"History and shopping." Top 5 Page for this destination York by leics

York Travel Guide: 1,770 reviews and 4,453 photos

I know York well and have visited many times. I'd recommend it to anyone who is visiting the UK......it's full of history and is much more friendly than London (imo).

Lying between two rivers (and often flooded in winter, even now.....although the effects are minimised for the visitor), York has existed in various forms for over two thousand years. The Romans built 'Eboracum', the Vikings created their 'Jorvik' and building has continued ever since. The centre of York is a wonderful mixture of ancient, old and new buildings. A warren of little alleyways leads from street to street through the Medieval centre, and the Minster towers over all.

The range of architecture still existing is one of York's main attractions for me. Many UK cities have had their ancient hearts ripped out, either because of bombing during the Second World War or because of post-war Brutalist policies...lots of concrete and glass, and to hell with the old.

York city centre isn't like that. There are a few monstrosities, but they are far between and, somehow, the other older buildings minimise their effect as eyesores.

The main photo shows the guest house of Medieval St. Mary's Abbey in the Museum gardens. The rest of the abbey lies in ruins but the hospitium survives, originally dating from the 1300s but with many restorations over the centuries.

The Museum Gardens also contain the Multangular Tower, part of the Roman fort of Eboracum. The top half of the tower is Medieval, but the rest is in its original form. Roman York is largely buried under the town centre, but you can see some parts of it still. Visit the undercroft of the Minster and walk down through time to see Roman buildings underlying the Medieval cathedral. Amazingly, some Roman sewers are still in use in York!

I spent two summers excavating a site in St Leonard's Hospital which adjoins the museum gardens. Central York is a fascinating place to excavate, with its Medieval, Viking and Roman layers still very much in evidence. My homepage photo shows me sitting in a deep hole, where we found not only a Medieval drain but also Medieval leather shoes (preserved in the waterlogged soil) and, eventually, the turf walls of York's very first Roman fort. You can't see the excavation now: it's finished and backfilled. But you can see where it was. See my tip about St Leonard's Hospital.

You'll find many late Medieval houses still standing in the centre of York, slightly out of shape now but still hanging on. Wander The Shambles, a narrow street once home to York's butchers and slaughtermen; you'll see how close the overhanging upper storeys once were. Imagine the noise of men and beasts, and the stench of the blood and guts...

And you'll find the Medieval street pattern still surviving too, in the many narrow alleyways, ginnels and snickets which links the main streets in the heart of the city. Spend some time exploring these: you'll come across many an unexpected sight.

You'll find later architecture too: four-square Georgian buildings dating from the early 1800s, terraces and impressive town houses, built of local yellow brick and with sash windows. Then the arrival of the Industrial Revolution: look carefully and you'll still find the odd Victorian (1837-1901) factory or warehouse. You'll certainly see rows and rows and rows of Victorian terraced worker's 'cottages' both inside and outside the town walls.

Only a few of the town centre buildings are of red brick: the 'classic' building material for later Victorians. Spot the 'Dispensary' building near the Minster...it is pure Victorian Gothic-revival, with intricate brick patterning and twiddles, built to impress and to demonstrate the wealth of the city.

But above all this, high above the rivers Foss and Ouse, towering over the hunchbacked Medieval timber-framed houses. the workers' brick terraces and the modern monstrosities ....the jewel at the heart of the city: York Minster

York Minster itself is amongst the most evocative of all the English cathedrals I have visited so far, although I could not tell you exactly why. It is simply a stunning, magnificent example of human skill and devoted labour. No modern technology, no electrical tools, not even any metal scaffolding. This huge, superb building was constructed with basic tools and the skill and sweat of hundreds of men, setting those great blocks of stone in place from their wooden scaffolds.

Like almost all out ancient churches and cathedrals, York Minster stands on the site of a much earlier church and, if you go down into its bowels, you'll find that it lies on the site of a Roman structure as well. For it was in York that Roman Emperor Constantine declared the Roman Empire to be a Christian empire. That's why you'll find his statue outside the Minster.

You can climb upwards too. It's not a trip for the fearful: the passageways are narrow in parts, the outside walkways are both narrow and vertiginous. But if you choose the right weather you will be rewarded with magnificent views over the city and across the surrounding countryside. And even if the weather is poor, you will have a close-up view of the wonderful work created by those skilled men so long ago.

And, of course, there's the shopping. I'm not keen on shopping myself but I can absolutely see why York is so popular, drawing in visitors for a huge surrounding areas as well as from much further afield. Apart from all the usual chain stores there are so many independent shops selling everything you could possibly imagine, from specialist balsamic vinegars to handmade jewellery to local cheeses to hand-turned wooden bowls...and more...and more...

York is popular for shopping and hugely popular with visitors interested in history..and it also has a university with an excellent reputation. The combination of all three factors means that not only is there are huge variety of shopping available (including some excellent charity..'thrift'..shops) but a huge variety of places to eat and drink as well. There's a huge number of restaurants, cafes and bars...you will, literally, be 'spoilt for choice'.

I've been to York more times than I can count: both my children were at university there, and I still visit regularly. I always enjoy my visits and I always experience something new.

In my opinion, if you can visit only one English city (apart from London, I suppose) it must be York.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:History, architecture, eating, shopping.
  • Cons:Can be very crowded on summer weekends.
  • In a nutshell:Everything you could possibly wish for in an English city.
  • Last visit to York: May 2016
  • Intro Updated May 21, 2016
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Reviews (46)

Comments (18)

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Jan 22, 2015 at 3:43 AM

    J >>> Having read your story, I felt like visiting the Good Old England and starting my journey with York, of course...Thanks for your vivid description....

  • ettiewyn's Profile Photo
    Jun 10, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    Hi, I really enjoyed this page, fascinating and helpful tips - I added several to my trip planner! I am visiting York in summer and am looking forward to it so much!
    We are having a VT meeting in the El Piano, so I was happy to read your tip about it and that you enjoyed it :-) If you did not see the meeting so far: It would be great if you could come, I would love to meet you - but I see that York is not that close to Leicester...

  • Balam's Profile Photo
    Jun 30, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    Great Tips, we are off to York next Tuesday!

  • CALSF's Profile Photo
    Sep 24, 2009 at 2:35 PM

    We visited York on a whim, and we were very glad of the choice we made. York is definitely a 'must see' if one's in the north of England.

  • KiKitC's Profile Photo
    Sep 10, 2009 at 4:14 AM

    I'd be very glad not be a Scotsman in York. Fantastic tips. I really enjoyed reading about the historical side of this city. Thank you.

  • ranger49's Profile Photo
    Apr 28, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    Been putting some of your Tips in my "Folder" - discovered they are there already ...sure need a break. Hope I can stay clear of charity shops long enough to see York ; I buy most of my books there. Thanks for your Tips and help.

  • christine.j's Profile Photo
    Dec 17, 2007 at 9:12 PM

    I'm considering another trip to York, so your page - especially the off the beaten path tips - were very interesting.

  • Anchovy56's Profile Photo
    Mar 31, 2006 at 7:46 AM

    Tell me. Are there many Yorkshires about in York?

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Dec 18, 2005 at 10:08 AM

    fantastic page!

  • evaanna's Profile Photo
    Sep 1, 2005 at 1:08 PM

    Have dreamt of visiting York for years. When I do, I must definitely stay at the Golden Fleece - hope their resident ghosts won't mind.


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