York is officially my favorite city in England. Layered with history, rich in Roman, Viking and Norman culture, easily walkable, everything within the city walls can be reached on foot. York is a city for tourists and locals alike and a great place for eating, shopping, and sight-seeing.
York is not the name of the town of which New York in the United States gained its title; it was actually named after the Duke of York. After New Amsterdam was captured from the Dutch by the British, King Charles II gave this land to his second son, the Duke of York, who later became King James II. The State and city were named in James’ honor. Since medieval times the Duke of York has been an honorary title, traditionally given to the second son of the reigning monarch, not a ruler of the land or people.
York is such an old city that the shire that the city was named after is not extinct, and only the ancient capital city remains.
York was the largest city in northern England in medieval times, known originally by the Romans as the fortified city of Eboracum. The Roman Empire was run from Eboracum by Emperor Septimus Severus for two years before his death in 211 AD.
Check out my Visual Map Guide to the York Wall here.
The largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, this building alone makes a trip to York worthwhile.
Constructed between 1220 and 1472 the minster has been destroyed, burned, looted and vandalized. Today the surviving building faces a problem with degradation from air pollution. The limestone is susceptible to acidification, which slowly decays the relatively soft stone over centuries of air pollution.
Today stonemasons are hard at work carving and replacing the worn stonework of the ancient cathedral. Because of problems with previous restoration projects using inferior materials, today they are replacing the rock with a harder more weather resistant Magnesium limestone from a quarry in Tadcaster. To provide addition weatherproofing the stonemasons help preserve the rock with a natural olive oil protectant, you can read more about this process here.
It is amazing to watch them at work, literally using the same traditional techniques and skills as their medieval ancestors to replace the façade and stonework of the building one brick at a time. Which begs the question, if a cathedral is replaced one brick at a time over the course of hundreds of years, is the remaining building the same?
If you are at York Minster in the evening, you do not want to miss the traditional choir service called evensong. The Minster has been performing the same service using the Book of Common Prayer which has largely been unchanged since the era of the Normans. Even if you aren’t religious this ceremony is a treat and a wonderful glimpse into the past. Generally sung on Sundays at 4:00 pm and weekdays at 5:15 pm, you will want to check the minsters website for the current schedule here.
The wall surrounding the medieval city of York is one of the best things about this city. Within its walls traffic is restricted to transportation and delivery vehicles, so you are more or less left free to wander around undisturbed from the city at large.
There have been walls protecting the ancient city of York since the first century AD, but most of the remaining stonework dates from the 12th to the 14th century.
You can take a walking tour of the city walls by connecting the intact sections of walls and gates. It will take you several hours depending on your walking ability but it is well worth the time.
My Visual Map Guide to the York Wall outlines the walking tour and wall access points.
Clifford’s Tower is one of York’s most surviving attractions. It’s small but packed with history, for me this is the coolest part of visiting a city, learning about the history.
There has been a fortress on this location since 1068 when William the Conqueror built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle in the same location that Clifford’s Tower now stands. Burnt and rebuilt twice during a tumultuous two centuries, the wooden structure is finally replaced with a stone structure. After an explosion and fire in 1684 the tower remains mostly unused, lying in shambles until the 20th century when restoration begins in 1935 to open the historic tower to the public.
Revamped and moved from their location on Parliament street to a new outdoor location, the Shambles Market is a lovely produce and craft market in the center of York. Shambles market provids over 85 stalls from fresh produce, to flowers, food and clothing.
Some of my favorite vendors are La Picanteria offering fresh Mexican spices while providing simple recipe cards. The Shambles Market is also the perfect location to pick up that iconic English flat cap! The market is open every day starting at 7am.
York Castle Museum
Houses in the old 18th century Debtors Prison, you might call this a living museum, the museum recreates authentic Victorian and Edwardian street scenes. You can wander through period recreations rooms ranging from a Victorian parlor and dining room, to a recreation of a Victorian street scene and prison cells. Family friendly and only £10 it is worth a visit.
If you are looking for a delicious meal, a decent selection of real ales, and a lively local crowd all while saving money you can’t beat the Punch Bowl. The Traditional Breakfast of a fried egg, sausage, baked beans, hash browns, a tomato and toast is delicious and will run you less than £5.
Located just outside of Micklegate, The Punch Bowl has been operating out of the corner of Blossom Street and Nunnery Lane since 1770.