York was the last stop on our UK road trip. To be honest, I thought it was just a convenient place to stop for the night before making our way back to Suffolk, where Russell lives. We needed to get back so we only had one day to spend in York. Russell had been before, so he had some ideas of what he wanted to show me. I really was pleasantly surprised with all there was to see in York and pretty impressed with the history. In this post, I wanted to share my thoughts on the five best places to visit in York, England.
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York is located in the northeastern part of England, roughly halfway between London and Edinburgh. The River Ouse and the River Foss meet in York. It is the largest city in the English county of Yorkshire, with a population of about 200,000.
Five Historical Places to Visit in York
York is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in England. The history of the city goes all the way back to Roman time – it was founded in 71 AD. It is such a pretty city and I would love to go back to spend another weekend in York. For first-time visitors, I will share the five sites that I think are must-sees in York and definitely worth a visit.
The Shambles is arguably the most picturesque street in England. Located in the center of the city, it is York’s oldest street. Since the Shambles is mentioned in the Doomsday book, we know it is over 900 years old. Most of the buildings on the street date from the 15th century and they have been well preserved. It takes its name from the word “Shamel” which means stalls or benches where meat is displayed.
As I was walking down the street, I felt like I was transported back in time. I love how the buildings are sort of leaning towards each other and are still the traditional Tudor style. Today the Shambles is filled with shops and restaurants. We bought some fudge and chocolate, which York is known for.
York Minster is one of the largest and most important churches in England. This church was actually built very close to the place where Constantine the Great was proclaimed Roman Emperor in 306. You will find a statue of Constantine just outside the back part of the cathedral. York Minster is also the burial place of many noted Archbishops.
The church is impressive for other reasons besides the size and history. I love the Gothic style and details in the architecture. They have a mirror so you can admire the details in the ceiling without looking up. The stained glass is beautiful, some of it dating back to the 12th century. I also enjoyed the sculptures by the some of the tombs.
You can also explore the crypt, which is not as spooky as it sounds. There are cutouts in the floor where you can see the remains of the house of a commanding officer that stood on the site in the 4th century. You can also see older pieces of art including the York Virgin (12th century Madonna) and the Doomstone (purgatory relief, late 12th century). Quite a contrast to the crypt I visited in the Winchester Cathedral.
Since York Minster was on the top of our list, we tried to go first thing. Since it was Sunday, services were in process, and they told us to come back at noon. Be sure to check the York Minster opening hours when planning your day.
It costs £10 to visit the inside of York Minster. Your ticket is good for a whole year and includes a free guided tour, subject to availability. If you prefer, you can purchase a ticket for £15 that also allows you to climb the tower. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the tower while we were visiting York. I will have to do that on my next trip!
York City Walls Walk
In many cities, you may see the remains of city walls, but I think few are as well preserved as what you see in York. You can actually do a 2.6-mile walk around the city center on the wall! It’s not a difficult walk (mostly flat with a few stairs) and it is very scenic. Plus there are several places where you can exit so you don’t have to commit to the whole thing. Although I did see children doing this walk, there are some sections that are narrow (without any railing) and with the two-way traffic, I got a little nervous.
Even though the narrow sections made me nervous, I enjoyed the walk around the York city walls. It was a great way to see the city from a different perspective and get a little exercise at the same time. If you are visiting York, England, when the weather is nice, this city wall walk is a must!
If you are looking for a walk somewhere more rural, check out these great dog walks around Yorkshire.
St Mary’s Abbey
We kind of stumbled upon St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens as we were walking toward York Minster. The church that was originally on this site was founded in 1055. The Abbey is now just ruins, but impressive nonetheless. It was once the richest monastery in Northern England but then fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The riches were confiscated and the building was taken apart and left to collapse. Still, you can get a sense of the size and grandeur from the ruins. There is no charge to visit the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.
Clifford’s tower is located on the top of an earth mound that was part of York Castle constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068. The tower that stands here today was built in the late 13th century during the reign of Henry II (just like the Great Tower at Dover Castle). The four-lobed design of the tower is unusual and may be French in origin.
You must climb up some steep stairs to get to the entrance. Inside Clifford’s Tower, the first floor once had apartments and a chapel. The tower was also used as a jail, royal mint, and storage. After exploring the first floor of the tower, go up more steps and walk around the wall to get the best views. Admission charge for Clifford’s Tower is £5.40 or English Heritage members get in free. Click here for more information on English Heritage membership. There is also a special English Heritage pass for visitors where you can have access to all the sites for either 9 or 16 days. Click here for more information on the English Heritage Visitor Pass.
The York Pass
The York Pass can be a great way to save money when sightseeing in York and the surrounding area. Admission to York Minster, Clifford’s Tower and more are covered in the price of the pass. The York Pass gets you into over 40 popular attractions for free including the popular North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Castle Howard! You also get free guidebook packed with useful information and maps of the city for your trip to York. Plus, there are special offers that are only available to York pass holders for local restaurants and shops.
The tourist pass for York is available for 1, 2, or 3 days. You have to use the 2-day passes on consecutive days, but 3-day passes can be used within a 6 day period.
Is the York Pass worth it? It depends on how many places you plan on visiting while in York. The price of admission can add up quickly! Let’s take a one-day York pass as an example. It costs £40. If you went to York Minster, York Dungeon, York’s Chocolate Story, Clifford’s Tower, and did the sightseeing bus, it would save over £20 per person. Obviously, the savings grow the more attractions you visit. It’s also easier to save on the 2 and 3 day passes because the per day cost is lower.
Note: The York Pass does not include climbing the tower at York Minister.
Traveling to York
If you want to visit York from London, it’s best to take a train from London’s King’s Cross station to York. It’s a direct train and takes around 2 hours. Book in advance for the best price for the train from London to York. (Click here to check price and schedules).
Getting Around York
York is a walkable city. You don’t need a car to see these York attractions. Like other historic cities in England, I don’t recommend driving in York. We parked and then walked to everything. The York train station is centrally located as well.
So those are my recommendations for historic sites to see in York. People really don’t realize how much there is to see in England outside of London. York is a perfect example of that. It is definitely worth a visit or maybe several visits! My list of places to visit in England seems to be growing faster than I can check them off. Have you visited York? What were some of your favorite points of interest in York England?
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