York's Best Arts Venues


Cara Lee compiles a list of the best arts and cultural places to discover in York.

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Image by Cara Lee

By Cara Lee

It’s no secret that York is full to the brim with cool cinemas, bars, shops, pubs, cafes, art galleries, and museums, with over 365 pubs and bars alone in the city.  Now that places are open again (and hopefully staying that way!) it’s the perfect time to explore York and support small businesses and galleries, whether you’ve just moved to university, or are three years deep and haven’t really ventured very far.  Here are a few ideas for trips into town, which just so happen to be very Instagram-able – thank me later.

Minster Gate Bookshop

Starting off with a classic: the Minster Gate Bookshop is situated in a five-floor Georgian townhouse right next to the Minster.  The shop houses an incredible amount of books, on pretty much any subject you could imagine, from military history to philosophy.  They also sell lovely tote bags (which from past experience are completely irresistible) and prints if you fancy sprucing up your uni room a little.  In the basement are classics and contemporary fiction, all priced very reasonably – four books would set you back around £10, but what is a student loan for if not buying books?

City Screen Picturehouse York

Kyle, our Film and TV Editor, suggests visiting City Screen Picturehouse York – the perfect rainy day activity for your flat, with lots of restaurants and bars nearby to extend the fun.  He notes that City Screen is an “independent cinema overlooking the River Ouse with good ticket prices and affordable student membership. With a wide selection of films ranging from the latest blockbuster hit to arthouse classic, the latter is where City Screen really finds its niche. The recent and ongoing showing of Wong Kar-wai’s filmography best exemplifies this; remastered in 4K, one can revisit older classics in the way that directors originally intended, surrounded by the silhouettes of other cinephiles. City Screen ultimately offers what streaming can never provide, and is a must-visit for any lover of film.”

Fairfax House

For a more historically cultured trip, a visit to Fairfax House may be in order – not the Vanbrugh accommodation, but the Georgian townhouse, home to Viscount Fairfax.  Think Bridgerton and Downton Abbey placed in central York, and you’re almost there.  On display at Fairfax House is Noel Terry’s (great-grandson of Terry’s Chocolate founder, Joseph Terry) collection of Georgian furniture and artworks.  The interiors of Fairfax House were designed by John Carr, who also devised the nearby Harewood House too, in such a way that the Viscount and his daughter Anne could spend the winter months in the engagements of 18th century society.

Fossgate Social

Deputy Arts Editor Maya believes Fossgate Social is the perfect place to show how edgy you are. She says, “so, you’re a few weeks into university and desperate to prove to your new friends that you actually are an interesting person. Fossgate Social is the city’s best answer to the kind of bar that makes you feel cool. Think an indie, upbeat cafe that brews coffee in the morning and churns out craft beer into the night. You don’t even have to pretend to know what craft beer is, because most of the drinks on the menu genuinely taste nice (but if you want a recommendation, Timmermans cherry is objectively the best). From the garden to the lounge, each area is decked out in soft fairy lights and work from local artists, while playlists of Frank Ocean and Kaytranada murmur away in the background. The staff are really lovely, as well.”  I’m sold.

York Art Gallery

I may be biased but York Art Gallery has one of the prettiest interiors of any gallery I’ve ever been to – it’s so light and airy, purely inviting you to wander around.  The permanent exhibitions, such as its Centre of Ceramic Arts display and fine art in the Burton Gallery are well worth a look, as are the temporary exhibitions.  Recent exhibitions have included the digital installation ‘Human Nature’ last year, as part of York Mediale, and more recently ‘Grayson Perry: the Pre-Therapy Years’.  Opening in October is ‘Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings’, exploring 25 newly-attributed works by Thomas Gainsborough, the renowned artist.

Piccadilly Pop Up

Piccadilly Pop Up is an innovative art gallery, studio and shop, located in a former tax office right in the centre of town.  It opens every Saturday, from midday until 6pm, and features paintings, drawings, fine art, sculpture, prints and much more, all created by local artists.  Located on Piccadilly, why not stop off at Spark for lunch before you visit?


You can’t claim to be a York student if you don’t visit Spark at least once.  You just can’t.  Spark is the place you’ll bring all your friends from home when they visit.  A painted shipping container doesn’t sound the most exciting of locations, but the vast range of restaurants, bars and shops at Spark make it a great trip, which helps avoid drama if your friends can’t all agree on what to eat.  One of the perks of Spark is you order directly from the restaurant, so on your table you might have Mexican, Colombian, Greek and Italian food, and everyone is happy.  There’s also a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan options too.


Our Fashion Editor Zara recommends Botanic, an independent plant shop located on Walmgate, saying “they have all different kinds of succulents and cute little pots for them, and the staff are so helpful and friendly, telling you how to care for your plant”.  Botanic also pair with an Artist of the Month, promoting and selling an artist’s works, including pots, ceramics and artworks.  The shop is tiny so be prepared for a slight wait, especially during the pandemic, but the wait is so worth it – not many people can only ever visit Botanic once.

I could talk for hours about places to visit in and around the city centre, but any of these guarantee a good trip out.  The best way to get to know York is by exploring so even if none of these venues are up your street, just have a walk around the city and you’ll find dozens of historical plaques or cafes or shops to look in.