• Gemma Corby

Have you visited these nine must-see places in York?

My first ever holiday was to North Yorkshire. I was nine. After travelling three hours in a hot and stuffy B-reg Austin Montego, reading and re-reading a book to my infant sister, that really was just a list of primary colours, (the book featured noseless Dutch rabbit Miffy – so she was obsessed with it), we eventually arrived in Yorkshire.

I felt as though I was somewhere truly exotic. Indeed, I was somewhere exotic. The big skies, and flat land of my native East Anglia had been replaced with rolling hills and stone walls. The places I had seen on TV in All Creatures Great and Small and The Last of the Summer Wine (I spent A LOT of time with grandparents) had suddenly sprung to life. I couldn’t have been more excited.

We were there for a week and spent just one day in York, but it made such an impression that I couldn’t wait to return; I have visited York three times since. Here are some of mine, my sister’s (mercifully, she no longer makes me read the Miffy book) and my nine-year old niece’s favourite things to do:

York Minster
York Minster - most famous for being Ellie Goulding's wedding venue

1. The Minster

This really is a no-brainer. The Cathedral and Metropolitan Church of Saint Peter in York, aka York Minster, towers majestically over the city, usually with a swarm of people buzzing around its base, taking selfies. The interior is just as impressive as the exterior, especially when the sunlight pours in through the stained-glass windows. The Minster is famous for many reasons, but most importantly it was Ellie Goulding’s wedding venue in 2019.

You currently need to pre-book in order to visit, and you must wear a face-covering. When I visited the toilet was operating a one in, one out policy (exceptions were made for adults with children). So there’s no time for bathroom selfies, not unless you want some serious death-stares when you emerge to a desperate looking queue of people twenty minutes later.

Click here to be directed to their website.

2. The Jorvik Viking Centre

Another obvious choice, and for good reason. It’s great fun and teaches you so much about Viking life in Britain. Who knew that the Vikings invented automatons, for example? My family visited again last year (this time without me, boo!) and my niece spotted a particularly life-like robot-Viking. At the same time, another eagle-eyed youngster called him out as the real human he was. Yes, that’s right, those sneaky people at the Jorvik Centre plant actual people among the automatons. My sister was relieved, as moments earlier she was debating whether to point out the “hot-looking” Viking to our mum. At least she can sleep easy, knowing that she doesn’t fancy cyber-Vikings – that would be a very niche fetish.

I would recommend booking online for this popular attraction, regardless of a global pandemic…And look out for the real humans among the automatons!

Click here to be directed to their website.

3. Barley Hall

Nobody knew that Barley Hall existed, until 1980. I mean no one recently, obviously the original occupants were more than aware of its presence. This medieval building had been hidden by a seventeenth century façade and was only rediscovered when scheduled for demolition. It was bought by the York Archaeological Trust in 1987, excavated and restored, re-opening to the public in 1993. My sister and niece love this place; pre-covid, there were lots of hands-on activities for children, however this of course has had to stop. It is still great fun though; you can learn about the everyday lives of medieval people, including their attitudes towards early forms of experimental science, magic and alchemy.

You can pre-book tickets via their website. Click here to be directed.

National Railway Museum York
Dreaming of Great Yarmouth at the National Railway Museum

4. The National Railway Museum

If you think that this place is filled with train geeks insisting that you say “locomotive” rather than “train”, then you’d be right. However, there are plenty of “normal” people too, as there’s something for everyone at the National Railway Museum. I have visited twice, and I would happily keep going back; even if it is just to say “train” loudly while watching 50% of the people around me wince. You have to get your kicks somehow.

Click here to be directed to their website.

The Shambles York
The Shambles: be prepared to appear in other people's photos

5. The Shambles

The Shambles is really pretty and well worth visiting, especially as there is a fudge-shop located there. In recent years it seems to have been taken over by Harry Potter fans (I am not sure why – is there a connection? Or is it just because of its olde worldie aesthetic?) and Instagrammers.

6. Walking the walls

You can walk the medieval walls and admire the views of York. Great for burning off a few calories, so you can consume that slice of cake at Betty’s guilt-free (see number nine). There are new, restricted entry and exit points (see their website for details) and you have to walk around in a clockwise direction.

Click here to be directed to their website.

York Medieval Walls
Watch out for imps leaping from alcoves in the medieval walls of York.

7. The Stonegate Bear Shop

Children and adults alike love this shop for obvious reasons. It does not exclusively sell bears, you can choose from a wide array of cuddly creatures – including some less traditional options, like octopuses, clams and plankton (if my memory serves me correctly).

Click here to be directed to their website.

Stonegate Bear Shop York
My sis and niece prior to blowing the family fortune on soft toys

8. Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

This is one of the oldest medieval buildings in the country. My sister informed me, having listened attentively to the curator, that the timbers used to construct it were saplings during the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. I love a mind-blowing fact like that.

From 8th September 2020 the Hall is open daily with the option of a free audio or written guide; it is probably more suitable for older children (12+), as it might go over the heads of younger ones. The café is also open everyday (10am to 4pm).

Click here to be directed to their website.

Betty's York St. Helen's Square
Get some cinnamon toast in your life and in your digestive system

9. Betty’s Tearoom

Betty’s is tearoom utopia. Everything about it is perfect; from the delicious food to its overall aesthetic (the waiters and waitresses look like they’ve stepped off the set of Miss Marple). Their cinnamon toast is my go-to dish – but basically everything is scrummy. There are two branches: St. Helen’s Square and Stonegate. The Stonegate branch is in an older building, and feels more traditional, however the café is currently closed, although you can order take-out. St. Helen’s Square is open as usual – you do not need to book, but be prepared to queue, as usual. They are serving bookable afternoon teas in the upstairs Belmont Room.

Click here to be directed to their website.

Betty's York St. Helen's Square
Betty's, St. Helen's Square