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By Cordelia Grierson
teeped in history and filled with stunning medieval architecture and well-priced pints, York is a magical city. The train from King’s Cross takes just over two hours, and a few steps out of York station, you are met by the ancient city walls, which date back to 71AD and encircle the town centre. Ahead of you, peeping over everything, is the city’s imposing cathedral, the magnificent York Minster. This is the kind of place where you can walk everywhere, and where you will want to walk everywhere, whiling away the hours strolling down cobbled streets with hip-hoppy names like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate.
On arrival, dump your bags at the nearby guesthouse Atelier22. It’s an elegantly decorated and stylish apartment, filled with unique and extraordinary paintings by local artist David Campbell. Should you opt for a hotel, then Grays Court is an opulent choice, with a beautiful garden and a great breakfast (I recommend the – surprise, surprise – Yorkshire sausages with a homemade English muffin, but the vegetarian fry-up is also great).
Then head out onto the street and take the less-than-two-minute walk to the Minster. This creamy-white Gothic cathedral is magnificent inside and out, and its Great East Window is the largest – and may I say most breathtaking – expanse of stained glass in Britain. When you’re done taking it in, stop off at Betty’s Café Tea Rooms (not the closest branch, on Stonegate, but the one in St Helen’s Square, five minutes’ walk to the south of the Minster) for lunch. It’s an old tearoom in the heart of the city that often has queues round the corner for afternoon tea, but lunch (between midday and 2pm) is usually less busy and calmer. Get one of their rösti dishes and a glass of Gewürztraminer, and definitely pick a delight from the old-school cake trolley. It’s kitsch, it’s touristic and it’s perfect.
‘The bizarre but wonderful Evil Eye cocktail bar, hidden behind a gin shop, is an esoteric gem, perfect for a late-night tipple’
Next, take a stroll through the Museum Gardens, home to a Roman tower, an ancient abbey and a medieval guesthouse, the Hospitium. Two minutes from there is York Art Gallery, another beautiful building which houses a permanent collection of paintings ranging from 14th-century Italian panels to 17th-century Dutch masterpieces, as well as changing contemporary exhibitions. Take a moment to peruse the Centre of Ceramic Art on the first floor and whatever you do, don’t miss the amazing gift shop, where you can buy gorgeous contemporary ceramics that will be a perfect reminder of your time in York.
After all that culture, settle in at the very sexy Skosh – make sure you book in advance. It takes its name from the Japanese sukoshi, meaning little. It specialises in small plates, so order a large quantity of their ever-changing dishes and the kitchen will decide the best order for you to eat them in. Oh, and leave room for pudding. Not quite feeling ready for bed as you wander back to your lodging? Pop into the bizarre but quite wonderful Evil Eye for a cocktail. Hidden behind a gin shop, it is an esoteric gem, perfect for a late-night tipple.
Why not begin day two with a walk to a café? The Pig and Pastry does the best late brunch in town, and their “Big Squeak” sandwich is pure heaven. Take a walk through Rowntree Park, mind the geese, and then hit Bishopthorpe Road, where you will find delis, independent shops and The Swan. The Swan is a proper pub, where they have their own exclusive ales, the pints are very reasonably priced, and everyone kind of knows each other. It’s also the birthplace of York Gin, now found in every bougie London market and independent off-licence.
Catch an afternoon independent film at City Screen or just get some homemade chips from their restaurant and sit on a comfy sofa, looking out through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the best river view in town. Then, head to the Red House Antique Centre, where 50 dealers trade their finds under the red roof of a huge house in the centre of town. If there is room for supper, go to House of the Trembling Madness (the one on Stonegate, not the one on Lendal). Find a cosy nook and drink a craft beer or a hearty glass of red wine with a delicious sharing board. You will feel like you are deep in the countryside, with big wooden beams, an open fire and a rather excessive amount of taxidermy.
Just before you get on your train home, take a short walk and have a great Mediterranean breakfast in Partisan. Everything is for sale here: not just the artisan breads and cakes, but every piece of art, chair, light and vase. Everything. Finally, straight out the door you will find Micklegate Bar, where you can climb up to the top of the city walls and walk around them to your heart’s content – or until you need to run to the station.
Lead image by: James & Lianne Photography
York is an underrated spot for antique-hunting and artisanal boozers.
By Cordelia Grierson