From northern Britain's Roman capital to Viking hub and a medieval marvel, York has been many things in its long history. Much of its heritage remains intact, and superb museums provide a window onto what didn't survive, giving this relaxed, self-confident city a timeless quality. If you love history, you'll love York.
But there's more than history to enjoy in modern York. The city has successfully styled itself as the North's shopping capital, and there are few more atmospheric places to shop for fashion, food, and craft souvenirs than York's walled center.
Above all, York is easygoing and friendly. The locals will always recommend their favorite pub (out of many highlights), the nightlife is great, and you can rent a car and be in the middle of a wild, windswept moor in minutes.
The heart of York is (still) surrounded by walls built over a thousand years ago. In fact, parts of the masonry date back to 71 AD, when the Romans fortified their northern capital. You can walk the walls, and climb down to check out what's inside: a vibrant mix of pubs, markets, churches, and museums.
York has seen many different eras, from Roman rule to Danish domination and medieval splendor and Victorian railway hub. You can find out about all of it at museums like the Jorvik Viking Center (dealing with Viking York), the Yorkshire Museum (with its Roman exhibits), and Barley Hall, a reconstructed 15th-century home.
For many visitors, York and beer go together like a hand and glove. Breweries like York Brewery, Samuel Smith's, and Black Sheep export across the world. It's something about the water of the Ouse, or the skill of local brewers. Either way, the results are delicious. As are the products of York's blooming restaurant scene, from the Star Inn the City to Mumbai Lounge.
Get outside York if you can: it's stunning. Visit the home of the Bronte sisters, walk the desolate moors, hike to waterfalls like Mallyan Spout, and duck into country pubs for a warm welcome and some hearty Yorkshire cuisine.
York Minster is an incredible work of medieval architecture, with its cavernous interior, beautiful Gothic facade, and dazzling Great West Window. Visit early to avoid the crowds, but expect to linger in this serene, inspiring place of worship.
York is probably at its best in late spring and early fall. April and May are great times to go. The weather may be chilly at times, but the narrow streets won't be jammed with tourists and you should find some space to relax in the Minster. Late September and October are almost as good. Both times of year also offer fine hiking weather, although summer will suit those who plan to camp on the moors.
Many visitors from North America choose to fly into London Heathrow or Gatwick, and then fly to Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA). From there, you can take the 757 bus into Leeds (£3.80, 30 minutes), and catch the train to York. Fares vary, but short notice off-peak tickets will cost around £13 and the journey lasts for 25 minutes. Taxis are an alternative (expect to pay £50), but driving is probably a better option. There are Enterprise and Avis rental outlets at the airport and the journey time is approximately an hour.
Getting to York by train is simple and (usually) fast. If you fly into London's airports, you can catch the train from King's Cross St. Pancras into one of the country's most attractive stations. Expect the journey to take around two hours, if you catch an express service. Operators include Virgin Trains and Grand Central.
If you are driving to York from Leeds Bradford Airport, take the A658 and then change onto the A59. From London, all you need to do is catch the A1 (M), which leaves the M25 orbital motorway at Borehamwood. Those coming from Manchester should take the M62 across the Pennines, take the A1 (M) northbound at Knottingley, then leave it at junction 44, to take the A64 into York.
York is well served by affordable intercity buses, with National Express and Megabus both running daily services from London, Leeds, and Manchester, as well as many other British cities.
Visitors to York will find plenty of excellent accommodation options. Premium options in the city center include the 5-star Grand Hotel, with its luxury spa, the 4-star Principal (which is right next to the station), and the Hilton York, in the southern part of the city.
The Shambles - shorthand for the medieval city center, the Shambles is actually a famous street in central York that is characterized by overhanging timber-framed stores. Lined with restaurants, pubs, and luxury boutiques, it's the best area to window shop and relax in between historical sights.
Museum Gardens - just to the north of the walled city center, you'll find York's civic center. Set in acres of beautiful gardens, the Yorkshire Museum is a cultural highlight, as is the adjacent York Art Gallery and the ruins of St Mary's Abbey (which are themselves often used as a striking art venue).
Micklegate - located across the River Ouse from the Shambles, Micklegate is still within the old city walls. It's right next to the station, making it handy for transportation and is also home to the York Brewery - a big plus for craft ale fans.
Buses are a good way to get around York's main sights, if you want to avoid walking and have a bit of spare change. Single fares cost around £2, but most visitors purchase day tickets for £4.50 (which cover all of the city's bus providers).
The local government regulates taxi fares in York. Daytime rates start with a meter drop of £2.70, then £0.10 for every 85 meters (around £2 per mile). Rates rise at night and when the York races are taking place. Uber offers a cheaper alternative, typically charging £1.95 for the meter drop, then £1.40 per mile.
York is a fantastic place to rent a car, and with local branches of Europcar, Enterprise, and Thrifty, plenty of choice is available. With a car, the moors and dales of Yorkshire are open to explore, you can get to the coast easily and even whiz into Leeds. Rates will be fairly reasonable, at around £15 per day.
York is a first-rate shopping destination, and most of the best streets are clustered around the walled city center. Obviously, you shouldn't miss the Shambles, if only for its architecture, but Coney Street (near the river) plays host to boutiques like Pylones and Leia Lingerie, and Stonegate is another street that is studded with luxury stores.
City center supermarkets are all over York, including branches of Londis, Sainsbury's, and Boots, so it's not hard to buy essentials if you need them. With a gallon of milk costing around £3.65 and 12 eggs costing £1.75, prices are very reasonable as well.
York is Yorkshire's culinary capital, and the city has attracted some exceptional chefs in recent years. If you want to head to elite brasseries, the Star Inn the City and Melton's are the places to go. There's great pub food at the Maltings and the Guy Fawkes Inn and veggie delights at El Piano. You should also find time for afternoon tea at Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms - a York institution (but expect to queue for half an hour before being seated). Meals at the best places will cost around £40 per head, but expect to pay half that at the excellent small cafes of the city center.