I have to tell you about York in two parts, only because the York Castle Museum has such an incredible textiles collection that it needs its own post! First: all of the other things 😉
We arrived a bit early on Friday afternoon. Troy had to take a work call, so we stopped in at the pub at the train station for a BLT and a pint. Word to the wise: with more than 365 other places to eat and drink in York, I highly advise that you skip the train station pub. Just don’t do it. With the work call complete and time left to spare, T and I went for an aimless wander which took us to a large open park near the York Racecourse. We relaxed on the grass until it was time to meet my cousin M, and her sweetie D, back at the station.
Friday night was an amazing greeting to the city. We had a night out with M’s lovely friends who came out to meet T and I. We drank yummy cocktails, wandered through the city, and ended with chips, cheese and gravy from a food cart that had the most wonderful dark gravy (I’m having to consume gluten to prepare for a new celiac test, and I’m trying to make the best of it!). After an evening of bar-hopping (I left sober but still felt like a 20something, it was fun!), we saw the shortest street in York with the longest name: Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate! It has 3 addresses including the church.Over the course of the weekend, we enjoyed a breakfast in (thanks M!) and a perfect Sunday brunch at Gulp & Graze (more on them later). We walked the gorgeous and ancient city wall, through beautiful gardens and past ruins before ending up at York Minster. At the tower, we also climbed the tower and explored the Roman ruins in the undercroft. We toured York’s Chocolate Story, the National Railway Museum, and marvelled at the incredible range of trains on display. We browsed shops as we wandered along Shambles, ate incredible meals, and enjoyed a night cap (can you still call it a night cap if it’s beer and gin?) at Brew York, a local brewery that just opened in 2016 and already seems to have established itself.
On Sunday evening, we checked into a hotel. T had to work on Monday and we didn’t want to interfere with M & D’s weeknight routines. This meant I had Monday to explore. I started the morning tackling the steep stairs up to Clifford’s Tower, then toured the York Castle Museum at a perfect, leisurely pace, and met up with M and her work friends for lunch at the market.
By the time we said our goodbyes, T was done work so we met at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, followed by a second (for me) lunch at the market, where we picked up some pate, garden tomatoes, sourdough bread and cheeses. We rounded off our incredible York trip with drinks at a pub in the centre of town, picked up our luggage from the hotel, and took in a relaxed stroll to the train station. Just like that, we were back in London and already looking forward to the next weekend: my birthday!
Have you realized yet that this weekend was action-packed? And yes, I realize that I use the work perfect FIVE time in this post (6 including this one)- we really loved York. It’s got such a unique feel and great energy; we did SO much and yet I didn’t feel like we rushed anything. There is SO much I could tell you! So much in fact that I don’t know how to do justice to every place without 5 York posts! I thought about breaking it down by day, but I’m just going to cut to the chase here- we travelled every weekend of August and now are prepping to move in less than a week, so I’m taking a different approach: I’m going to break it down for your next visit.
Favourite “Touristy Place”: Shambles
Shambles was voted the Most Picturesque Street in Britain in 2010, and for good reason. It is lined with 15th century buildings that lean out over the cobble-lined street below, and features a wide range of shops, from fudge and candy to cufflinks and a tea room. Some history from their site: the word Shambles comes from the medieval Shamel, meaning booth or bench, and was once called Flesshammel (meaning “around flesh”) because historically, the street was dedicated to houses and butchers shops (there were a whopping 26 butchers on Shambles in 1872!). Fun fact for Harry Potter fans: Shambles was the inspiration for Diagon Alley (and is home to the Shop That Shall Not Be Named).
Oops- was in the moment and didn’t take a picture!
Check it out here
Favourite Historical Site: TIE! Between York Minster and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Try: to tour the undercroft! It has only recently been opened, and features an impressive array of Roman artifacts left over from the Basilica, the centre of the Roman Fortress that once stood where the minster is now. T and I had the same favourite: a painted plaster mural, which has been re-assembled exactly where it stood more than 1600 years ago! An attached sign explains that the image is “divided into three, with a lower part painted to resemble marble, a central zone with figures and scenery and a decorative frieze at the top. This room was used by senior officers – the barracks of ordinary soldiers were not so richly decorated.” The images include a theatrical mask depicting tragedy, birds, the outline of a window, and a robed figure holding a staff. It is such a beautiful reminder of the colourful way the Roman’s lived.
The Minster itself has an equally impressive history. It is the largest gothic cathedral in all of Europe (let’s skip the Brexit conversation here) and took 250 years to build. It was consecrated in 1472 (this is when it is declared sacred by the church and formally dedicated to a religious purpose). It is also known as St Peter’s (it’s full proper name is “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York” which I think you’ll agree is a bit of a mouthful!). There was a Christian church on the site in 627, and according to History Of York, the first Archbishop of York was recognized by the Pope in 732. There was a stone church as early as 866, but William the Conqueror’s men destroyed it early in the 11th century. In 1220, construction began on what remains one of the most stunning cathedrals in all of England. This place is almost indescribable. The ornate organ, the precision of the statues, the ancient texts, the painted ceiling and windows in the Chapter House- oh my gosh. It was all mind-blowing. In the Chapter House, a round room with a domed ceiling and surrounded with stained-glass windows, I just sat there on the benches taking it all in. To get this view (and picture) of the ceiling I decided to lay down in the middle of the floor. Totally worth it.
One reason York Minster stands out is its 128 windows, home to more than half of ALL of England’s medieval stained glass. Imagine- more than half in this one building! The Great East Window, created between 1405 and 1408 by John Thornton, is the size of a tennis court and contains a staggering 311 panels (which are currently undergoing an extensive restoration and conservation project). If you visit soon, you may still have the opportunity to explore the conservation display that shows some of the details behind this massive undertaking through a collection of photographs, tools, text, and interactive pieces for children. The Three Sisters Window is, according to the official Minster site, the “only memorial in the country to the women of the British Empire who lost their lives during the First World War.” The window was built in the 1200s, but removed for protection from raids during the war, and eventually restored and rededicated to these heroic women.And as if ALL of that isn’t impressive enough- we climbed the tower to see the flying buttresses up close and personal, and to get a glorious view of the city. The narrow passageways aren’t exactly made for the modern man…
Check it out here
Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Try: well, just touring it! Come visit, it’s amazing.
The hall turned 660 years old in 2017! It has been voted one of the Best Preserved Medieval Guildhalls in Europe for good reason. The furnishings alone make this place worth a visit! One example: the Evidence Chest. It is made of oak and iron, dates from the 1340s (let that sink in) and held the archives of the building until the late 1800s when a larger storage space was needed.
The floor slopes, the beams are held in place with individually handmade pegs, and the intricate woodwork is just beautiful. It’s a stunning timber-framed structure; the largest in the UK and rare in that it is still, in 2017, used for its original purpose. I’m such a tactile person and I loved the simple act of being able to rest my hand on the edge of the mantle, trying to connect to its hundreds-of-years-old history. Be still my heart!
Originally founded as a religious fraternity in 1357, the majority of members were mercers (dealers in textiles, which York was known for) by 1430. And so, alongside the original religious purpose of their formation, a trading association was added. With these origins, it is no surprise that it includes a chapel, and that part of the building was, at one time, an almshouse (a house supported by charity that provides housing for the sick, elderly, and the poor).
Check it out here (really- make time for this one- their professional photos give such a lovely sense of the building if you won’t be there in person any time soon!)
Favourite place to spend a morning: York Castle Museum
(but you’ll have to wait for York: part 2 for this one!)
Favourite bar: Evil Eye
Try: any of the cocktails! With names like Anise To Meet You (creme de cacao, coffee liqueur, white sambuca, milk & cream), Georgia On My Mind (gin, yorkshire tea, elderflower liqueur & cordial, lemongrass syrup, lemon) and Wrinkly Squid (I’ll let that one be a surprise) and FOUR pages of shots and cocktails, the options can be a bit overwhelming but so fun!
The funky drink names are definitely an indicator of the creative, cool vibe of the Evil Eye lounge. The outdoor patio has a vibrant mural covering the entire back wall, and like so many places in York, features a pretty awesome view of the Minster (more on the minster later). And don’t miss the other floors! Upstairs (on one of the multiple levels) there are cushy couches where you can get comfy.
Check them out here
Favourite brunch: Gulp and Graze
Try: Green Goddess or any of their made-to-order juices, Croissant French Toast with fresh berries for something different, or the Full English for a twist on something traditional, complete with millennial-friendly avocado on toast (and the local Wilson’s of York sausage is fab!).
The vibe here is chill Sunday morning, which was perfect given that we visited on a Sunday! Gulp and Graze is all about local, which I love. They get their coffee from North Yorkshire, their cakes from nearby Leeds and from a patisserie that is just next-door. The atmosphere is peaceful and the place is clean, and all of the food looked fresh. It’s so nice to go out with a group and have every single person enjoy their food, am I right? Added bonus: reasonable prices, especially with such beautiful presentation and good portions.
Check them out here
Favourite spot for tea: Bettys
Try: a new tea (I had a lovely white tea, that didn’t turn bitter even after steeping a little longer than it should have).
Their scones are decent (but nothing like Soho’s Secret tea room in London), and the sandwiches had a lovely flavour. Mostly, you are going there for the ambience which is lovely, and if you’re there at the right time you can catch the live piano. Bettys started with a man named Frederick Belmont. In 1936 he “travelled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary” and was inspired by its grandeur to create a stunning and opulent cafe in what was once a furniture store.
Check them out here
Favourite meal: Barbakan
Try: Beef cheeks. Served on a bed of mashed potatoes, with a side of perfectly sweet caramelized carrots and a roasted plum to balance the rich flavours. I’m not sure if my taste buds have ever been quite this happy!
Barbakan Cafe & Restaurant is a small independent, family run restaurant. With T’s Ukrainian background, we were both pretty stoked when M told us she’d chosen a Polish restaurant for dinner. The borscht-style soup starter was alright but nothing special, and the pierogi main really needs some more attention (more pierogi, more creme fraiche, and definitely some sausage and sautéed onion!). But the beef cheeks were perfection; I wouldn’t suggest a single change. The desserts looked delectable, but we were too stuffed to try any of them!
Once again- much too busy enjoying the food to take pictures of the food. 🙂
Check them out here
Bonus Insider Tip: Skosh
Apparently Skosh is one of THE best places to eat in York, but it’s booked well in advance, so call ahead for a reservation if you can (or try calling when you’re in town in case there’s a cancellation). We didn’t get a chance to go there but have heard lots of positive things about it. Benefit from my too-late-for-myself knowledge and go eat their food! And then please report back here and let us know what you thought!
Check them out here
Last but not least, just for fun, a couple of beautifully maintained Tudor buildings, because Tudor buildings are just so pretty! All of the wanna-be Tudor places in Canada seem so sad now. 😉