Most people recognise York for its medieval stone walls, winding snickelways and beautiful Gothic Minster, however the appeal doesn’t stop there. As well as coming to delve into the city’s rich past, visitors are flocking to York for its growing community of independent shops, exciting outdoor events and diverse selection of local food shops, bistros and cafés. This brings a new edge to the city as companies begin to move into historic buildings and make them their own. As a result, a fusion of old and new is starting to redefine the city, yet, despite the modern additions to the cobbled streets, York has managed to retain its sense of charm and antiquity. Widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in Britain, following a lively summer of culture, diversity and creativity, visitors are now, more than ever, fascinated by York’s ability to remain so strongly connected with its past.
The city is a master at storytelling, and its history continues to attract visitors from all over the world. Originally founded by the Romans in 71AD, it has witnessed Viking invasions, Norman harrying and medieval trading, and today York remains a beautifully preserved snapshot of the past, for visitors to enjoy and archaeologists to revel in and rediscover. York channels a huge amount of energy and resources into conserving its beautiful buildings, and works with the nation’s best craftsmen and women to ensure each structure is restored as faithfully as possible – a recent project has been to restore the Minster’s Great East Window, which remains the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain.
The Yorkshire railway is another key part of the city’s heritage and the Railway Museum, dedicated to celebrating 300 years of its impressive history, is an unmissable opportunity to see Britain’s largest collection of railway photographs, memorabilia and locomotive engines up close.
Alongside its fascinating past, York boasts an extensive shopping scene including contemporary high street brands, independent stores and plenty of boutiques, as well as seasonal farmers’ markets and specialist fairs. The many gardens and parks are perfect ways to admire York’s well-tended open spaces, which are also popular areas to host outdoor local theatre in the summer months. The city is extremely active and its recent welcome for the prestigious Grand Depart has also led to sports development projects for the city, including the construction of its own velodrome. October sees the return of Illuminating York for the tenth time, casting new light on the city’s famous buildings, and in November the highly anticipated Aesthetica Short Film Festival will draw visitors to unique screenings in special local venues.
The city is now regarded as Britain’s official home of chocolate, and has celebrated this title extensively in recent years in the form of The Chocolate Story, which offers visitors a journey through the history of chocolate production in York and takes a look at its historical involvement in cocoa and confectionery production. Names such as Nestlé and Terry’s of York are rooted in the city and a look at their past reveals the passion and craftsmanship behind each business.
Exploring the city on foot is the best way to fully appreciate all that it has to offer and, as the majority of the centre is traffic free, the experience is an easy one. On bright, clear days the city or ‘bar’ walls, which surround the city centre, offer visitors the best views of the key landmarks and are also an enjoyable way to get up close to the medieval stonework.
This city really does offer something for everyone. So, to help you find your way to the best places, here is our guide to exploring the city.
To see the best of the local and regional artistic talent, visit one of York’s independent galleries or exhibitions. On Bootham, you will find the Blue Tree Gallery: a calm and tranquil space featuring ceramics, art and prints by local artists.
Stonegate is home to the Pyramid Gallery – a shop and gallery with two floors of quality, British-made contemporary prints, art work, ceramics, crafts and jewellery. The building itself is a National Trust property, so has a huge amount of character and charm. A great place to look for gifts or to treat yourself to something special.
Walk through Kings Square and into the pretty courtyard of Peasholme Green to visit The New School House Gallery for a range of locally produced work and themed exhibitions by celebrated local artists, and the Quilt Museum and Gallery – Britain’s first quilting and textile museum which displays a combination of historic and modern textiles and is managed by the Quilters’ Guild.
Call into Blossom Street Gallery and Framing for a range of cards and gifts, an art gallery and a framing service. For contemporary art exhibitions which embody a global feel whilst supporting Northern painters, visit According to McGee on Tower Street. Alternatively, absorb some of the finest Georgian splendour in Fairfax House’s Head to Toe: Accessorising the Georgians exhibition, which runs until Sunday 2 November.
Here for more than a day?
Head to Helmsley to see the Inspired By... Gallery at The Moors National Park Centre, which features a collection of celebrated work by artists and craftworkers who are all inspired by the North Yorkshire Moors, and The William Sissons Gallery. Alternatively, visit Beningbrough Hall’s collection of 18th century portraits, which is displayed in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.
York’s range of vintage boutiques, independent shops and high street stores is making the city an extremely popular destination for a varied and exciting shopping experience – here are some of the best streets to visit.
Coney Street and Parliament Street: This is the main area for high street shopping, with all the well-known chains. You can also find popular seasonal markets in Parliament Square – the Farmers’ Market will next take place on the 24th October and St Nicholas Fayre will run from the 27th – 30th November.
Fossgate and Walmgate: Visit these adjoining streets for stylish vintage boutiques and independent food shops – Bowler and Glory Days are two of the best vintage shops in York, and the Hairy Fig is a tiny but crammed unit, selling a range of quality produce from local suppliers.
Gillygate: A popular, quirky street, Gillygate has become a growing community of independent shops and businesses. Stroll down this street for art, design and craft stores, specialist food shops and antiques – Snowhome, Dog and Bone and Love Cheese are highly recommended.
Stonegate: Known for its connecting snickelways and some of the oldest buildings in the city, this street is home to a range of interesting clothes, jewellery and gift shops, including Mulberry Hall.
Grape Lane: Contrary to its medieval reputation as a red light district (its former name being Grope Lane), this area became known for its print works, and the nearby street of Swinegate is now a stylish row of fashion, beauty and jewellery shops. You can find the Mulberry shop here and Paper Doll, a modern vintage boutique.
The Shambles: Undoubtedly York’s most famous street. It also ticks many boxes for shoppers who can expect to find delicatessens, craft, design and gift shops, cafés, specialist stores and tourist attractions. Visit Flax and Twine craft and coffee shop and find gift ideas at Monk Bar Chocolatiers, and local produce at nearby Henshelwoods Delicatessen.
Here for more than a day?
Head to vintage-inspired Smith & Downes in Buttercrambe for beautifully designed bridal and occasion wear and visit York Designer Outlet for an excellent choice of designer labels, including Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith. Additionally, our Living North Christmas Fair will be at York Racecourse from the 14 – 16 November.
Out with the Family
York is an extremely family-friendly city and there is an extensive list of places to tick off as a group. If you are looking for a new perspective on the city, why not see York by boat? Yorkboat tours run throughout the day and provide a pleasant and informative view of the city – the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the sights.
With so many gardens open to the public in York, families can make the most of the beautiful, green areas whilst having fun at the same time. Visit Museum Gardens for the crumbling ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, riverside walks and the Yorkshire Museum. Homestead and Rowntree Parks are also very popular with children for their range of sporting activities, playgrounds and well-maintained walking routes, and are open all year round.
York’s choice of museums makes it easy to learn about the city whilst having fun. The Castle Museum brings the past to life with Kirkgate, a replicated Victorian street complete with York Castle Prison, shops and memorabilia, and you can also see exhibitions of times gone by. Climb the steps of Clifford’s Tower – a castle originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068, that has now become a landmark for the city. Stand at the top for impressive views or venture inside to discover its 900 years of history and hidden secrets.
The Minster is a must for families, offering a range of tours and opportunities to visit the undercroft, Orb and main Minster area. If your little ones are over the age of eight, you will also be able to climb the central tower to the very top of the Minster. For adventure, go to the Jorvik Viking Centre. This museum is built on an actual Viking settlement discovery and uses its excavated finds to paint an authentic view of the area as it would have appeared 1,000 years ago. If the older ones fancy something a little more scary, the York Dungeons will entertain with an all-round theatrical experience. Tour the most thrilling chapters of York’s past and let the talented cast lead you on a journey you won’t forget.
Here for more than a day?
Take a trip on Yorkshire’s finest example of local heritage with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Visit before 2 November to take advantage of this magical and extremely traditional travel adventure.
The Minster Gate Bookshop and Ken Spelman Booksellers are both treasure troves for anyone who loves to peruse the shelves of second-hand and antique books. The former has a fantastic collection of children’s literature and folklore, but is also one of the most interesting buildings in York to walk around, with the low beams and uneven floors that give shops like this so much character. Visit Rowntree Park’s Reading Café and you will find a library with over 1,000 books available to browse or borrow, plus a café serving lunch dishes made from locally sourced fresh produce and a range of drinks. The city has a growing café culture: Kafeneion in Goodramgate; Cafe Harlequin in Kings Square, and Crumbs Cupcakery in College Street are all excellent cafés with great character. If you enjoy vintage books and music, The Inkwell on Gillygate have a good range of old and new books, vinyl and record players – all displayed in a shop styled to appear like an old classroom.
Here for more than a day?
Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth to step into the world of the Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre authors Emily and Charlotte Brontë.