Both Mark and I had been to York on previous trips to the UK, but there is so much to see and do that we wanted to return. York is only an hour and a half from Worksop, so it was an easy drive (on nice, wide highways). We stayed in a room over the White Horse pub just outside the old city walls. Typically, we enjoy staying in the old inns and pubs. They have lots of character, are usually in a good location, and you can pop down to the pub for a pint in the evening.
While the room was fine, we didn’t realize that this pub had live music on Saturdays. Very loud live music. At least they stopped playing at 11 pm on the dot, so we could get some sleep. Now I know to check the Events list for any place before booking!
The Gem of the City – York Minster
York Minster, or to give it the full title: The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York, is a magnificent church. I have so many great pictures that it deserves a separate post just for York Minster and the nearby St. Mary’s Abby.
Touring the Old City with Mad Alice
Seems like every town in the UK has a ghost tour of some kind. A good way to see the old city and hear some great stories is to take the Bloody Tour of York with Mad Alice. Being summer, it was still light out during the tour, so not very spooky. And, this wasn’t so much about ghosts as about the history and folklore of York. Romans, Vikings, Normans, witches, highwaymen, tragedy, massacres, torture… it’s all around you in the old city of York. The character of Mad Alice is herself, a historic figure and her ghost is said to haunt Mad Alice Lane. The story goes that Alice was repeatedly beaten by her husband, eventually went mad and murdered him and was hanged at York Castle in 1825.
If you have an evening free, I would recommend taking the tour, well worth the price.
Walking the City Walls
Large portions of the medieval city walls are still intact and you can walk along several sections of the 13-foot-tall stone walls. The walls were originally built by…. come on, you know this one! The Romans! Yes, the Roman built a fort in York around 71 A.D. and in some areas you can still see the Roman stonework. The Multangular tower in the York Museum Gardens dates back to the Roman period.
The majority of the remaining city walls dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. You can get some great views of the old city and York Minster, as well as some exercise walking along the walls. Read more here.
Streets are Gates and Gates are Bars and Bars are Pubs
Almost every tour guide repeats this phrase to help visitors understand the naming conventions of the city. Gate evidently comes from the Norse for “street” (gata), so there’s a lot of York’s Viking heritage at play with the street names. You have your Skeldergate (shieldmaker street), Swinegate (pig street), St. Saviourgate (chuch called St. Saviour’s), and my favorite (favourite?) Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate (“neither one thing nor the other”).
One of the most famous streets/gates in York is The Shambles. Said to be in inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley, it has the overhanging upper floors and quirky shops you might expect. I really wanted to get my own York ghost from the York Ghost Merchants, but the line was at least an hour long and we had many places to go.
The four main gatehouses, called Bars, are still standing. We were able to see them all from the City Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-Off bus. The company has buses in many of the main tourist destinations and we’ve found they are a great way to see these wonderful cities without having to walk yourself to death.
Several of the other smaller gatehouses and towers have new lives as coffee shops or cafes.
York Castle AKA Clifford’s Tower
Of course, there’s a castle! There’s been a fort or castle on the hill since the Norman conquest in 1068. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times, and the portion that remains is mainly a ruin. Evidently no one really knows how it got the name Clifford’s Tower. Read more about the history here. Recently, the castle was renovated to add a new rooftop deck and modern staircases and walkways. You can get a great view of the city from the roof.
Random Interesting Things
We were in York for two and a half days and didn’t come close to seeing everything. The Jorvik Viking Centre was fun (smell-o-vision!) and the York Castle Museum had an extensive collection of Victorian artifacts, WWII exhibits, and a special exhibit on the 1960s. (Nothing like having my childhood as a museum exhibit to make me feel old!)
By Bus and by Boat
We purchased the 2-day York Pass which included two bus tours around the city as well as a York City Cruise tour by river. The bus tours were great to orient ourselves on the first day, then on the second day we used it to travel around the city as parking in the old town is virtually non-existent. I really liked the boat tour as well, since we got to see some different areas and the captain had some interesting facts and stories to tell.
York Pass – Was it Worth It?
We looked at the list of attractions included with the York Pass and determined that we would save at least £20 each if we went to the places we intended. The 2-day pass was £75 each. To really get your money’s worth, you will need to dedicate your day or days to sightseeing. We didn’t feel rushed, as we had planned our days pretty well . We ended up seeing almost everything on the original list, plus a few additional places. Some places, like York Minster, require pre-booking, so keep that in mind if you decide to visit and want to use the York Pass.