Incredible attractions in York are everywhere… if you know where to look. The local experts at our boutique hotel have spilled their secrets on the ultimate things to do in York. But first, we’re going to answer a few of your questions.
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What is York best known for?
York UK is famous for a huge variety of reasons. Did you know we used to be the capital of England? We’ve got a lot of historical sights, including our city walls and castle remains. You’ve definitely heard of the Shambles, which is one of the best-preserved mediaeval shopping streets in Europe and is rumoured to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. We’re the birthplace of some of your favourite confectionery, including KitKat and Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Plus, we have over 365 pubs (that’s more than one for every day of the year). To top it off, you can expect proper Yorkshire hospitality wherever you go, which means a warm smile and a friendly face.
How do I spend a day in York?
However you like! We’ve got something for everyone, from lively pubs to ghost tours to modern designer shopping outlets. York is a city which welcomes people from all over and has famous sights for everyone. We’ve put together a handy guide for how to spend one, three or five hours in York, which you can check out here. For the best tips and tricks, however, ask the locals. Our staff are more than happy to suggest the most unique and exciting places to go. Plus, as our York hotel has parking, you can explore the city centre and beyond with ease.
The first thing we recommend, though, is to check out this guide and start making your bucket list!
How many days in York is enough?
You definitely can’t see all of York in one day. We’d recommend at least two to three days to make sure you have enough time to see everything you want to. Even longer if you want time to relax or to enjoy the rest of Yorkshire from our central base. We have links to the beautiful Yorkshire coast and countryside, both of which are must-see attractions. Another thing to consider is if there are any local events, for example, the Christmas Markets, which may extend your visit. Check out our York hotel deals for some inspiration.
Bet you didn’t think you’d be heading on a cruise from York! One of the city’s lesser-known attractions, we love to spend time on a relaxing tour down the Ouse. City Cruises has two landing points in York, at Lendal Bridge and King’s Staith. Choose from sightseeing cruises with a local guide, or go for lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner on board.
The Barbican is York’s largest music and arts venue, and it’s where to go for your big-name gigs and shows. They host everything from comedy shows, to live music, to sports and community events. With over 200 events every year, their jam-packed calendar is sure to have something exciting happening while you’re in York.
Brew & Brownie
If you’ve not already guessed, Brew & Brownie specialise in local drinks and grub. Using seasonal, quality products, their delicious menu includes pancake stacks, generously portioned sandwiches and incredible breakfast options. Their 4.5-star TripAdvisor reviews speak for themselves, with BeingBecky, a recent visitor, saying “So good we visited twice in 2 days!”.
York City Walls
It’s free to take a stroll along the York City Walls, which stretch about two and a half miles around our city. From up here, you can spot secret sights you may never have noticed, such as hidden beer gardens or winding alleyways. The walls aren’t always connected, so you might have to get off and rejoin at some locations. If you need some refreshments on your way around, we recommend Gatehouse Coffee at Walmgate Bar for a warm drink and delicious treats.
Craft beer is the speciality at Brew York. Sample their award-winning ranges at their tap room, where you can see the process of brewing while you drink. If you want to learn more about their beers in-depth, opt for a guided tour. You’ll discover the story behind the brews, and then get to sample them for yourself.
You’ve not visited York if you’ve not been to Betty’s. A true Yorkshire icon, the first Betty’s was opened in Harrogate in 1919, over 100 years ago. Their afternoon tea is world-famous, and their Yorkshire Fat Rascals are a must-try. You can now book afternoon tea at Betty’s, which includes a selection of sandwiches, miniature cakes, and of course scones with tea.
This grassroots music venue is an unforgettable way to spend a York night. Hear the next generation of talented music artists before they make it big, and celebrate your love of music with like-minded people. With a venue cap of 150, all the gigs have a great atmosphere. Bear in mind it’s standing-room only, so could be difficult for people with accessibility requirements.
Potentially the most famous street in York, and Yorkshire, the Shambles is iconic. Stuffed with cute shops and a street food market, you can easily spend hours here. Thanks to its reputation as the ‘real-life Diagon Alley’, you can find lots of Harry Potter-inspired shops on this short street. While it might look cute, the Shambles used to be filled with butcher shops, a far cry from the offering today.
A picturesque town half an hour away from York, Malton has an abundance of shops and eateries featuring local makers. It’s most famous for being dubbed “Yorkshire’s Food Capital” by Italian chef Antonio Carluccio, and we’re not surprised. Malton has a monthly food market, cookery school, artisan producers and a huge food festival every summer. It’s definitely a must-visit for aspiring chefs and food lovers alike.
Blossom Street Gallery
Another indie find in York, Blossom Street Gallery is home to an art gallery, design shop and bespoke picture framers. Championing local creatives, they showcase a range of styles and crafts. It’s a great place for gift shopping, for aspiring artists and art lovers alike. Check out their blackboard wall and leave a piece of your own art behind.
An award-winning racecourse and venue, any event at York Racecourse is sure to be memorable. From the horse races to festivals and gigs, there’s always an excuse to dress up and have fun. The grandstands at York are iconic, and the County Stand is a Grade II Listed Building. Check out their website for a list of upcoming events.
This towering landmark is hard to miss, but did you know you can head inside? You can experience the full, warm atmosphere at one of their services, which is free to attend. Or, head behind the scenes on a ‘Hidden Minster’ tour which explores the Chapter House Roof and old Mason’s Loft. While you’re there, be sure to keep an eye out for the Heart of Yorkshire in the stained glass of the Great West window. Couples who kiss beneath it will stay together forever.
Don’t worry, this is nothing too sinister, Evil Eye is actually a bar. Located on Stonegate, this quirky spot specialises in unique cocktails with fresh ingredients. The mixologists are experts, and despite the bar’s name are very friendly. Head outside to their courtyard where you’ll find tables surrounded by vibrant graffiti – the same place Johnny Depp sat on his visit!
Yorkshire is home to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Britain (not that we’re biased). Scarborough and Whitby are both famous seaside towns that deserve a visit, with bustling streets at all times of the year. If you prefer something off the beaten track, try Robin Hood’s Bay, Hornsea or Filey where small local shops and cafes are abundant.
York Gin Shop
Enjoy free tasters of this locally distilled spirit, and buy yourself some to enjoy later. Located opposite the Shambles, the team are experts in recommending gins for your palette and are always happy to answer questions. If you need more convincing, the Great Taste Awards sum up the York Gin London Dry in one word, “Perfect”.
A thrilling experience, York Dungeon takes you on an immersive and gruesome tour of York’s past. If you’ve been to a Dungeon in another city, you’ll know to expect a dedicated and terrifying performance from the actors. The live shows encourage audience participation and feature a lot of special effects and lifelike sets.
The Golden Fleece
Boo! The Golden Fleece is York’s most haunted pub, making it one of the most haunted sites in Britain. With up to 15 ghosts and spirits said to be wandering its premises, don’t be surprised if you meet someone otherworldly inside. The pub was first mentioned in the York archives in 1503, although its true age is unknown. Spectres include Lady Alice Peckett, a Canadian Airman and even Roman soldiers.
York’s Chocolate Story
York has played a crucial part in the chocolate history of the UK, and York’s Chocolate Story explains how. Do a deep dive into some household favourite brands that were born in York, including Terry’s and Rowntrees. If you want to get hands-on, you can try a masterclass where you can create your own chocolate from scratch. Don’t forget some delicious samples from their shop.
The last remaining part of York Castle, Clifford’s Tower has had a dark and varied history. The location has been almost everything from a royal mint to a mediaeval stronghold and a Civil War garrison. Today, however, you can climb the tower to witness some of the best views across York. Look out for the Minster, and on clear days you might even see the North York Moors National Park.
Guy Fawkes Inn
The birthplace of the well-known rebel, Guy Fawkes is one of York’s most famous historic residents. He was born in this very pub (before it was a pub, of course). Interestingly, as Guy Fawkes and his family once owned this building, the location is prohibited from celebrating Bonfire Night. On other days of the year, head there for traditional pub food and real ales.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Take a trip back in time to York’s Scandi past, to 866 AD to be precise! York was invaded by the Danish in this year, and this attraction shows what life would have been like back then. Experience realistic dioramas, historic artefacts, and even the smells of York during this time. We will say they’re not for the sensitive-nosed.
National Railway Museum
Trainspotting is officially cool, so improve your knowledge at the National Railway Museum. Discover the history of rail transport in Britain, and how society was forever changed. A great afternoon out for all ages, you’ll find an unrivalled collection with more than a million pieces of memorabilia. Soak up the vintage culture with real trains, model stations and a ride on the miniature railway.
The York Roast Co.
Have you really been to York if you’ve not had a Yorkshire pudding? Home to the iconic YorkyPud™ Wrap, a trip to the York Roast Co. is the ultimate lunchtime treat. Alex Jones, Co-Presenter of The One Show on the BBC, said “It’s like Christmas dinner in a wrap, it’s delicious”. As they say, the proof is in the (Yorkshire) pudding, so try one for yourself and see what all the fuss is about.
Well-known for mouthwatering tapas and a great drinks selection, Sotano York is a local favourite. With generous portions and a rooftop terrace, it’s a great place for lunch or dinner. Daisy Willcox, who visited from Essex, wrote on TripAdvisor “Our experience here was a real treat. The food was absolutely flawless. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone and can’t wait to return”.
York Designer Outlet
Shopaholics rejoice! York Designer Outlet is a Northern hub of food and fashion featuring your favourite brands. Highlights include Tommy Hilfiger, Kate Spade, Adidas, Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Coach and Radley. It’s a great place to find designer deals at a great price, especially if you visit during the sale seasons.
Where to stay in York
If you’re looking for a hotel in York city centre, Hotel Indigo York is ideally located. Our boutique hotel is inspired by the culture and history of our city, and our staff are always on hand to give you a warm Yorkshire welcome. We also have a car park, making it easy for you to venture beyond the York City Walls. Discover our York hotel deals here.