York is a perfect city for a weekend break. It has a compact city centre, with plenty of top attractions within walking distance of each other. It’s also bursting at the seams with history, culture and unexpected stories.
Like most cities, there’s far too much in York to fit into a mere 72 hours. There are ancient remains of the Roman city of Eboracum, the remnants of Viking Jorvik, and medieval buildings popping up all over the place.
72 Hours in York:
DAY 1 // ARRIVE MORNING-MIDDAY
Museum Gardens: York Museum’s gardens are not only beautiful gardens in their own right, and the perfect place to stretch your legs after travelling to the city. They also contain Roman ruins and what remains of the city’s medieval abbey. This was also the original site of the revived York Mystery Plays during the 20th century, before they moved to the York Theatre Royal and subsequently York Minster. The Mystery Plays was a series of plays dating from the mid-14th century, telling the whole story of the Bible and performed largely by amateur actors. Judi Dench (who was born in York) made her break as an actor through the York Mystery Plays.
(Optional: a visit to York Museum, located within the Museum Gardens.)
City Walls: York’s City Walls are the perfect introduction to the history of the city, and walking around them is the best way to begin familiarising yourself with the layout of the city centre. Climbing the steps to reach the parapet rewards you with a great view towards the Minster and the Minster gardens. The walls are also a great reminder of what an important stronghold the city was in the north. (There’s a reason that locals claim it as George R R Martin’s real-life inspiration for Winterfell…)
Wander round the city at night: With the Minster all lit up and plenty of traditional little pubs tucked down little side streets, York is a beautiful place to just wander at any time of day, or to take the weight off your feet with a glass of wine or or a pint.
DAY 2 // FULL DAY
Walking Tour: York is a city of secrets and stories. Every building has a tale to tell, and a hidden past lurking in its stones or timberwork. For instance: did you know that Guy Fawkes went to school in York? Or that highwayman Dick Turpin met his grissly end in York? Joining a walking tour is a great way to discover the city’s many back-stories. Plus, they’re often free, with a donation requested at the end. There are plenty of options to choose from: just look for any of the A-boards around the city (especially the Minster area), or ask in your accommodation.
Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate: Place names. I have a thing about wonderful place names, and York doesn’t disappoint. How could it, with a street called Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate? To be honest, the actual street isn’t that exciting, but it is a great sign to take a photo of. And it isn’t out of the way to get to, because it’s right at the bottom of The Shambles.
The Shambles: The Shambles is York’s oldest street. Some of the buildings date back to the 14th century, and the street itself is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was also the inspiration for the film set of Diagon Alley.
The Shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow: Margaret Clitherow was married to a butcher and lived on The Shambles in the 16th century. She was a Roman Catholic in Protestant England, who hid fugitive Catholic priests in her house. When she was found out, she refused to plead guilty, as she wanted to prevent a trial where her children would be required to testify. Instead, she was executed by being crushed to death – reportedly while pregnant with what would have been her fourth child. Whatever your religious beliefs, Margaret Clitherow’s story is a testament to standing up for one’s own beliefs in an intolerant society, and her shrine is well worth a visit.
Goodramgate: Another higgledy piggledy old street, Goodramgate is less famous than The Shambles, but also well worth a visit – particularly because of Holy Trinity Church, which sits just back from the road. The building itself dates from as far back as the 12th century, but what makes it particularly noteworthy are the 16th century wooden Jacobean box pews. Not only are these an unusual sight in themselves, but they’re also delightfully wonky where the ground has subsided over the years.
DAY 3 // FULL DAY
York Minster: This is an absolute must see. Again, whatever your religious beliefs, the Minster is worth visiting for the awe-inspiring building alone. And make sure you check out the carvings in the Chapter House, particularly of the people pulling faces. (Oh, and you can dress up when you look round the Minster Museum!)
York Cat Trail: If you’re still up for a bit of walking, check out York Cat Trail. This walk takes you around most of York’s city centre, where there are 21 cats crouching, sitting and climbing unnoticed on the city’s buildings. Pick up a free map outside York Glass Ltd (in The Shambles) and then off you go!