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The Shambles, York (c)visityork.org

York
"Capital of the North"

York Minster facade (c)Andrew Sanger

Betty's, York (c)visityork.org

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Protected by its wide river and massive ramparts, York is one of Europe's loveliest old cities. Resounding with history from Romans to Norsemen, from dignified Victoriana to picture-book medieval lanes and alleys (called snickelways by locals), the one-time Northern capital is dominated by its majestic Minster - a vast, 800-year-old Gothic cathedral of richly carved pale stone.
  The masterful restoration work now going on at the Minster adds another fascinating dimension, as the skilled glass-restorers and stone-carvers can be watched in action at their workshops close by.
  Yet for locals and visitors alike, today's York is essentially a lively, modern county town that knows how to enjoy life. It's packed with fine shops, atmospheric pubs and good eating (a traditional cream tea at Betty's is a must), as well as top-quality museums, entertainment and art.


 Get the feel

York's picturesque, quietly bustling city centre with its traffic-free streets and enticing lanes and alleys has a civilised, privileged feel, with a strong sense of its historic importance.
  There's plenty of first-class sightseeing, and a big range of good shops, including stylish fashions, bookshops and a colourful little market, as well as numerous cafes and restaurants.
  Don't miss a stroll down The Shambles - one of the best-preserved medieval shopping thoroughfares in Europe.

 What, why, where

The name of York derives from Jorvik, as it was called by the Viking settlers who based themselves here in the year 875. But York's history goes a lot further back than that. A large Celtic settlement here was taken over by the Romans. Under the name Eboracum, it was a substantial, fortified Roman town by about 71AD. Beneath the Minster are ruins of a Roman temple, and in 306 Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor of Rome right outside its door - a sculpture marks the spot.
  After the fall of the Roman Empire, York became the capital of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria (which extended from the River Humber to the River Forth), until the arrival of the Viking invaders.
  Under the Vikings and throughout the medieval period, York became known as the capital of northern England, and its diocese second to Canterbury. The city's national importance declined from the 17th century onwards as London's increased, and regionally it was overtaken in the 19th century by the more industrialised town of Leeds. These developments enabled York to preserve much pre-industrial character and charm.
  York expanded in the 20th century and retains a role as a focal point of regional art, culture and history. York's population today is about 140,000.

 Getting started

York's Visitor Information Centre is at 1 Museum St (near York Minster). Or visit the York tourist office ('Visit York') website, www.visityork.org.

Before seeing the sights, work out whether you'd benefit from buying a York Pass, which gives free entry to 30 city attractions. A 1-day pass costs £38, 2 days £50, and 3 days £60.
www.yorkpass.com

Walks and Guided Tours
The classic walk is along the ramparts, with unusual perspectives on the city and its evocative steps over the 'bars' (gates). The total distance is just over 2 miles (3.4km).
Visit York has created a wide choice of both guided  and self-guided themed walking tours of the city.
www.visityork.org/seeanddo

 Compass points

The River Ouse runs through the walled city. Two bridges cross the Ouse within the walls - Lendal Bridge and Low Ousegate. The smaller river Foss also runs through the city.
The historic city centre lies on the left bank of the River Ouse.
The main city-centre shopping streets include Davygate, Coney St, Parliament St, Pavement and Coppergate indoor shopping mall. 
York Minster is in the north of the historic city centre.
Jorvik Viking Centre, York Castle Museum and Clifford's Tower are in the south of the historic city centre.
The railway station lies outside the walls on the right bank of the river, a 10-minute walk from the city centre.

 Getting around

On foot York city centre is small and can easily be fully explored on foot.
By car Driving is difficult within the walled city, with many pedestrianised streets. There are a dozen council-run car parks in the city centre, including six within the walls. It makes sense to use one of the six Park & Ride services instead - park for nothing on the edge of the city, and take the shuttle bus into town (£2.80 rtn).
Park & Ride information
Bus and taxi  For journeys to other parts of town, York has a good transport network.
Travel York information
Visit York travel information

 York hotels

The city's extensive choice of accommodation ranges from luxury hotels to simple guesthouses, both inside and outside the walled centre. For the tourist office's extensive selection with free online booking, see:
www.visityork.org/book

 Eating and drinking in York

There are scores of both chain and independent restaurants in York, as well as plenty of tea shops and dozens of atmospheric pubs serving Yorkshire ales and hot and cold food.
Among York's top names...
Betty's Café Tea Rooms (Davygate) - The original Betty's (there are now five of them in Yorkshire), this handsome tea rooms and restaurant preserves an elegant 1930s interior. Traditional cream tea is supposed to be the 'must have', but in fact the house speciality is the savoury Yorkshire Rarebit, and there are many other dishes on the menu.
The Terrier (Stonegate) - This traditional little pub (one of 365 in the city, they say) offers a 'tasting tray' of four of its own brews for ale buffs to sample. Otherwise, just enjoy a pint from their York Brewery selection.

 After Dark

There is a modest nightlife scene in York, with pubs, riverside bars and restaurants, and a few late-night city centre clubs and dance venues, mainly around Micklegate and Tanner Row.
  There are several theatres, too. The
Theatre Royal (established 1744) puts on big-scale productions, staging everything from cabaret and comedy, to Greek tragedy and modern drama, musicals, concerts and a famous annual pantomime.
 
The Grand Opera House has an authentic pre-War feel and a programme of variety entertainment including comedians and rock shows, as well as plays, opera and ballet.
  Among smaller theatres, Friargate Theatre puts on a wide range of high-quality drama mainly during the summer. 

 Getting to York

By air - Leeds-Bradford International Airport, 31 miles from York with good road connections, is the nearest major airport, with frequent international and domestic flights. A direct bus service runs from York railway station to the airport. Alternatively, Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield, 39 miles from York, also has good transport connections to the city.

By road - major roads approach York from all directions. The main direct access from north and south is on the A19, or on the A1(M), with exits to York at the A59 and A64.
York approaches by road

By rail - There are frequent trains from London (2hrs) and Edinburgh (2½ hrs), as well as direct services from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and the South West.
Grand Central run a comfortable, direct, non-stopping train service from London to York.

 Try it

••Yorkshire cheeses - traditional cheeses from Wensleydale, Swaledale and others.
••Yorkshire ales - local ales; there are TEN breweries around the city!
••Yorkshire pudding - a big tender 'pudding' of baked batter served with roast beef and gravy... bigger and better than Yorkshire pud elsewhere.
••Yorkshire tea - strong, quality tea as it should be; Yorkshire Gold is a top brand.

 Must-see

 York Minster
Intricately carved pale Gothic stonework, superb medieval stained glass and majestic proportions make the Minster among the most beautiful buildings in Britain - as well as one of the largest and finest cathedrals in Europe.
  The first church on the site was built in 1080, but the present building was started in 1220, and completed in 1472. It has a colourful history, best appreciated on a guided tour.
  Remains of the Roman and Norman buildings can be seen in the undercroft, while the 60-metre central tower (275 steps to the top!) gives unrivalled views over town and country.
  A huge restoration programme, begun in 2011, will continue into 2018. One of its greatest achievements is the completed restoration of the East Front, copied and replaced, piece by piece, by highly skilled stonemasons from around Europe.
  The huge Great East Window (it's the size of a tennis court!), consisting of leaded pieces of beautiful stained glass telling the whole Biblical story from Creation to Revelation, is still being painstakingly restored and repaired.
  Latest attraction at the Minster is The Orb, an elliptical display showcasing five examples of the fine medieval craftsmanship of the Great East Window. 
  Far from detracting from the pleasure of a visit, the restoration has been made into a fascinating and unusual educational attraction called York Minster Revealed, in which guided visits watch the restorers in action in their workshops.
www.yorkminster.org

 York Castle Museum
Whatever your age, childhood memories are likely to be poignantly awakened by a stroll through this wonderful museum of everyday life.
 
Among the displays are a poky 1940s kitchen, a 1950s sitting room, a display about the 1960s, and a 1980s kitchen with early microwave oven.
 
Other displays show household interiors from older periods, Edwardian, Georgian, Victorian, as well as a complete Victorian street!
www.yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk

 Jorvik Viking Centre
York's most popular family attraction stands on the site of a genuine archaeological dig, and aims to convey something of the authentic experience of life in the original Viking settlement at York, which they knew as Jorvik. After the floods of 2015, Jorvik Viking Centre had to be closed for repair and refurbishment. It reopens in 2017.
www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk

 National Railway Museum
The world's most complete collection of historical trains and railway artefacts, from the beginning of railways until the present day, stands alongside York railway station.
 
Many iconic engines are housed here, including the Mallard - the fastest-ever steam engine. Gleaming Victorian and Edwardian locomotives and carriages reveal much of social history too, with the clearly marked class differences and luxurious touches lacking in missing from modern trains.
 
Of special interest are the royal trains, including Queen Victoria's own private carriages, which are kept here.
www.nrm.org.uk

 Clifford's Tower
A sturdy remnant of York's medieval stone castle, the tower stands atop a low mound. A flight of steps ascends to the tower, making an enjoyable climb for thousands of visitors rewarded with wide views.
 
York's earlier wooden castle on the site was constructed in 1069 by William the Conqueror as a base for his violent campaign to subdue the North.
 
A plaque on the tower records that Clifford's Tower was the site of a notorious massacre of York's 150 Jews in 1190 by an anti-Jewish mob - believed to be the only incident of its kind to have occurred in England.
www.english-heritage.org.uk/cliffords

 Castle Howard
Possibly the grandest of Britain's aristocratic "stately homes" is 15 miles (24km) from York, and well worth the journey.
 
This majestic early-18th-century palace in its extensive gardens and parkland is still lived in by a branch of the Howard family, yet has the feel of some great museum or academic institution.
 
In largely Baroque style, with a distinctive central dome, its vast rooms and immense spaces (the Great Hall is 70 feet high) are filled with gigantesque sculptures and pictures - as well as exquisite treasures of Italy and the Classical world. Preserved historical rooms in part of the house can be visited.
 
Castle Howard became familiar to the world as the setting - both for the 1981 television series and for the 2008 film - for versions of Brideshead Revisited, although 'Waugh's original novel is not set here and his 'Brideshead' is fictional.
www.castlehoward.co.uk

 In the Know

••Gates and bars: York has many curious street names, such as Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate. Strange too is that "gates" are streets, while the old entrances into the city through the city walls are called "bars", not gates. Narrow lanes and alleys are known throughout Northern England (with different spellings and pronunciations) as "snickets" and "ginnels", but in York they are also known as "snickelways".

••Residents only! York Residents' Festival, at the end of January and beginning of February, is an opportunity for local people to visit the sights - and even see behind-the-scenes places not normally open to the public - all free of charge or at discounted rates.

••When to go: As elsewhere in the UK, the weather is mild but unpredictable, and all year round is generally cool and liable to rain. There are brief very cold periods in January and February, and a occasionally few very hot days any time from May to August.

••The real Yorkshire: The county of North Yorkshire was created in 1974, being part of the very much more extensive historic county of Yorkshire, of which York is the capital.

••York Floods 2015: The town's two rivers burst their banks on Boxing Day 2015, causing widespread severe flooding and damage, which is still being repaired.

 Events and Festivals

Jorvik Viking Festival
20-26 February 2017
A lively annual celebration of York's Viking heritage, with thrilling full-scale re-enactments of battles.
www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk

York Literature Festival
16-30 March 2017
Two weeks of reading and writing, theatre, author events, music, storytelling and poetry at this increasingly successful event attracting well-known speakers.
www.yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk

York Early Music Festival
7-15 July 2017
A leading early music festival of international standing, with lunchtime performances, late-night candlelit concerts, music workshops and lectures, in the city's churches, guildhalls and historic houses.
www.ncem.co.uk

 York Basics

••Where is it?
  In North Yorkshire, in northern England.
••International phone dialling code:
  00 44 (+ drop initial 0 from local number)
••Time zone:
  GMT/BST.
••Money:
  Pound sterling.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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York
Updated January 2017. All rights reserved worldwide.
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Pictures copyright, used with permission, mouseover for details. Top left: The Shambles, York (c) visityork.org. Top middle: York Minster facade (c) Andrew Sanger. Top right: Betty's, York (c) visityork.org.
Permission to use: This guide may be freely PRINTED ONLY for personal non-commercial use. Unless a LICENCE has been obtained it may not, in whole or in part, be COPIED nor used for any COMMERCIAL purpose.
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