York City Guide: How to Explore York in Three Days

AD – This post is part of a collaboration with Visit York.

Ever since I first visited York a few years back, I have always wanted to go back. I remember instantly falling in love with the cobbled streets and higgledy-piggledy streets, gothic structures and nods to its Viking past. There’s a real sense of proper, British history in York and it’s easy to see why tourists from all over the world flock here to explore. Dan and I were kindly invited to York by Visit York to help you discover the experiences that make York so unique. From food markets to chocolate, Vikings to medieval cathedrals, there are so many things you can do #OnlyInYork! You guys know how much I love writing city guides, so I am very excited to share my guide to exploring York in three days.

How to Explore York

Just in case you wanted to skip to the exciting parts (I know y’all love the food!) You can click on each section to jump straight to it. In this city guide to York, you will find:

  1. About York
  2. How to get to York
  3. Where to stay in York
  4. Things to do in York
  5. Places to eat in York
  6. Downloadable map

About York

York is the capital of the county of Yorkshire and is in the northeast of England on the River Ouse (which, by the way, flows all the way down to Milton Keynes!) Believe it or not, this walled city is 2000 years old, dating back to both Roman and Viking times. In fact, the city was actually founded by Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD and become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria and Jorvik. In the middle ages, York became a major wool trading centre. Later into the 19th century, it became a major hub of the railway network and a confectionery manufacturing centre.

York has had an incredibly vibrant history with evidence all over the city of Georgian, Tudor and Edwardian times. It is perhaps most famous for its incredible Gothic cathedral, York Minster, which is built on top of an old Roman fort. It is equally as famous for it’s Viking heritage and the huge archaeological site which led to the discovery of lots of Viking artefacts. Today, it’s a bustling city with so much to offer and the perfect place for spending a weekend exploring!

Getting to York

Getting to York is easy peasy. It’s situated in the heart of the country with direct rail links from London, Manchester and Edinburgh in about two hours.

We got the train with London North Eastern Railway (LNER) from Kings Cross (though due to adverse weather conditions and cancelled trains from MK to London, we ended up driving to Peterborough!) Either way, it’s a super easy train from London (less than two hours!) and it’s a lovely ride through the countryside. To find your nearest train station to York, visit www.lner.co.uk.

It’s also fairly easy to drive, though, from previous experience, it is much easier to get the train. There aren’t a huge amount of parking spaces available in York and where most of them are situated, they are on the outskirts of the city so if you want less stress, a train is definitely easier! Everything in York is a maximum of 20 minutes walk away so it’s a very easy city to explore.


Where to stay in York

We stayed at Hotel Moxy York which was ideally located for exploring. We were about a ten-minute walk away from The Shambles and the centre of town so it was close enough to everything we wanted to do. There was also a rather nice pub called the Fossgate Tap down the road which did excellent gins and beers!

The Moxy was modern, clean and fairly minimal, so perfect for a city break. I wouldn’t recommend having the food there – you’re much better off finding somewhere nearby to eat and the bars elsewhere were much cheaper. Rooms are very reasonable though – pick the right night and it’s around £50 per night. To check availability and book, head to the Marriott website.


Things to do in York

There is SO much to do in York, you might find it difficult to squeeze it all into one weekend! York has more attractions per square mile than any other destination in the UK and everything is so close together it means it’s all in easy reach. Perfect if you’ve got kids or just want to pack lots in. You can buy a York Pass which gives you entry into lots of attractions. Here were some of my favourite things to do in York.

York Minster

York Minster is one of the most famous buildings in York. Since the 7th Century, it has been a place of worship. The gothic structure you see today started construction in 1220. it was completed and consecrated in 1472. Since then, the minster has been through wars, fires, and lots of restoration work. It’s one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever been in and the huge stained glass windows are just breathtaking!

I always love going up when I go to cities because it gives you such a different perspective. You can walk up the central tower of York Minster which I highly recommend doing! It’s 275 steps so it’s a bit of a walk but the views are truly worth it. Plus, you can such an impressive view of the roof halfway up..

Admission for York Minster is £11.50 and for entry to the tower and minster, it is £16.50. Discounted tickets are available for students and concessions. You can prebook tickets or buy on the door. Free tours are available throughout the day.

www.yorkminster.org/

Jorvik Viking Experience

York is steeped in Viking history and if you’re like me and you loved learning about ancient civilisations like the Vikings and the Romans, you’ll definitely love the Jorvik Viking experience. The museum is located in the Coppergate Shopping centre and is the site of a huge archaeological dig. Before the shopping centre was built, the area was excavated to make sure there was nothing valuable in the ground below. What was only meant to last a year, lasted five years and over 40,000 Viking artefacts were discovered including three full skeletons, thousands of coins, crockery, shoes and even excrement…!

The Viking Experience takes you back in time through an interactive experience. It’s a bit quirky but you learn a lot. There is an exhibition at the end which showcases some of the items that were discovered. And I might be 24 years of age, but you bet I did get a little bit in awe at seeing 1,000 year old poo. I’d recommend pre-booking Jorvik because the queue gets very long during peak times. Find out more about Jorvik Viking Experience: www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk

The Shambles

The Shambles is one of the oldest streets in York and perhaps the most famous because it inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. It certainly feels magical! Some of the overhanging timber-framed buildings date back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles which probably came from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels, the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat.

The shops in the Shambles have really capitalised on the Wizarding world with several Potter related shops lining the streets! You will also find the Shambles Market and Food court here which is a great place to buy food and locally made products from independent businesses and brands.

If you want to take a photo of the Shambles, I would recommend stopping by late in the evening or first thing in the morning as it is heaving with tourists. I was very lucky to get these shots!

York City Wall Walk

You cannot go to York without walking along at least some of the famous city walls. Since Roman times, the city has been defended by walls. Many of the walls still remain with a few long stretches you can walk along. The walls have four main gatehouses, or Bars, called Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Michlegate Bar. These were like toll houses and mini forts in times of war.

You can get some truly beautiful views of the city – my favourite view is of York Minster from one of the walls near the station and Micklegate Bar. It is a perfect photo opportunity!

Other things to do in York:

  • York’s Chocolate Story – York is the birthplace of confectionary brands such as Rowntree’s and Terry’s. This tour takes you back in time through the. history of these now global brands. This is great for kids and ends with making your own chocolate lolly!
  • National Railway Museum – A free museum showing the history of transport and travel and the part it played in British history.
  • The Original Ghost Walk of York – York is apparently the most haunted city in Europe. Experience it for yourself with a walking ghost tour which is er, full of surprises!
  • York Museum Gardens – Botanic gardens that are set in the Medieval ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.

Places to eat & drink in York

You will be absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to food in York! York is home to so many great restaurants and many of them are independently owned – music to my ears! Whether you are looking for coffee, a simple pint, a fine dining experience or street food, there is definitely something to suit every taste.

Los Moros

Los Moros is a North African restaurant. Founded in 2015 by Tarik Abdeladim, Los Moros began in a small gold shed in the Shambles Market and three years later opened the restaurant on Grape Lane. If you love Moroccan food, you will love this! We had a really wonderful meal here – the food was fresh, delicious and vibrant.

Tarik uses locally sourced food and ingredients for the menu, including Yorkshire Halloumi which is made by Razan Alsous, a Syrian woman who fled the war in 2012. She needed to make a living in the UK, so decided to use her skillset and create her business, Yorkshire Dama Cheese. This story made me so happy – I love hearing about local businesses supporting local businesses!

If you head to Los Moros, I’d recommend the sea bass. So delicious!

View menus and book: www.losmorosyork.co.uk

Mr. P’s Curious Tavern

Dan found a very quirky spot for our second evening meal in York! Mr. P’s Curious Tavern can be found on Low Petergate in a Grade II listed building that is allegedly haunted. Mr. P is Andrew Pern who is the executive chef and director. Pern has a Michelin star for The Star Inn at The Harbour in Whitby so safe to say if you visit Mr. P’s you will be in safe hands!

We had the 6-course tasting menu (£39.50 each) which comprised of some of their best dishes. Be warned though – this tasting menu is a lot more than a taster and you might be better off sharing it between two to make sure you can tick off each course! Our favourite was the salmon fillet served with cucumber – so fresh and delicious.

To view menus and book visit www.mrpscurioustavern.co.uk

Evil Eye

Last time I visited York, I went to Evil Eye but I didn’t appreciate quite what a magical place it was! Home to over 1000 gins and some glorious cocktails, Evil Eye is a must-visit for any cocktail lovers. We had the most delicious espresso martinis here, and also a watermelon mojito which was fantastic. The drinks are pretty cheap here, all under £10 for a cocktail so it’s a good place for a pre or post-dinner drink! It does get busy so make sure you go in early-ish to grab a seat or one of the cosy booths upstairs.

www.evileyelounge.com

Spark:York

I have wanted to visit Spark:York for so long because I would so love to have something like this in Milton Keynes. Spark:York is a Community Interest Company (CIC) which is essentially a social enterprise designed to benefit the local community. And benefit it does – Spark is a community of small independent businesses including street food vendors, bars, little shops and there is also a co-working environment and entertainment space.

We were obviously there for the street food and it didn’t disappoint. We started off with Bao at Shori, followed by (overloaded!) fish tacos from Fish & Forest. We couldn’t resist trying the Caribbean burger from the Duke of Reuben which was a spicy jerk chicken burger in a pretzel bun. Delicious. It’s a really cool venue and even features Clucking Oinks who were former street foodies in Milton Keynes! It has a great atmosphere and although we visited at lunchtime, I bet this place is buzzing at night. For more information about vendors, visit www.sparkyork.org

The Cat’s Whisker’s Cat Café

Now, this was not on the planned itinerary! It was chucking it down with rain and we’d had a few G&Ts already so decided to find a café to settle down in until the downpour stopped. We were walking along Goodramgate which Dan spotted The Cat’s Whiskers which was a cat café! Neither of us had ever been to one before and so we headed in. It was £7 per person per hour plus whatever tea, coffee and cake you ordered. It was all homemade and locally sourced. We had a delicious slice of chocolate cake. Just make sure you don’t feed it to the cats!

It was such a lovely little café with the addition of lots of very cut fluffballs. We found out it had only been open 6 weeks but was proving very popular. The Cat’s Whisker’s are involved with local rescue centres in York and Lancaster and offer the cats a new home in the café. They are often found new homes very quickly in the café after struggling to find their forever home in the shelters. It was a very peaceful hour and I came out almost feeling like I’d been in a spa! I love cats and I think my favourite had to the beautiful Snow pictured below. Look at that tail!

To reserve a slot head to www.thecatswhiskersyork.co.uk

House of Trembling Madness

This place was CRAZY (thank you Jo for the recommendation!) This medieval Alehouse started its life as part of the first Norman house in 1180 AD. Now, it is a beer shop and pub, selling hard to find beers and beverages. The pub is upstairs and it feels like you’re stepping into a period drama; there are animal heads on the wall, a big wooden chandelier and odd tables, chairs and pews. It’s certainly got an atmosphere. Downstairs you’ll find a beer shop and in the cellar, there is a whole selection of gins and spirits. It’s well worth a visit for the novelty alone!

www.tremblingmadness.co.uk

The Fossgate Tap

This was a great little find on our first day and wasn’t far from our hotel. The bar is in partnership with Turning Point Brewing Co, a local Yorkshire brewer. The Fossgate Tap serves a food menu and an epic gin menu and is a great place for a drink. Like most buildings in York, this one is old and is Grade II listed. It dates back c1796 and previously traded as ‘The Army and Navy Store’ for 93 years. Many of the original fixtures and fittings remain; retaining the building’s historical charm. 

www.fossgatetap.co.uk

Other places to eat & drink in York:

  • Brew & Brownie – A great spot for brunch or cake and coffee!
  • Partisan – A quirky little spot on Micklegate for brunch and lunch. You’ll find local ingredients and fresh flavours here.
  • Roots – Fine dining restaurant by Michelin Starred chef, Tommy Banks who owns The Black Swan at Olstead.
  • Betty’s Café – A York institution in the centre of the city. Comes highly recommended for brunch and afternoon tea.
  • Pivnî – A very old style pub serving beers from all over the world. It’s just around the corner from the Shambles market

So there we have it. My guide to exploring York in three days! As you can see there is a hell of a lot to pack in and I haven’t even featured all of the things you can do in York. It’s a great city for foodies, explorers, shoppers and history lovers so if you are looking to explore more of the UK, York is a lovely place to start. I promise that you will fall in love!

Have you been to York?

To find more inspiration for things to do, see and place to eat in York head to Visit York and create your own #OnlyInYork experience.

Your pocket guide to York

Save my map of York to Your Places on Google and use it to navigate your way around this beautiful city and discover new gems.

Simply open Google Maps on your browser, open the tab on the left-hand side and click on ‘My Places‘. You can then create your own map or add to this one.

Now, all the places you want to visit are easily accessible on your phone and you can quickly see what’s around you, wherever you are. You can also add notes to each point on the map.

Happy exploring!

DISCLAIMER: This is part of a collaboration with Visit York. Our travel, accommodation, York Pass and meal at Los Moros were complimentary in return for social media and blog content. We were left to explore the city on our own free will so I could produce this city guide.

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I'm Sophie, a 20-something food & travel blogger from Milton Keynes helping you discover great eats and adventures in MK, Bucks and beyond.

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