York is a stunning medieval city with a history that goes back to to before Roman times. It is a facinating cathedral city in the heart of Yorkshire with some of the best preserved historical buildings and structures in Europe.
York was known as Eboracum by the Romans, who founded the fortress city on the River Ouse in 71 AD. York was home first to the Ninth Legion and later the Sixth. York quickly became one of the most important cities in Roman Britain and after 211 AD became the capital of the province Britannia Inferior. Constantine the Great - later responsible for making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire - was first proclaimed Emperor in the city.
Captured by the Vikings in 866 AD, the city quickly took on a new identity as Jorvik (pronounced "Yor-vik") and experienced a major urban revival as a centre of Viking trade and settlement in northern England. The Coppergate excavations of the 1970s revealed much of this Viking past.
Most travelers will arrive in York by means of road (car or bus) or rail transport from other UK centers.
York is one of the main hubs of the UK rail network, which means that there's a bewildering range of services and destinations to choose from. The station is vast and somewhat confusing to the uninitiated, but services tend to be frequent and rapid due to the number of lines that pass through. Trains to and from London depart and arrive approximately every half hour, and take approximately two hours.
The best advice for driving in York is don't - the roads were designed for carts pulled by oxen, and the city council is actively discouraging car use through a combination of high parking charges and traffic-calming measures. The good news is that most of the centre is pedestrianised, and there is an excellent park-and-ride service from the car parks on the outskirts of the city. The car parks are patrolled and monitored, the buses are frequent and rapid and the fares are low - in contrast to the eye-wateringly expensive parking charges in the city itself. The city itself is small enough to walk from one side to the other in 20 minutes, so there's really no need to bring a car into the city in the first place. Bikes are also a great option, and can be rented in various places.
Excellent bus services connect all the points of interest in the city.
York is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the UK - there's an extensive network of cycle routes in and around the city, and most of the traffic controls have been set up to give bikes priority. It's also practically completely flat, which is a big help. The river-path contains some wonderful bike routes out of the city.
- National Railway Museum - the largest railway museum in the world, responsible for the conservation and interpretation of the British national collection of historically significant railway vehicles and other artefacts. Contains an unrivalled collection of locomotives, rolling stock, railway equipment, documents and records. Leeman Road, York. Open daily 10am - 6pm, except Xmas Eve, Xmas Day and Boxing Day. Free admission. http://www.nrm.org.uk/
- the ruins of St Mary's Abey in Museum Gardens, near the Minster - a great place for a picknik.
- The King's Manor, now part of York University, previously a royal headquarters.
- Take a walk on the York city walls - one of the best vantage points for the medieval city of York is from the ramparts of its medieval city walls. Open every day except Xmas, until sundownish (varies according to season). Free! http://www.york.gov.uk/walls/
There's the usual range of high-street stores, but York is also a great place if you're looking for tourist tat of the highest order. Tat-central is The Shambles - the narrowest (and most crowded) street in York, with a full range of 'A Present From York'-emblazoned merchandise manufactured in the Far East.
- Betty's Tea Rooms - St Helen's Square. World-famous for it's nostalgic atmosphere and spectacular patisserie-style catering, with eye-watering prices to match. It's a twenties-style tea rooms complete with palm trees, aproned waitresses and piano player, and serves the kind of food that comes with the crusts cut off. The quality is superb, but it's not cheap - and be prepared for a queue at peak times, it's not unknown for potential customers to wait outside in the rain for a seat. Little Betty's is a smaller version in Stonegate which doesn't get quite so busy, and serves exactly the same kind of food in a similar ambience.
- Bari's - The Shambles. Cheerfully unpretentious Italian bistro serving pizza and pasta in an authentically Italian style (overly-phallic pepper grinders and waiters adopting cod accents.) Food's not bad, it's reasonably priced, and it's pretty lively of an evening.
- Pizza Express - Lendal. Needs no introduction, but worth a look for the setting - a spectacular Victorian brick edifice perched on the bank of the River Ouse. Summer evenings on the terraces are pleasant, and their toilets are marble temples of Victorian excess - it's worth eating there just for the chance to use a solid brass-and-marble urinal.
- ASK - The Assembly Rooms. Bog-standard pizza in the most un-bog-standard setting - a marble pillared Georgian meeting hall with 40-foot ceilings and plaster cherubs. Beware the service - I've never been back since the starters took an hour to arrive cold.
- York Backpackers - Located within a few minutes walk of the railway station, with all the facilities you would expect of a great hostel.... The opportunity to stay in a superb Georgian mansion (1752) with a stone-flagged entrance hall, grand sweeping staircase, original panelled rooms, vaulted cellars and a fabulous rococo ceiling featuring Shakespeare'?s head. A variety of rooms and dorms. The private, candlelit basement bar is 400 years old and features great value bar meals, Happy Hour, and really late closing! Cafe open daily for the sort of breakfast that keeps you going all day! Micklegate House, 88 - 90 Micklegate, York. http://www.yorkbackpackers.mcmail.com/
- The Grange Hotel - a few minutes walk from Bootham Bar, this is one of York's premier (and most expensive) hotels. A Georgian town house, it's gone for the country-house-chic look - all deep sofas, open fires and unobtrusive service. There are three restaurants ranging from a seafood bar, through contemporary cellar bar to the full-on French silver service. Not cheap, but deeply luxurious, and a real change from the standard pre-packaged international chain hotels. http://www.grangehotel.co.uk
- The Dean Court Hotel - they don't come much more central than this - it's right outside the front door of the Minster, and the city centre is just streets away. An imposing Victorian pile, this Best Western hotel has recently been renovated downstairs, and now sports a contemporary 'wine bar' look that's in complete contrast to the red-brick exterior. Unfortunately the refit didn't make it past the ground floor, and the bedrooms are beginning to look somewhat tired. Food is over-the-top nouvelle cuisine style, and they've got prices to match the location. Great if you're looking for something at the heart of the city, but not particularly good value given the standard of accommodation at the moment.
- The Monk Bar Hotel - just outside Monk Bar, on the inner ring road. Perfectly adequate unspectacular Best Western-style hotel, but beware the bedrooms at the front - they overlook the inner ring road which is exceedingly noisy during the morning and evening rush hours. Not particularly good value for money, as the accommodation is unspectacular and food could best be described as adequate.
York is centrally located for the Vale of York and East and North Yorkshire, making it a great base for days out in any direction:
- Castle Howard - one of the locations for the filming of Brideshead Revisited, this amazing stately home is a great day trip out of York. http://www.castlehoward.co.uk/