For weeks I dutifully checked the weather, waiting for that perfect, sunny Sunday so that we could finally see the city of York. Apparently, it was a must-see, and for weeks it was all anyone asked us about: “Have you been to York yet?” But the weather just wasn’t cooperating, so we hadn’t.
It wasn’t until mid-October that my weather network app showed me a Sunday full of sunshine and devoid of clouds, raindrops and any hint of fog. So we set the date, and I looked forward to it all week.
We woke up before dawn that Sunday, not because we were excited about our day trip, but because the club that is obnoxiously close to our flat had turned up their music and was raging away at 4:33 AM. We stayed awake until 6:30 AM when our apartment finally stopped vibrating due to the bass from down the block and we fell back to sleep instantly, only to awake again at 10:30.
Even though we’d planned for days to take a trip out to York, we clearly were not getting an earlier start to the day. But it was Sunday, the day of rest.
We lingered and lounged for the rest of the morning, and it wasn’t until1:30 PM when we finally arrived at the Leeds Train Station. Now, this was not the most ideal timeline for a (half) day of exploration, but we didn’t want to squander this rare weather opportunity any more than we already had.
It turns out than an afternoon was all we needed. In that short time we were able to see, sample and sip our way through the city and experience the best of York. Here’s my guide to an afternoon in York.
Travelling to York from Leeds couldn’t be easier as there are countless trains and buses throughout the day and night. For our journey, we chose to take the First Transpennine Express train from Leeds to York Station. Trains run every 30 minutes-ish, so no reservation was required, which was perfect given that we were clearly disorganised. We simply arrived at the station, looked at the boards, bought our tickets and ran to the platform.
The train was packed that afternoon with revellers returning to Uni from Liverpool and Manchester. We crammed ourselves onto the train and tried dutifully to keep our balance as the train chugged along the tracks. The idyllic English countryside whizzed by the window; sprawling green grounds, farmlands and small forests entertained us as the train made it’s way north. Just 24 minutes after we left, our train arrived.
What to See
York Minster is the most famous attraction in this small city. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern England and dates back to the 8th century at least.
The steeples of York Minster could be seen from the train station as we exited, so we decided there was no better place to start our day. We hadn’t made it very far before the clouds opened; what was at first a light sprinkling of rain quickly turned into a torrential downpour, which forced us to run and seek shelter under a nearby bridge. So much for that brilliant sunshine, my weather app had predicted.
We waited out the rain and then returned to our journey on. There, as if parting the streets and the clouds there was York Minster, an enormous and detailed structure standing before us and stretching up to the sky.
We walked right to the foot of the cathedral and craned our necks up, trying to take in the minute details that make up this impressive structure. Even with weeks of yoga practice, I still couldn’t lean my head back far enough to take the whole thing in.
We weren’t too interested in the £10 admission charge to go in and explore the Minster so instead we simply popped our heads in, looked around and carried on our way.
Walk the Walls
From the Minster, we spent a bit of time wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, making our way to one of the entrances to the City Walls.
Now, if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know I am not the biggest fan of heights (understatement) and yet seem to seek out uncomfortable high-up places and activities, like climbing towers, driving along cliffs and climbing city walls. Well, it turns out this trip to York would be no different. Apparently, I will never learn, and stubbornly, I don’t really want to.
I was feeling a bit nervous as we approached the entrance to the city walls – why must I seek out these Evel Knievel-esque activities – but I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were the walls not that high but they had fantastic protective barriers on each side (this has to rank up there as one of the nerdiest things I’ve ever written…) Feeling safe and confident, I practically strutted my way along the wall.
We followed the wall all the way to Jewbury, a nearly 1km walk. It was fun to wander along, seeing the different historic buildings and houses from a whole new angle.
Back on Terra Firma, we found ourselves quickly back in the centre of the action – this is one of the great things about York, it is compact and easily walkable.
One of the places I’d been most excited to see was the Shambles, a street made famous by it’s Tudor style houses that line the streets and lean inward at such an angle that they almost touch.
The small cobblestone lane was packed with people when we arrived, but that didn’t take away from seeing this iconic site. As we wandered peering in at the shops, cafes and bars that lined the street, I couldn’t help but feel like we were taking a small step back in time.
Although the Shambles wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping (or maybe I just overhyped it in my mind after reading my Lonely Planet book) but I was glad we took the time to pop over there. It was a cute and picturesque street and painted a good picture of what old York must have looked like.
Perched on top of a hill just outside the city centre is Clifford’s Tower, the only remaining piece of York Castle. We hadn’t really planned on visiting the Tower, but more happened upon it as we tried to navigate our way back to the train station. We made our way around and started to climb the steep flight of stairs to the base of the tower. Huffing and puffing, we made it to the base only to find out that there was a fee to go inside and explore further. While climbing the tower is said to offer spectacular views of the city, we decided that £10 was a little pricey, so we simply took in the views from the top of the stairs before making our way back down to the ground.
What to Eat/Drink
The Old White Swan is said to be one of York’s oldest and most haunted pubs, dating all the way back to the 16th century, so we figured what better place to take a rest.
Although the weather skies were blue, we decided to forgo sitting out of the patio and opted for a cosy booth by the window where we had a perfect view of the bustling street – it really was the best of both world, people-watching and heat, you really can’t go wrong!
We spent just under an hour in The Old White Swan, drinking, chatting and watching the world of York go by. And, while we didn’t encounter a ghost during our visit, we did encounter a fantastic lineup of beers, a friendly staff and a great atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon.
Following our pints, we decided to pop on down the road and visit York Roast Co. I mean, it was a Sunday after all, and what’s a Sunday without a roast?! Because we had a train to catch Dave and I opted to get our roast in sandwich form; he went traditional beef whereas I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the pork with applesauce.
The sandwiches were amazing! The meat was tender, the bread was fresh and it came with all the fixing you could hope for – applesauce, gravy and even cracklings. It was indulgent, delicious and I would buy another one in a heartbeat. I really couldn’t have asked for a better end to a Sunday of exploring.
We ate our sandwiches as we made our way back to the train station. The rains had started to fall again, and after a feast like that, I was in full food coma-mode; no more wandering could be done.
After waiting for and boarding our train, I nestled in and tried as hard as I could to keep my eyes open, to watch as York faded into the background as we made our way back to Leeds.
Four hours might not be enough to explore all of York, but for us, it was a great start. We sipped, sampled and scratched the surface of this historic and medieval city, and at just over 20 minutes from Leeds, I’m sure we’ll be back soon.
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