York overview

York is a true melting pot - where Viking and Roman history collide with bohemian cafes, and a Gothic Minster sits alongside charming independent shops.

Here are our suggestions for the top places for sightseeing, eating, drinking and shopping.

Things to do in York

The map of York is dotted with historic sites. This September why not take the kids on a tour of a handful of them in one, fun-packed day. Heritage Open Days is a nationwide initiative that sees historic sites open their doors for free. Explore Roman ghosts and 2,000 years of history at the Treasurer’s House, and step inside the Red Tower at Foss Island Road on the banks of the River Foss. Its distinctive red brick design outraged local stonemasons and even led to murder. 

Step inside these historic buildings in September. Dates and more info.

Visit the National Railway Museum and step back in time to the romance of the steam age. Climb aboard iconic, elegant steam engines such as the Mallard and imagine them hurtling down the tracks with steam pluming from the chimney. See the way royal train travel has changed over 100 years, from George V’s bath to the exacting requirements of Queen Victoria. 

More than 1,000 years ago York was ruled by Vikings – don’t leave the city without investigating this savage past. Back then York was known as Jorvik, and at the Jorvik Viking Centre you can journey through time to authentically experience the sights, sounds and smells of Viking York. This summer the Coppergate Alive! event celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Jorvik Centre. Learn how the artefacts unearthed in York painted a clearer picture of the Viking age in Britain.

Brave enough for a ghost walk? Stay close to your guide as he theatrically recounts all manner of grisly tales from the city’s long past; incidents that have taken place upon the very cobbles you’re walking along. Wince and cover you eyes as the Original Ghost Walk of York brings history to life.

Food and drink in York

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

On a sunny day you’re hard-pushed to find a better place for brunch than Bennett’s - with outdoor tables in the shadow of York Minster. Bask in the warm weather, admire the Minster and people-watch as tourists and locals amble past. TripAdvisor users voted Bennett’s the second best restaurant in York. Start your day with one of their classic full-English fry-ups or bacon ciabatta and you’ll see why.

If you like your food to be as healthy as it is tasty, then stop by hipster hangout Filmore & Union. In this deli-café tucked away on historic Low Petergate you’ll find a smorgasbord of sumptuous, super-healthy grub. Check out the make-your-own-wrap option: choose your protein, leaves and dressing and away you go. Think chicken, feta, lentil and bean mix, avocado and mixed leaves and countless other options. We also love the warm chicken salad with lemongrass, ginger, sweet potato, kale and tahini. Scrumptious. 

If it’s afternoon tea you’re craving it simply has to be Betty’s. The genteel tea rooms have stood on the grand St Helen’s Square since the 1930s. Relax is 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

Whether you’re after quirky, independent shops, designer brands or high street favourites, York has the lot. 

Find the perfect quirky gift for a cat lover at the Cat Gallery, and be spoilt for shabby chic homeware at Cath Kidston on Stonegate. 

Deserve a treat? Check out leather handbags favoured by the A-listers at Mulberry on Swinegate, browse everything from Paul Smith to Vivienne Westwood at Van Mildert on Blake Street and have a pluck on a banjo at folkies' favourite Red Cow Music.

Hidden York

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

Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro 
Much loved by locals, Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro is one of York’s best-kept secrets. With exposed brickwork and scrubbed wooden tables, Oscar’s is perfect for a family get together.

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, choose from 32 draft beers, ales and ciders.

The Sixties exhibition, York Castle Museum
York may be more commonly associated with ancient history, but this exhibition harks back to a time in living memory - the swinging sixties. If you remember the sixties you weren’t there, goes the old adage. From the Beatles and the Stones to mods and rockers, from Mary Quant to Dansette record players. It’s an education.

Upcoming events in York

York Farmers' Market (until 30 September) - Enjoy locally grown and sourced fruit, vegetables and more at the farmers’ market held in the city centre on the last Friday of the month.

Dry the River (October 5) - Acclaimed folk-rock revivalists bring their huge, force-of-nature sound to York Fibbers. Expect tunes from their new album Alarms in the Heart. 

Regeneration (September 23-27) The world premiere of the stage adaptation of Pat Barker’s Booker Prize-nominated World War 1 novel, Regeneration.

Enjoy your trip to York.