This city in the wild North of England was an unexpected surprise, with its beautifully decorated historic houses, rugged castles, well-preserved city walls and marvellous museums. York takes you through the ages, from the early Roman ruins and the archaeological Viking discoveries to the Gothic architecture of York Minster and the noble Georgian townhouses, which are spread throughout the city. Allow at least four days to explore this city properly.
Walk around the City Walls
The well-preserved medieval city walls are 3.4 kilometres long and you can walk around them in about 2 hours. There are some wonderful views to be had, plus you can enter the walk from a number of intriguing interior stair cases!
Clifford’s Tower is almost all that remains of the York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror in 1068. The tower is situated on the top of a round hill, with stairs to the upper viewing platform. In the past, it was used as a prison and a royal mint!
Situated right near Clifford’s Tower, this wonderful museum is full of interesting history, including recreated period rooms, such as the 17th century dining room. Allow a full morning to explore the extensive collections.
This reconstructed medieval town house, situated right in the centre of York, offers a great view of what daily life would have been like from the 14th century and beyond. It sits on the site of the old Barley Hall, which was built all the way back in 1360. At the time of my visit, I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of period costumes from a number of famous films!
This Georgian townhouse was one of my favourite attractions in York! Located at No. 27, Castlegate, it was built in the early 1740s and was purchased by Charles Fairfax 1759. All of the rooms in this house are set up with period furniture and offer a fascinating insight into the life of a wealthy family of this time.
I learnt some of the most interesting facts here! On seeing small staircases next to the beds in Fairfax house, I was curious to know why. The tour guide explained to me that it was always important that the nobility were looking down upon the servant or maid attending them, even when lying down in bed (which is why they made the bed so high, that they needed a stair case to climb in)!
I also learnt that, in the Georgian period, servants were often a lot healthier than the rich citizens, because they were allotted vegetable plots as part of their living allowance. In contrast, the rich people ate a lot of meat and sugar (signifying their wealth, but not their health)!
This National Trust building is yet another great insight into the history of York and its noteworthy leaders. The residence has been associated with treasurers of York Minster from 1091, though the building in its present state dates back to 1897, when it was restored by Frank Green. The dining room was my favourite room in the house – our tour guide painted a fascinating picture in our heads! This room was used to entertain many important guests and, despite all the elegant furniture and rich feasts, the reality of this lifestyle may not have been as civilised as we imagine, with the chamber pot being kept (and apparently used) in the same room!
Jorvik Viking Centre
If you want to experience life as a viking, take a look inside the Jorvik Viking Centre! Located on the remains of Viking houses and backyards from thousands of years ago, it also has a small train that takes you through a reconstruction of a Viking village, complete with people, houses and sound effects.
This extremely narrow cobbled laneway in the centre of York dates back to the 1400s (though it has been mentioned by William the Conqueror and so probably existed in a different form earlier than this). It used to be the butchers’ street, where all the meat was sold! Its name comes from the word ‘Shamel’ which refers to the stalls or benches, on which meat was displayed.
National Railway Museum
If you are a train enthusiast, you will enjoy browsing this extensive collection of trains, from the early days through to modern times. I particularly enjoyed exploring the historic first-class train carriages, in which wealthy families and nobility would have taken their journeys.
York Minster Cathedral
This spectacular cathedral is worth visiting for its beauty and history. The first recorded church on the site dates back to 627, though the humble wooden structure of the past would have been a far cry from the gothic grandeur that stands today. As you walk into the cathedral, you are surrounded by high ceilings and majestic stained glass windows. It is incredible to think how many people would have entered this church over the centuries.
Being all the way from Australia, I was astounded by the history in these gardens, where you could casually walk by Roman ruins and even touch them if you felt like it! The spread of the Roman empire over Europe and England was far more extensive than I had ever imagined. To be able to have a picnic right next to something so old was unbelievably exciting!
As you can see, I fell in love with this beautiful city of the North. It was one of my favourite places in England and I was hesitant to move on. However, Scotland was calling me. So, I packed up my bags, got back on the train and headed North.
Have you been to York? How did you spend your time here? Are there any good day trips in the local area?