A weekend in York: travel guide, things to do, food and drink

Everything you need to know for a break in north Yorkshire’s historic walled city

Visitors can ‘marvel’ at York Minster
Visitors can ‘marvel’ at York Minster
(Image credit: Alan Oliver/Alamy Stock Photo )

Why you should visit York

With its rich mix of history, culture and fantastic dining spots, it doesn’t come as a surprise that York was voted No.1 in a Which? travel survey ranking the UK’s best cities and towns for a short break. The historic centre is the perfect size for a weekend’s worth of exploration, with all the biggest hitters just a short walk from one another.

Put forward for Unesco World Heritage status, York is not short of attractions. Highlights include the beautiful Minster, the river, the medieval streets (and modern shopping) of The Shambles, some great local museums and the celebrated Jorvik Viking Centre.

This 2,000-year-old city, 200 miles north of London, is “a standout for a weekend away”, said Will Hide in The Times, and there’s more history “than you can throw a chocolate bar at”. There’s “rather a lot of chocolate” in York, five million KitKats are made here every day. Arguably England’s “most fascinating and underrated” city, if you’ve got the time for a longer break it’s also an “ideal spot” in which to spend a few days “before moving onto fish and chips in Whitby or hiking on the North York Moors or Yorkshire Dales”.

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The Shambles is the oldest street in York

The Shambles is the oldest street in York
(Image credit: Art of Travel/Alamy Stock Photo )

Top attractions and things to do

No other city in northern England says “mediaeval” quite like York, said Lonely Planet, it has “extraordinary cultural and historical wealth” that has “lost little of its pre-industrial lustre”. The “magnificent circuit” of 13th-century walls encloses a mediaeval “spider’s web of narrow streets” and at its heart lies the “immense, awe-inspiring” York Minster, one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world.

York is “loaded with world-class sights”, said American travel writer Rick Steves. Visitors can “marvel” at the Minster, “ramble” The Shambles – York’s “wonderfully preserved medieval quarter” – or enjoy a walking tour led by an old Yorker. With its “strollable” cobbles, half-timbered buildings, grand cathedral and excellent museums, York “delights”.

In just a couple of days you can easily “tick off” more than ten sights, said Kate Samuelson on TheWeek.co.uk, with highlights including York Art Gallery, the National Railway Museum and the Holy Trinity Church – all of which are free to visit. Kids will also love the Jorvik Viking Centre, a “smells ‘n’ all, Disney-esque immersion into York life under Viking rule”, which even boasts its own low-octane theme ride.

The Grand hotel is located just a two-minute walk from York railway station

The Grand hotel is located just a two-minute walk from York railway station
(Image credit: The Grand, York)

Places to stay: best hotels and accommodation

Malmaison York is a handy base to sightsee from, given that it’s equidistant between the railway station and York’s most popular attractions. With its “sweeping” views, “killer” cocktails, and “Hockney-inspired art”, said Lisa Grainger in The Times, this is the “buzziest” spot in the city. If the decor feels “more New York than York”, that’s because “this is a hotel that’s made for fun”.

Another hotel with an “exceptional” location is The Grand, York on Station Rise, said Neil Davey on TheWeek.co.uk. As its street name and origins suggest, York’s only five-star hotel is “enormously convenient” for the station – a two-minute walk, if that – and just as convenient to explore York, with the Minster and The Shambles “very short strolls away”. With great food and staff, The Grand is, “very probably”, the “best place to stay to explore the historic city”.

Located between the Minster and the walls, with “a history dating back to the 11th century”, Grays Court “ticks the boxes for atmosphere and privacy”, said The Telegraph. Other recommended hotels include Middlethorpe Hall & Spa, a “perfect example of a small country-house hotel”; The Principal York, a “grand Victorian station hotel”; and No. 1 by GuestHouse, a “grand” Georgian townhouse which has been “brilliantly and sympathetically brought into the 21st century”.

Roots York restaurant on Marygate

Roots York restaurant on Marygate
(Image credit: Mark Sunderland Photography/Alamy Stock Photo )

Eating and drinking: best restaurants and bars

York’s dining scene is “ever-improving”, said Davey, from recommended bakeries like Brew & Brownie and the Michelin-starred brilliance of Tommy Banks’s Roots to “city stalwarts” such as Skosh and Star Inn The City. There’s also “one of the country’s best named bars”, craft beer specialists House of the Trembling Madness on Stonegate.

The Grand, York is also home to intimate restaurant Legacy. As described by the Michelin Guide, head chef Ahmed Abdalla and his kitchen team are “strong on technique” and use Yorkshire ingredients to “good effect” to provide “attractive, modern dishes”. While the Guide has given Legacy a mention, “which for a restaurant less than a year old is still an achievement”, I thought it may have received the “higher praise of a star”, Davey said. Because “when Legacy is good, it really is that good”.

Tucked away on medieval Micklegate street, and close to the historic York City Walls, is Fish & Forest – a “very modern foodie’s delight”, said Samuelson on TheWeek.co.uk. With an “unassuming” storefront, “simple yet cosy” interior design and “chatty, laid-back” staff, this restaurant is “invitingly lacking in pretension”, yet its menu is “geared towards the gourmet”. The name is “a clue as to this intimate restaurant’s focus”, said the Michelin Guide, as well as to its “sustainable ethos”.

Visitors can “sample experiences from all over the world” just by visiting some of the best bars in York, said the Yorkshire Food Guide. Topping “the list” is Pivni, a 16th-century free house located just off the famous and historic Little Shambles street where drinks have been served for “hundreds of years”. Other recommended places include The Market Cat, a “traditional city centre pub with a modern twist”; authentic Spanish tapas bar and restaurant Sotano; York’s “second coolest bar” The Fossgate Social; and the Evil Eye cocktail bar and gin shop, which stocks more than 1,000 different gins.

Transport: how to get to York

Because York was at the centre of the “railway revolution in the 19th century”, this makes it “one of the best-connected cities in Britain”, said Hide in The Times. You can catch a train to York Station from Penzance or Inverness “without changing”, it’s “less than two hours” from London, with a service every 30 minutes, and “only slightly more” from Edinburgh.

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