Weekend breaks in York are a great way to catch up with history and spoil yourself at the same time. Here’s York resident, Mike Achim, with his thoughts on the old, original York.
“York is a terrific place to visit for a long holiday – but it’s an even better weekend getaway. Here are five reasons why.
1) It’s tiny.
The residents of York (including yours truly) find it faintly hilarious that York is a “city.” How many cities can you walk across in an hour? Although like many English settlements it’s swallowing up its neighbouring villages at a respectable lick, the city itself is of modest, medieval proportions exactly designed to fit your feet – perfect for weekenders on a tight schedule.
2) It’s dense.
Seriously crammed. Brimming with stuff. Food? If you’re lucky enough to hit one of the food festivals in Parliament Square (and you probably will – there’s one most weekends, plus the annual biggie,) then you’ll spend an hour walking less than 50 yards, enticed into penury by a feast of delectables.
Pubs your thing? Legend has it there’s one for every day of the year within the city walls. Restaurants, ancient buildings, thoroughly modern shopping, green spaces, and on and on – and you hardly have to go anywhere to see it all.
3) It’s on the tourist circuit.
Too frequently that’s seen as a bad thing – the queues, the infestations of shops selling tacky rubbish that disintegrates when the wind changes, the dumbed-down cuisine.
Forget that with York. There may be a touch of kitsch here and there, but you’re mostly faced with deeply competitive, though sometimes pricy, quality goods and services. The pinnacle of luxury is lunch (or elevenses) at Bettys, serving you a cream tea to truly die for – and the height of faux-history is the Ghost Hunt, winding through the narrowest streets after lights out, led by a ludicrously theatrical chap in a top hat.
Whatever you choose to do, you’re probably in good hands.
4) It’s all one big free historical tour.
George VI said that the history of York is “the history of England” – and a lot of that history is still around, free and above ground for all to see.
Imagine York as a careworn sock. Here and there, there are holes in the modern urban fabric (deliberate or unintentional) and through them you can see hundreds of years of history poking through.
Sadly we Yorkies tend to take this for granted, but at first encounter it’s enough to make you blink. Clamber onto the city walls, or dive down the umpteen snickelways* or the world-famous Shambles*. Stroll around and through the Minster*, feeling humbled beyond all measure.
York has one foot in the past – and when you visit it, you will too.
5) It’s central.
York is beloved by tourists because it’s the perfect stop-over. The city is on the East Coast Main Line, connecting London and Edinburgh via a series of fast trains. Booked well in advance, tickets to & from the capital can be vanishingly cheap (and horribly expensive if booked on the day).
The TransPennine Express can shuttle you back and forth from the internationally well-connected Manchester Airport just a few hours away – or you could use Leeds-Bradford or Doncaster to fly into. The city’s ringroad system keeps traffic from clogging the city centre (although parking is a perennial problem). And in the unlikely event that York loses its novelty and you’ve still time to burn, the North York Moors and the rugged east coast of Yorkshire is a short, cheap bus hop away…”
Mike Sowden is a freelance travel-writer and blogger. He blogs at Fevered Mutterings.
* Translation Guide for Non-Yorkies
Snickelway – collection of small streets and footpaths in the city of York.
Shambles – Europe’s best-preserved medieval street, mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Minster – York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in North Europe.