York is a city located north of London, England. It has a rich and diverse history and once played a significant role in the United Kingdom. While a day trip to York is possible, I would recommend spending at least 2 days in York (like with other cities in the UK, such as Oxford and Cambridge) as there are many fun and free things to do in York city.
The train from London to York takes about 2-4 hours each way. The time there and back is dependent on a few things: what time of day and day of the week it is, any disruptions to train services, the number of train connections, and whether you're taking a fast or slow train. So, make sure you read through my tips below before booking any travel!
There are hotels situated in and around York's City Walls that are suitable for all budget types. For example, we stayed at the B+B York, which is about a 15-minute walk from the city centre.
I would highly recommend this accommodation for couples or budget-conscious individuals travelling outside of busy or peak holiday times as it is a quiet and clean place to stay. The staff are also super friendly and helpful!
Breakfast is available for purchase (if not included in your booking), but we opted to have breakfast out each morning. I have included my favourite breakfast spots and coffee shops below.
We did not purchase the York Pass because many of the York activities we did were free, so the pass wouldn't have saved us any money. You should, however, do your research beforehand to see if the pass would be beneficial for you as it highly depends on the sites you are going to visit.
Now that I've gotten all the important tidbits out of the way, continue reading this York itinerary to learn the best way to see York in two days.
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Using the map of York, you can explore all the days and stops.
As with any new place you might go to, I would always recommend getting up nice and early (7-8 am ain't too bad) to make the most of the day. Once you grab a coffee and put some food in your belly, you'll be fine.
So begin your day with a delicious breakfast and coffee at the Partisan. Then, go for a walk atop the city walls. Stop by the Museum Gardens and St. Mary's Abbey for a brief stroll and quick peek at the incredible monastery ruins.
Next, grab a coffee and snack (or lunch if you're still hungry) at an outdoor food court (Spark York CIC). Finally, continue your exploration of York at the York Minster, the Shambles Market and Shambles Street. Finish off your evening with a comforting Italian meal at D'vine Restaurant And Social Bar.
If you don't enjoy walking as much as we do, or are not able to, then this York guide might not be for you!
We started off our day with coffee and breakfast at the cosy and two-storied Partisan cafe. It is located within the city walls and is about a 20-minute walk from where we stayed in York.
The Partisan has good coffee and breakfast and also offers baked goods. I really enjoyed my Vegetarian Partisan Breakfast (top of the photo above) as it had a variety of items and flavour. I was told the Eggs in Purgatory (bottom of the picture above) was also good. However, make sure you LOVE tomatoes as there is a lot of it in this dish!
Once you are done with breakfast and have paid, exit the restaurant's doors, go right and continue straight until you hit the wall. Go up the wall's stairs to begin your walk. You'll know you're at the right place if you see signs for the Henry VIII Experience.
The York City Walls is a 3.4 km stretch of town walls that encompasses the central area of the city. They are the longest town walls in England. York's City Walls are also referred to as the Bar Walls and the Roman Walls as they were initially put up by the Romans in 71 AD.
It is free to walk the walls, but they are only open from dusk to dawn all year round. Hours vary from season to season due to time and weather changes.
We walked the whole wall with a few stops in between (the next three stops below). It's an easy and enjoyable walk on a nice and sunny day as it has beautiful views of the city. Make sure you have a comfortable and sturdy pair of walking shoes on - you don't want to get sore feet mid walk!
The point of reference for this stop on the Google map at the top of this itinerary is the location where we started the walk from. It is only a 2-minute walk from the previous stop on this itinerary - the Partisan cafe.
While entrance to the Yorkshire Museum itself is not free, visiting its stunning gardens are!
About 15 minutes into your walk along York's City Walls, you will eventually come to the end of a wall (for now) and a bridge. Cross the bridge and continue walking until you see the museum and the gardens on your left.
You might be thinking... why on earth would I want to add MORE walking to my already long-walking day?! Well, because it's scenic and worth your time!
Walk at a leisurely pace, take in the greenery, and if tired, this is an excellent time to pause for a break for a few moments. Enjoy!
Once you've finished wandering around the gardens, head over to St. Mary's Abbey for a closer look. St. Mary's Abbey is a great place to snap some photos as I wouldn't be surprised if these ruins are one of the more instagrammable places in York.
The reason why this monastery is in ruins is because of Henry the VIII. Damages to buildings like this one occurred during the period of the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries', which is when Henry the VIII took churches' assets and had religious buildings burned.
It is worth spending a little bit of time walking around the structure as it is quite massive and impressive and situated in a beautiful big green field.
Once you are done with the gardens and the Abbey, head towards Bootham Bar to continue walking along the city walls.
If you're still hungry even after a big breakfast at the Partisan or require a 'pick-me-up', head towards Spark York CIC for a well-deserved coffee break or lunch.
Spark York CIC is a covered outdoor food court area that offers a range of food options - from burgers to Asian food; I'm positive you'll find something catered to your tastebuds here.
While it does seem to attract a younger crowd, that doesn't mean not everyone's invited! Even if you don't fancy a drink or food, it is worth a stop in to check out its arrangement as it's made up of '23 upcycled shipping containers'. How cool and different!
Once you are done here, head back towards Fishergate Postern Tower, cross the Tower St Bridge on your right over the River Foss, hang a left shortly afterwards and continue walking past the Tower Gardens on your right once again. Cross a second bridge - the Skeldergate Bridge.
You will resume the wall walk once you reach Baile Hill and will have finished once you see the Henry VIII Experience attraction again (where you first began)!
There is the option of also visiting the York Castle Museum, which is near the Tower Gardens. There is an admission fee to enter this museum.
We did not stop at the York Castle Museum as we decided to continue walking the wall instead. If you do choose to visit this museum, be aware that you might have to rush through the next two stops as they close by early evening.
York Minster is a 7th-century gothic-style cathedral that is one of the biggest monasteries in Northern Europe. It is open every day from early morning until the evening. If you sign up ahead of time for a service on Sunday morning, you can enter the church for free! Otherwise, you will have to pay an admission fee on arrival.
We did not go inside the church apart from the entrance before the ticket desk as we found the fee to be rather steep for a church (most churches in Europe are entry by donation). However, York Minster does provide tours around the church as part of the admission ticket, and the guides seem to be quite knowledgeable as they share lots of information about the building.
We also didn't go in because the viewing deck at the top was closed due to faulty lights the weekend we were there. To get to the top, you will have to climb 275 stairs and pay another fee in addition to the admission ticket.
The Shambles Market is located in the middle of the centre of York and sells items such as fresh fruit and veggies, unique trinkets and everyday goods. It might be worth a stop or walkthrough if markets are your thing, or you have a couple of days in York at Christmas (I read it's fun then!).
To be honest, we didn't really explore the Shambles Market as looking at it from afar, it appeared most stalls were closed, and there wasn't much going on. When a market is already on the smaller side, and it's quite quiet, then there isn't much of an appeal there for me.
The Shambles is comprised of over imposing timber-lined buildings that once had several meat-filled shelves by butchers. If you were kicking around in the 14th century when this area came to fruition, you would see a lot of meat or dead animals staring back at your face as you would walk along the Shambles.
If you are a Harry Potter fanatic, then York is also for you! The Shambles is often referred to as the 'Harry Potter Street' by fans as it looks quite similar to Diagon Alley. You will find a lot of Harry Potter memorabilia in some of the stores here, so if you're a fan, make sure to pick something up!
For dinner, head to D'vine Restaurant and Social Bar for some good ol' Italian food! We had the Salmon Fillet and Mixed Seafood Linguini for our main courses, both of which were good.
The Soup of the Day was alright, but nothing mind-blowing. The ambience was also ok, but again, nothing special.
The next 24 hours of your 48 hours in York moves at a bit of a slower pace, which should be good for you after an action-packed first day! With York being one of the best places to visit in Northern England, though, you shouldn't be surprised that your first day was full on!
First, head to Brew & Brownie for breakfast. Then, join a FREE Guided Walking Tour with AVG York. Once you're done with your walking tour, stop by Spring Espresso for an afternoon tea. Finally, finish with the National Railway Museum and tapas at Ambiente Tapas Fossgate for dinner.
Let me be the first to tell you, York has wonderful breakfast/brunch and coffee places in general. So if you were to ask me which place has better breakfast - the Partisan or Brew & Brownie - it's pretty much a tie.
While Brew & Brownie has much simpler meals, they are still quite tasty. Best of all, their coffee is fantastic! We had the Eggs Benny & Free-Range Scrambled Eggs with a side of avo.
So, go ahead, I dare you to give both brunch places in York a try and judge for yourself!
Most 'free walking tours' in Europe are not really 'free'. They operate on a tip-based system. Meaning, pay what you think the tour is worth. Because of this, I was dubious when reading AVG York's website as they said they provide free walking tours “unlike some other advertised tours" in York. But guess what?! They actually do!
AVG York stands for the Association of Voluntary Guides (AVG) to the City of York. They offer two daily walking tours departing at 10:15 am & 1:15 pm from the William Etty Statue in front of the York Art Gallery. You are not required to sign up in advance.
While it states the tours are 2 hours in length on the website, be prewarned, they are more like 3 hours with no breaks for food or toilets in between.
While the in-depth detail about York's history was much appreciated, we did end up leaving about 2 hours and 15 mins in because we were hungry, cold and tired. No time estimate was also given by our guide for when the tour would end, which was a bit odd and resulted in a few people leaving before the tour ended, unfortunately!
Long tour aside, the guide from AVG York was extremely knowledgable about York and had an evident passion for guiding visitors through the town. If we were a little bit better prepared (had eaten and dressed warmer for the cold weather), it would have been great to stay for the whole tour.
Ghost walks are also a thing in York if that's up your alley, and you'll see signs for them around the city. As we didn't try one out, I can't provide a recommendation for one.
Another day, another coffee!
Spring Espresso was luckily not too far from the point we left the walking tour. It was quite busy when we arrived here in the early afternoon on a Sunday. However, we found a table rather quickly.
We ordered a flat white and an English breakfast tea, both of which were predictable but soothing, and a carrot cake and vegan brownie bar. I would personally not recommend the vegan brownie bar, despite them claiming it's their most popular item! The carrot cake was lovely, though.
The National Railway Museum in York is all about rail travel in Britain and is not too far from the York train station. It has over 6,000 items on display and is free to enter. They do, of course, appreciate donations (5 pounds per person is suggested). I would recommend this attraction for both adults and kids.
Once here, you will see all sorts of trains - from steam to electric locomotives to train miniatures and replicas - be prepared to be amazed! You can easily spend a couple of hours walking around here as it is quite big and there is a lot to see.
I enjoyed visiting the Railway Museum as I like looking at displays of trains for some reason, not sure why... perhaps it's because I wanted to be a train conductor at some point when I was little!
Ambiente Tapas Fossgate has a vibrant and happening environment with very tasty tapas. I would suggest booking in advance as we were lucky to get a table on arrival!
When here, we had the deep-fried calamari rings, the goat cheese with honey, and the roasted cauliflower steaks - all of which were fantastic! Skip the Mediterranean Vegetarian Platter though, unless cold veggies are your thing!
I hope you were able to explore the best of York with this 2 Days in York Itinerary.
Feel free to alter this guide as you wish, or add or subtract attractions to it such as:
I hope you're excited about your upcoming trip to York as there are certainly a lot of fun and free things to do in York!
This article was first published on Jan 28, 2020 20:22 UTC.
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