City Break: 15 Things to do in York

city wall york


Chris and I spent the last bank holiday weekend in York, England. Yes old York, which I now affectionately call the ‘little apple’. We were there for a wedding but extended our trip to make the most of this lovely walled city. York is full of history, with charming little streets, tea shops and plenty of photo opportunities. Hopefully this post will give you all of the tips you need for a great weekend away.

How to get there

york train station

London King’s Cross to York takes under 2 hours with Virgin Trains on the London-Scotland East Coast route. Just make sure you reserve seats if you’re going on a busy weekend!

Where to STAY

I have to admit I wasn’t all that impressed with the places I stayed at during my last two trips to York so I won’t recommend those, but for a future trip the hotels I have my eyes on are Judges Court, The Grand Hotel & Spa, and Principal York. For a smaller budget, Student Castle looks like great value.

What to DO

York Pass

If you’re planning on visiting a few of the city’s attractions, you should consider getting a York Pass. We used ours for so many places and we ended up doing a lot more than we would otherwise have done. The pass gives you free entry to over 30 York attractions and really encourages you to make the most of your trip! Simply order one online or pick one up from the York Visitor Information Centre.

City Wall
york city wall
York City Wall

It wouldn’t be a trip to York without having a walk on the historic town walls. The entire circuit takes 2 hours but you can choose to only do a section – either way, you’ll enjoy great views. I would recommend visiting the four impressive gatehouses at each corner of the city known as “Bars”. The one in the photo above is Micklegate Bar which is the southern entrance to the city. 

York Minster
York Minster

York Minster is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and it’s definitely worth going inside just to see how impressive it really is. Next time we’ll have to climb up the central tower; it has the best view in York. We had to miss out this time because tower trips are only at certain set times. You don’t need to be into architecture or religion to enjoy this one!

shambles york

The Shambles is York’s most famous street. Its lopsided buildings house a number of charming tea rooms, pubs and little boutiques. This is where the photos happen. Watch out for low flying selfie-sticks and trains of tour groups. One interesting feature on the Shambles are two of York’s twenty lucky cats. See if you can spot them!

Clifford’s Tower
york clifford's tower
York Clifford's Tower inside

This medieval tower is the largest remaining part of York Castle. Definitely worth a visit if you have a York Pass! This one is good if you like your history. If not, you will still enjoy the views from the top. 

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate
whip-ma-whop-ma gate york

Make a quick stop in York’s shortest street: Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate. Apparently the original meaning of the name was “What a street!”. I couldn’t resist the photo opp! Excellent Instagram material. If you take a photo here I’d love to see it – let’s get #whipmawhopmagate trending. 

York’s Chocolate Story
York's Chocolate Story

It’s a little known fact that York is the home of chocolate, the British home of chocolate that is. The city is blessed with three pioneering chocolateers; including the revered Joseph Rowntree and Joseph Terry. If you don’t know these names you will certainly know some of their delicious treats. Kit Kat, Smarties, Yorkie are just a few of the chocolates created within the city walls.

The city really does celebrate this part of its heritage. In fact, I’m sure chocolate shops are the second most popular shops in the city. If you didn’t guess it, Tea Rooms are the most popular attraction with one on almost every street.

Right in the heart of the city is the York Chocolate Story. This has to be on everyone’s itinerary, especially if you have a sweet tooth – like me! The tour starts with an introduction into the city’s chocolate pioneers, before a masterclass in how chocolate is made and then you get to make your very-own chocolate lollipop. They do of course save the best for last where you try some very tasty treats made by the in-house master chocolateer. This is also free with the York Pass. 

York Boat
york boat tour
york boat river cruise

If, like us, you end up walking around the city for hours and get sore feet, a boat tour on the river is a great way to take a break. On a sunny day you can sit on the top deck and listen to the captain talk about anecdotes and fun facts about York. I wouldn’t make this a priority in your itinerary as you won’t see all that much of the city from the water but it’s a fun and relaxing activity. If it’s a sunny day just grab an ice cream before you hop on board.

Castle Howard

If you have enough time, Castle Howard looks like a fantastic day out. If we had a third day, this is where we would have spent it. You may have already seen this impressive stately home in Brideshead Revisited (film or TV). I can imagine that its huge gardens would be wonderful to wander around on a sunny day – keep an eye out for the peacocks!

Treasurer’s House
York Treasurer's House
York wisteria at Treasurer's House

We hadn’t planned to visit the Treasurer’s House; we simply stumbled upon it after checking out York Minster and I fell in love with its pretty garden. If you love wisteria as much as I do I recommend coming here in May and sitting on one of the pastel coloured benches. You’ll also be able to visit the inside of the building with your York Pass. The building has a beautiful, historic interior which is managed by the National Trust. There is also a great little cafe in the basement. 

Ghost Trail

York is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the UK. Sadly we didn’t get a chance to go on one of York’s ghost tours while we were there. A few tours are included in the York Pass and the York Dungeons are as well. Maybe next time.

National Railway Museum
railway museum york trains

Just south of the York train station is the most magical and wonderful of places – that is if you’re a 12 year old boy or as it happens, a 26 year old boy called Chris. This place is the National Railway Museum. It holds the worlds largest collection of historic trains; including the world-famous Mallard, the original Japanese bullet-train and even the Eurostar!? Whilst it isn’t normally my type of thing, I did find it interesting and enjoyed looking at the very plush Royal Carriages dating back to the very beginnings of train travel. I’m not sure what it was about this place, but it seemed to transport many grown men back to their childhoods.

Railway Museum Afternoon Tea, York

This didn’t mean that there was nothing for me to enjoy. Much like the Royals back in the 1920’s we treated ourselves to afternoon tea in the quaint steam carriage. Beautiful silverware and scones, what’s not to like about that?

Where to EAT

betty's tea room york

York’s most famous tea house, Betty’s was recommended to me by so many people that it was at the top of my ‘must-visit’ list. Sadly, even though we were there quite late in the day for afternoon tea, the queue to get a table looked long and pretty slow-moving. It might have been extra busy because of the bank holiday but next time we’ll make sure to reserve online for a very special champagne afternoon tea.

House of the Trembling Madness

We found this quirky pub by chance when we were hunting for a good place to have dinner and we loved the atmosphere upstairs. It’s a tiny, very cosy space with just a few tables, some great beers on tap and antlers on the walls.

The York Roast Co.

Turning Sunday roast into fast food? Genius! We loved this quick lunch and of course we had to have some Yorkshire pudding while in York. You can also get extra mini-yorkshires as a side!

Where to SHOP

Mulberry outlet
Mulberry Outlet York Shopping

My eyes lit up when I spotted the little Mulberry shop in a cobbled street. Chris sighed as I excitedly skipped towards it and pressed my face against the shop window. If you love Mulberry bags, you simply have to go here. I bagged myself a Mulberry Mini Lily at around 40% off its original price. I love a good designer bargain!

York river cruise
things to do in york england
york street england

If you’re looking for a fun city break in the UK, York is a great choice. There is so much to see and do there! Although Chris and I had a bit of a romantic weekend, it’s also perfect for families, history geeks and even groups of friends (we saw quite a few hen and stag dos!).

Is York on your bucket list yet? Have you been there?

Thank you to Visit York and York Pass for their guidance and for providing us with two complimentary passes. All love of York mentioned in this post is entirely my own!

Quick Guide to York, England
  • I love York! It’s such a pretty little city, and tea at Betty’s always makes me happy 🙂 I didn’t realise there was a Mulberry outlet store – must plan another trip!! xxx

  • Lynne Webster
    June 18, 2016

    Aww I really want to go back to York now! I went a few years ago and loved wandering around the sights. You’ll love Betty’s when you go, it was definitely my favourite xx

    • City Cookie
      June 20, 2016

      York is so perfect for a weekend away! I definitely need to go back on a less busy weekend and try Betty’s. xx

  • Christine
    June 21, 2016

    I want to go there now!!!!

    • City Cookie
      July 3, 2016

      Go, go! It’s such a lovely place!

  • Kelly | A Pair of Passports
    June 22, 2016

    Great post! I’ll be saving this for when we finally make it up to York for a weekend.

  • lots of great activities! I’d love to visit it:)

  • Jon Stansberry
    July 8, 2016

    Ah, I love seeing posts about my hometown! I didn’t know the York Pass existed though; I will have to get one and learn how to be a tourist in my own town ^_^

    • City Cookie
      July 8, 2016

      I love playing tourist in my own town! Sometimes you don’t make the most of cities that you’re very familiar with

  • Julie Sykes
    August 9, 2016

    Great post about the city I’m proud to call home 🙂 Castle Howard is definitely worth the day trip, especially just before Christmas when it’s all decked out with wonderful decorations.

    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      August 14, 2016

      Thanks Julie! Castle Howard looks so beautiful. I didn’t know about the Christmas decorations! Thanks for the very good tip 🙂

  • AlicevstheWorld
    February 14, 2017

    I visited York on a school trip and absolutely loved it! It’s a beautiful city with lovely historic buildings. And the local ghost stories aren’t bad either!

    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      February 27, 2017

      I wish I had had the time to go on a ghost tour! Something to look forward to next time 🙂

  • Peter H
    August 10, 2019

    Home for me. Quite a tight city so you really don’t need a car or taxi fares. Careful to book a hotel/B&B/hostel that is central. Some hotels/other are outside the centre. Walk along the river (The New Walk) to the Millennium Bridge cross over and return the other side via Rowntree’s Park. The station has a second entrance which leads along the river – but few know about it.

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City Break: 15 Things to do in York