I think it’s fair to say that York is globally renowned for its kind folk, tourist appeal, and its undeniable richness in beauty. I count myself lucky every day to be able to call it my home.
Nestled within the stone embrace of the historical city walls lies the heart of the city, an epicentre of culture. Where the walls previously acted as a protective border, a barricade to outsiders, they now allow the city’s rich culture to ooze into the surrounding communities within the sprawling suburbs.
By Daisy Goodman
The city walls span 2 miles and allow visitors to the city to take York’s fascinating story in their stride as they explore the city from the outside looking in. Opportunities to disembark are plentiful, to allow any exploration that may take your fancy.
Standing stark against the city’s skyline lies an astounding example of architecture – York Minster. This is the oldest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and it is utterly breathtaking. You can almost feel the hustle and bustle of the city fade away upon entering the site, which stands tall around you and showcases some spectacular interior design. From the high arched ceilings to the world-famous stained-glass windows (of which there are over 120, made up of over 2 million pieces of glass!). If you’re feeling particularly brave you can even climb the spiral stone staircase to the top of the Minster’s central tower – which gives a bird’s eye view of the historic city below.
York, with its rich history, is surely unable to exist peacefully without rumors of skeletons in closets and ghosts that roam within the ancient buildings. It is even widely believed that York is the most haunted city in Europe, with several of the city’s ghosts being widely known on a first-name basis. Word on the street is that there are over 500 recorded hauntings within the city walls, giving way to a bustling night-time trade of ghost hunts!
However, if ghost hunting isn’t your thing – or if you’re more into museums than mausoleums, York offers a range of cultural delights and fascinating destinations for all the family.
Jorvik Viking Museum explores the history of the city dating way back to a time before it was known as York, in addition to the Castle Museum a short walk away, and the National Railway Museum, which offers an insight into the history of locomotives. If green spaces are more up your street, particularly on a city break, you can explore the Museum Gardens close to the banks of the River Ouse, bask in the shadow of York Minster in Dean’s Park, or cross Millennium Bridge to take a stroll through Rowntree’s Park – the options are plentiful, and there are an abundance of cafes, bars, and restaurants to rest your weary feet in afterwards.
Not only is the culture of the city broad and inviting, but the businesses of York are as well. It boasts an impressive range of independent businesses – over 60% of all businesses within the city, which all give way to an incredible range of culinary delights, retail gems, cultural hotspots, and all manner of other useful local businesses. This goldmine of independent businesses spans right across the city and into the surrounding suburbs and villages, giving a friendly buzz to the whole area, from city, to countryside, to coast.
For me, there’s just something about wandering down the old, cobbled streets of the city as well. If you’re visiting, I’d definitely recommend checking out the world-famous Shambles as the early morning haze engulfs the city. It’s a magical street at any time of day (but that may be at least partly to do with how Diagon Alley-ish it is), but at dawn when you’re one of the first people to traverse its cobbles ahead of a busy day of visitors, time almost stands still, allowing just an extra moment for you to embrace the history of where you’re standing. The snickelways and alleys act almost as the veins of the city, allowing pedestrians to explore the complex map and uncover hidden gems and secret hideaways, away from the hustle and bustle of the buzzing city.
It amazes me still, even after my years of exploring, that there are still streets I haven’t walked down, corners I haven’t turned, and pockets of peace that I haven’t yet experienced.
I realize how lucky I am to have such a vibrant city on my doorstep, and to have all the time in the world to explore it. It’s a city full of surprises, be it an alleyway that you always thought led to a dead end, a bright and airy new café that’s sprung up down a side street, begging to be sampled, or the exact way in which the afternoon sun hits that one specific bench by the river in the right way, enticing you in and encouraging you to take just a moment for yourself – to sit, to breathe, and to exist in the present, in a city so heavily stooped in history.
I’ve said before that I’m not of the religious persuasion – but there’s definitely something to say about York being the namesake of God’s own country. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet, you should, and if you’ve already been lucky enough to visit, you’re always welcome back.