5 Reasons to Visit York – BY Susan Walsh
I fell in love with this city at first sight, and I spend at least a day here every time I’m in England.
York has a long, bloody history. Conquered by everyone from the Romans to the Normans, it is best known for Jorvik, the Viking city discovered here in 1979. After excavating the ruins, an exhibition was built around it, which became the Jorvik Viking Centre.
Take your time here. The city is worth more than a day trip up from London. Get lost in the winding streets, duck down a snickelway – the narrow passages you’ll find everywhere in the city centre – step into one of the numerous churches you’ll come across in your wanderings.
Walk the medieval wall. Most of it is still intact, and can be accessed from several points around the city. It will give you a completely different perspective of York.
For another perspective, walk along the River Ouse. Head away from the city, in either direction, and let the peace of the river envelop you.
Here’s my must-see list, a selection of sights that will draw you into the richness that is York.
And remember, as you wander – a street is called a gate, a gate is called a bar, and a bar is called a pub.
Welcome to York…
~ Jorvik Viking Centre. In the Coppergate Shopping Centre, this is the site of Jorvik, the 10th century Viking city. You sit through a time machine that takes you back through the centuries, until you end up in Jorvik, AD 975. Then you hop on the Disney-style conveyor, complete with audio, for a trip through the Viking city as it would have been in its heyday. Every detail was taken from the excavation, down to the faces of the inhabitants. Once you finish, you’ll glide past what remains of the real Jorvik. At the end of the ride is my favorite part of the exhibit – displays of artifacts, everyday tools, and the tradesmen who would have sold their wares in this bustling market town. There’s also a fascinating display of a Viking skeleton, pointing out every one of his many battle wounds – including the wound that most likely killed him. Costumed guides are on hand to answer questions, regale you with stories, and give you their take on how the Viking soldier actually died. Add in an excellent gift shop, with access from the street, and you have what I consider the perfect attraction – a bit of something for everyone.
~ Barley Hall. This is a treasure, and one of my favorite buildings in York. Buried under the ugly façade of a modern building, the Hall was discovered when the building was slated to be demolished. Now it has been completely restored, and is an incredible journey through 15th century York. Watch your step as you cross the thresholds – there’s an inch-thick wooden beam across each one, and is part of the structure of the Hall. It was built in such a way that the entire house could be picked up and moved, no muss, no fuss. It’s easy to walk right past this medieval jewel – it’s located off Stonegate, down a narrow passage. Look for the sandwich board sign, follow the passage, and step into the 15th century. You’ll find everything from a gorgeous dining hall to a well-stocked larder. Take your time, explore every nook and cranny. You’re also invited to touch everything you see. Unlike museums that hide their exhibits behind glass, Barley Hall is a living museum. Play with the medieval watering jar in the ground floor living area. It was used to keep the dirt floor tamped down. Sniff the apothecary’s herbs, check the moon phase chart for the remedy to your ailments. You’re invited to touch, to explore, to immerse yourself. Take your time and really experience a bit of York’s medieval past.
~ The Shambles. This narrow street, just down from Coppergate, is one of my favourite places to wander. There are some wonderful shops here to explore, fun places to eat at, even a photo studio where you can become a part of the past. My favorite time is early evening, after the day trippers have gone. The Shambles becomes a peaceful place, where you can wander, take photos without a horde of tourists blocking your shot, and soak in the history of this street. Look for the heavy iron hooks still under some of the eaves. This street was where the butchers offered their wares, and the gutter down the middle of the narrow street was to carry away the blood that dripped off freshly carved meat. This is just one of the many oddities you’ll discover if you take the time to explore. As one of York’s oldest streets, it’s enchanting any time of day. Come and fall in love with it.
~ City Wall. Walking from the train station, York’s wall is one of the first sights you’ll encounter. A pass through was cut into the wall to allow for traffic – once you walk through it, you can turn right and step straight on to the wall. It’s one of many points around the city where you can access the wall that once completely enclosed York. Take the time to walk at least part of it. You’ll be rewarded with excellent views, and a chance to explore one of the most complete medieval walls in England.
~ York Minster. This is it, the crowning jewel, the reason most people travel to York. It’s a soaring, glorious building, and a landmark you can see from nearly everywhere in the city. For a unique view of the Minster, head to it down Low Petergate. By the time you reach Minster Yard, the entire Minster appears – immense, awe inspiring, gorgeous. If you do nothing else here, explore the Minster. The Rose Window and the Five Sisters compete for most beautiful window, the interior is airy and light, and inspires reflection. You can take the inclusive tour, but be warned – it’s a long one. But you’ll learn the fascinating history of the Minster. It’s technically a cathedral, but is also a missionary or ministering church – hence the name. I’ve been in numerous churches, of all sizes, and this one leaves me speechless every time. I could sit for hours and simply enjoy the beauty of the exterior, watching it change with the light. Spend some time in Dean’s Park – it’s the lovely green on one side of the Minster. Stay long enough and you’ll hear Big Peter, the huge bell in Minster Tower. He will keep going until he runs out of steam – and given his size, that takes quite a while! I always enjoy my time here, whether it’s an hour with a book, or a few minutes enjoying the peace, just outside the bustle of the city centre. York Minster, inside and out, is well worth the time.
And there you have it – my favorite bits of York. They are well worth the trip, and if you can swing it, stay a day or two.
I’m betting you’ll fall in love with this small, vibrant, eclectic city.
Thanks for taking the time to hang out with me, and keep travelling solo, girl!
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