I’ve decided to start a series of travel posts, as travel articles often seem to miss the mark. They’ll be guides written by people who have actually lived in the place, who really know the destination and preferably share my love for mojito, a good cuppa, a proper facial or all of the above.
I’ll kick off proceedings with my take on my hometown, York. Do message me with tips for your favourite places as I’m expanding my list.
York is a two hour train journey from London Kings Cross and about a five hour drive away. Generally a stopover en route to Edinburgh, it’s worthy of a weekend in its own right.
In summer the daffodil clad Roman walls are a great way to get your bearings. The route will take you a couple of hours to complete, but save some time for a walk along the riverside and through the Museum Gardens. Wander around medieval shops along The Shambles. You’ll come across some pretty quirky names for streets like ‘Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate’.
The most famous attraction to the city should be York Minster, the city’s cathedral. I’ve taken expat friends here for the fabulous views from the roof. Don’t expect too much though… one lost tourist looked thoroughly disappointed when I gave her directions. ‘Is that it?’ she sighed. ‘I thought the Minster was some amusement ride. I’ve seen churches way bigger than that in the States’.
York Art Gallery was overhauled in 2015 and is a beautiful light filled space just behind the Minster. As a child I would pop in here after school as it was warmer than the bus shelter and I often ended up missing my ride home as it’s such a wonderful, contemplative calm space. Some come for the British Studio Ceramics, others for the Etty or Hockney pieces, whereas I just love it for the overall atmosphere.
With the kids: Whether or not you’ve got Thomas the Tank Engine fans for children, the National Railway Museum is great. A five minute walk from the station, preschoolers will be entertained for hours with its royal steam locomotives, mini train rides and toy train stuffed play area. (Believe me, I drank five cups of tea waiting for my brats once).
Photo by Juan Enrique Gilardi
York Castle Museum explores the city’s past with plenty of interactive, dressing up, buttons you can press fun. My child’s eyes really lit up when he saw the new chocolate workshop. The museum houses a whole reconstructed Victorian street with a prison and several stores, including an unsurprisingly popular sweet shop. Strollers are not allowed but baby carriers are available free of charge.
I’m pleased to report that as a Yorkshire girl I didn’t spend my childhood down coal mines or up chimneys, but at Bettys tearooms. I was brought up on a diet of Fat Rascals (love them or hate them rock cakes) and Yorkshire Tea. Avoid the two hour tourist trail and book Champagne afternoon tea in the grandiose Belmont rooms upstairs or try its sister cafe, a quaint higgledy piggledy place just five minutes walk away on the medieval Stonegate.
Photo by twinnieE
If you’re vegan, vegetarian or just damn fussy like me, try El Piano on Grape Lane. The Spanish owned cafe’s menu is plant-based, gluten-free and free from nuts, palm oil and refined sugar, and even lists its food miles. As for my personal favourites – the salad plate is awesome and the coconut hot chocolate is heavenly. They also host cookery events in Spanish and English, and while I haven’t tried it personally, the B&B is apparently very welcoming.
Photo by alh1
One of my favourite places for cake is a cycling warehouse located 15 minutes walk along the river. I’ve used my bike once this year but you don’t need to be a cycling geek to love Cycle Heaven. The staff are super friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and it’s hugely popular for breakfast and cake. I love the lumberjack cake so much that I once ordered all 15 slices for myself (to take away, of course… I’m not that greedy).
If you’re after something a little more formal, Melton’s gets good reviews with us locals too. Restaurants come and go but this one has stood the test of time.
The big chains like Jo Malone, LK Bennett, as well as smaller fashion boutiques such as Mint Velvet are clustered around Stonegate, Petergate and Grape Lane. Horse racing is a big thing in York and family run The Hat Shop on the Pavement, near Fossgate does a roaring trade in racing season.
Locals will tell you there are over 365 pubs in York, one for every day of the year. While it is true that there were a lot of pubs in days gone by, I suspect it’s a more case of drunken revellers losing count on pub crawls.
One of the newest and oldest establishments is House of the Trembling Madness – a 12th century hall on Stonegate which opened as a pub in 2010. Expect beams, stuffed wild animal heads, gothic furniture, award winning ales, a store with over 700 beers and on a Saturday night, a queue.
The Evil Eye, located on the same street is a cocktail joint frequented by students, goths and cocktail lovers. In my youth I toyed with all three categories and spent many a summers in its sunny courtyard. The Asian food is not bad at all, and the staff are really friendly.
York is generally very safe but with stag and hen parties very popular, it does turn a different shade on a Saturday night. If you’re of a quieter disposition or prefer a more refined night out, opt for a nightcap at the hotel. The Grand serves good cocktails and whisky, by the way.
I’ve never slept overnight in the city (unless you count a bar stool in a not so salubrious nightclub in my teens) and nowadays I’ll generally host friends at my place. Word on the block is that The Grand is the best luxury hotel in the city though. It’s housed in a lofty Edwardian building, the spa is good and the location is super.
Personally I can vouch for Middlethorpe Hall, a rather formal country house hotel just outside the city which only allows children over the age of six. This hotel is not for everyone – I hated it as a child as I wasn’t allowed to run feral, but as an adult partial to a spot of toddler free civilisation I now feel rather differently.
Photo by domfell