We said we wouldn’t do it, but deep down we both knew that wasn’t the truth. That’s how within minutes of checking in to our hotel for the weekend after a short drive from work, we ended up in none other than Wetherspoons – and with vodka… Oops!
And thus began a weekend in the beautiful city of York, home of a rich Viking heritage, gorgeous medieval architecture and all things Harry Potter. An English city with many an Instagrammable photo op, many an independent shop, and many a folklore legend. Two days really isn’t enough to experience everything there is to do and see here, but we were up for giving it a good go.
York is a very relaxed city, with something to do or see around every corner. Whether it’s walking what remains of the old city walls, exploring a museum or gallery, or indulging in that all-important retail therapy, chances are you’re going to find something that suits you.
With no set plans for Saturday other than going out for some drinks on the evening, we took an early wander down the street from our hotel, which was situated just outside the centre, through Micklegate Bar and into the main, walled part of the city.
Of course, one of the great draws of York is its unique stores and cafes – many of which can be found surrounding the famed Shambles shopping street – a street which may well remind Harry Potter fans of the iconic Diagon Alley. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
After meandering through the many craft and fresh food stalls of the Shambles Market first thing, we soon found ourselves at York Minster.
Fun fact time: York Minster…Source: http://www.yorkminster.org
1. Was one of the UK’s first cathedrals to introduce female choristers alongside the boys
2. Was the wedding venue of King Edward III
3. Was previously headed by Dr. John Sentamu, the first person from a black or ethnic minority group to become an Archbishop in the Church of England
4. Has been on fire 4 times
This cathedral is also just an incredibly beautiful and impressive feat of gothic architecture in its own right, meaning that even if its longstanding history doesn’t interest you, you should most definitely check it out.
Back to the Shambles itself, this narrow, winding street of pretty buildings dating back to the fourteenth century would be a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare, but in my mind, the busyness just adds to the charm. If you like to shop independent, there are more than enough options in and around the area other than Primark or WHSmith’s, and while you might pay a bit more, you can do so knowing you have something rather unique and are supporting local people.
Side note: If you’re a gin drinker, York Gin’s Roman Fruits flavour is 👌
However, don’t be surprised if you have to queue to even get in certain shops down the street itself. The York Ghost Merchants, The Shop That Must Not Be Named and The Potion Cauldron immediately spring to mind.
A delicious cupcake-shaped cheesecake (a first for me!) from The Cheesecake Guy, and a hilarious street entertainer later, our day truly was now in full swing. With nowhere in particular to be, we enjoyed simply walking, taking in the sights and doing more than our fair share of shopping.
Luckily, a simple walk around the city centre is a fine use of time, because we failed to pre-book anything and found ourselves unable to actually enter many attractions without already having a ticket. When it’s not busy, most places do offer walk-ins, but if you have your heart set on doing something in particular, I’d recommend booking a slot ahead of time, just in case.
Ready to rest our weary feet for a while, we broke up our afternoon with a cheeky little head-start on the night’s festivities in the form of a fabulous gin tree in Yates – which attracted plenty of attention from nearby diners and actually made us a few new friends who were just intrigued enough to approach us for a conversation. Offering six double gins, available in a selection of mix-and-match flavours, the Yates gin tree comes in at £29.99.
Now, a Saturday night in York is a lot of fun, and there are so many vibrant and dynamic bars and clubs to choose from, no matter your musical preferences.
We started our night in Stone Roses, a relaxed rock and indie bar with a great, wholesome atmosphere and some equally great décor to see at all angles too. Just mind you don’t lose your shoes on the sticky floor!
Next was Slug and Lettuce, and one thing’s for sure, it feels like a completely different place between day and night. Beautifully decorated for all the best Instagram shots, this classy cocktail bar is also plenty big enough to ensure you don’t feel sardined in.
Rounding up the experience – Popworld, which hardly needs any introduction as it pretty much does what it says on the tin. Playing classic tunes from the 70s all the way to the 2000s, be prepared to sing until your voice is hoarse, whilst optionally riding on a slow revolving platform in the middle of the dancefloor. Um, yes please!
Day two began with a slow start. After being so go, go, go (and so late to bed) the day before, spending an hour after breakfast sitting down and just enjoying the sunshine in York Museum Gardens was a welcome break. If you’re looking for somewhere to whittle away an hour or two that’s both peaceful and pretty at the same time, and within the immediate vicinity of one of York’s many popular museums, this is the place for you.
And yet, moving on we prepared for our final activity of the weekend – the one thing we did thankfully think to book in advance…
Located right opposite the Jorvik Centre, The Hole in Wand is one of the city’s more interesting miniature golf courses because – as the name suggests – it has a very mystical theme. Putting (or at least attempting to putt) a few balls is a surprisingly fun way to kill an hour on an afternoon – even if you are as bad at is as I was!
The course consists of 9 holes, all themed around the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry. Just be warned though, the venue is small, and at busy times things can get backed up. It could definitely benefit from more waiting areas between holes, and some of the holes themselves can become a little cramped for lining up a shot too. But, all in all, the passion, creativity and the sheer enthusiasm of all the staff makes up for it. And it’s not expensive either. A cheapest, standard ticket comes in at just £6.99 (magical-themed souvenir drink included!), and you can get yours here: https://www.theholeinwand.com/
Our sporting action for the day successfully ticked off, we had just enough time left for a mid-afternoon bite and a non-alcoholic cocktail in Revolution before hitting the road again to return to the less-exciting though less tiring world of reality once more.
This short trip wasn’t my first visit to York, and it won’t be my last. This little corner of Yorkshire does live up to its hype, and has something to offer for families, history-enthusiasts, shopaholics and partygoers alike. Even the train station is a sight to behold. If you get a chance to visit, please do. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
MY TOP TIPS FOR A VISIT TO YORK
1. Wear comfortable walking shoes (and no stilettos!) – you’ll be doing a lot of walking, and at times on uneven surfaces, hills or cobbles.
2. If there are activities you really don’t want to risk missing, especially at peak times, book in advance to avoid disappointment. I missed out on an exhibition I’d been wanting to see simply because they’d filled their visitor quota for the day. Make sure you budget accordingly too, as while some places are free, all the entry fees can begin to add up for a family.
3. All the main, notable city-centre attractions are within walking distance of each other. Nowhere is too far, and while the centre can be a bit of a maze to get your head around, maps and recognisable landmarks are plentiful. This means you can plan multiple activities in one day without much travel time in-between.
4. Staying that little bit further out can save you money – even on a Saturday night. We opted for Wheatlands Lodge which, while only a two-star establishment, was actually perfectly nice with friendly staff and a good breakfast.