Guide to York holiday cottages

Guide to York

Kate Atkin 06 April 2023

Magnificent architecture, world-class attractions, eclectic shops and stylish restaurants; few destinations rival the charm of York. Encircled by ancient walls, York has a long and fascinating history that dates back 2,000 years. 

The skyline is dominated by the soaring pinnacles of York Minster, one of the world’s largest and finest medieval Gothic cathedrals. Combine this with the city’s labyrinth of winding, cobbled streets laid out by the Vikings, lined with overhanging timber-framed houses and classic shop fronts, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into the Middle Ages.

Even though York’s appearance remains beautifully frozen in time, this much-loved city embraces a modern, bustling cultural programme with a myriad of attractions that are nearly all within walking distance of one another. Plus, reputedly with over 365 pubs, you’ll never be short of a pit stop. Our tourist guide to York highlights the best sights and experiences to give you an insight into this wonderful city and all it has to offer you on your York holiday.

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The best things to do in York

If you're wondering what to do in York, here are some of the best attractions to visit during your stay, including family-friendly days out, historic sites, and activities for those with a sweet tooth.

Experience Viking life at Jorvik Viking Centre

A Viking and some Viking artefacts

Immerse yourself in an exciting Viking adventure at one of the best-known of York’s tourist attractions; experience what life was like in the city hundreds of years ago, through sights, sounds and even smells. 

The Jorvik Viking Centre is based on an archaeological dig at Coppergate in the 1970s which revealed the best-preserved Viking settlement in Britain. Many of the artefacts that were excavated can be discovered within the museum’s interactive exhibitions. 

The highlight of the centre is the thrilling ride-on exhibit where you are transported back to a smells-and-all reconstruction of the village with lifelike animatronic characters – listen out for Old Norse and Old English being spoken amid the cacophony of city sounds.

Marvel at York Minster

A view of the York Minster on a sunny day

The Minster is one of York’s most iconic sights, a masterpiece in stained glass and stone. Found in the heart of the city, dramatically towering above a maze of ancient streets, this is the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. 

One of the best things to do in York, there are free guided tours inside the cathedral once you have paid your entrance fee and a packed programme of special events, including performances by the Minster Choir. 

Visit the ornate Chapter House, the atmospheric Crypt and if you have a head for heights, you can climb the 275 steps of the winding central tower for a bird’s-eye view of York. And when you’ve finished climbing the tower, you can retire to one of our holiday cottages in York and rest your weary legs.

Discover York’s Chocolate Story

Varieties of different chocolate

Did you know that six million Kit Kats are produced in York every day? You can uncover the mouthwatering history of York’s famous confectionery dynasties – Terry’s and Rowntree’s – at York's Chocolate Story, located in York city centre. 

Take part in an entertaining and informative guided tour and learn how a simple cocoa bean is transformed into the finest chocolate. Then master the secrets of the chocolatier, as you create handmade chocolates for yourself. Don’t forget to order a hot chocolate at the café before you leave – it’s been voted the best in York.

Walk York’s city walls 

An image of York's City Walls as they curve into the distance

For some of the best views of York, a walk around the 3.4km circuit of the medieval city walls is a must. The best-preserved city walls in England, they offer a unique, elevated perspective of the city and best of all, they’re one of York’s free attractions. 

Connected by four ‘Bars’ (former gatehouses that were once used to extract tolls from the people coming in and out), you can access the walls at multiple points around the city. It takes around two hours to cover the whole circuit, or you can just choose to stroll along a section at a time. There’s a great view of the Minster from the section between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar. This is one of the best free things to do in York by far.

Visit York’s museums

An external view of York Castle Museum

With the city’s rich tapestry of history, it’s no surprise that there is an abundance of museums in York to explore on your visit. The Yorkshire Museum and Gardens offer an interesting introduction to the city with prehistoric, Roman, Viking and medieval artefacts spread over five galleries, offering interactive activities for all ages. 

The York Castle Museum depicts the more recent history of York and is famous for its authentic Victorian Street complete with shops and their engaging owners. This tourist attraction in York used to be the courthouse and prison for the city, and you can even visit the cell where Dick Turpin was imprisoned.

Another of the best York museums is the National Railway Museum which has free entry. Even if you’re not a train enthusiast, the collection of nearly 300 locomotives is very impressive and well worth a trip. Famous trains you can see include the record-breaking Mallard, the only Shinkansen bullet train you’ll find outside of Japan, and a collection of royal trains, including those used by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.

Climb Clifford’s Tower

A view looking up at Clifford's Tower, surrounded by daffodils

A climb up the spiral staircase to the top of English Heritage’s Clifford’s Tower - the last remaining structure of York Castle - rewards you with unrivalled panoramic views of the city. One of our favourite places to visit in York, you can often see the beautiful countryside of the North York Moors on a clear day. 

This ancient fortified mound and keep have a tumultuous history - originally built by William the Conqueror, they were burned to the ground twice, before being rebuilt in the 13th century by Henry III. Animated talks from actors bring this history to life.

Hire a little Red Boat on the River Ouse

A Red Boat drifting along the River Ouse

For a fun way to see the city, you can take the helm on board a self-drive motor boat. Sailing along the River Ouse, these little Red Boats offer a chance to explore the sites of York’s riverside in style from a leisurely half-hour or maximum one-hour hire. 

Seating up to eight people, why not pack a picnic and explore the same river that brought the Vikings to York? If you’re not keen on driving your own boat, City Cruises York runs much larger group sightseeing boat trips up and down the river instead – some even offer afternoon tea!

Get spooked on a ghost tour

A sign pointing to the location of a ghost walk

In addition to the usual free walking tours and open-top bus tours, you can join a chilling after-dark ghost tour around York. Claimed to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, you can find out about its more gruesome and sinister past on one of these famous York ghost tours. 

Along narrow passageways and dark streets, you’ll discover some of the most haunted locations in York such as the Golden Fleece, the oldest and most haunted pub in York. There is even a ghost bus tour, travelling around the city in a black double-decker bus.

Insider tip:

If you’re planning on booking a cottage in York and doing some serious sightseeing, you may want to pick up a York Pass from the Tourist Office. Available for one, two, three or six days, it saves you money on more than 40 attractions, such as museums, castles and gardens. It will almost certainly work out cheaper than paying for attractions individually.

Where to shop in York

With more than 2,000 shops, from Coney Street’s high-street names and Low Petergate’s chic boutiques to the labyrinth of streets around Swinegate and antique stores on Stonegate, shopping is one of York’s main attractions - especially as the city centre is pedestrian only. So where are the best places to go shopping in York?

The Shambles

The Shambles beautifully lit in the evening

For a truly unique shopping experience, step out of your York cottage and head straight to The Shambles. In the medieval period, The Shambles in York city centre was a street of butchers, and the original meat hooks from all those years ago still line the street today. 

Winner of Google's award for ‘Most Picturesque Street’, this higgledy-piggledy cobbled shopping street with its leaning timber-framed buildings, is York's bustling centrepiece. It is also said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. For the best in souvenirs, peruse its fancy boutiques, gift shops and antique havens, before heading to the Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe for a tasty treat.

Coppergate Centre

A clothes rail in a boutique

Another top place to go shopping in York is the Coppergate Centre in the heart of the city. As well as offering the usual high-street brands, it is home to museums, galleries and local cafes. 

The main attraction here is the department store, Fenwick, which is perfect if you want to pick up a designer gift such as a Mulberry handbag or some MAC cosmetics. Coppergate has a convenient on-site multi-storey car park and the central bus stops and the railway station are only a short walk away.

The Quarter 

Handbags and belts in a boutique

The Quarter refers to the wonderful tangle of medieval streets that form the heart of York’s commercial centre – Swinegate, Grape Lane, Back Swinegate and Little Stonegate, which leads onto the main thoroughfare, Stonegate. 

The perfect place to pick up unique gifts, this patchwork of streets is filled with quaint cafes, drinking spots and boutiques. For luxury shopping, be sure to pop into Browns, often referred to as the 'Harrods of the North'. 

Where to eat in York

Looking for the best restaurants in York? This medieval city has a wonderfully eclectic foodie scene with a variety of vibrant, modern and fresh eateries at every budget level. Here are just a few of the best places to eat in York.

Betty’s, St Helen’s Square

Fat Rascals at Betty's

Price: £££

If you love afternoon tea and all things sweet, Betty’s Tearoom in York is a must. A Yorkshire institution, this gilded palace of dainty pastries, freshly baked cakes and classic British afternoon teas served by bow-tied waiters, has become so popular that it has visitors queuing around the block to get a table! Established in 1919, the menu blends Yorkshire and Swiss cuisine with a seemingly endless list of decadent treats, including the renowned Yorkshire Fat Rascal, a huge fruit scone smothered in melted butter, accompanied by spoonfuls of homemade jam and dollops of cream.

Skosh, Micklegate

Waiter pouring a glass of Champagne

Price: £££

Full of fun and whimsy that is distinctly Yorkshire, the globetrotting small plates at Skosh leap between East Asian, Indian, classical French and modern British influences. The menu changes regularly and the open-concept kitchen creates a unique dining experience. Look forward to the likes of crispy saddleback pork with rhubarb ketchup, and fried chicken which is surrounded by a fiendishly moreish brown butter hollandaise.

Café No.8 Bistro, Gillygate

Couple in a restaurant toasting red wine glasses

Price: ££

Relaxed, bohemian and with a focus on locally sourced produce, Café No.8 Bistro is one of York’s best-kept secrets. It’s the kind of place only the locals know about. This cosy trattoria with a secluded garden offers a day-long menu of top-notch, carefully crafted bistro dishes such as Yorkshire lamb slow-cooked in hay and lavender, and baked plaice fillet with leek and fennel fricassee and saffron potato. This York restaurant is also known for its hearty Sunday lunches.

Must-visit bars and pubs in York

Reputedly there are more than 365 pubs in York, one for every day of the year. We’ll leave that to you to find out! Here is a selection of some of the finest.

  • The Guy Fawkes Inn: Enjoy a warming glass of red wine beside the roaring fire in this cosy medieval pub, the birthplace of the plotter himself
  • The Star Inn the City: Set within an old Engine House, this beautiful riverside pub in York offers great views, refreshing cocktails and a delicious seasonal menu
  • Mr P’s Curious Tavern: The perfect atmospheric hideaway, serving a fantastic range of drinks and top-notch small plates from around the world
  • Eagle & Child: A stoically British, real ale pub with oak beams, vaulted ceilings, and comfy bay window seats with far-reaching views over the city
  • The Golden Fleece: Sit back with a pint and marvel at the most haunted pub in York!
  • Evil Eye Lounge: The best place in York for a cocktail, there are no fewer than 1,028 gins to choose from, which can be enjoyed from the comfort of a Turkish-style bed

Where to stay in York

Breakfast in bed served in one of our cottages in York

After an exciting day exploring all these wonderful places of interest in York, you’ll be needing somewhere warm and cosy to put your feet up and relax. With our holiday cottages in the York city centre, you can step out directly into the picturesque tangle of quaint cobbled streets and make the most of the attractions, shopping and eateries by foot, without ever needing a car!

Among our places to stay in York city centre are:

With so many fun places to visit in York, you might like to bring the kids and enjoy a family holiday. The historic city is also the perfect setting for a romantic retreat, so why not have a browse of our romantic cottages in York? And if you want to bring your pampered pet along too for a city break, why not take a look at our dog-friendly properties in York. Click the button below to browse our full collection of York cottages.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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The Travel Chapter Limited trading as Ingrid Flute’s Yorkshire Holiday Cottages is an appointed representative of ITC Compliance Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (their registration number is 313486) and which is permitted to advise on and arrange general insurance contracts as an intermediary.
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