City trip to York
York, a small city in the north of England, is a charming town. With about 200,000 inhabitants, it is the size of a postage stamp compared to the British capital London (8.7 million people). Ideal for a weekend away.
York for ‘bookies’
The city has several attractions. But most of all, for a bookie like me, it has three literary highlights. First, a ‘real’ Harry Potter street. Secondly, it is close to the Yorkshire Moors. The place where one of my favourite books – Wuthering Heights – is set. And last but not least, Whitby is l on the coast of Yorkshire. This is where Bram Stoker got his inspiration for his novel Dracula.
In short, an excellent place for a bookie.
Even if you don’t like to read, Yorkshire is a beautiful destination. Below are the best, most beautiful and fun things to do in and around York for book, culture, history and nature lovers.
Top 10 things to do and to see in York
1. Walk the York walls
My absolute favourite activity in York is hiking the historic walls that encircle the city centre. At 3.4 kilometres in length, these are the longest medieval city walls in England. They are known as the York City Walls, the Bar Walls or the Roman Walls. However, the latter is a misnomer, as little of the existing masonry is of Roman origin. Furthermore, the course of the wall has changed considerably since Roman times. For the most part, the walls are four meters high and 1.8 meters wide.
The city has four gates, which give access to the walls. The gates or ‘bars’ are Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar. These were used in the Middle Ages to collect tolls and seal off the city during wars.
The wall walk is free. The walls usually open from 8 am and close at dusk. They are also closed on December 25 and in icy or slippery conditions. Use caution when walking on walls, especially with young children. Some parts have no fence or railing.
2. Admire the cathedral’s stained-glass windows
York Cathedral is commonly known as York Minster. It is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. The reason to visit is that the cathedral has the most important piece of medieval stained glass in the country, the ‘Great East Window’.
Entry costs £12 for an adult. You can buy tickets on the York Minster website or use the city pass (see #3 below).
Note: even with a city pass, you must book a place (for free) online via the cathedral’s website.
3. Discover York with a City Pass
The City Pass gives access to 20 attractions, such as the Roman Baths. Learn local history at the Yorkshire Museum, then travel back to the days of the Vikings at the epic JORVIK Centre. Followed by a visit to the impressive York Minster, Northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral, and enjoy a relaxing river cruise.
Your pass is also valid outside the city. Therefore, experience Eden Camp Historical War Museum and visit Howard Castle, one of the UK’s finest historic castles. You can even travel on an old-fashioned steam train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
Included in the pass are:
- York Minster
- JORVIK Viking Center
- Clifford’s Tower
- York Dungeon
- Railway Museum Road Train
- Mansion House
- York Cold War Bunker
- Fairfax House
- York Army Museum
- Treasurer’s House
- Richard III experience
- Henry VII Experience
- Merchant Adventurers Hall
- Roman Bath Museum
- Barley Hall
- Yorkshire Air Museum
- Beningbrough Hall
- Ouse City Cruises (Excluding Evening Cruises)
- Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour.
4. Go in Search of Harry Potter at The Shambles in York
The Shambles is a street in the historic centre of York, with half-timbered overhangs, some dating back to the fourteenth century. Virtually all the buildings in the street are listed as monuments. The street was once known as ‘The Great Flesh Shambles’, probably from Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally ‘meat boards’). These were the shelves butchers used to display their meat. Thirty-one butcher shops were still located in the Shambles in 1885, now none.
It is one of several locations, along with streets in Chepstow, Edinburgh, Exeter and London, that has been claimed to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter franchise. Since 2017, four wizard-themed shops have opened on the street. However, the author, JK Rowling, claims that she has never visited the area.
5. Shop at Shambles Market
Shambles Market is open daily and is located between The Shambles and Parliament Street. The market used to be known as Newgate Market, after its location.
The market has 83 stalls and seven permanent kiosks, including several stalls where you can eat for a friendly price.
6. Soak up culture in the Art Gallery
The Art Gallery has various temporary and permanent exhibitions. In addition, the collection contains thousands of paintings, ceramics, glass and pottery.
Admission to the Art Gallery is free, but you must book a time slot via the website during the pandemic. York Art Gallery is located on Exhibition Square, five minutes from York Minster and opposite Bootham Bar.
7. Unwind in the Museum Gardens
In the heart of York are over four acres of beautiful botanical gardens. An idyllic retreat with an array of plant species, set against the backdrop of the medieval ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Squirrels, hedgehogs and foxes can all be found in the gardens, alongside many species of birds, moths, butterflies and insects.
The park is an ideal place for a summer picnic, a walk in the green, or to let your children run around safely.
The gardens are free to visit.
8. Meander through the past at St. Mary’s Abbey
The St. Mary’s Abbey ruins in the Botanic Garden are the only remnants of one of England’s richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries. The complex dates from the year 1088. The estate of the abbey covered the entire site of the museum gardens. In medieval York the sanctuary stood directly opposite the cathedral.
The gate on Marygate, next to St. Olave’s Church, was the main entrance to the abbey. Here the poor could gather to beg for alms. The building, known as St Mary’s Lodge, is now the headquarters of York Museums Trust.
King Henry VIII (indeed, the one with the six wives) banned all monasteries in England in 1530. The monks of St Mary’s retired in 1540.
The abbey was first converted into a palace for the king, which he used during his visits. Subsequently, the abbey complex fell into ruins and was later used as a farm building. The Yorkshire Philosophical Society excavated the ruins in the 1820s.
9. Climb the Wuthering Heights on the Yorkshire Moors
I already mentioned Wuthering Heights in the introduction. This is one of the books I read in my teens that left a lifelong impression on me. This novel, written by Emily Brontë, is set in the West Yorkshire Moors.
The story is about the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff and how destructive their love is for both families. The book’s name refers to the country house of the same name where the story takes place. Two landed gentry families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons, and their turbulent relationships with Earnshaw’s adopted son, Heathcliff. The book was controversial in 1847 for its mental and physical brutality and its challenges to Victorian morality and religious and social values.
For the non-readers, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is also the debut single by British singer Kate Bush. The lyrics of the single are based on the book.
10. In Search of Dracula at Whitby Abbey
The haunted ruins of Whitby Abbey sit high on a cliff above the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby. Whitby Abbey was founded in the year 657 by St. Hilda. Over the years, the abbey has been a bustling settlement, a burial place for kings and inspiration for Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Discover how over 2000 years of history make the abbey one of England’s most important archaeological sites.
You have to book your tickets in advance on the English heritage site.
Do you have more tips, books about (or that take place in) the region that I absolutely must read? Let me know. Send an email or leave a message on social media.
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