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48 hours in York - what to do on a weekend in York

Few places can rival York for its character, culture and cocktails. York has always been a popular city break destination and offers some of the best places to stay, eat, shop and explore.
Where ancient and modern meet, York is a snapshot of British history in one city. A great place to visit all year round, you will definitely be kept busy for a full weekend here. Voted ‘Best Place to Live’ by the Sunday Times in 2020 and landing the top spot in Cosmopolitan’s Best Place to Visit in 2021, York offers everything from Viking history to designer shopping and you will definitely have the most amazing weekend in York.
Only two hours on the train from London and with more attractions per square mile than any other UK city, you will be charmed by York’s cobbled streets, cosy pubs and its ancient city walls.

Laura Shepherd
November 4, 2021

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Friday lunchtime in York

To enjoy the main highlights of York, I’d definitely recommend staying in the city centre. York is easily accessible by public transport and on the main rail links.

Once you have arrived in York, the York Museum Gardens are a great space to unwind after your journey. They are free to visit and are open every day. Set in the stunning surroundings of the medieval ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, it is the perfect place to enjoy in the heart of the city. If you’re looking for a great spot for a bite to eat near the York Museum Gardens then you will be spoilt for choice. There are some lovely places close by, I’d recommend trying Brew and Brownie for delicious brownies, SOPHiE on Lendal Bridge for beautiful riverside views and cocktails in the sun, and Crumbs Cupcakery for the best cupcakes in York.

Friday afternoon in York

Start your staycation with York Minster and definitely a must-see during your time here. It is one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals and one of the largest in Europe. A beautiful gothic building crafted in stone and stained glass, follow in the footsteps of Roman soldiers through underground chambers transformed with audiovisual and interactive galleries to discover the stories and facts from the 1000-year history of this stunning building.

See the most beautiful sights of York as you climb 275 steps to the top of the Minster, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and over the city. Definitely a must for that perfect picture on your Instagram grid!
Once you have finished at the Minster, you should head down to The Shambles which is a very popular tourist destination. One of York’s most famous shopping streets and with buildings within touching distance of each other, the Shambles houses some lovely boutiques, quirky shops and cafés and is one of the most photographed streets in York. If you are a Harry Potter fan, it is believed that the Shambles was the inspiration behind Diagon Alley and has become a bit of a hotspot with fans. Make sure you check it out for making some amazing memories.

Home to York’s largest group of independent traders with more than 70 stalls, you will find everything from delicious street food and exceptional fresh produce, to vintage clothing, unique crafts and great quality gifts at The Shambles Market. It is open 7 days a week and is your one stop shop for all of your shopping needs.

Once you’ve had some time to explore, you will probably be wanting to get checked into your chosen hotel for the night. Only a stone’s throw away from the train station and with impressive views of the city, I would recommend to book at least a night’s stay at The Grand, York. Stay in style at York’s most luxurious address and experience ultimate elegance whilst dining in The Rise restaurant. You can expect modern British cuisine in a spacious and luxurious setting. Complete with an open kitchen and a heated garden terrace, The Rise is one of the best restaurants in York. Perfect for families and an ideal city centre location, The Grand, York has a range of attractive packages and has your staycation requirements covered.

Comfortably mixing traditionality with modernity, The Principal also has a wonderful range of beautiful rooms and suites to suit your needs. With a newly refurbished hotel and recently creating 155 new bedrooms, you are guaranteed a night of luxury at The Principal.

Friday evening in York

I would definitely recommend dining out at the Star Inn the City, or at least enjoy a drink and some sharing plates out on their open plan outdoor terrace, which is beautiful for its riverside setting. Positioned on the River Ouse and alongside Lendal Bridge it is the perfect location for food and drinks with your loved ones. Established by Chef Andrew Pern, who is also the Executive Chef at the Star Inn at Harome near Helmsley and the Star Inn the Harbour, in Whitby.

Another one of my favourite places to dine is The Ivy, York. Located on St Helen’s Square in the heart of the city it’s every bit as glam as London’s landmark restaurant and a real treat, especially if you’re with your family and friends. If you want a sophisticated, yet cosy backdrop to your meal then only The Ivy will do.

If you’re looking for a nice cocktail bar to visit after your meal, then you’ve come to the right place. Sora Sky bar, a rooftop sky bar with the most incredible views of the Minster and across the city. Paired with resident DJ’s and guest musicians, Sora provides the perfect backdrop to a date night or for an enjoyable evening with friends and family. You should also try Impossible York on St Helen’s Square and The Botanist on Stonegate for drinks. Make sure you head to the Evil Eye Lounge over on Stonegate. With an impressive 1,028 different gins to choose from, this quirky bar has a Guinness World Record for the “Most Varieties of Gin Commercially Available”. You can also buy gifts to take home from their shop.

Saturday morning in York

Are you a chocolate lover? Head to York’s Chocolate Story and unwrap the history of chocolate in one of their 90-minute guided tours. Hear the delicious stories of York’s famous sweet making families – Terry’s, Craven’s and Rowntree’s and how they made York the UK’s home of chocolate. You even get to create your very own chocolate lolly and taste some of the chocolate along the way. You will learn a wide variety of fun facts around the creation of York’s greatest chocolate products from the Chocolate Orange to the Kit Kat. One of my favourite things to do in York – it is entertaining and informative!

Over on Coppergate and one of York’s must-see attractions is the Jorvik Viking Centre. You will travel back in time to the Viking age – literally! Take a chairlift style ride on a journey through the reconstruction of Viking age streets and experience how life would have been in York in the 10th century. Discover what it was like to live in the city; the sights, the sounds – and even the smells as you travel back 1000 years. One of the most popular attractions in UK, don’t delay in pre-booking your tour online prior to your visit. Your visit is expected to last around one hour.

Coppergate is a lovely shopping centre with many high street shops, cafes, galleries and museums so once you have experienced the original Viking encounter, there is plenty to do for the whole family.

Saturday lunchtime in York

Within the city walls, York serves up some great spots for afternoon tea. Betty’s is always a treat and probably advisable to book to avoid the queues! Betty’s serve traditional afternoon tea all day every day, whereas their bookable afternoon tea offers a truly magical experience in a beautiful setting. Served in the Belmont Room in their beautiful York cafe, indulge in a selection of sandwiches, scones and cakes. For a special occasion, why not upgrade to the Champagne Afternoon Tea? Betty’s also serve some pretty irresistible treats in their bakery, so you will definitely have to have a look on your way out. I’d recommend trying one of their Fat Rascals!

Or if brunch is more your thing, Manahatta offer 90 minutes of free-flowing drinks and delicious food including Prosecco, Aperol Spritz, and a dish of your choice.
Other incredible places who serve up an exquisite brunch or bottomless brunch are Dyls on Skelderdale Bridge, Impossible York, The Botanist and Solita.

Saturday afternoon in York

Enjoy an easy stroll along the River Ouse and see York from a different perspective! Escape the city rush and take a boat trip with York Sightseeing Cruises. With a wide range of cruises there is enough to keep everyone entertained. You can hop on from Lendal Bridge or King’s Staith Landing. Learn about the incredible history of York, from afternoon tea to floodlit evening cruises. On the route you will spot all of York’s most famous attractions including the Minster, Clifford’s Tower, York Bridges, the Museum Gardens and much more!

The National Railway museum should be your next stop. Discover giant locomotives and dive into the past, present and future of the railways. It is free to visit and you will come face to face with the fastest steam train in the world! There are exhibitions & demonstrations and there’s also an outdoor play area and a miniature railway ride.

There’s also plenty to discover at Clifford’s Tower, which is almost all that remains of York Castle built by William the Conqueror. It is one of the most loved landmarks in York where you can enjoy unrivalled views of the city and countryside. Please note Clifford’s Tower is currently closed for a renovation project, but you can still see it from afar! It’s definitely one to add to your list for your next weekend in York.

Saturday evening in York

Explore York’s vibrant food scene where you will find a vast array of independent eateries spanning every cuisine you could wish for. From delicious street food, quirky wine bars and fine dining there is something for everyone.
Home to York’s only Michelin star restaurant and located in a beautiful, historic Tudor building is Roots. The sister restaurant to the Black Swan at Oldstead and overseen by Great British Menu winner Tommy Banks, Roots offers an innovative and unique tasting menu with produce home grown on the family farm. Roots is open Thursday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
For more fine dining experiences York is home to some incredible multi award winning restaurants including french restaurant, Le Cochon Aveugle, The Rattle Owl, The Bow Room at Gray’s Court and Melton’s.

York is well known for being the most haunted city in Europe so choose one of the ghost walks and tours to guide you through thousands of years of history. You can brave one of the tours anytime. Some of the famous include: The Bloody Tour of York, The Original Ghost Walk of York and The Ghost Trail of York.

Sunday morning in York

Named one of the “best breakfast places in the UK”, enjoy a leisurely morning at the Pig and Pastry on Bishopthorpe Road. With a fantastic choice of breakfast bowls, brunches and sandwiches to choose from, your breakfast will be made with high quality regional ingredients. Their breakfast offerings are packed full of excellent morning treats, from eggs benedict, a breakfast burger and their take on The B.A.F.T.A (Bacon, Avocado, Feta, Tomato and Aioli). Known as “Bishy Road”, this popular parade has a variety of independent shops and cafes and is definitely worth a visit! You will also find independently run Robinson’s which is a lovely place for brunch and it’s family friendly too!

Or if you would prefer something a bit closer to the centre, located on Stonegate Plush is one of York’s most instagrammable cafes. It has three themed dining rooms, the garden room with its swing seats, the art deco inspired Neon room and the luxurious, floor cushion filled Bohemian room.

Before setting off on your journey, walk the city walls for the perfect end to your weekend in York. A fantastic and one of the most recognized attractions in York, they stretch 2.75 miles and provide amazing views over the city. If you are planning on walking the walls in their entirety, you will need to leave at least 2 hours in order to fulfil this. You can start wherever you wish and go in either direction. You will be able to see where you are on the trail on a map and even on your smartphone.

There is so much to see and do in York. So, what are you waiting for? Book your weekend break in York and make your own amazing memories.

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