty

Having worked up an appetite we headed back to The Shambles Food Market. It was bustling with tourists and locals and there was so much choice. The Stam & Maria Greek street food stand had the longest queue in the market, but The Taylor Made Kitchen next to it caught my eye. It offered veggie alternatives to every meat dish and was certainly the tastiest halloumi burger I’ve had in a while. And boy was it filling! We possibly ordered too much food for lunch and were unable to move for a while after. 

Full on burgers and fries we finished our day in York walking part of the Roman city wall which is still visible around the city. You can walk a 2.8 mile circular route around some of the wall but we covered just a small section. We climbed up the Bootham Bar tower and walked to the next one – Monk Bar which goes back past York Minster offering views of it from higher up. The walk is gentle, a bit narrow and crowded at times, and there are benches along the route to rest or just take in the view, but it is definitely worth doing.

Lots more on offer

York is an amazing quaint little English city that offers all you need for a truly British day out. We packed quite a lot in for our day but there is still more to discover.  We didn’t visit the Jorvik Centre which had long queues outside and the dungeons are a popular attraction too. We didn’t walks along the river, go on any of the boat trips, or go into the York Chocolate Story, and there’s so many tea rooms offering afternoon teas too.

To put up our feet up for the evening we headed 25 minutes out of the city to a lovely little barn conversion in Stillington for some clean air away from the hustle and bustle. We booked The Retreat through Airbnb which was the perfect spot to relax, watch films and drink ciders in their small courtyard.

The following day we had breakfast at the nearby Dutch House cafe – a family run cafe with its own gardens for you look around. I couldn’t resist the cafe’s traditional Dutch pancakes and the cakes looked tempting too. From here we headed to Castle Howard – an incredible stately home which has been in the Howard family for more than 300 years. This hadn’t been on our original agenda for the weekend, and I had never heard of it, but it was a pleasant surprise and a wonderful way to end our few days away.

Luckily the weather held out, enabling us to walk around the grounds of this majestic house, although the moody skies provided a stunning backdrop. We were amazed at how stunning and picturesque this place was and felt like we had unexpectedly found a little gem in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside. It’s certainly not a secret location as the hoards of other visitors proved but I was surprised I had not heard about Castle Howard before. Our gamble on picking a random place to visit while having breakfast had certainly paid off.

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