Our guide to York [UK]

york minster uk day trip

The old English town of York is a great place for a day trip or short stay. Boasting lots of history, Harry Potter inspired old town streets, food markets, some impressive pubs and lots to do! Despite being quite ‘touristic’, York is a beautiful little town where we stayed for 3 nights. The city still boasts impressive old fortifications, with these walls intact and surrounding the city. York dates back to 71 AD, with Roman, Saxon and Viking influences, making it a unique and interesting place to explore. The old town has winding narrow alleyways, and the York Minster is one of the most impressive in the UK. York is also thought to be one of the most haunted towns in the UK. Take a look below at some of the things we enjoyed while visiting York!

Things to do in York:

Walk the old city walls:

York has impressive old fortified walls which surround the entire heart of the town, making up a total of 3.4kms (2 miles). Built in the 13th century, these walls were an important part of the town’s defence and are the largest intact city walls in England. These walls survived a Viking invasion, and have been re-fortified many times. There were officially not used for defence of the city in the 1800s, and have been used for walking and leisure since mid 1800s. You can walk all parts of the walls for free, making it a great activity and a perfect way to see the city from above. We walked around 3/4 of the walls during our visit, and definitely recommend it to anyone who visits York.

Get a Sunday roast – or at least try the Yorkshire pudding (You’re in York after all):

A Sunday roast in the UK is a tradition, and in these smaller UK towns like York, the pubs are overflowing on Sundays. We had been advised by Tess’s brother (who lives in the UK) that getting a Sunday roast and traditional Yorkshire Pudding was a MUST when visiting the town, so of course we obliged. After trying to check out a few ‘fancier pubs’ without a reservation, we visited the Guy Fawkes Inn, located a 1 minute walk from the York Minster. Sitting amongst locals, we had a drink and enjoy an excellent Sunday roast. The highlight was definitely enjoying the Yorkshire pudding with far too much gravy! There are there’s literally pubs on every corner to choose from, however you may need to book if you are wanting a particular pub on Sundays.

Check out the Shambles:

The narrow winding alleyway called The Shambles sits in the heart of York’s old town. The street is made up of odd shaped houses and little alleyways. If you venture onto the alleyway unawares, one might think you’ve entered Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. This street is thought to be part of the inspiration for Harry Potter, and you can easily see why. However, The Shambles gets very busy, particularly mid afternoon on the weekend. We recommend heading down early to avoid the crowds if you want to get into the shops (otherwise the lines will be long). Despite the touristy nature of The Shambles, it is definitely a must do when in York.

Walk around the Minster (and inside if you’re willing to pay):

The York Minster rises above most of the old town buildings, and can be seen from most parts of the city. The size, architecture, and way it merges into the old town, all make for a wonderful spectacle. Entry to the Minster costs over 20 pounds, so we decided against visiting it (we have seen a lot of churched during our travels so far), however we have heard it is very impressive. Even walking around the perimeter gives you a sense of the grandeur.

For those wanting to get a great perspective of the Minster, head to Precentors Court. This little street is only a few minutes from the Minster but will have you away from the crowds and is the perfect place for a photo or 2.

Walk through York Museum Garden Ruins:

The York Museum Gardens are very impressive. Inside the old town and adjacent to the river, they boast some seriously cool ruins. We enjoyed walking in-between the ruins, and sitting on a patch of grass in the sun. Don’t forget to check out the old St Leonards Hospital Ruins while you are there. If you’re lucky you will also likely see numerous squirrels going about their business in the gardens. The gardens sit adjacent to the York Library, which isn’t a must see, but has some interesting artwork inside.

Walk along the river (or a run):

The Ouse River runs through the heart of the town. We had a few walks and a run along the river, and particularly enjoyed just outside the heart of the town where it is a little calmer and you can find squirrels running amok. This was one of our favourite activities in York, particularly when the sun was shining.

Head outside the ‘heart’ of the old town:
  • Visit Bishopthorpe road: Sitting just outside the city walls, this cute little street has cafes and restaurants. We stayed nearby and enjoyed wandering this street to get into town every day.
  • Check out Fossgate for cool café’s and restaurants: on the edge of the old town and just inside the city walls, Fossgate was a delightful little street. The cafes and restaurants along were are definitely worth checking out.
  • Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate: Yes, the street is named that. The smallest street in York is worth checking out for a bit of a laugh. It is a tiny little alley just outside the main part of the old town.
  • Mickelgate Street: This street sits on the opposite side of the river to the main part of the old town. Boasting some of the best café’s in York, we recommend you head up here for a coffee. See our recommendations below.
Sit by the river for a drink:

The Ouse River runs through the heart of York, and sitting beside it for a drink or two is a perfect afternoon activity, especially if the sun is out. We enjoyed sitting at The Kings Arms and enjoying a relaxed few hours. Both The Kings Arms and The Waterfront are in a perfect location to enjoy the ambiance.

Get a coffee at some great cafes:

York had some excellent café’s, continuing the trend of the UK providing us with excellent coffee. The names on the list below will all deliver you a good coffee!

  • Brew & Brownie: The team at Brew & Brownie had 2 cafes near the minster, and deliver an excellent coffee. They are also popular for some tasty baked goods.
  • La Bottega: Inside the old town. La Bottega are a great spot to perch in-between exploring for a good coffee.
  • Divine Coffee Roasters: Just outside the heart of the old town, Divine Coffee Roasters gave us one of the best coffees in York.
  • Partisan: Located just up the road from Divine Coffee Roasters, we visited Partisan twice such was the quality of their coffee.
Grab a tasty cheap roast at ‘York Roast Co’:

Like most of the UK, food in York isn’t particularly cheap. We enjoyed a cheap meal from the tasty York Roast Co. Grab a roast pork roll, or like we enjoyed, a take away roast meal. We found this a perfect budget friendly option.

Get some lunch at the Shambles Market

The Shambles Market sits in the heart of York’s old town and adjacent to the popular Shambles Street. The food stalls serve up a range of tasty offerings, and we visited on numerous occasions. You can also get fresh produce, trinkets and hand-made goods to go along with your food. This is a perfect lunch option in York.

What else?

There’s a lot of other things to do in York, including listening to the talented buskers that line the streets, a ride on the city’s Ferris wheel, investigate the town’s haunted history with tours, hire a solo boat or do a boat tour along the river.. and so much more! If you think we have missed any great highlights in York, comment them below!

How long should you stay in York?

York is the perfect town for a day trip! However, if you are looking to stay the night, 1-2 nights is the perfect amount. We stayed for 3 nights as we wanted to have a slower-paced stay, however for most this will likely be too long and you can easily see the best parts of the town in a shorter stay.

Want to stay in York (UK)?

We stayed just outside the walls of the old town in a cosy room (see here) only about 10-15 minutes walk from the old town. We decided to stay just outside the town to save money, however if you want to check out accommodation closer to the action see here or check out the options below:


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