Guide to visiting York

Welcome to my new hometown! I must admit that when I moved to York in July, I was quite surprised at the number of tourists in the city centre. I already knew long ago that York is a touristy city, but I didn’t expect to see so many tour groups, even children on school trips coming from Europe and China.

York has a lot of history dating way back in time. The city was founded by the Romans in 71 AD and was under their rule for a few centuries. There was also a period of time during the 9th century when York was conquered by Vikings.

Today, York is renowned for being a peaceful and pleasant English city. The city has lots of heritage and hosts many cultural festivals every year.

There are a variety of attractions here in York, but almost all of them aren’t free. For instance, the York Minsterarguably the most iconic attraction herehas an admission fee of £11.50 for adults. You can’t even sit on the church pew and admire the interiors of the cathedral without paying.

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Here’s a travel tip for York: If you are ever lost, look out for the York Minster. It is tall enough to be seen in many areas around the city centre.

Some of the paid attractions here are quite popular. If you want to immerse yourself in the Viking experience of York’s past, the Jorvik Viking Centre is the place to visit. Or if you like to learn about how Kit Kat came about (Yes, it was created in York), then visit York’s Chocolate Story.

But to me, walking around the city and taking in the surroundings are what I enjoy doing most in Yorknot to mention that walking around is free. And as a bonus, there are even free walking tours every day starting from the York Minster if you want a guide to explain the history of York and bring you around the popular sights in the city. I have joined the walking tour before and learned quite a lot about the city’s past.

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If you like parks, walk around the Museum Gardens and look for the Roman ruins and St Mary’s Abbey (in the background). The walking tour brings you here too.

In this post, I will share more details on where I like to walk in the city; that is, walking on the city walls and walking around the shopping streets.

City walls

The total length of the city walls is around 3.4 kilometres; you can even see part of the city walls in front of you after stepping out of the train station. The city walls were built during the 12th-14th centuries. Most of the stonework you see around in York are, in fact, not from the Roman times.

The city walls are split into 3 major sections. Between each section, you have to get off the wall and walk a fair distance—while navigating through road traffic—before you rejoin another section of the city walls.

I have tried walking the entire length of the city walls, and it took me nearly an hour to complete it. Unless you want a good walking exercise, covering all of the city walls is just overkill. Furthermore, most of the scenery you see are just random and featureless houses and shops.

If you lack time, I recommend only covering the section from Bootham bar (Bar means gateway) to Monk bar in order to get a nice view of the York Minster.

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View of York Minster (on the left) from the City Walls.

Shopping streets

Although there are no modern shopping centres here in York, there are a number of shopping streets in the city centre. Those streets that are cobbled give the vibe of medieval times and are, unsurprisingly, the more popular streets here.

Shambles is the most famous shopping street. It used to, for a long time, be a street full of butcher shops. The Shambles of today is simply a narrow street with shops selling souvenirs and food.

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Shambles street

However, you would find a lot more tourists walking along Stonegate and High Petergate. The streets here are wider, and there are a lot more shops and eateries.

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High Petergate street
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Stonegate street

Most of your time here in York would be spent walking around the shopping streets and looking out for unusual stores. Some of the more distinctive and highly popular shops include The Shop That Must Not Be Named (Harry Potter merchandise), Käthe Wohlfahrt (Christmas merchandise) and Stonegate Teddy Bears.

There is also a wide range of eateries too. For reasons unknown to me, Fish and Chips is quite prominent in York. And for all afternoon tea lovers, there is the famous Bettys Café Tea Rooms outlet in York too, but the queue to dine in is rather long throughout the day—all thanks to the tourists. If you are only going to have one meal in York, I highly recommend dining at one of the York Roast Co outlets. They do excellent Yorkshire puddings paired with quality meats and vegetables. Why come to York without trying authentic Yorkshire puddings anyway?

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Yorkshire pudding stuffed with pork, potatoes and vegetables

It would be a shame not to come to York if you will only be visiting England once. The train ride takes around 90 minutes from Manchester and 3 hours if coming from London. There is no need to stay in York when visitingunless you want to visit other areas in Yorkshire (e.g. Yorkshire Dales National Park)as the city area can easily be covered in one afternoon.

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