A Beginners’ Guide to York: where to stay, what to eat, what to do and more

guide to york
Aminah Barnes

Aminah Barnes

Though famed for its medieval character and delicious confectionery (Yorkie bar anyone?), there’s actually much more to this historic city than Vikings and chocolate. Within the ancient walls, York city embraces a modern, bustling cultural programme amid hi-tech, world-renowned venues, while still preserving its celebrious heritage in attractions, museums and landmarks.

York also houses the prestigious, award-winning University of York, putting the city on the map for academia and guaranteeing a vibrant nightlife to indulge its booming student population. It’s The Sunday Times’ ‘best place to live in Britain’ and came third place in Condé Nast Traveller’s 2018 Reader’s Travellers Awards. It also secured the number one position for best cities to visit on a budget in research conducted by Wonga in 2018.

By day or by night; whether you’re a local, a student or in town for a city break, York’s generosity of things to do and places to see leaves little to be desired.

Jump to: Which are the best restaurants? | What can I visit? | What can I do? | Where can I go out at night? | Where can I go shopping?


Where can I stay?

Grays Court York

The boutique Grays Court York shows off York’s charming side, combining historical and homely characteristics to present an opulent place to stay in the city centre. The Grade I listed building is one of the country’s oldest houses, complete with a stunning garden and reproduced with French flair – so you’ll encounter the likes of four-poster beds and chandeliers while roaming its medieval corridors in the footsteps of former Kings.

Grays Court York

Parisi Hotel

With splashes of colour and ‘bags of character’, the Parisi Hotel is artistic, unique and inviting. It’s nestled in the historic town close to all the landmarks and visitor hotspots. Guests can feel at home at the Parisi, with their 24-hour staff ready to help out, a cute courtyard garden to escape, a cosy library to relax, and a gallery of British artwork to gaze at. It was also recently voted as the sixth most romantic place to stay in the UK by TripAdvisor.

Novotel

If you’re travelling with the family, Novotel can be a great base for your Yorkshire adventure. “When we stay in York, we like to book the Novotel as it’s just outside of the busy areas, and it has a pool which is perfect for a light swim before bed, or splashing with the little ones .” claims Michaela Britton, blogger of Adventures of a Yorkshire Mum.

The Tower House

Serving up delicious grub to get you energised for your day of exploring York, the Tower House was awarded the title of best B&B by Visit York in recent years. It sources locally-produced products to create a range of English breakfast dishes, with the potential to eat before normal dining hours of 8am – 10am for those super early starters. The Tower House is also stylishly decorated throughout, with eight rooms of totally different themes like Rococo, Versailles King, Samurai and more.    

Travelodge York Central

Still within the city centre, Travelodge York Central is just a hop, skip and a jump away from York Castle Museum and Clifford’s Tower – both between a 5 and 10 minutes’ walk away. It’s a great place to stay with friends, with a trusty Wetherspoons below to grab late night pints and full breakfasts to soak them up the next day. Comfy beds and a central location – it’s a great option when you’re saving on spending.


Which are the best restaurants?

York is littered with fantastic places to eat. From fancy fine dining to scrumptious street food to hearty pub grub, the walled city is a labyrinth of supreme eateries to feast your eyes (and bellies) on.

York’s flourishing relationship with food lead Yorkshire food blogger, Ben Thorpe, to start his own blog ‘York on a Fork’, where he outlines some of the best restaurants to indulge at.

“York has a rich and varied food scene these days with options to satisfy everyone. I can’t possibly narrow down my favourites to one or two but if I’m feeling peckish in the town centre it’s hard to avoid the Brew York beer hall, where Born to Lose burger kitchen serve up brilliantly punchy flavours.”

“If I’ve managed to plan ahead for a special meal then Skosh  (shown below) always delivers with its ever changing menu of broadly influenced small plates”

“York has a rich and varied food scene these days with options to satisfy everyone.”

Skosh

Meanwhile, York-born Chloe Dickenson of travel blog, I’m Just a Girl, reveals how to spend a day grazing your way through the town.

My hometown of York is one of my favourite places in the world. Whether I’m having lunch at my favourite restaurant ‘Cosy Club‘, eating a luxurious steak dinner at ‘The Cut and Craft‘ or indulging in afternoon tea at ‘Betty’s‘, there are so many incredible places to eat in York.”

“Once you’ve had your fill, walk off the calories with a stroll through the Museum Gardens, a wander along the river and then head to the Minster at sunset to capture stunning pictures of the light falling on to the 7th century cathedral.” 

Cosy Club
Cosy Club

Vegetarians and vegans can head to the likes of Goji Vegetarian Cafe and Deli, Humpit Hummus, 2 Oxford Place on Gillygate , as well as easily sourcing free-from dishes at nearly all the other restaurants around.

If you’re searching for exotic or creative street food, Gul & Graze, The Press Kitchen and Spark York normally do the trick, while wholesome fodder can be found at pubs like The Red Lion, The Cross Keys and Minster Inn .

York also boasts a variety of wine bars for an elegant evening out or romantic date, as well as high end restaurants to celebrate special occasions (or maybe just pay day!). Try the innovative Pairings, the casual, family-run Plonkers or authentic Italian L’UVA Vino e Cucina when your watch reads wine-o’clock, or head to Melton’s or The Park restaurant for a more luxurious a-fare.

Blogger and Vlogger of Mama Mei, Sophie Mei, also highly rates The Star Inn The City; a modern restaurant situated in York Museum’s gardens. She describes it as a ‘brasserie-style eatery’ that’s super child friendly, while also being popular with adults. 


What can I visit?

According to Visit York, the city has more attractions per square mile than any other city in the UK. History buffs and art enthusiasts can relish in its number of venues dedicated to reviving the past and exploring the contemporary, while proud locals and visitors can also absorb what makes York so special with its unique attractions and heritage.

There’s also plenty for families too; “From a parent’s perspective, I would say the big pull of York is the National Railway Museum, with its vintage trains, rail artefacts, and so much information about all things railway related with special events during the school holidays to involve children into the future of locomotives.”

“I personally love taking my children to all the historical landmarks too. Clifford’s Tower is one of my children’s favourites, although it’s a climb to get up there, and we love walking the walls of the city to see as far as the eye can see. ” Michaela Britton, Adventures of a Yorkshire Mum.

York Castle Museum

Journey across the ages as York’s past is brought to the present at the Castle Museum. With recreated spaces, interactive exhibitions and countless historic artifacts, the award-winning museum justifies its trademark as ‘the best day out in history’.

York Dungeon

Gripping and gruesome, York Dungeon unites spectacular special effects and some of the city’s historical criminal characters in this immersive experience. Described as ‘cutting-edge storytelling’, the shows at York Dungeon bring to life ‘The Plague Doctor’, ‘The Torturer’, ‘The Highwayman’ and other creepy tales for a frightfully-fun trip out.

Jorvik Viking Centre

The centre attracts people from around the world to York, wanting to catch a glimpse of the ancient Viking city revealed in this archaeological site. With impressive reconstructions of Viking villages and streets, visitors can witness York in the 10th century and rediscover the city’s ancestry.

Clifford’s Tower

Clifford's Tower

William the Conqueror first constructed the historic landmark, however Henry III salvaged it following several fires. It bears its name from Roger de Clifford, executed by hanging from the tower after committing treason against Edward II. Despite its grim legacy, Clifford’s today is actually a magnificent site to enjoy countryside and panoramic views of York.

York Art Gallery

York Art Gallery

Spanning from 14th century Italian art to 20th century greats like Hockney and Lowry, York Art Gallery is a visual voyage through time. It ranges in artistic disciplines, so you’re likely to see anything from sculptures, ceramics, fine art, prints, paintings and much more. The Gallery is a romantic retreat from the urban city, perfect for art lovers-in-love to stroll hand-in-hand before majestic masterpieces.

Blossom Street Gallery

A quirky, independent art gallery that aims to disseminate the best of York and the north’s artistic talent. It’s small in size, but cute and unique, where you can find original works and a great selection of gifts. Those living in York can also free their inner artiste with its art supplies, framing services and using the gallery as a platform to display their work.

Pyramid Gallery

Buried in the heart of the city, Pyramid Gallery was born in 1982 and has been supplying York with the best of British crafts since. Visitors will be able to see glass, ceramic, wood and metal work alongside jewellery and prints in their changing exhibitions, with some items up for grabs too.

The world’s fastest steam locomotive at the National Railway Museum

Mallard at National Railway Museum York

The museum is a tribute to the locomotive innovation, housing the world’s largest railway collection and many famous objects to see. Marvel at Mallard, the world’s fastest steam engine, or the stunning, streamlined Duchess of Hamilton, or the only bullet train beyond Japan; a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket.

You can also delve into railway history or enjoy one of their exhibitions, easily spending the day at one of York’s most iconic attractions.

The evolution of chocolate at York Chocolate Story

A sweet treat that encapsulates York’s lesser known claim to fame, York Chocolate Story unearths the tales of local chocolatiers (Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Craven’s). The guided tour ventures into chocolate’s roots in Central American rainforests and its journey to the quaint city of York, glimpsing at chocolates from our own childhood along the way. You’ll also get your fair share of the all-important tasting sessions too!


What can I do?

With a thriving cultural scene to rival many of the UK’s major cities, York appeases all interests with a multitude of events and activities. It attracts some of the best artists and shows, while still paying homage to local talents. From intimate gig spaces to exquisite theatres, York also boasts some fantastic venues to enjoy a variety of shows, with something to see on almost any night of the week.

Enjoy a comedy show

Everyone loves to laugh. It’s a fact. Thankfully, York’s colourful cultural scene includes frequent comedy shows that guarantee to have your sides aching by the end of the night. The Barbican hosts the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club each month which sees four stand up comedians perform! It also welcomes big names on tour, with 2019 seeing Jason Manford, Dara O’Briain and Rob Beckett taking the stage.

Alternatively, below the quirky City Screen Picturehouse, you can find The Basement that also presents the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club, along with a varied programme, making the venue an all-round entertainment hub. Marketing Manager of City Screen Picturehouse, Dave Taylor, describes what makes the venue such a great spot:

“City Screen Picturehouse shows art-house and mainstream films in three auditoria right in the centre of York.  Its café-bar “The Riverside” has a terrace overlooking the River Ouse and is an attractive place to hang out whether seeing a film or not, with fine wines, coffee, or a variety of delicious meals on offer.”  

“Below the cinema is The Basement Live Music & Comedy Venue which hosts an eclectic mix of events including live music, spoken word, comedy, drama and DJ nights.”

Attend a local festival

It’s called the City of Festivals for a reason; can you really say you’re a local in York without having been to one of its many…and we mean many…festivals? They celebrate everything here from music to fashion to food and drink to literature to much, much more.

During February and March, you can stargaze at the breathtaking Dark Skies Festival just outside of York at the North York Moors National Park. In late March, York Fashion Week kicks off, celebrating local designers, brands and businesses in the industry. The next month, the annual York Open Studios returns to invite the public inside artists’ studios and to local exhibitions.

Throughout summer, many festivals takeover York, beginning with the York Festival of Ideas in June; a multi-disciplinary festival with plenty of free events, the eclectic Great Yorkshire Fringe in July comprising comedy, cabaret, magic and more, the York Walls Festival in August for the outdoorsy types who love guided walks and trails.

In September, the York Food & Drink and the Beer and Cider Festival will take place across the city. The year is rounded of with York’s Christmas festival, before it does it all over again.

Watch some sports

On 17 select days through May and October, you can witness the world-class York Races. It closely follows Ascot in one of the country’s top horse racing events, complete with manicured lawns, award-winning grandstands and plenty of people in hats!

If horse racing isn’t your thing, you could also head to Bootham Crescent to check out local football heros, York City FC. The club is over a century-old, having first formed in 1908. Despite being relegated from the League in recent years, the team have success in the FA Trophy tournaments.

You could also head to the York Barbican for the Betway UK Championship Snooker during November and December; one of the country’s most prestigious events of the sport.

Head to the theatre

York Theatre Royal

If you’re looking to treat your mum, your significant other, or even yourself, watching a theatre show in York is a great way to make an evening extra special. York’s theatres are some of the best in the country, distinctively unique and catering to a variety of shows like musicals, dramas, pantomimes and much more.

Arguably the city’s most spectacular, York Theatre Royal is a historical landmark in the North. Press Officer, Steve Pratt, outlines what makes the theatre so distinguished: “York Theatre Royal, the oldest working theatre outside London, celebrates its 275th birthday in 2019 as it continues to offer a rich and diverse programme of creative activity both in the theatre’s main house and the smaller Studio and in the community.”

“New commissions, high quality revivals and touring productions as well as a pantomime of international repute are designed to appeal to audiences of all ages.”

Other top theatres include the diverse York Barbican, the opulent Grand Opera House , the volunteer-run Joseph Rowntree Theatre and the intimate Friargate Theatre. Across York’s theatre programme for 2019, you can find Madagascar The Musical, Macbeth, Driving Miss Daisy, Orlando and plenty of other exciting productions.

You can also visit the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre during the summer months, located in the Shakespearean Village. It was inspired by London Rose Playhouse in design, aiming to bring back the invigorating and immersive ambience of when Shakespeare’s plays were first enjoyed by audienced centuries ago.

Listen to live music

Barbican

Beyond its LOL Comedy Club and theatre offerings, York Barbican (shown above) is perhaps the city’s go-to venue for live music with the largest capacity of venues in the city. It’s an eclectic venue that guarantees to show top talents from the UK and further afield.

York Barbican brings world-class events to the city of York

York Barbican’s Jack Dunkerley describes it as an “exciting concert venue, bringing world-class events to the city of York”. He further points to its significance in the city “It’s an important part of York’s cultural offering, with a diverse programme of events including comedy, music, the UK Snooker Championships, family shows and many more.

Alternatively, Fibbers is also famed for putting on great gigs from emerging artists. It’s a well-loved venue being one of the country’s longest-running spots to listen to a wide range of musical genres. Everyone from Coldplay to the Killers to Laura Marling have played there in previous years.

The Basement of City Screen Picturehouse, The Fulford Arms, The Crescent and The Black Swan are also great for gigs over concerts, thanks to their smaller size venues that allow you to get close to emerging artists.

Take a tour

Particularly for those visiting York for a short amount of time, a tour of the city can be one of the most interesting ways to spend your time there. Vlogger Sophie Mei recalls her time on the Brewtown Tours exploring the Gin of York; “The tours were set up by York-based Mark Stredwick, who takes a group of up to 8 on a range of brewery tours.”

“On this gin tour, we experienced three distilleries – Cooper King, Rare Bird and Hooting Owl – all independent makers of gin with exceptional stories.“. But if gin isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of walking tours, ghost tours, river cruises or hop-on-hop-off bus tours that cater to a variety of interests. 


Where can I go out at night?

Thanks to the buzzing student community and growing cultural identity of the city, York is reputed for its nightlife. It has plenty of options from hip bars to mega nightclubs, and offers a little something for everyone:

Kuda

The city’s largest nightclub spanning three floors. Kuda is a great choice for many reasons – it’s spacious, central and caters to a wide variety of genres across its floors, making it an easy-to-agree-on spot for friends with different musical preferences.

Revolution York

Revolution York

Having undergone refurbishments recently, Revolution is back swankier than ever. Sales Manager, Sarah, describes Revolution York as ‘the most diverse, characteristic bar in York’, which is helped by its location and special features.

Situated in the heart of the historic city, Revolution is an iconic building that hosts a wide range of occasions. It has two large areas upstairs that have the added luxury of two private bars, exclusive restrooms and a unique DJ booth.”

“Downstairs it boasts two large bars – the White bar has a great seating area with stunning views that overlook the river. There’s also an amazing outdoor garden terrace next to the river with heaters and rugs to cosy up“. A bar, terrace, and club, that serves cocktails and great food, Revolution is great for pre-drinks, drinks and post-drinks. “

Fibbers

After hosting gigs on most Friday and Saturday nights, Fibbers morphs into a club – predominantly playing indie music or hosting live DJs. It’s also highly populated by students who love the venue’s Frat Party club nights and cheap drink deals.

Club Salvation

Another popular haunt among students, Salvation is prone to sticky floors and lots of queues. But if you’re young and have perpetual bouts of energy, Salvation is actually a really fun night out. From live DJs to themed parties, it’s the place to go all out when you’re going out-out in York.

Popworld

A late night bar dedicated to the tunes we all secretly sing along to in the car when we’re alone. Popworld is cheesy but the good kind; a guilty pleasure where you can have fun with others relishing the sounds of good old fashioned pop.

Vudu

Smooth hip-hop and r’n’b, champagne and VIP treatment, Vudu is the place where the likes of JLo, Puff Daddy (or P Diddy these days), Drake and everyone who come if they were to party in York. LED booths and decadent interior, Vudu is the place to dress to impress.

The Nook

Nook

Not so much a club but a cute intimate bar that serves street food in the day and hosts DJs in the evening; The Nook is casual and relaxed and tucked nicely away from hoards of clubbers. It’s mostly open until 12am so you know you’ll wake up the next day healthier than some of York’s other late-night alternatives.


Where can I go shopping?

York is uber consumer-friendly with its array of boutique designer stores, independent shops and high street retailers. It has plenty of shopping centres like the open-air Coppergate Shopping Centre , the discount haven York Designer Outlet and the fashion and food under one roof, Monks Cross Shopping Park.

If you want steer clear of shopping centres, Coney Street and Davygate are great for popping into high street stores, or if you don’t like wearing what everyone else does, head to Gillygate or Grape Lane that are populated with independent and vintage shops. You can also find a variety of independent businesses around the city by visiting Indie York.

For crafts, produce and – yes more clothes – the outdoors Shambles Market on Silver Street is open daily with over 85 stalls to browse. It’s a historic site in York, and brings a wide selections of goods so you’ll never know what you mind find there.

Whether you’re living in York or just stopping by, the city’s attractions, events and venues are one’s to rival any other UK city.

Find out more about what’s going on in York below:

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