Do as the Romans did – and take a short break in York, with its extraordinary Mediaeval architecture and charming backstreets
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the Mediaeval city of York, with its surrounding walls intact from the 13th century, and its architecture and roads perfectly preserved since the Romans first laid them. At its centre is York Minster, a celebrated Gothic cathedral. Narrow little streets radiate from it, populated with traditional pubs, museums and cafés just waiting for the weekend ambler. York is a proper tourist’s dream – if you do nothing else, just wandering the city is a rewarding way to spend a few days, and much of it is car-free for exactly that reason. In fact, York’s ‘footstreets’ – the pedestrianised area – is one of the largest in Europe. So, leave the car at home and take the chance to discover this historic, grand little city with a surprisingly modern centre under your own steam.
Have your breath taken away by York Minster
One of northern Europe’s largest Mediaeval cathedrals, this is an extraordinary example of Gothic architecture at its most dazzling, complete with crouching gargoyles and all the carved limestone trimmings. Climb the 275 steps up one of its imposing towers for the best view of York – a panorama of crooked rooftops and winding cobbled lanes, with the rolling moors beyond.
Check the Minster’s website for concerts during your city break here – the sound of the choir swelling through the transepts is something to experience. While you’re here, have a look too at the 15th-century choir screen, with its 15 statues of England’s kings, from William I to Henry VI. Look behind the altar to the Great East Window – a breathtaking stained glass treasure, the world’s largest Mediaeval window and a sobering work depicting the beginning and end of the world.
Lunch Poirot-style, in a steam train dining car
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a gem. Run by volunteers, its magnificent steam-powered engines chug along 18 miles of National Park land, stopping at Goathland Station – made world-famous as the Hogwarts Express’ stop in the Harry Potter films. You can take lunch or afternoon tea on the train, in handsome teak carriages with observation windows onto the fabulous scenery whizzing past.
Don’t miss the city’s spooky side
Head to riverside haunt The King’s Arms for a little Dutch courage before embarking on the Original Ghost Walk of York. This tour departs every evening at 8pm from just outside the pub, with no need to book. The company has had nearly 25 years to prepare this nightly amble around York’s spookier parts – and it shows. The tour is theatrical, dramatic and very informative, taking in the sites of dark deeds, battles and legends.
Have a proper Yorkshire tea
It would be folly to pass through Yorkshire without having one of its famous teas. Betty’s is a small chain of pretty tea rooms across the North of England – with outposts in Harrogate and Ilkley as well as York. Tea, cake and more is served in proper china, in a smart Art Deco parlour, modelled on the interior of the Queen Mary ship of 1937.
Find out what the Romans did for York
Much of the Roman architecture of York is today concealed under the ground, but you can get a very full picture of life in Eboracum – the Roman name for the city – at the Yorkshire Museum. A permanent exhibition depicts local life under Roman rule, and includes plenty of interactive activity – don a pair of sandals and walk across an original mosaic floor. Outside the museum are 10 acres of botanical gardens; this is one of the nicest places to spend a sunny day in York.
Walk the walls
York is encircled by the longest (more or less) intact defensive wall in England, with four ancient Roman gateways, or bars, into the city. The perimeter clocks in at two-and-a-half miles, and is well sign-posted for those new to rambling in the area. The walk takes in magnificent battlements and beautifully preserved features. The Micklegate Bar was, for centuries, decorated with the heads of the vanquished, including Sir Henry Purcey in 1403 and Richard, Duke of York, in 1460. If that leaves you needing a drink, try the Lamb and Lion Inn at the Bootham Bar. You’ll find local ales and hearty food to fuel the next leg of your walk.
If you like the look of what this mediaeval city has to offer, take a look at our hotels in York.