York is the most quintessentially English place we've visited so far. It's a superbly well preserved medieval city with cobbled streets, gothic architecture and independent boutiques. You'll see classic Georgian shop fronts with small panes and narrow glazing bars, as well as timber-framed houses that withstood the test of time. Historical houses will still have their original wood beams, with interiors making you feel like you've stepped into a 17th-century England.
York is a wonderful city to visit year-round and has so many great things to do, visit and experience. It's one of the best cities to visit in the UK, especially if you are an old romantic who loves a bit of dark academia.
We worked with Visit York to create a guide to all the best things to do in York. You'll find our favourite accommodation, our top picks for attractions in York as well as the best restaurants and experiences you should add to your trip itinerary.
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The best things to do in York
Whether you have just one day or a whole week to explore York, here are our top picks for the best things to do in York.
- Walk down the Shambles, especially early morning or late evening.
- Head to The York Ghost Merchants to purchase your unique York ghost
- Book an afternoon tea at Plush cafe in their garden room
- Ho on a ghost tour with a knowledgeable local
- Purchase some local produce at the Shambles Market, a daily market held in the centre of York
- Indulge in the best hot chocolate from Cocoa Joe's
What to do in York, England
York is one of the most spectacular cities we visited in England. So many elements reminded us of the atmospheric Harry Potter movies. It's almost like walking into a magical city, full of surprises. Besides, did you know that York was named the most haunted city in Europe by International Ghost Research Foundation? There's so much history to be discovered at every step of the way.
Visit the Shambles
The Shambles is the star attraction in York and the most iconic street in the city. It looks much like Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, but with real shops and local products. It is, without a doubt, one of the most picturesque streets you'll walk on. You'll find an actual Harry Potter store here, but make sure to arrive early and queue as it gets quite popular. There is an authentic sweet store located here, and some jeweller shops selling Whitby jet stones.
Dare to take a left or a right from time to time, to discover some atmospheric side streets, with wooden beams and timber frames. Some of the buildings date back to the 15th century, so there's plenty to photograph.
You Could Travel Tip: Visit first thing in the morning, before the stores open, to get some beautiful pictures of the street. During Autumn you'll often get foggy mornings, so you can really experience an atmospheric English street. As an alternative, you can arrive late at night, when the street is pretty empty, especially if there's some rain.
Shop local at the Shambles market
A stone throw away from The Shambles is the well known Shambles market. Find freshly baked bread, interesting plants or English souvenirs. There's also a Shambles Food Court inside the market, offering delicious food every day of the week. Every week on Friday there's a lunchtime social where you eat and listen to local musicians.
Did you know: Shambles Market is a historic market situated in the heart of Europe's largest single pedestrianised area.
Walk the city walls
One of the most exciting things to do in York is to walk the city walls, a circuit on England's best-preserved medieval walls. The walls are 4 metres high so you will see some gorgeous vistas of the city from the top. The original walls were built around 71 AD by Romans, but much has happened since.
You can walk the full circuit on the city walls to get a sense of York, or, if you prefer, you can do small sections at a time. Some parts of the wall offer beautiful vistas of English gardens and the York Minster in the background.
There's is no entry fee to access the city walls so find one of the many gates to the walls and start walking.
Grab brunch at the Brew and Brownie
Brew and Brownie has so many fantastic reviews, we couldn't possibly skip it. It offers a great selection of sweets with craft coffee and tea drinks and a brilliant food menu that caters for vegans as well. The place is very warm and welcoming with fabulous service and decent prices.
Needless to say, it does get pretty popular, but it's well worth the wait if you wish to be seated. For sweet treats and a coffee on the go, you can just skip the queues, make your purchase, then explore the streets of York with a brownie in your hand!
Address: 5 Museum St, York YO1 7DT
Admire the York Minster
Gothic architecture lovers, a visit to the York Minster is a must. It's considered one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world and it's been at the centre of Christianity since the 7th century. This ancient building is a wonder with its handcrafted stone and medieval stained glass.
Explore its halls and marvel at the grandeur of this cathedral. Look up and admire the vaults and see all the historical glass stained throughout the building. The chapter house is especially beautiful in our opinion. Don't forget to book your tickets online!
Learn about Vikings at Jorvik Viking Centre
Prepared to be amazed by the Jorvik Viking Centre! Book your tickets online and pick your time slot, then go on an adventure back in time. The Viking centre is not like any other museum, it's a journey in a cable car, with great narration in your language. You'll see and even smell the days when the Vikings lived in York!
One of the houses at the centre is erected on the very same spot an original Viking house existed. On your way out, stop at the gift shop to grab a unique souvenir.
Experience a ghost tour
York has so many ghost stories, but to truly immerse yourself in the experience, go on an authentic ghost tour. There's plenty to pick from, and they are all wonderful in their own way. For a witty, theatrical ghost tour, go for Dorian Deathly. For a spookier version go for Mad Alice.
You'll hear horror stories of former residents, plague-ridden streets and scary houses. It's a very enjoyable and much-recommended thing to do in York!
Be spooked by the York Dungeons
Want even more gruesome history? Then grab your tickets for the York Dungeons. You'll walk through history and meet wonderful actors ready to interact with you. It's a fun experience for everyone and an opportunity to truly smell how York must have smelt like during the plague, hear tales from the past and experience real innovations.
Visit the Art Gallery
Explore the York Art Gallery which offers free entry to the public. Due to the current circumstances, you must pre-book your ticket online, but the entry remains free. For art enthusiasts, this is a must-do in York. The collection spans more than 600 years worth of paintings ranging from 14th Century Italian panels and 17th Century Dutch masterpieces to 19h century French impressionism art.
Buy your unique spirit from York
Go to The York Ghost Merchants located on The Shambles and pick a unique spirit that calls to you. No two ghosts are the same and all merchandise is created on the premises. You'll find hidden cabinets and have the opportunity to take a special picture of your ghost. The whole purchasing is a ceremony. This is a unique experience in York as there are no two shops like this in England.
This is one of the most popular shops in York so make sure to arrive just before opening times to queue.
Explore York's shopping streets
York is perfect for shopping thanks to its traditional storefronts which make the experience all the better. Find unique boutiques with local merchandise and purchase great things from York. There are so many cute shops and one of the best places to hunt for things is Shopgate. Explore the winding medieval streets all day long, even if it's just for window shopping.
You'll also find well-known brands but also unique Yorkshire based stores you won't find in any other region.
Did you know: The suffix "gate" you see on many York streets comes from the Norse word "gata" (pronounced garter) which means street. So for example Stonegate is actually "Stone Street".
Go on a cat trail
To discover the city in a fun way, go on a lucky cat trail. As you walk around the town you will spot special cats that hold an important significance to the York residence. Statues of cats have been placed on buildings in York for two centuries. Some have survived since medieval times. The original cats were placed to frighten away rats to stop the spread of the plague. They were also believed to ward off evil spirits and bestow good luck.
This trail is free, self-guided and the cat trail map is available here.
Book afternoon tea at Plush Cafe
Nothing is more English than enjoying an afternoon tea in a rose garden. Book your afternoon tea session at the Plush cafe and pick one of their three gorgeously decorated rooms. We loved their garden room with beautiful rope swings and roses everywhere. For more colour, stay in the Bohemian room which looks so cosy with pillows everywhere.
The Plush cafe has amazing and innovative cocktails and the afternoon tea is brilliant, with large portions for you to skip lunch. They cater for vegans as well. We got the vegan afternoon tea and it was very tasty!
Get creative at the Imaginarium
Head over to the Imaginarium for a magical retail experience. Located in the centre of York, this lifestyle store has an array of unique articles for sale ranging from gothic candles, through floating hot air balloons, to delightful terrariums. Find the most unusual pieces and pretty little items that will give your home a sense of wonder.
There is fantastic art to be discovered and gifts like no other, specially curated by local enthusiasts. The Imaginarium is run by The Yorkshire Soap company which we recommend for soaps and bathing products from the region.
Address: 6 Blake St, York YO1 8QG
Get a sweet treat at Cocoa Joe's
Indulge in the best cup of hot chocolate in York, at Cocoa Joe's, an indie business with a mission to make awesome chocolate drink specialities. You'll never be so spoilt for choice, as Cocoa Joe's has so many different chocolates to pick from. You can even buy chocolate nibbles to enjoy after your hot chocolate.
You Could Travel tip: Go for the sweet and creamy Ruby chocolate that has a sharp fruity finish. A unique chocolate experience in the heart of York.
Location: 11 Museum St, York YO1 7DT
Explore York's pubs
Historic York is home to over 365 pubs, they say one for every day of the year. We recommend enjoying a proper Yorkshire ale on tap, alongside a British traditional dinner. There are many craft beers to pick from, as well as traditional brews you might be accustomed to. Expect a vibrant nightlife in York to suit all tastes. Don't worry if you don't want beer, there are plenty of Yorkshire gins for you to try and the friendly bartenders can create a special cocktail just for your taste.
Did you know: You can go on a fun York trail where proper rules and regulations apply. You will need to purchase at least one-half pint of real ale or cider during your visit to receive a stamp from the pub. In the end, you can collect stamps from 12,16 or 20 different pubs.
Taste the Grey Lady Gin
York is such a cool place it even has its own gin distillery called the York Gin. They are proud independent makers that still use traditional methods perfected over centuries. York Gin has six world-class gins some of which won Gold medals at top spirit competitions.
You Could Travel recommends the Grey Lady York Gin with Earl Grey tea and extra citrus. This gin has a secret: pea flower creates a haunting blue-grey hue, to remind us all of York's most famous ghost: the Grey Lady.
Location: 12 Pavement, York YO1 9UP
Stay at the historic Judge’s Lodging
After so much to do in York, you will want to come back to a restful place that has gorgeous rooms and comfortable beds. We recommend booking a room at the Judge's Lodging. The Judge’s Lodging is not just a beautiful and tastefully decorated accommodation, but one with history too. We are in York after all, so it's only natural that every place has a story to tell.
The Judge’s Lodging was used by judges when they attended the sessions of the Assize Courts which were held four times each year in York. These were criminal courts held for the most serious crimes in the country. The judges were of the Kings Bench Division of the High Court of Justice.
The most striking thing about the accommodation is the well-preserved Georgian oak staircase. In the dining room, hidden behind a secret panel, concealed by a window shutter, is a chamber pot, which was for the use of the Judges and other gentlemen diners.
You Could Travel recommends dinner at the Judge’s Lodging as well. An exquisite modern British man with traditional dishes but innovative creations as well.
Dine at Los Moros
For an exciting dinner in the centre of York, make a reservation at Los Moros and indulge in some modern Northern African cuisine. Mix and match their small plates and indulge in one of the best meals in York. The restaurant has a pleasant ambience, great vibe and really good service.
Los Moros menu is ever-changing and they are proud of their in-house made pickles, preserved lemons and chermoula. All other ingredients are sourced locally from Yorkshire based businesses.
You Could Travel recommends the Zymurgorium Turkish Delight Gin Liqueur, an incredible spirit that makes a sweet cocktail. We never tasted anything like it before, and it really had the perfect flavour of rose Turkish Delight.
Location: 15-17 Grape Ln, York YO1 7HU
You now know what to do in York and how to make the most out of your visit. With so many attractions, most of which being free, you can see why this city is so popular with local and international tourists as well. Your visit to York will be a lot of fun, and we can't wait to hear all about it in the comments section below. Safe travels!