Visiting York: The Ultimate York Travel Guide

If you’re visiting York then keep reading because this travel guide will give you everything you need to know to plan the perfect trips and get the most out of your visit. From visiting the iconic York Minster, to eating in cosy cafes, and walking the historic city walls.

We cover key essentials like what to pack for your visit, how many days you need to explore the city or what is the best time to visit York. Discover the best ways to get to York and how to get around while you’re here, along with recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do. York is a city steeped in history and charm with a blend of heritage and modernity that work together to create the perfect city break destination.

What’s in this post

If there’s a part of this guide that you’re particularly interested in you can skip straight there by clicking on that section in the contents below. If not, then continue reading to learn all about visiting York.

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Key things you need to know. 

  • Parking can be limited and costly in York so either book accommodation with parking or use one of the Park and Ride options located around the city.
  • York is a safe city but its still impacted by the same crime as any big city so be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings safe from pickpockets
  • York is a busy city, even more so if you visit during the period when the Christmas market is open. Unless you’re specifically visiting to see the Christmas market I’d recommend avoiding a visit during November and December.
  • Restaurants get booked up early so make dinner reservations in advance, especially if you visit on a weekend. You can find our recommendations on where to eat in York further down in this post.
  • The shambles is one of the most popular areas of York but it’s very narrow and can become cramped so head there as early as possible to enjoy the history and shops before the crowds arrive.
  • To get the best views of York either walk the city walls, head to Clifford’s Tower, or climb the tower in the York Minster.

The history of York

York is full of history at every turn from its beginnings with the Roman Empire in 71 AD, through to the Viking invasion in 866 AD when the city was renamed Jorvik. The Viking reign in York’s history was so long lasting that it’s still celebrated today with the Jorvik Viking Centre and Valhalla bar.

The city’s mediaeval history is when York was fortified with a rebuilt city wall, reinforced gates and keep (now known as Cliffords Tower). It was during this time that the York Minster that we can see today was built, between 1220 – 1472. Nowadays you can still visit Cliffords Tower or walk along most of the city walls, the York Walls website offers a full map and suggested route.

Best time to visit York

York is an incredible city no matter when you decide to visit, however there are better times to visit than others depending on what you want to do during your time here. One key thing to remember before deciding when to visit York is that as it’s in the north of England there’s no way to guarantee the weather and you could end up with rain for your whole visit, even in the summer!

Spring

Spring covers the months March, April and May and is a good time to visit York if you want long walks in the crisp spring air with less tourists and people around. The average temperature is around 13°c (55°f) with a strong likelihood of rain. There are many fun events to experience throughout York in the spring, including the York Literature Festival or the York Chocolate Festival in March, and the Easter Eggstravaganza Trail throughout the Easter weekend in March/April.

Summer

Summer covers the months June, July and August and is a good time to visit York if you want the best chance of beautiful sunshine, picnics in the park and relaxing in a beer garden overlooking the River Ouse. The average temperature is around 21°c (70°f) with less chance of rain. There are many fun events to experience throughout York in the summer, including York Pride or the York Whisky Club’s Summer Festival in July, and the York River Art Market or York Bookshop Crawl in August.

Autumn

Autumn covers the months September, October and November and is a good time to visit York if you want to avoid the summer crowds but still visit before it gets too cold. The average temperature is around 14°c (57°f) with a strong likelihood of rain. There are many fun events to experience throughout York in autumn, including the York Food and Drink Festival that runs through September and October, the York Marathon and halloween ghost walks in October, and the Christmas lights switch on in November.

Winter

Winter covers the months December, January and February and is a good time to visit York if you want to spend the chilly afternoons snuggled in a cosy cafe after walking around the Christmas market that runs throughout the city streets. It is incredibly busy in York when the Christmas market is open so if you’re not a fan of crowds this is something to consider. The average temperature is around 7°c (45°f) with a guarantee of rain at some point during your stay. There are many fun events to experience throughout York in the winter, including the York Christmas Market in December and the Jorvik Viking Festival in February.

How many days should I spend visiting York, UK?

York is quite compact so it’s possible to see the highlights of York in one day. Having said this, one day will feel quite rushed so to fully explore on a slower paced visit then plan a visit to York for two or three days. If you have time and you want to explore York City centre and the surrounding Yorkshire countryside then five to seven days is best.

How to get to York, England

York is based in the county of Yorkshire which is towards the north west of England, just over 200 miles north of London. Being quite central, York is ideally located to get to by car or train. Unless you’re planning on exploring rural Yorkshire, train is the most convenient way to travel as parking can be costly.

Getting to York by car

York is close to three main roads making it easy to reach by car from most of the country. You can get to York via the M1 or A1(M) that run from north to south and the M62 that runs east to west. Each of these connect to the A64 that goes to York. If you’re driving to York it’s worth paying more for a hotel or apartment that includes parking as it can be costly to park in York centre. There is also the option of the Park & Ride with several around the outskirts of the city, this allows you to park in a secure car park at a lower cost and get the designated Park & Ride bus into the city centre.

Getting to York by train

York is well connected by train across the UK making it an ideal trip if you’re not renting a car while in England. Three easy and popular cities to get to York via train are London, Manchester and Edinburgh. You can get from London to York on a direct train in around 2 hours, from Manchester to York on a direct train in 1.5 hours, and from Edinburgh on a direct train in 3.5 hours.

How to get around York, England

York is a very walkable city and there’s really no need to use a car or public transport, especially if you’re visiting to explore the highlights within the city centre. In fact, you can get from one side to the other in just 15 minutes or walk the entire city walls in two hours.

Where to stay in York

York has many options to consider when you’re looking for accommodation, from boutique hotels to independent apartments there is somewhere to suit any budget and taste. Use the map below to explore all of the options available on Booking.com

 

Where to eat in York

Betty’s: if there was ever a legacy of York then it’s Betty’s! The ultimate bakery with cakes, handmade chocolates, and the traditional Yorkshire fat rascal. Even if it’s a little pricey for your budget it’s worth walking past to take a look at the window displays that give Harrods a run for their money.

Rustique: a firm favourite with locals, Rustique provides French cuisine at an incredibly reasonable cost, even more so if you visit when their set menu is available. Our personal favourite is the Poulet Façon Bretonne which is chicken and mushrooms served with a creamy wine and tarragon sauce. 

Impossible: this instagrammable spot is perfect for a nice meal to celebrate your time in York.The food and decor is stunning with a chic and modern feel. After you’ve finished you can enjoy a few cocktails in the luxury pink themed bar attached, aptly named Pink.  

Drift-In: if you’re looking for fresh coffee and all the pancakes, bagels and french toast you can ask for then head to Drift-In for breakfast. Our personal favourite is the halloumi and avocado toasted bagel.

Newgate Coffee Bar: built in 1337, this may look like just a quaint cafe but it’s one of the oldest (and most haunted) houses in York. Stop in for a lunch of wraps, sandwiches and cake, and read all about the resident ghost John William Nevison!

Things to do in York, England

York Minster

Built between 1220 and 1472 there is something breathtakingly beautiful about the York Minster, especially when you consider the amount of detail that went into every stone or pane of glass. There are many things to do inside the York Minster, including the crypt, the undercroft museum, and climbing the 275 steps of the tower to get the most incredible of views of the City of York.

City Walls and Cliffords Tower

Experience the history of York by walking the city walls and exploring Cliffords Tower. A great walk in York is to walk the old city walls. Whilst they’re not completely intact you can walk at the top of the wall for most of the journey and continue along the guided path in the areas where the walls no longer stand. You can start and finish the city walls trail at Cliffords Tower, the largest remaining part of the York Castle that dates back to 1069. It’s well worth paying to visit the inside where you can walk up to the rooftop terrace to get excellent views over the city of York. 

Jorvik Viking centre

If you want to get a true impression of what York was like during the Viking occupation then you should head to the Jorvik Viking Centre. Discover the lives of the inhabitants of 10th century York on the site where excavations have revealed houses, workshops and backyards that were lived in during the Viking era.

Shambles

The shambles is a must see if you’re visiting York. As one of the best preserved mediaeval shopping streets in Europe you can almost imagine how it would have looked throughout the years. These winding narrow streets are full of cafes and independent shops that you could get lost in. What makes the shambles even more popular is that many consider it to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films, you can even shop in ‘the shop that must not be named’! Trust me when I say to get there early as once it gets past 10am it’s absolutely packed making it difficult to walk down with queues out of every shop.

Shopping

York is well known for some great shopping, from the standard high street shop to designer names, and even little independent shops selling things that you just won’t find anywhere else. There’s shopping to suit any style and budget in York with plenty of cafes to keep you refreshed and hydrated! One shop not to be missed is The Society of Alchemists in the shambles. It’s full of weird and wonderful things like skull candles, spider bath bombs and cauldron wax melters.

Day trips from York

North York Moors and Whitby Day Tour

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Moors, Whitby and the Yorkshire Steam Train

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Yorkshire Dales Day Trip

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Private Tour: Yorkshire Dales, Fell Valley and Castle

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Private Tour: Lake District from York

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Windermere: the Brontes, Withering Heights and Jane Eyre Tour

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What to pack for a trip to York?

There are a few key things that you’ll need to pack for a trip to York no matter what time of year you visit and you guessed it, they’re all weather related! Firstly, you’ll need a good pair of shoes as you’ll do a fair amount of walking, if they’re waterproof too then even better. If you’re visiting in the summer then bring a light weight raincoat just in case you get a wet day. If you’re visiting in spring or autumn then a raincoat and layers are ideal, this way you can layer up or down depending on what the weather is like. If visiting in the winter then you should park scarf, gloves and a thick winter coat. 

Is York a walkable city?

York is a very walkable city and it’s super easy to get around on foot. Everything is close by so it takes less than 15 minutes from one side of the city walls to the other. There’s really no need to use public transport or taxis if you’re not planning on leaving the city centre.

Summary: complete guide to visiting York

In conclusion, visiting York offers a huge amount of history, culture, and fun to be explored. As you plan your trip to York, keep these three top tips in mind to make the most of your visit:

Plan Ahead: Booking accommodations, dining reservations and attractions in advance is essential, especially if you’re visiting during the peak summer period or when the Christmas market is open.

Be Flexible with Your Schedule: kind of contradictory to the first tip but while it’s important to have a plan, be open to unexpected discoveries and spontaneous adventures in York. Leave room to get lost in the shambles, explore one of the many independent shops, and have a picnic outside the minster.

Engage with the Locals: York’s friendly residents have a wealth of knowledge and can offer insider tips on hidden gems and local favourites. Strike up conversations, ask for recommendations, and get to know the community spirit of York.

I hope these tips help you make the most out of your trip whether it’s for one day a whole week!

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