Spooky ghost stories wherever you go, cobbled streets winding around the centre and quirky, windswept buildings lining the old alleys - in short, York: A city of the mysterious, the quirky and the magical.
After finishing my CELTA course in Manchester, I met my husband in York to explore the old and beautiful city closer. We'd both never been there before and it was quite a romantic, yet weird, feeling meeting him after four weeks at the train station of a city we'd both never visited before.
Arriving at York main station, we dragged the heavy suitcase all the way to our accommodation, the Burton Stone Inn at the outskirts of the city centre, almost opposite the renowned St. Peter's School which was attended by the rebel and freedom fighter Guy Fawkes.
I will write a more detailed feature and review of the Burton Stone Inn in due time, but to say it short and sweet, it was a nice enough accommodation with a lovely room above a pub.
But now let's delve into the magical city of York. If you ever get up north to experience the magic first-hand, these are five things you should definitely do in York we immensely enjoyed doing while there:
1) Visit The Shambles
When we'd dumped our luggage at the hotel, we strolled into the historic part of the city (which is basically everywhere) and immediately fell in love with the ancient vibe permeating the cobblestone streets, small, independent stores and, of course, The Shambles. If you deem yourself a Harry Potter fan and always wanted to know what it's like to shop in Diagon Alley, the Shambles will happily oblige in giving you exactly that feeling. In fact, the famous wizarding street in the Harry Potter books was inspired by the Shambles with the titled house roofs that seem to lean forward for a stolen kiss, the winding, narrow cobblestone street and the old-fashioned shop windows that offer the famous York chocolate and other goods. Only aided to give you a feeling of magic, there are various Harry Potter themed stores in the Shambles, ranging from a potion's store at number 9 and 3/4 to The Shop That Must Not Be Named, which really gives you magical vibes. With old shelves, flying objects from the wall and a snug and winding layout, it really has everything you're looking for in a magic shop. Should the queue to get in be too long for your taste (sometimes there are queues, apparently), just pop over to the The Boy Wizard, another shop that specifies in HP merchandise and giving you the right idea of Diagon Alley.
2) Visit Clifford's Tower
If The Shambles isn't old enough for you yet, Clifford's Tower will certainly feed your historic needs. After strolling through the shops and the old market square in York, we ventured a little outside to see Clifford's Tower, the last remnant of the old York Castle, originally built by William the Conqueror around 1068. Erected atop a hill, it also gives spectacular views over the city and with an entrance fee of around 6 pounds, it's an affordable sight, too. We climbed the steps up to the hill and had a lovely chat with the ticket seller (which explained the long queue, apparently he talks to everyone before admitting you in). Next, you find yourself in a circular courtyard with the ancient remnants encasing you before you can climb the ancient staircase that's all trodden down to the tower walls. The headline picture of this blog post was taken up there and the view can only be described as spectacular. Take your time as you wander the tower for 360 degree views and take in not only the tower's history, but also the history of the town spreading out in front of you.
If you fancy true York souvenirs and tower-related memorabilia, there is also a little shop inside the tower courtyard where you can buy exquisite whiskey, lambswool rugs and more.
3) Have lunch in one of the ghost-infested pubs
With York sporting one old building after the next, original with slanted floors and old wooden beams, it comes as no surprise that there are ghost-stories galore, and almost every of the little pubs squeezed in between shops has its own "pub ghost" that is known to haunt your lunch now and then. One of them lies at the rim of the city core, namely "The Black Swan", which you can see in the picture above. Rumour has it a woman with long black hair and a white dress regularly haunts this establishment, usually seen gazing into the fire.
We, however, ended up eating at Gert and Henry's, a pub on the market square with lots of space and slanted, old floors for the ultimate feeling. My husband wanted to eat there as they advertised averagely-priced mussels, so there we went. A good plate of mussels and a Sunday roast later, it was back out into the permanent drizzle that gently cascaded down the sky.
4) Visit the Castle Museum of York
I have a confession. I am not really a fan of museums. I often pretend to because I don't want people to think I'm an uncultured git, but the truth is, I find them mostly boring. Looking at old, uncontextual stuff just doesn't give me lots, but to say we visited at least one museum, we dragged our butts back out to Clifford's Tower and the York Castle Museum.
Expecting to see plenty of boring old items as it usually happens in museums, I was positively surprised how the museum had decided to present York history. Whole authentically historical rooms lay decked out to give you a better understanding of how the people lived and it was, actually, really interesting. The exhibition shares diary entries of people during various times, giving you a genuine insight into their lives. However, the best part was the real-life rebuilt old town that looks like a gigantic film set and has actors walk around in authentic costumes to give you the ultimate feeling of authenticity and historicity. A huge "set", you can also buy some things in some of the shops, like traditional Yorkshire sweets, for example. You can also glimpse into a historic prison and witness how it becomes day, night and how the weather changes while strolling through it. This was by far my most favourite part of the museum and made the entry fee of 12 pounds definitely worth it. If you ever fancied experience history live, this is your chance.
5) Round your day off with afternoon tea at Betty's
Yorkshire tea is one of the best tea blends, and most certainly one of my favourites, so it is only logical that high tea and afternoon enjoy a specifically important role in York. For a long time it had been my desire to go for a proper afternoon tea, despite the hefty prices, and York proved to be the perfect city to do it.
There are plenty of places that offer afternoon tea, but usually people will say that Betty's Tea Room is the best, so we decided to go there. Little did we know how lucky we were that we only had to queue for five minutes until we snatched up a table, for the queue was infinitely longer when we left, with a waiting time of up to one hour!
Set at the corner of Helen's Street, Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms is a cosy and nicely decorated tea house with cafe vibes and cushioned seats. What heaven I was in when the three-tier tray was delivered with sandwiches filled with cucumber and dill, ham and wholegrain mustard, as well as Coronation Yorkshire chicken. One tier was one scrumptious scone with rich clotted cream and a generous dollop of strawberry jam. Tipped off was the whole culinary experience with a chocolate cube, exquisite lemon tart and Engadine slice. For quite a hefty price of 20 pounds, I must say that the quality of the food was simply divine and I cannot wait to return to York for more.
Of course there are plenty other fantastic things to do in York, let me know what you've been up to or whether you disagree with my top five things to do in York :-)
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