With our family still in tow, we took a short but action-packed trip to one of the few big cities in England we have yet to visit, York. Founded along the River Ouse in 71A.D., York has held an important role in England all the way back from the Roman occupation of Britain to modern times. In 211, while still under Roman rule, the city became the capital of Britannia Inferior (Latin for “Lower Britain”) and is where Constantine the Great, who would become known in history books for making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, was first proclaimed emperor. The city’s rich history and its collection of some of the most well-preserved historical structures in all of Europe make it an amazing place to visit.
The biggest attraction in York, both literally and figuratively, is the awe-inspiring 8th century York Minster. As the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe and one of the most beautiful in the whole world, York Minster is a must-see destination while in the city. The Minster is a truly impressive sight, dominating the York skyline from miles around. Entrance into the beautiful cathedral does cost upwards of ten pounds, but if you are making a special overseas visit to York, it is well worth the cost. The price includes entrance into the Undercroft of the Minster which shows the riveting history of the site, from the building of the Roman fortress there around 2000 years ago until modern times. You can also climb the enormous tower of the minster, complete with amazing panoramic views of the city, though it will also set you back a few pounds.
A trip to see the medieval sites in York cannot be complete without a walk around York’s 13th-century city walls which are the most complete in England. A trip around the walls of the city takes about an hour though there are exits along the walls which one is able to see the best views of the city if you are short on time. One of the more famous portions of the wall is the Micklegate Bar (“gate street” in Old Norse) which was the traditional entry point for monarchs visiting York.
Another medieval feature of the city skyline is Clifford’s Tower. The tower was built over 900 years ago and is the largest remaining portion of the old York Castle. The castle was originally built by William the Conqueror to guard against the rebellious northern Vikings and was the sight of one of the most notorious events in English history – the mass suicide and massacre of York’s Jewish population in 1190. In the 13th century, the tower was rebuilt by Henry III but eventually fell into disrepair. Today, Clifford’s Tower provides visitors with fantastic panoramic views of York and the surrounding countryside.
On our trip to York, we took another ghost tour where we learned about the tragic Jewish pogrom above along with many of the other stories that contribute to York being named the most haunted city in the world with purportedly over 500 recorded hauntings! On the ghost tour, we were also shown a rickety little pub named “the most haunted public house in York” called The Golden Fleece which dates back to at least 1503. The tour was definitely one of the better ghost tours we have been on as our guide was incredibly entertaining and the wide variety of stories were extremely interesting. If ghost stories are your thing, this tour is definitely not one to miss out on.
Throughout the tour and the rest of our time in the city, we walked through some of the amazing winding streets and footpaths that make up the center of the city. The narrow alleyways are so unique to York that a local author once coined the term “snickelway” to describe them. These alleyways are incredibly interesting to get lost in and add a unique flavor to the York experience.
Though not technically a snickelway, one of the most interesting streets in York is without a doubt the Shambles. The Shambles is a narrow medieval street filled with all types of shops and boutiques, including several Harry Potter centered ones which makes sense due to the street’s uncanny resemblance to Diagon Alley. The Shambles is one of the many things York is famous for and the street has even won several Most Picturesque Street in the United Kingdom awards. Many of the stores, most of which, interestingly enough were once butchers’ shops, reside in old-fashioned timber-framed buildings which very much add to the allure of walking down this amazing little street.
One of my favorite places in the city is without a doubt is the quite interestingly named House of Trembling Madness which is both a pub upstairs and a bottle shop downstairs. The joint venture sits in a building which has a history dating back to 1180 as the first Norman House to be built in York with interior walls in the pub upstairs which are framed by 800-year-old beams from old ships. Upon these ancient walls are the stuffed heads of a wide variety of trophy animals, many of which are more than a couple hundred of years old. The tightly packed pub – dimly lit by candles at every table whose wax drippings have accumulated over the years to form giant white masses of wax – is almost always filled to the brim, the sounds of conversation around you filling your ears and the tiny unenclosed kitchen in the corner sending up the delicious aroma of freshly cooked food. The combination of this assault on the senses is very much like being transported back in time to a dark, smoky and atmospheric old-time pub straight out of the pages of the Lord of the Rings.
There are a large number of other incredible things to see and do in York. One that I wish we got to see but did not is the Jorvik Viking Center. In 866, Vikings attacked and took over York, ruling there for about a hundred years and transforming York into a prosperous and beautiful city. Much of what makes York what it is today is a result of the Vikings, their great influence is meticulously shown and explained in the Jorvik Viking Center. Visitors to the center also allows visitors to see the remains of 1,000-year-old houses and other buildings along with over 40,000 other objects excavated on site. Along with this museum, For the ferroequinologists among you, York is also home to the National Railway Museum which is widely regarded as the best in the world of its kind and is even free to enter! Often hidden behind all these interesting things is York’s Chocolate Story, a tour which details the city’s love affair for chocolate as home to some of the biggest chocolate producers in the world.
These are just a few of the wonderful things to see and do while in York. Often referred to as the “city of festivals,” besides what I have already mentioned, there is always something fun to do in this enchanting city. Stepping foot into York is much like taking a step into the past with the City’s medieval charm and beauty on full display on each and every street corner. With an amazing history to match the beauty of the York Minster and the city’s plethora of old-fashioned buildings, York is a unique and wonderful travel experience and one of my favorite places in England.
- Traveling between London and Edinburgh? York is conveniently situated on the train line running between the two cities and is a perfect place to split your 4+ hour long train ride into two.
- The thriving and busy Shambles is completely transformed after the sun goes down. I would recommend going there at night at least once on your visit as it takes on an eery, ghostly feel.
- Make a stop at Drakes Fish and Chips shop while in the city center, it has some of the best fish and chips I have ever eaten and even serves up some pretty damn good chicken nuggets for those who don’t eat fish.