I love weekend city breaks. Long enough to feel like you’ve had a mini holiday. Short enough to know that you can throw a few things into a backpack and travel light. Going away for the weekend also means that you don’t have to use up any of your holiday days which, if you work full time, is the perfect way to explore somewhere new without eating into your annual allowance.
And that’s exactly what I did on my recent trip to York. I caught the train up on the Friday evening, spent all day Saturday and Sunday exploring, then caught the train back to London on Sunday night, feeling exhausted but happy that I’d got to revisit somewhere I last visited with my parents aged 14. So, if you’re heading to York for the weekend, here are some things to do while you’re there.
Climb Clifford Tower
Spend your first morning in York getting a bit of a workout by climbing the (what seems like, but isn’t, I promise) MILLION stairs up to Clifford Tower. It might feel like a bit of an effort but it’s definitely worth it once you’ve negotiated the spiral staircase inside the tower and arrived at the top. Clifford Tower was originally built in 1068 by William the Conqueror as a statement of his power over York at the time. Nowadays it offers brilliant views over the city of York: try to spot York Minster as you make your way around the walkway before descending the steep stone staircase.
Explore The Shambles
The Shambles is an old street in York with overhanging timber-framed buildings that lean towards each other giving the area a certain quaintness that’ll have you stopping to ponder at every store front. At The Shambles you’ll find independent boutiques and cute little cafes perfect for people watching. It’s also one of the best places in York to take photos so spend some time exploring these little lanes; there’s plenty of places to stop for a cuppa if and when you want to rest your legs.
Visit York Minster
A visit to York just isn’t complete with a visit to York Minster and you can easily spend a couple of hours wandering through its different rooms where high ceilings, stained-glass windows, a huge organ, small chapels, and probably some of the most intricate wood and stone carvings you’ve ever seen await. Head to the Quire in the heart of the church to see the huge organ and the stalls where choirs perform, travel underground to The Crypt (it’s not as scary as it sounds), then have a sit in the calmness of Chapter House with its domed ceiling and huge stained-glass windows.
If you’re feeling fit you can also book a trip up the tower for amazing views over York.
Take a cruise on the River Ouse
(Yes, it does make me really happy that that rhymed).
A different way to see the city is to take a boat trip along the River Ouse which runs through York. York Boat offer a few different cruises, from short city trips to summer BBQ cruises. Visit their website here for more information.
Chill out in the Museum Gardens
Isn’t it frustrating when you visit a city and there’s not one patch of grass that isn’t stuck around the back of an ugly supermarket or so strewn with cigarette butts that it’s not unlike laying down in a large, grass-lined ashtray. Thankfully, York is not one of those places. Museum Gardens (which, funnily enough, are also home to, yes, you guessed it, a museum), are located just off the banks of the River Ouse and provide 10 acres of grass just perfect for a bit of sunbathing, or just to rest your legs after a long day of sightseeing.
Visit the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey
In Museum Gardens you’ll also find the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Founded by the Normans (with William the Conqueror giving permission for it to be built) the Abbey was finished around 1088 and established as a Benedictine Monastery with its own walls and source of income, going on to become one of the largest and most powerful monasteries in the north of England.
In 1539, however, the St Mary’s Abbey fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, losing all of its money and, eventually left to collapse. What you can see in Museum Gardens today is the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and the church that was built next to it in the thirteenth century. Even the ruins look grand so it’s not difficult to imagine what it would have looked like in its hey day.
You can learn more about the history of York at Yorkshire Museum, also located in Museum Gardens.
Explore the Snickelways of York
Before we go on, can we just talk about how amazing the word ‘snickelways’ is!? It sounds like something out of Harry Potter!
What is actually is is a one of those narrow paths that runs between buildings; small enough for you to walk down but not large enough for a car to drive down. And in York they’re almost always super cute little alleyways leading from one quaint street to another. Even Mad Alice Lane, between Swinegate and Low Petergate, which is named after a woman who was hanged in 1823 for poisoning her husband, is nice!
Explore Coffee Yard which, at 220 feet, is York’s longest snickelway, before taking a walk along Pope’s Head Alley (only 2 ft 7 inches wide) and the shortest snickleway Hole-in-the-Wall.
Walk the City Walls
No visit to York would be complete without a walk along its City Walls! Stretching 3.4 km around York, the walls were originally built in Roman times to defend the city and are the longest medieval town walls in England. Parts of the walls remain and are the perfect place to take a walk (1 circuit takes around 2 hours) whilst taking in the views of York from various different view-points.
Where to stay
The most important thing for me when I go away for the weekend is staying somewhere central. I want to spend as much time as possible exploring, not travelling between the city and my hotel! So, when Travelodge contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in staying in their York Central hotel (emphasis on the word ‘central’ here, guys) I quickly jumped online to see how far it was from the centre of York and, happy that it was only about 5-10 minutes walk, said yes!
If you’ve ever stayed in a Travelodge before you’ll know what they’re like. I mean, if I were to get married I wouldn’t be rushing to spend my wedding night in one but for a weekend away where you just want somewhere simple to crash, a Travelodge is perfect. The room was big, had a television and tea-making facilities, a nice big bed with comfy pillows, and most importantly (well, for me anyway) it was CLEAN! There’s nothing worse than getting excited about your weekend away only to find your hotel room’s still playing host to the last guest’s dirt.
Also, check-out was at 12pm which meant I got to have a little lie-in on my last day in York (YES, ALL the sleep) and, because I picked up my breakfast box from reception the night before, I was also able to have breakfast in bed!
My accommodation in York was very kindly sponsored by Travelodge however all opinions are mine, obvs.