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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 04 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Will Hide

One of Britain’s most beautiful historic cities, York is a millefeuille of history, with layer upon layer of drama and intrigue, from the first Roman settlement in AD 71 to the bloodthirsty medieval period, when the Vikings came roaring down from Northumberland.

Many of the Roman streets still exist today, lined with a picturesque jumble of medieval houses, elegant Georgian townhouses and Victorian homes.  Cobbled alleyways run between, linking the world-famous 13th-century gothic Minster with imposing fortified towers and the two rivers that flow through the city, the Foss and the Ouse.

The city boomed in Victorian times, thanks to the building of the railway which made the city one of the most important hubs in the north for industry. Local companies such as Rowntrees and Terry’s Confectionery became national names, hotels were built and new residential areas of the city created.

21st-century York combines this diverse history with a lively student population, and a thriving restaurant and foodie scene, with independent bars, cafes and eateries dotted through the historic streets. Compact, and easy to explore on foot, York makes the perfect weekend break.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Walk York’s Roman city walls

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Walking York’s ancient city walls – the best-preserved in Britain – offers glimpses of the city’s rich history, with fortified towers, Roman gateways and a wonderful view of the medieval rooftops.

Best for ages: 8+ | Free | 2 houra

York Minster

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

York Minster is northern Europe’s finest Gothic cathedral, taking 250 years to build, and famous for its vividly beautiful stained glass.

Best for ages: 18+ | £12

National Railway Museum

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Europe’s premier railway museum boasts every type of train from steam locomotives to the only bullet train outside Japan – a wet-weather winner for kids of all ages.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

City street and exterior of two adjoined brick buildings
Experience

Bar Convent

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

England’s oldest convent still in use, dating back to 1686. Its 18th-century hidden chapel is fascinating, and its café and garden provide a welcome pause on a busy day of sightseeing.

Best for ages: 18+ | £5

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The exterior and window display of the popular Betty's Cafe and Tea Rooms at night
Experience

Betty’s

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

This iconic tearoom opened in 1937 and there’s a good reason people queue for two hours for afternoon tea here. Book online in advance to avoid the wait.

Best for ages: 10+ | Free

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Boats sailing down the River Ouse with people walking along the embankment
Experience

Boat tours of York

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Get a different perspective on York while gently gliding down the River Ouse with jovial commentary. Lunch, afternoon tea and evening cruises are also offered.

Best for ages: 4+ | £12 | 1-3 hours

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Hill-top fortified tower on a sunny day with stairs leading up to it
Experience

Clifford’s Tower

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Built by William the Conqueror, this is one of York’s most iconic landmarks – in its time, it has been a royal mint, a medieval stronghold and a Civil War garrison. Head up to the roof deck for the best city views.

Best for ages: 4+ | £8

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

City Sightseeing York Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

City Sightseeing York Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

York

Explore the ancient city of York on a 24 hour unlimited hop-on hop-off bus tour. This sightseeing extravaganza will take you to all of the b...

£16 | Rating 4.55 / 5 [308 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Golden Tours York Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour with Audio Guide

Golden Tours York Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour with Audio Guide

York

Reconnect with your favourite York landmarks with this hop-on, hop-off open-top bus tour around the towns best loved sites, with a live guid...

£17 | Rating 4.43 / 5 [67 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Guided Bike Tour in York

Guided Bike Tour in York

York

Guided bike tour of York, inside and outside the city walls.  Starting at a central location in the city.  A 2 to 2.5 hour tour with multipl...

£26 | Rating 4.98 / 5 [492 ratings]

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Ouse River Sightseeing Cruise in York

Ouse River Sightseeing Cruise in York

York

The York City Cruise, lasting from 45 minutes to 1 hour, is both an entertaining and informative tour of the River Ouse. Escape the city rus...

£12 | Rating 4.33 / 5 [772 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

The Fat Badger

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A former 18th-century grocery store, this is a cosy, charming inn set next to one of the city’s medieval gateways.  

Official star rating:

Dean Court Hotel

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A stone’s throw from York Minster, this trio of 19th-century townhouses has the best location in town, close to all of the city’s main attractions.

Official star rating:

The Grand

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

The Grand lives up to its name, with a chic cocktail bar, one of the city’s best restaurants and a sleek, subterranean spa. 

Official star rating:

The Principal

York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom (UK)

An imposing Victorian hotel with chic bedrooms, a buzzy restaurant and one of the best spots for afternoon tea in the whole of York. Perfect for a car-free break. 

Official star rating:

When to go

York is very much a year-round destination. Whoever said “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” probably had the north of England in mind: you could come to York in August and swelter, or just as easily have to buy an emergency jumper.  

If you don’t have kids with you, it’s worth avoiding school holidays, when it seems every child in Britain is queuing up for the Jorvik Viking Centre. 

Late November and December is a fantastic time to visit the city; York’s Christmas market is one of the best in the country, and there are festive events throughout the month. 

Getting there and away

York’s history as a railway hub means there are excellent train connections from pretty much everywhere in the country. Trains from London and Edinburgh leave every half hour through the day and take around two hours, and there are direct, regular services from as far afield as Aberdeen, Bristol and Liverpool.

Coming by train is the best way to visit, as once you’ve arrived, everything is within walking distance and there’s no need for a car. The centre is compact, and most tourist sites are never more than 15 minutes away. If you’re staying further out, your hotel or B&B will be able to call a taxi for you.

Getting around

Coming by train is the best way to visit, as once you’ve arrived, everything is within walking distance and there’s no need for a car. The centre is compact, and most tourist sites are never more than 15 minutes away. If you’re staying further out, your hotel or B&B will be able to call a taxi for you. 

Where to eat or drink

Until recently, York had dozens of tea and coffee shops, but not so many decent eating options. All that has changed, however, and the old Roman streets – Petergate, Micklegate and Castlegate are dotted with excellent restaurants. If you’re looking for something a little more offbeat, Fossgate, Walmgate and Gillygate are worth a wander for small indie cafes and restaurants.

See the handy website York on a Fork for all the latest news on where to eat and drink.

Where to shop

All of York’s main shopping streets are within the old city walls; Petergate and the streets around it are the place for small, independent shops and boutiques, while Parliament Street is home to most of the big, high-street names.