York: Vikings, steam trains and charming shopping

Step off the train at York and you’ll find romantic cobbled streets steeped in history. It’s also alive with theatre, charming independent shops and a wealth of foodie-friendly cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Here are our suggestions for the top places for sightseeing, eating, drinking and shopping in York…. 

Things to do in York

The Vikings play a huge part in the story of York. They invaded the city in 866 and named it Jorvik. Today’s York is rich in Viking remains and artefacts – with the settlements unearthed a major attraction. 

At the Jorvik Viking Centre the streets of Viking York are recreated. Here you can walk over the actual timbers and remains of 1,000 year-old Viking homes, see up-close artefacts unearthed by archaeologists and wander a recreated Viking street – complete with sounds and smells. 

This year York will celebrate its Viking history with the Jorvik Viking Festival – with more than 40,000 people expected to attend.

Highlights of the nine-day festival include:

  • Strongest Viking Competition: 8 ‘Viking warriors’ compete in challenges including tug of war, log running and shield wrestling to be named Strongest Viking.
  • Brave New Viking World: Warriors, gods and monsters will take over the streets of York to recreate a Viking-age battle. 

York Minster dominates the city’s skyline and its tower provides a superb vantage point for viewing the maze of medieval streets below.

Completed in 1472, the Norman minster is known as one of the UK’s great historical buildings. Breathe in the majesty of its Gothic architecture and medieval stained glass windows.

Things to do at York Minster:

  • The Undercroft: Learn about life in York from Roman to Norman times in a series of interactive displays in chambers beneath the Minster.   
  • Climb the central tower: Climb more than 200 steps for unrivalled views of medieval York and the flat rural landscapes beyond.

No visit to York is complete without a wander around the National Railway Museum. Swoon at the romance of the steam age, and run your fingers along iconic steam engines such as Mallard – still the fastest steam locomotive in history.

Food and drink in York

York is a foodie’s dream, with something for everyone. 

An intimate dinner. Looking for simple, unfussy food put together from fresh local produce? Stroll a few minutes beyond the city walls to Café No 8

A favourite of locals and day trippers, this bustling bistro prides itself on its relationship with York-based butchers, fishmongers, and greengrocers.

The menu is small but superb – think grilled, marinated lamp rump with spiced lamb shoulder and curried cauliflower, or hot-smoked salmon, horseradish and potato salad on hot toast.

With its intimate candlelit atmosphere and low hum of chatter, it feels a bit like being served in the home of a really good friend who’s an excellent cook.

An unpretentious spot for in-the-know foodies. One of York’s best-kept secrets, at Il Paradiso del Cibo the traditional Italian trattoria swaps the backstreets of Rome for those of York.

Cherished by local foodies and sussed students, Il Paradiso offers up steaming bowls of pasta, hot blistered pizza and a specials board chalked with 30 options.

Head chef Paolo Silesu blends the tastes of his native Sardinia with more traditional Italian fare. Expect sardines with red pesto, oven-baked sea bream with mussels and king prawns and suchlike.

Great place to grab lunch on the go. Want something to eat on the go while hitting the shops or walking the city walls? The wraps at Shambles Kitchen are really quite something.

Taste and nutrition are given equal billing here, so it’s a great option for a guilt-free lunch.

We love the zingy chicken zorba – lime and mint chicken, houmous and Greek yoghurt sauce with red pepper and lettuce in a hot, toasted wrap. 

Shopping in York

York has everything from high-street favourites to independent shops and vintage boutiques. 

Here are 4 of our favourite areas:

Coney Street: High-street heaven. Next, JD Sports, H&M, Mango, TK Maxx and Lush are among the names to be found here.If you like the high street, you’ll like Coney Street.

Low Petergate: This charming cobbled street is always busy. It dates back to Roman times, and is home to some lovely shops. Find classic fashion at Reiss, Robert Smart Menswear and Noa Noa, vintage books at Oxfam books and jewellery at Pandora.

Fossgate: The hipster capital of York. Find arch vintage shops brimming with retro clothes. At Purple Haze you’ll find beautifully-dressed windows, knowledgeable staff and a treasure trove of vintage clothing. Celebrate your purchase with a pint of real ale in the Blue Bell – a pub dating back to the 1700s.

York Designer Outlet: Love high-end labels? A 10-minute bus ride from York city centre takes you to the York Designer Outlet. Here you can find everything from Margaret Howell and Hobbs to Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith, and all at a reduced price.

Hidden York

Here are two places in York you might not be aware of...

Holy Trinity Church: If you find the Minster a bit too grand you will love this rickety old 15th century church. Holy Trinity Church offers a window into Medieval life. Wander its churchyard, marvel at the stained glass and embrace its uneven floors and walls. A higgledy-piggledy church that is regarded one of York’s best-kept secrets. It also boasts a very rare Hagioscope. What’s a hagioscope?

The Blue Bell: Like pubs used to be. Step inside the tiny Blue Bell and into a bygone era of Edwardian panelling, open fires and real ale. The interior will make you pine for yesteryear, while the ales range from traditional to hipster – it has Brooklyn on tap.  You can’t miss its distinctive red-brick exterior.

Enjoy your trip to York.