York: explore a city with two millennia of history

Step off the train at York and you’ll find romantic cobbled streets steeped in history. It’s also alive with theatre, charming independent shops and a wealth of foodie-friendly cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Here are our suggestions for the top places for sightseeing, eating, drinking and shopping in this North Yorkshire city.

Things to do in York

Fall under the spell of the steam age and beyond with 300 years of railway history at the National Railway Museum.  Climb aboard iconic trains of the past and delve into the travel systems of yesteryear.

2 fantastic trains to see at the NationalRailwayMuseum:

Mallard: Built in 1938 in an unmistakable aerodynamic design, the Mallard is still the fastest steam locomotive in history. It set the record with speeds of nearly 126mph more than 75 years ago.

Shinkansen: Another superfast train from a different era, Shikansen was the first bullet train to run on Japan’s high-speed rail network. It was built in 1974 and can reach speeds of almost 200mph.

The museum is also currently celebrating trainspotting – the bookish yet passionate hobby that has both captivated and infuriated for decades. You can hear recollections of the railways from time-served trainspotters and marvel at nostalgia-soaked artefacts and trinkets.

This year also marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War One. Head to 1914: When the world changed forever at York Castle Museum where you can learn the story of the Great War through the eyes of Yorkshire folk.

You’ll find out about the massive sacrifice of a generation, learn what it might have been like signing up with the recreated recruitment office and discover life on the front line in a recreated trench.

And why not spend a crisp, winter afternoon walking along the ancient walls that surround York city centre? The stone walls you see today were built in medieval times, on the remains of earlier defences built by the Romans and later the invading Vikings.

Follow them around the city, stopping off at each of the gates along the way, which were once the only points of entry into the city. Goods entering the gates in these times were charged a tax, known as murage.

At Walmgate Bar you’ll find a barbican, portcullis and inner doors still intact, as well as a stone archway dating back to the 12th century. Nearby the still-imposing tower of Mickelgate Bar marks the location where royals and London officials once entered York. The heads of traitors were also displayed on stakes at Mickelgate Bar.

York at Christmas is truly magical. Browse German markets while sipping a cup of mulled wine and shop for gifts on cobbled streets twinkling with lights. If you take a short 10-minute bus ride out from York city centre you’ll find Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland at York Designer Outlet. Expect Scandinavian-style wooden cabins selling winter fare, traditional fairground rides and an outdoor ice rink. You can even meet Santa in his grotto. 

Food and drink in York

York is a foodie’s dream, with something for everyone. 

There’s nothing like a steaming bowl of pasta or a hot, blistered pizza on a dark winter’s night. Step inside Il Paradiso del Cibo on Walmgate and the aromas will hit you square in the face. This is rustic, fuss-free Italian grub, and it’s cherished by locals for its authentic backstreet trattoria experience. The food is sublime and it’s always busy.

The Blue Bicycle is a place for food lovers and romantics alike. There’s plenty to enjoy, from its evocative, bohemian name, to its swooning riverside location and kitsch blue bicycle parked outside.

And we’ve not even mentioned the food, which is something else.

Pull up a pew at candlelit wooden table and choose from delights such as chargrilled sirloin of Yorkshire beef with potato fondant and roast fillet of halibut with apple, leek and crayfish pakora. 

If it’s afternoon tea you’re craving it simply has to be Betty’sThe genteel tea rooms have stood on the grand St Helen’s Square since the 1930s. You can relax in the sumptuous, ornate surroundings – said to have been inspired by the interior of the Queen Mary, one of the grandest steam liners of the early 20th century.

Take afternoon tea in true Betty’s fashion – dainty sandwiches filled with egg mayonnaise and free-range chicken, a pot of tea, cakes and a scone with jam and cream.

Shopping in York

York has everything from high-street favourites to independent shops and vintage boutiques. 

Here are 4 of our favourite areas:

Coney Street: High-street heaven. Next, JD Sports, H&M, Mango, TK Maxx and Lush are among the names to be found here.If you like the high street, you’ll like Coney Street.

Stonegate: The oldest street in York. Amble down its cobbles for charming independent gift shops and antiques dealers. The Antiques Centre is a real treasure trove for lovers of vintage jewellery

Fossgate: The hipster capital of York. Find arch vintage shops brimming with retro clothes – Bowler Vintage is particularly hip – as well as the fantastically named foodie shop the Hairy Fig and its surroundings antique bookshops.     

York Designer Outlet: Love high-end labels? A 10-minute bus ride from York city centre takes you to the York Designer Outlet.  Here you can find everything from Margaret Howell and Hobbs to Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith, and all at a reduced price. 

Hidden York

Here are two spots in York you might not have heard of…

Café No 8: Food that’s both fuss-free and elegant takes centre stage at this much-loved York bistro. Expect hustle and bustle, intimacy, candlelight and splendid smells as you take a seat to browse the menu, spilling over with locally sourced artisan ingredients.

After a busy morning’s shopping in York, the smoked chicken, avocado and red pesto sandwich is lip-smackingly sublime.

The York Tap: Make time for a pint at the York Tap before your train home. Nestled at York Station, the Tap is like stepping back in time to a bygone era of the traditional pub – all heavy varnished wood and ornate tiled floors.

But it’s all about the beer, really. A hidden gem for ale connoisseurs, you can choose from 32 draft beers, ales and ciders.

Enjoy your trip to York.