York, England is located 174 miles north of London and 200 miles south of Edinburgh, Scotland, making it an easy day trip from either location, but it is well worth an overnight stay, or two! It is a walled city that was founded by the Romans in 71 AD so there is LOTS of history and old world charm. Don’t worry about renting a car or even taking cab, it is a very walkable city. Here are just some of the many things to do in York:
1. Walk the City Walls
In the Museum Gardens there is still a section of the walls that the Romans built and they are worth a look. The modern walls that surround York that you can walk on were built about 900 years ago. Walking all of the walls will take about two hours. There are four gateways or “bars” along the way. Several of the bars have attractions in them, Richard III Experience at Monk Bar and Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar. In my opinion, the biggest attraction is just walking the walls themselves, enjoying the views, especially the section that passes the Minster, and imaging them defending the city. The largest threat to the walls came in 1800 when the city wanted to tear the walls down for road projects. Luckily, locals protested saying they were unique and a large part of the area’s character, and the walls were saved.
2. Barley Hall
As much as I love exploring Barley Hall to see how people lived in the 1300-1400s, I love its story of hidden history being rediscovered equally as much. Barley Hall started life as part of a monastery and later became the home of a prominent York citizen. As some point it was covered over and only saw the light of day in the 1980s when it was about to be demolished. I also love that it is very hands on, you can touch the display items and sit on furniture and there are lot of interactive activities for kids. The yuletide meal table taught us that peacock and swan was a popular dish over Christmas. They even gilded the swan’s bill with real gold. Poor peacock and swan, but hey, who am I to talk when I can eat my fill of pork pies!
3. Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Don’t come to York and expect to stick to your low calorie or low carb diet. There are amazing pie shops, home made fudge and sweets shops and tons of craft beer ale houses, oh yeah, and plenty of Yorkshire pudding. We liked the York Roast Co. for a good variety of Yorkshire puddings. The great thing about pie shops is that they are a to go item and are usually displayed in windows so just walk around, see what you like and get one (or more) to go! We really liked the House of Trembling Madness for their retail beer selection (600 ales in stock) downstairs and pub upstairs. Their building dates to 1180!
4. York’s Chocolate Story
Speaking of food. Did you know that the chocolate orange was invented in York? or that York was where the Kit Kat was created? York’s chocolate industry goes back to the 1700s and currently still employs 3,500 people. York’s Chocolate Story is a museum about the role chocolate has played in York. Don’t forget to get a map so you can try and visit all of the places on York’s Chocolate Trail.
5. National Railway Museum
I know, I know, trains, but I have a five year boy so this was one of our must see places in York. Guess what? it was soooooo good, a truly world class museum spanning 300 years of UK railway history. There are trains you can step on and tour, there are postal trains where you can see how mail was sorted while the train was running, there are amazing model trains, a steam train you can actually ride on, there is a huge collection of train memorabilia, and my favorite, numerous royal carriages. I took the royal carriage tour where we learned many fascinating facts about the numerous trains royals from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II used. Queen Victoria’s opulent carriage had peacock blue silk on almost EVERYTHING, including the ceiling. She also did not go to the bathroom or eat on the train meaning it had to stop for her to be let out to take care of both of those functions. She also would not let it go very fast, those must have been long, slow journeys! Their cafe is one of the best museum cafes I have ever been to for both quality of food and ambiance. It is in the middle of several tracks of trains and the tables are recreated train cars. The museum is very near the York train station so if you take the train to York, please allow some time to check it out. Also, entrance to the museum is FREE! although they do suggest a donation.
6. The Minster
York Minster is an 800 year old Gothic style cathedral, one of the largest in northern Europe. Of particular interest are its stained glass windows and its organ. Photography is not permitted in certain areas or during worship or events. There is a statue of Roman Emperor Constantine outside the Minster. The Roman headquarters in York was located under the Minster.
7. The Shambles
The Shambles is one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe. While there is one specific street named “Shambles” it also refers to the general area of narrow lanes around that street that make up the core of historic York. Buildings on these streets date to the 1300-1400s. Many of the businesses on the Shambles were originally butcher shops with slaughterhouses in the back. The first thing you are struck by when walking around this area is that the buildings are not exactly plumb, they have a bit of sagging, crookedness and just overall dipping, but hey, if you were 600 years old you would sag too. Also, watch your head when walking into some of these buildings, they have LOW ceilings. In one photo of Sam, he is about half as tall as the door way and he is only five years old! Make sure to look up when walking around the Shambles. There are beautiful windows, roofs, and gingerbread details on the buildings.