Thinking about taking a day trip to York? Here’s the only travel guide you’ll need to plan the perfect day in York.
One of England’s finest Medieval cities, a day trip to York is an absolute must. Whether you live in England and are looking for day trip ideas or you’re visiting England for the first time and planning an itinerary, York is the perfect place to come to experience British Medieval history, and architecture as well as modern British culture and food.
With so many historical places to visit, modern attractions, walking tours, gardens and of course the largest Gothic Cathedral in England, York has enough excitement to keep you busy for the day. Unlike other large cities in England, York is also the perfect size for a day trip.
Keep reading for the perfect travel guide to a day trip York and learn about all the best things to do in York.
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GETTING TO YORK
Train- Depending on where you’re coming from and the connections available, getting to York by train is by far the easiest way to get to this quaint city. With multiple direct trains per day from London and taking just under 2 hours, it is the fastest way to arrive for a day trip to York from London.
York also has train connections from all major UK cities, from smaller ones you might need to change trains. Use the Trainline here to check for the best fares.
Bus- If you’re coming to York from another major UK city especially nearby ones like Leeds, Manchester or Sheffield taking the bus is also a great option. Journey times are under 2 hours and if you leave early you’ll be able to beat the rush hour traffic.
If you’re coming from London, however, I don’t recommend taking the bus, in fact, don’t do it as the journey takes over 6 hours and you’ll spend most of your day trip to York on the bus.
Car– It takes just 3.5 hours to get to York from London if you’re planning to drive, so if you leave early enough, this is also a good option. From nearby cities, driving is a feasible option too. Parking in York can get quite expensive, however, especially for the whole day as you won’t really be using your car once having arrived.
Depending on where you’re coming from however and your party size driving might be much cheaper and easier than taking the train.
In summary, if you’re planning a day trip to York from London, the best way to get the most out of your time in York is to take the train.
TOP TIPS FOR A DAY TRIP TO YORK
- To get the most out of a day trip to York, you’ll want to arrive by train, especially if coming in from further afield like London. Buses, succumbing to all local traffic, take much longer than trains and are subject to quite a few more delays. If you just have one day, I highly recommend coming to York by train, especially from London.
- Use The York Pass. The York Pass gives you access to most of York’s most famous sights and attractions and it really is one of the best things to use if you’re just coming in for the day. A one-day York Pass costs £55 per adult and includes entrance to famous York attractions and hidden gems. The York Pass gives you access to Clifford’s Tower, City cruises Boat Tours, JORVIK Viking Center, the National Railway Museum, The York Dungeon, the Treasurer’s House, York Castle Museum and of course York Minster. Pretty much every place mentioned in this guide (for which you need a ticket) is included and with entrance fees averaging £12.50 per attraction it really is worth the spend if you’re planning to visit four or more attractions in this guide in the day. To find out more and book the York Pass click here.
- Start early. If you only have time for a day trip to York, you’ll want to get the most out of it and that means arriving as early as you can.
- The summer months in York can be pretty busy so I’d advise visiting in the shoulder months of April, May and September. This way you’ll be able to get the most out of your visit. When visiting in the summer months try to get to the most popular attractions early to beat the crowds or visit York on a weekday.
- Make sure to bring clothes for every season as the weather can change from day to day quite quickly. Don’t forget your umbrella, this is England after all.
WHERE TO EAT IN YORK
For a city as small as York, you’d be surprised by the many restaurant and cafe options. There are so many places to choose from traditional English and Yorkshire food to Indian and authentic Chinese. There are also a great handful of healthy cafes that serve some amazing mezze-sharing platters, salads and modern dishes. Here’s my pick of the best restaurants to choose from in York for your day out.
Source– Probably the best plant-based restaurant in town, their menu is creative, and the food, is delicious. If you committed to breakfast early, make sure to come here for their exquisite brunch options such as chickpea omelette, French toast, tofu shakshuka, grilled avocado, buddha bowls as well as a range of coffees and smoothies. Highly recommended for brunch and lunch.
Goji Cafe – A splendid little vegetarian cafe in the heart of York, perfect for plant-based afternoon tea, vegan cakes and a simple lunch or brunch. Their menu features plenty of veggie burgers, all-day brunch, two mains as well as plenty of selection of homemade cakes. Goji Cafe also does pre-order picnic boxes which you can take to the park on a lovely, sunny day.
Melton’s – One of the best-sophisticated dinner options in York, this Michelin Guide restaurant serves one of the best tasting menus in York. If you’re looking for a great way to end the day head over to Melton’s for their 6 or 7-course tasting menu (a vegetarian one is available too) or just order a la carte. A great way to sample some upscale, modern British cuisine.
The Yak and Yeti Gurkha Restaurant – Nepali food isn’t all too common, especially in small cities like York but this place is a real treat. Head here to this family-run restaurant to sample Nepali cuisine classics like momos (dumplings), thukpa (noodle soup) and dal baht (rice with lentils and curry). There are also quite a few other curries and stir-fried dishes to order with plenty of plant-based options to choose from.
The Orchid Vegan Restaurant – A highly rated Asian cuisine vegan restaurant in the center.
Looking for the best things to do in London? 15 Non-Touristy Things to Do in London by a Local
TOP THINGS TO DO IN YORK ON A DAY TRIP
There are so many things to do in York, even on a day trip York so I really recommend starting early. I’ve listed all the things to do in the order that I would personally do them based on crowds and ease of walking around the city but feel free to do things in the order that you’d like to.
While York is a city (any urban area with a Cathedral is technically a city in England), it definitely can’t compare to London or Manchester or even Leeds in size. It really has a small-size feel to it and it’s manageable and completely doable on foot.
Walk The Shambles
The Shambles is one of the most scenic and historical streets in York. It’s the perfect glimpse of what life would have looked like during Medieval times. The timber houses here lean towards each other in ways that make you wonder how they are still standing, the upper floors hanging over the lower floors to make the most of every centimetre of space available.
The Shambles used to be the butcher’s street of York, the window sills and ledges made for displaying cuts of meat, each stall specialising in a different cut of meat. While you can still find a butcher on the Shambles today you’ll find quite a few different local shops and boutiques selling a wide range of different items.
Wander the Shambles and pop into all the great stores, from boutique tea shops to bakeries, cosmetics and even Harry Potter memorabilia but don’t forget to look up and admire all the timber houses and medieval architecture that’s been here since the 13th Century.
The Shambles is a really small street and due to its popularity, it gets crowded very quickly. I highly recommend coming to the Shambles as soon as you arrive for your day in York especially if you want to take photos.
Right at the end of the Shambles you’ll find the Golden Fleece pub- one of the oldest pubs and inns in York dating back to 1503. It’s said to also be one of the most haunted pubs around. It’s a really charming place to come for a quite drink while exploring.
Learn about the Vikings at Jorvik Viking Centre
Like many places in England, York has a very long and colourful past. From around 800-1075, it flourished as a Viking city, a bustling, commercial center and heart of everyday life.
More recently an excavation of Coppergate actually revealed exactly how the Vikings lived right here in York. The excavation revealed Viking homes, artefacts and even dinner table wares which are now integrated and shown at the Jorvik Viking Center.
The ancient Viking city of Jorvik (present-day York) is recreated in this popular attraction allowing visitors to learn more about the Vikings and how they lived. When visiting Jorvik on a day trip to York you can go back in time and really experience and live York’s unique history.
Jorvik Viking Center is included on the York Pass. Get yours here.
Visit York Minster
The York Minster is something you simply can’t miss on a day trip to York.
One of the most beautiful and glorious cathedrals in England, the York Minster is the largest Gothic Cathedral north of the Alps with some 2,000 years of history. Upon entering you’ll immediately notice the incredible size of the cathedral and how light it is inside thanks to its amazing array of stained glass windows and buttresses that shoot skyward.
Walk down the main nave of the Cathedral- the largest one in England. Works on the nave started in 1291 and took 60 years to complete. The nave leads up to the Quire and Grand Organ from which you can walk around to admire the Great East Window and go down to the Crypt where you’ll find the ruins of the Roman Legionary fortress and the previous Norman churches that once stood here.
From here you can go around to check out the Chapter House- on the way make sure to look up and notice the Five Sisters Window in the North Transept, the oldest complete window in the Minster- and of course the magnificent Rose Window before leaving.
In 1984, there was a huge fire that damaged the Rose Window and much of the South Transept but since then this part has been rebuilt and visitors can now admire the beautifully renewed Rose Window which might just be one of the best in England.
When entering the Cathedral, I highly recommend purchasing the add-on ticket for the Tower, where you can climb the 279 winding steps to the top for some of the best views of York.
The York Pass includes entry to the York Minster. Make sure to get yours here.
Visit the National Trust Treasurer’s House
Located right by the northern side of York Minster, The Treasurer’s House was originally built in 1491 as a home for the Minster’s treasurers. between then and now it’s had quite a few different owners and quite a colourful history. Frank Green, a Yorkshire industrialist eventually took possession of the house at the beginning of the 20th Century and combined a few buildings and restored it. In 1930 it was taken over by the National Trust.
Head inside this beautiful building to discover the fine collections of pottery, glass and china as well as the beautiful furniture that still survives. It’s also said that quite a few ghosts have been seen in this house over the years so keep your eyes out! The Treasurer’s House is included on the York Pass.
From the Treasurer’s House, you’ll find St. William’s College just around the corner, a beautiful Medieval black and white timbered facade building that used to be the home of the priests of the Minster. It’s one of York’s prettiest buildings so I highly recommend seeking it out on your day in York.
Visit the Shambles Market
Right next to the Shambles, you’ll find the Shambles Market or Newgate Market as it’s also known. Narrow alleys flanked by crooked houses on the right of the Shambles will also lead you into this grand market space.
At the market, you’ll find traders selling a wide range of food, clothes, books and souvenirs so it’s a great place to walk through and browse the stalls. You’ll also find plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls- great for buying some fruit for the road.
Traders have been setting up and selling here for centuries with York market being one of the most popular markets in the area. It’s said that they even had to demolish houses to make space for new stalls. While you’re walking around make sure to admire all the centuries-old timber-framed houses. To the left of Shambles market you’ll also find an archway that leads to York’s shortest street- Whipmawhopmagate- measuring just 35 yards.
Take a City Tour
One of the best ways to get to know a new place in a short period of time is just to take a tour. Taking a city tour of York will allow you to experience its many sights in just a few hours with a knowledgeable guide. This way you’ll be able to see a lot as well as learn about the history of York, its famous sights and interesting facts- a great way to maximise your time with just a day in York.
There are many different tours to opt from in York from the popular ‘Hop on-Hop Off’ sightseeing Bus to a classic walking tour. There’s even Witches and History Walking Tour where you can find out more about the secrets of the Shambles in the theme of witchcraft or even opt for a guided cycling tour of York for those that want to be a little more active.
Click on the widget below to check out all the amazing tours that York has to offer and book yours today.
Walk the Bar Walls
Being the Medieval City that it is York was once encircled by solid, stone walls with towering bars or gatehouses at different entry points to the city. Many of these bars or gatehouses are still intact and you can actually walk along the top of the ancient Medieval walls today which makes a great way to see the city from a different angle.
The most famous bars to note are Micklegate Bar in the South-west corner of the centre, Walmgate Bar and Monk Bar to the northeast- giant, towering stone structures that would have made quite the impression on any Medieval visitor coming into York for the first time.
As you walk around the walls you’ll no doubt come to all of York’s Bars, just make sure to note that the bar walls have disappeared in some places so you’ll have to come down to street level before navigating onto another chunk a little further up the road.
Relax in the Museum Gardens
If it’s a nice day, you’ll want to spend a bit of time in between sightseeing to relax at the Museum Gardens, a beautiful riverside garden belonging to the Yorkshire Museum. It’s a respite of green in the middle of this busy part of the city and a great place to relax and people watch. It’s also a superb place to come for a picnic if the weather is holding.
In the Museum Gardens, it’s also worth seeking out St. Mary’s Abbey, Medieval ruins in the city. You can also visit The Yorkshire Museum inside the gardens which features Yorkshire’s Jurassic World as well as exhibits about Medieval and Roman York.
Visit Clifford’s Tower
Learn more about William the Conqueror and England’s history by visiting Clifford’s Tower, one of the best historical attractions on a day trip to York. Clifford’s Tower was once composed of an 11th- century timber tower on top of the earth mound still standing today. In 1190, the timber tower burned down during the massacre and suicide of the city’s Jewish community.
Today’s 13th-century stone tower forms the largest remaining part of York Castle, the biggest and most important seat of government in Northern England at that time. The tower was most probably used as a treasury at that time and later turned into a prison.
Visit Clifford’s Tower today to learn more about the history of the tower, York and the history of England from William the Conqueror onwards.
The York Dungeon
Learn more about York’s dark history at the interactive attraction of the Dungeon. You’ll walk through 2000 years of York’s history in a dungeon that brings together iconic characters, the latest special effects and a thrilling setting to not only educate but also scare the bejesus out of you.
You’ll learn about the dark history of York Minster, York at the time of the Vikings and then the Plague, Guy Fawkes, torture and execution and more. A visit to the York Dungeon makes learning about history interactive, entertaining and pretty frightening.
Visit York’s Harry Potter Locations
If you’re a fan of the famous J.K Rowling books and the later films then you’ll probably already know York’s deep association with Harry Potter.
Potter mania is real in York and even though none of the films were actually filmed here, it’s said that a few places inspired the books. It’s now a great place to go to pick up some Harry Potter gifts and visit some stores. Even though it hasn’t been confirmed, many speculate that York’s Shambles were the inspiration behind Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films- they do look pretty similar.
Other locations you’ll want to check out if you’re a huge Potter fan are The Shop that Must Not Be Named, The Boy Wizard and World of Wizardry- three very popular, Harry Potter-themed shops on the Shambles as well as the National Railway Museum which has a plaque for Platform 9 3/4.
If you’re a huge fan then I highly recommend doing the Harry Potter-Themed Guided Tour of York which will take you to all the above locations and more.
High Tea at Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms
No visit to York would be complete without a cream tea or even high tea at Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms. This famous cafe, now a York institution, has been serving tea since it first opened in 1936. Drop by without a reservation and you’ll be able to order from their main menu which includes British breakfast classics, a great selection of British lunches and of course, classic afternoon tea.
I highly suggest booking a table, however, which will allow you to order their exquisite vegan afternoon tea featuring homemade plant-based scones and cream as well as vegan sandwiches and cakes. You can also opt for their gluten-free menu too. For more information check their website here. Bettys really is one of the best places in York for a classic English high tea experience and it’s a brilliant way to end your day in York.
Are you ready for your day trip to York? Let me know your questions and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals worldwide
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