I first came to York with my (then soon to be) husband. His family home is in a little village called Hovingham, just north of the city. From the first time I saw York I fell absolutely in love with the city – from the ancient Roman wall, to the uniqueness of The Shambles, to all the amazing food and drink the city has to offer, there’s no doubt that York is one of my favourite places in England and a perfect day trip from London.
After falling in love with the city, I lived in York for a year while completing my MSc in Global Marketing at The University of York. I now know a few of the secrets this amazing city has to offer and have compiled some of them together to create the perfect day trip guide to York:
I always suggest taking the train, especially if you’re coming from London. The A1 can just get crazy and you could see hours of delay. Taking the train from Kings Cross means you can make the journey in under 2 hours. If you’re coming from Edinburgh it’s 2.5 hours and from Liverpool it’s about 3 hours. Book your tickets ahead of time from trainline or qjump and save some money.
Pro tip: Before you get on the train at Kings Cross, be a super tourist and post with Harry Potter’s trolley at Platform 9 3/4
Once you’re in York there is no need to get on a bus or in a taxi. Everything is a walkable distance which is such a nice and welcome change of pace if you’re coming from a city!
When your train arrives, leave the station via the main entrance. When you leave the station you’ll see the York City Wall straight ahead of you. The City Walls date back to Roman times and were built around 71 AD. They encapsulate the old city of York.
Turn left and follow the signs for the city. Follow the road under the roman wall and walk up toward the bridge. In the first bridge pillar on your left, pop into the Perky Peacock Coffee Shop for a coffee and a delicious cake in a really unique spot.
Once you’re all caffeined up, double back on yourself and follow the signs to the National Railway Museum. Like all national museums in England, the National Railway Museum is free. It’s also a great way to get up close to these huge vehicles that defined a big part of history for the UK.
After looking around the museum, walk back toward the Perky Peacock and cross the bridge. The bridge crosses over the River Ouse, one of the two main river in York. Continue and on your left you’ll come across the entrance to the York Museum Gardens. Take some time exploring the paths and wander about. Make sure to check out York Observatory and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey (destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII).
(Photo via York Museums)
Leave the park by the same way you entered it and continue walking down Lendal Street, straight into the heart of the old city. You’ll walk past The Judges Lodging on your left – a great place to stay which has a beautiful courtyard, perfect for a drink in the summer – and the Post Office on your right. Then you’ll come to St Helens Square. On one corner of the square you’ll find Betty’s Tea Room – a cute girly tea house which is very much Yorkshire. Walk up past St Helen’s Church, following Stonegate street. Walking along Stonegate you’ll notice what made me fall in love with York – the city is beyond beautiful.
Continue walking straight toward the Minster but, just before you get there, pop into The Minster Gate Bookshop. Bookshops are one of my favourite things to explore on my travels and The Minster Gate Bookshop is a real find. Look through their amazing collection of new and second hand books and make your way as high as you can.
Now you’ll come out right at York Minster and really be able to take in the beauty of the building. To your right you will see the Roman Column. It costs £10 to go inside the Minster.
Make your way over to Exhibition Square by 2.15 and meet up with a guide for a free walking tour from the Association of Voluntary Guides from The City of York. They will take you to explore the secrets of the city including the York City Walls, Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, and The Shambles – an iconic medieval street. This walking tour is really great value – it is free but you ‘pay what is fair’ at the end, so make sure to tip well if your guide taught you a little something and entertained you along the way.
You’ll finish your tour at Clifford’s Tower, an icon of York. From there you should walk back up and explore The Shambles yourself, popping into all the shops that will catch your eye on the way. You’ll see for yourself why The Shambles was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
If you’re getting hungry, go back down Stonegate street and head into The House of Trembling Madness. I cannot recommend this pub enough – though it’s definitely not a secret anymore. As it’s a cozy space, Trembling Madness can get pretty busy at peak times. But it’s so worth it. There is a view of the Minster and the walls are uniquely decorated, to say the least, in various animal heads. But don’t let the decor put you off. The House of Trembling Madness has a huge (HUGE) beer collection for you to choose from. The food is just as amazing as the beer selection. I recommend ordering the Yorkshire Platter to try a little bit of what Yorkshire region has to offer including local pies, fruit and cheese. Speaking of cheese, trembling madness is where I discovered my favourite cheese of all time – Charcoal Cheddar. As the name suggests it’s a black cheddar cheese and it’s unforgettably good.
If you’re anything like I am it’s about this time that you’ll be needing a cocktail. Head a bit farther down Stonegate to Evil Eye Lounge and get one of their signatures. Make sure to check out all the floors if you can – Evil Eye even has some beds where you can relax while you sip on your drink.
If you’re wanting to continue the party, head to Bora Bora for some dancing. Order a big jug of whatever cocktail catches your eye and you’ll be out on the dance floor in no time.
So that you don’t miss your last train home – have your last drink of the night at The York Tap – the pub at York station. Make sure you’re in the right station pub because there are two and if you go into the wrong one you’ll know it. The York Tap has a brilliant beer selection and the bartenders really know their beer so just ask them what they suggest.
There’s so much more I’d recommend in York, but to me, this is the perfect day trip.