A short break in York can provide the perfect antidote to urban life – with dreamy architecture, Mediaeval battlements and pastoral moors beyond. It also boasts abundant contemporary and cultural appeal
When to visit York
There are many festivals held in York, with famous speakers attracted by the city’s venerable history and architecture. These can be a good way to plan your short break here – you’ll get to see the city at its buzziest, and take in the sights while also enjoying the extra-special experiences that come with one-off cultural events.
York breaks in Spring
March’s York Literature Festival does a good job of pulling in the literati – in recent years its speakers have included David Starkey, Jenni Murray and Carol Ann Duffy, while events across the city include writing workshops, walks, talks and readings in some of York’s most beautiful spots. April sees the Tour de Yorkshire pedal into town. This joint venture between the county authorities and the Amaury Sport Organisation kicked off in 2014, when the Tour de France first set off from Yorkshire, stirring up cycle-mania across the region. It has become a huge event in the cycling calendar, with more than two million fans lining the streets for 2016’s race. Even if you don’t know your fixies from your BMXs, this is a spectacle to behold – and the excitement is infectious. In late spring, the York International Shakespeare Festival takes place – an exciting celebration of performed by new and adventurous artists from the world over. All members of the family are catered for, with plays and workshops aimed at children, and imaginative reinterpretations of well-known works for seasoned Shakespeare enthusiasts.
York breaks in summer
The summer is the perfect time to take advantage of York’s more outdoorsy attractions, such as York Museum’s Botanical Gardens, the two-and-a-half-mile walk around the city walls and pretty Rowntree Park. But July also sees the Early Music Festival pitch up in live venues across the city. By ‘early music’ they mean Mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque compositions, played on period instruments – and it suits the surroundings perfectly.
Walking around York in autumn gives you full access to the changing colours in the stunning surrounding countryside, plus there’s a calendar stuffed with interest. The York Book Fair, for example, is a charming annual event staged in September, featuring the UK’s largest market of rare books and collectibles. This is a true bookworm’s paradise, with more than 220 booksellers filling their tables with out-of-print, rare and unusual editions. If your appetite is more gastronomic than literary, I, you can hit the York Food and Drink Festival. It’s a great way to discover the city by following your stomach – you can take an Ale Trail around the centre, try cookery classes led by the city’s top chefs, or simply take advantage of the street food that will be lining the handsome lanes. Prefer to stick to beer? The York Beer and Cider Festival hits town mid-September.
York breaks in Winter
If you’re visiting in November, try to catch the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. It’s a celebration of all things indie in cinema, and you can enjoy screenings in 15 historic locations across the city, including the Theatre Royal and King’s Manor. In December, nothing could be more Christmassy than a carol service in magnificent York Minster. A seat in the pews of this candle-lit cathedral, overlooked by the largest Mediaeval stained glass windows in the world, will remind you of the true meaning of the festive season – and leave you with a renewed appreciation of the marvels of Gothic architecture. In fact, York goes big on Christmas in every way – there are Yuletide markets, pop-up ice rinks and themed exhibitions at many of the museums. It’s a heart-warming time to visit.
How to get to York
York is well served by road, being just off the A1M North Road. Much of the centre is car-free, however, with one of the largest pedestrian areas in Europe. So, it’s worth leaving the car at home and jumping on one of the excellent train connections; you can get from London to York in two hours with Virgin Trains, for example. If you do drive, take advantage of the Park & Ride facility – leave your car at one of the designated spots and you’ll be in town by bus in 20 minutes -buses come every 10 minutes. There are also bike hire facilities at the train station.