Nouse's definitive 24-hour tour of York city centre

27/09/2023

Cara Doherty (she/her) takes you on a tour of York city centre

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Image by David Iliff

By Cara Doherty

Welcome to York – historic, handsome and, most importantly, your new home. Are you searching for a way to show off York to home friends and family like a local, or some recommendations to explore with your new freshers-found friends? Look no further! Enjoy this York-student approved guide to 24 hours in the city, known for everything from the Romans to Harry Potter.

We’ll start at York Rail station, as this is most likely where you’ll be greeting your visitors and is a great jumping off point. Just a ten minute walk away sits a delicious breakfast at Brew and Brownie. The clue’s in the name; their brownies are to die for! However, if you are fancying something savoury you cannot beat their poached eggs (and trust me I have tried a lot). However, this is not York’s best kept secret, and the tiny cafe has become quite the tourist attraction. An early start of 9am will avoid the queues at this popular York cafè and give you plenty of time to explore all that the city has to offer. Once you smell the fresh baking you won’t want to waste a moment standing in line.

From here, it’s a short walk to the York Art Gallery, one of the city’s more underrated attractions. Open Wednesday to Sunday, general admission is free and offers the opportunity to survey a wide range of notable paintings and sculptures (and a very tempting gift shop). They have also been working with York LGBT Forum to showcase the stories of LGBTQIA+ people in their Burton gallery, changing the way we encounter art. There are special exhibitions all year round, which delve into fascinating themes, showcase local artists and display famous works, so this is not a place to miss.

Afterwards, make your way just behind the Gallery to the picturesque Museum Gardens. These gardens, set among the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, make a popular picnic spot on sunny days, but will likely be peaceful at this time in the morning – a great place to take a breath before entering the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Perhaps the location with the most tangible history, these gardens have been home to Roman buildings, St. Mary’s Abbey, a zoo, a botanical garden and now a museum (not to mention some delicious ice cream).

Your next big stop is the famous cathedral, York Minster, but feel free to get sucked into some of York’s charming streets and unique shops along the way; as an English student, I’m obligated to recommend the excellent Minster Gate bookshop. Once you manage to navigate the narrow staircases you’ll find some great bargains here. If you’re looking for souvenirs, the Fair Trade Shop is a good place to stop by, plus you’re supporting a great cause!

Once at the Minster, take some time to marvel. It’s the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, right on your doorstep, and it doesn’t disappoint! Probably one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in York too, so don’t forget to bring your camera. General admission is free for York students and residents, but perhaps you’ll pay a little extra to climb the 275 steps of the Central Tower and take in panoramic views of the city.

As lunchtime approaches, make your way to a firm student favourite SPARK*. Choose between everything from crispy chicken burgers to greek cuisine to japanese street food in this outdoor, atmospheric oasis. Don’t worry, even in winter the heaters are enough to ward off the cold. If it’s a little too cold for outdoor heaters, Cresci Pizzeria is another popular choice within walking distance. Highly-rated authentic Neapolitan pizza is on the menu at this quaint and tasty restaurant.

Next, it’s on to the famous cobbled street: the Shambles. This medieval street is believed to have inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter franchise, leaving the merchandise-central The Shop That Must Not Be Named a must-visit for fans of the series. Also featured are a variety of quaint cafes and independent shops, as well as architecture beautiful enough to warrant braving the crowds. Be aware though, these crowds are no joke!

Before the afternoon is done, a trip to one of York’s museums is a must. I’d recommend the York Castle Museum, which offers £13 student tickets if you book online. This immersive museum takes you through 400 years of York’s history, with a walkable recreation of a Victorian street a particular highlight. If you’re there in December, you’ll find that the Victorian street is decorated with a traditional Christmas tree!  Next door is Clifford’s Tower, all that remains of York Castle built in 1068 by William the Conqueror. You can purchase tickets to climb this relic if you wish, which recently had an impressive new refurbishment.

Just a short walk over the bridge you can access the York City Walls via Fishergate Postern Tower. First erected by the Romans in AD71, this method of defence is now a walkable piece of history – trace your way around the city and take in the views (make sure to bring your camera as you can get some great pictures of York’s beautiful skyline) until you start thinking about dinner.

If you haven’t spotted somewhere during the day that you hoped to return to, the relaxed atmosphere of the Mediterranean Ate O’Clock is popular with many. Alternatively, I really like the 1920s decor and soft jazz of Cosy Club. Both have a really good cocktail menu if you’re in the party mood. Whatever you choose, fill up well and maybe don’t have too many of those cocktails – there’s a little bit more walking (and history) before your 24 hours in York come to an end.

As the sun goes down, the ghosts come out in York…at least according to the tour guides of the city’s many ghost walks. You can choose from a variety of tours, with some focusing more on grisly history and others folklore and legend. For believers and non-believers alike, these tours are a great way to get to grips with parts and pasts of the city which you may be unfamiliar with – and can be great fun! Not for the faint of heart.

And if you now find yourself in need of a drink to settle your nerves, York offers a wide range of excellent pubs, bars and nightlife. Keep an eye out for karaoke nights, pub quizzes and live music; there is always something going on. The Drawing Board and Dusk are two neighbouring popular student bars that offer cheap drinks and a relaxed atmosphere, but I’d also recommend branching out. Evil Eye, for instance, with a seemingly endless cocktail menu and regular live music nights, could be the perfect place to reflect on your perfect 24 hours in York.