York, England: Destination Spotlight

Once the second largest city in England, York is a historically prominent center for the Church of England, and is an important title in English Royalty (“The Duke of York”). While no longer an economic center of trade or business, York is still a must-see destination in England.

Plus, York is a great itinerary stop if you are traveling by train: with direct trains from both London and Edinburgh, much of the UK is only one or two trains away. We suggest pairing York with these destinations. Alternatively, you can pair York with destinations such as Liverpool, the Cotswolds, and the Lake District for road trips.

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Where to Stay in York, England:

Our favorite hotels in York offer prime locations (both are within York’s city walls). Grays Court Hotel offers high-end amenities, including a large lounge hall and relaxing back garden (adjacent to the City Wall). Alternatively, Deans Court is offers its own unique draws, including family accommodations for 3 and 4 people, as well as being more accessible (thanks to a prime location across the street from the York Minster, and an elevator).

Here is a little more information on each:

Grays Court Hotel

Gray Court Hotel in York

Located on a small side street a few steps from the York Minster, Grays Court Hotel offers 12 rooms in a historic 11th Century building. Guests can enjoy on-site amenities including a restaurant, garden (with the only private entrance to the City Wall still in existence), and plenty of central gathering areas. Plus, most booking packages include breakfast with your room rate. Our favorite part of Grays Court was that the hotel felt removed and secluded, while being only a block from the York Minster and the center of town.

Learn more about Grays Court Hotel here.

Dean Court Hotel

Dean Court Hotel. The red brick building is beautiful, located directly across the street from the York Minster and a park.

If you prefer to be closer to the pedestrian streets, need an accessible building, or want family rooms, we suggest Dean Court Hotel. This Best Western Premier Hotel is primely located, and offers four-star amenities such as an on-site restaurant and well-appointed rooms. While not as high-end as Grays Court, or as updated as many of our suggested hotels, we enjoyed staying here. Plus, we appreciated the four-person family room, as well as the easy city-center location.

You can learn more about the Dean Court Hotel here.

Where to Eat in York, England

York offers a variety of cuisines, from traditional British pub grub to Asian cuisines and plenty of Italian. Because of limited time, we did not get to experience much of York’s variety. However, we did find some great restaurants, which we want to suggest to you:

Breakfast at your Hotel

From our experience, it is much easier to pay a slightly higher package rate at your hotel so that breakfast is included. Aside from some exceptions, England is not known for their fantastic breakfast cafés, and hotel breakfasts are good. Generally, English hotel breakfasts offer two meals: Continental breakfast or English Breakfast (bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes, eggs, and hash browns). Plus, you will always get plenty of coffee or tea. Breakfast at your hotel allows you to easily start your day without having to find a place to eat.

The York Roast Company

York Roast Company Storefront

With a few locations throughout town, the York Roast Co. is a great lunch option. You can order a variety of roasted meat sandwiches, including roasted turkey, pork, and beef. Plus, all sandwiches are served on a fresh roll, and come with a variety of sauces!

Bella Italia

Interior of Bella Italia. The restaurant is a mix of modern and rustic, with woods, geometric tile, and exposed brick.

This restaurant chain is located throughout the UK, and offers dishes that taste like they’re fresh from an Italian kitchen. From fun starters (try the ciabbatini dough balls!), to pizzas and pastas, Bella Italia offers tons of options.


Royal Oak pub in York, England. The pub is built in red brick and black painted wood, and flower baskets line the front facade.

Of course, no visit to an English city is complete without visiting at least one pub! We have learned that there truly is no one “perfect” pub, but rather a type of pub. For one thing, we try to find pubs that are a block or two (at least) out of the touristy area, since they tend to be more authentic.

While we look for locally owned pubs, we also enjoy those operated by Nicholson’s or Greene King. Lastly, we glance through the menu and look at online reviews to see if the pub is known for food. We learned quickly to also check the ratio of food versus beers on the tables, since more food hinted at better food.

In York, the Royal Oak fit these criteria, and we weren’t wrong! The fish and chips were well cooked, and the beef pie boasted tender pieces of beef in a crumbly crust. You can book tables for Royal Oak online, or just wander through York until you find a pub that suits you!

(Note: if it’s a summer horse race weekend, plan ahead and have meal reservations. On these weekends, restaurants book fast, and many restaurants don’t hold back tables for walk-ins.)

Things to Do in York

Because York was such an important city in England’s history, there are several important historical sights to visit. Plus, exploring the old town center is fun, so make sure to budget some time to wander! Here is our short-list of recommended things to do in York based on our research and experiences in the city:

Tour the York Minster

The York Minster, a beautiful Gothic Cathedral in the center of York, England

Did you know that this beautiful Cathedral is the largest Gothic Cathedral north of the Alps? Built before the Church of England split from the Catholic Church, York Minster somehow survived to become a significant center for the Church of England. In fact, the Archbishop of York is 2nd in rank in the Church of England, behind the Archbishop of Canterbury!

Visitor hours are offered 7 days a week, but check the opening times to in case of holidays or services. Additionally, consider attending an Evensong to hear the York Minster’s choir. Check the York Minster’s website for updated opening hours, tour options, and other relevant information, as COVID-19 protocols are often changing tour options and pre-booking requirements.

Visit some of York’s many Museums

Thanks to York’s important history, today it is home to several museums. You can visit the National Railway Museum, or spend time at the York Castle Museum (note: most of York Castle was destroyed at different points throughout history, but there is still a small part and a museum). You can also check with your hotel concierge for details regarding some of York’s smaller museums and exhibits.

Walk the City Wall

City Walls in York, England

York’s extremely well-preserved City Walls are a fun way to see the city from higher up. Plus, walking along the city walls allows you to better appreciate the history of the city. We suggest climbing the steps at the Bootham Bar and walking to at least the Monk Bar in order to fully appreciate the Cathedral and the city from the Wall.

(If you are staying at Grays Court, the hotel has their own staircase to the wall. From there, Bootham Bar is to your left and Monk Bar is to your right.)

Visit the Shambles and Shambles Market

The Shambles. This street was the inspiration for the movie set of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.

While Victoria Street in Edinburgh might have been J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley, the set designers for the Harry Potter movies were more inspired by the Shambles. This street of half-timbered buildings dates back to the 1300’s, and once held the city’s butcher shops. Today, the Shambles offers a fun mix of cute tea rooms and Harry Potter inspired gift shops.

Shambles Market. A woodcraft stall is in the center of the photo.

Right behind the Shambles is Shambles Market, which offers a mix of souvenirs, art, and small gifts. There are also several small restaurants and food trucks in the back of Shambles Market, which might be great for lunch on a warm summer day.

Wander through Old Town

Stonegate, one of York's beautiful historic streets

York’s Old Town (mostly centered around what was once the walled city) is probably the most quintessentially English Old Town we saw while in England. From the beautiful half-timbered buildings lining cobblestoned streets to the graceful (yet mammoth) Cathedral, York is picturesque. In addition to fun streets to wander, York’s Old Town is a shopping hub, with many clothing stores throughout the central walking area. Plus, cafés, tea shops, and restaurants line many of these streets too!

To learn about York’s past, we suggest partaking in a Ghost Walk. While we could not attend a Ghost Walk, they were highly recommended. Talk to your hotel concierge to better understand the different types of Ghost walks, and for recommendations regarding which companies to use.

We hope these suggestions help you plan your next trip to York, England! Looking for more advise or have questions while planning your next trip? Feel free to contact us!

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