We invoked our mantra "every place is worth visiting at least once" and hopped on a plane from Dublin to Leeds. After a short train ride, we arrived in York. The York train station featured typical Victorian stylings. We exited the station and caught our first glimpse of the historic wall that surrounds the town. We were looking forward to exploring things to do in York on a weekend break.
1. Climb the York City Wall
We worked our way around to one of the city gates. An impressive emblem hung on a wrought iron fence near the gate. We mounted the wall and looked out into town. Both modest and stately homes were visible from different vantage points along the wall. We could see a Ferris wheel in the distance. This one was relocated from Dublin to York a year or so ago. We crossed the river and admired the lovely street lamps along the bridge before making our way toward York Castle.
2. York Castle History Museum
We spotted Clifford's Tower. York Castle is just beyond. York Castle Museum chronicles life in this area of England. Various rooms are on display highlighting furnishings from different periods of history. There was also an interesting exhibit on indoor plumbing. Fun fact: Thomas Crapper developed the 'Valveless Water Waste Preventer' which is a key mechanism behind modern flush toilets. I guess this is where the term crap is derived. Poor guy! We discovered a test kitchen churning out period recipes and offering samples to visitors. The York Castle Museum also features a reproduction of a Victorian-era street. The "street" alternated between night and day. We wandered outside to a garden area abutting the river. Inside, we found a 1960s exhibit that was heavy on brightly colored plexiglas. York Castle was used as a prison at one point in history. We toured the old prison cells which were done up with various inmates projected on to the walls telling their story. Fascinating. We walked back out into the sunshine, admired the Victorian-era carousel, and headed toward the heart of Old Town York.
3. Explore York's Medieval Core
One of the best York attractions is the well-preserved medieval core. Why not take a stroll? We admired spires adorned with gargoyles, historic pubs like The Three Tuns, and Newgate Market. A full-on Farmers' Market and Flea Market were set-up along Newgate and a nearby square. We stopped for lunch at the charming Gert and Henry. The half-timbered decor permeated inside and out. We opted to try Yorkshire Pudding with roast beef, a signature dish of the region. Delicious! Lunch came with potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower covered in cheese sauce. The latter tasted a bit like a slightly healthier version of mac and cheese. We also sampled English rarebit. I liked it because the rarebit didn't have any mustard or pickle relish like other varieties I've tasted. We continued our walk through Medieval York after lunch. It's amazing how well the buildings have held up for over 500 years. We thought about having a drink at the Golden Fleece but decided against it so soon after lunch. We were intrigued by a sign for Lady Peckett's Yard and went in for a closer look. We discovered a small alley much like the wynds you'd find in Edinburgh. Half-timbered buildings loomed above us on one side. We retreated from Lady Peckett's Yard and stopped to watch an English pipe and drum band having a go on the square. York was simply full of fun surprises.
4. York's Merchant Adventurers Hall
We made our way to York's Merchant Adventurers Hall, a well-preserved medieval guild hall that now houses museum exhibits. It was built by a group of business-men in 1357 in the age when men would take to the seas to find their fortune. We toured the inside of the great hall as they were setting up for a wedding. A lovely tiered cake sat front and center surrounded by portraits of historical members of the guild. We continued on to peruse the gallery which included historical furniture. We spotted a chair with a mouse carved in the flourish at the top.
5. Coffee and Chocolate
After completing our tour of the Merchant Adventurers Hall and marveling at the history contained inside, we set out after a more modern pursuit - a snack and cup of coffee. We browsed The Hairy Fig. Immediately, our eyes alighted on artistically decorated chocolates filled with tart fruit fillings. We picked up a selection for later. There is a cinema along the river which also houses a coffee shop so we popped in for a look. We opted for a French press of coffee and a small piece of Victoria sponge cake. The coffee was forgettable, the cake was ok, but the views along the river were a good consolation prize. As we prepared to continue on our way, we spotted a group of lads, one in a funny hat, gearing up for the evening ahead. York is known as a destination for stag and hen parties. What would we be in for this evening?!
6. York Minster
Next we set our sights on York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. En route, we passed jaunty gargoyles not far from the river. We made a brief detour into the York Museum Gardens. Old graves and church ruins peeked out from the foliage. We followed the winding path around through beds of green and flowers. When we emerged from the park, York Minster came into view. We made another brief detour into a local bakery for a *huge* almond meringue. Sweet tooth sated, we continued on to York Minster. The high ceilings, stained glass, and extensive collection of statues inside were impressive. Figures of various kings in full regalia sat beneath the organ pipes. Their expressions were quite droll. We admired a giant panel of stained glass. York Minster actually boasts the largest medieval stained glass window in the world. However, it was undergoing restoration work when we were there. We completed our tour of York Minster admiring the colorful grave stones. Back outside, we took one last look at the cathedral's side entrance and headed back into town.
This may sound odd, but York Minster always makes me think of Darwin. Evolution's Captain: NF abt Capt. FitzRoy and Chas Darwin by Peter Nichols (one of the top books that I recommend to put travel in a historical context) recounts the journey of the Beagle. At a stop in what would now be Punta Arenas, Chile, the sailors of the Beagle picked up an indigenous man and brought him back to England as a curiosity. They named him York Minster. The book offers a glimpse into the often brutal world of pre-Victorian-era exploration.
7. Browsing for Books
We finished off our afternoon in York wiling away the time in a used bookshop featuring 4+ stories crammed with all kinds of volumes. Back on the street, we admired the little flourishes on various buildings including one that appeared to be the guardian of the books. We also spotted a small cat sculpture looking down over the entrance of The Secret Garden. We mounted the York town wall for the return walk to our hotel. The hustle of the town passed by beneath us. Looking back, we could see York Minster shining in the sun. Again, we spotted the former Dublin Eye in the distance. The wheel was impressive against the backdrop of the brick and stone structures surrounding it. We thoroughly enjoyed our day in York!
8. Drinks and Dinner
We concluded our day in York with a drink and some dinner. After a few wrong turns, we found Toft Green and York Brewery at the end of the lane. We made ourselves comfortable in the shabby chic interior and sampled two of the craft brews on offer. Thirst quenched, we sought out something to eat. We settled on Kapadokya 50, a Turkish restaurant nearby. The interior was sumptuously decorated. We sampled fresh baked bread and hummus, zucchini pancakes, chicken shish, and a lamb based stew. On our way out, we took a look at the kitchen where huge skewers of meat sat on display beneath a canopy of copper pots. The other fun thing about this restaurant was the people watching. It sits across the street from a 1980s themed nightclub. We watched from a safe distance as numerous stag and hen parties tottered past embarking on their evening bender. Alas, we decided to call it a night early. Nightclubs aren't really our thing.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Enjoying this post about things to do in York? Are you looking for other cities to visit in the UK? Liverpool and Birmingham are just 2 hours away from York by train. Why not spend one day in Liverpool to walk in the footsteps of the Beatles and more. Liverpool is also easily combined with an overnight trip to Manchester. Discover all the fun things to do in Birmingham and what to eat and drink while you're there.
9. National Railway Museum
Betty's is a popular spot for baked goods and afternoon tea in York. We popped in for some sweets to tide us over during our train ride back to Leeds. We opted for a fondant square and sweet scone. Treats in hand, we passed under Betty's sign and headed for the train station. The York Train Station is also home to the National Railway Museum. We had some time before our train was scheduled to depart and decided to have a look around. The museum is free but the curators aggressively seek donations on the way in and out. We admired various locomotives. One of the period trains even had a bathtub for pampered guests! We walked from end-to-end down one particular train. We noticed the differences between classes of service. Third class featured stiff seats with bland upholstery. Second class was similar but included a private toilet in the carriage. First class was more spacious with fancier wall coverings and upholstery. Outside, we watched a steam locomotive take people for short rides around the property. Inside, we faced a series of impressive machines. We were even able to walk underneath one locomotive to see its inner workings. We came full circle around the exhibit before racing to our train to Leeds.
10. Stopover in Leeds
After our return journey from York to Leeds, we walked into the heart of town to check out the Sunday market and historic arcades. Despite overcast skies, Leeds was buzzing with pedestrians. All kinds of sweet and savory foods were on offer. We admired a wide selection of cakes. We ducked into Queens Arcade for a quick look around. The passage featured a glass ceiling and tiled floor. We discovered Pickles and Potter and ordered ourselves a ham sandwich for lunch. It had started to sprinkle outside and it was nice to get the benefit of some natural light while staying warm and dry. Pickles and Potter featured homemade food prepared from local produce. Next up, we stopped in Thorton's Arcade. Ornate arches with colorful sculpted ends greeted us. We walked through the County Arcade and admired the ornate two story store fronts. The Cross Arcade led us into the magnificent Queens Arcade. Stained glass panels had been added to the ceiling making the whole place pop. We sat in front of a fountain while resting our legs. Opposite Cafe beckoned us in for a well-crafted latte. We sipped our beverage in front of the fountain before continuing on our way.
The sun was now shining so we took to the outdoors. Leeds City Markets were closed on Sunday but we still admired the ornate architecture and larger-than-life street art nearby. We spotted the Corn Exchange in the distance. The building was a bit unassuming on the outside but we were wowed when we went inside. There were a few shops open for business including a purveyor of colorful scarves. Outside again, we crossed the river to a newly developed residential neighborhood at Brewery Wharf. It was very quiet at the time but had an up-and-coming feel. We stopped into the Adelphi Hotel for a quiet pint of cider before continuing our journey along the river.
We completed our whirlwind tour of Leeds by exploring the civic center. We chanced upon a gallery nearby hosting an exhibit by Sarah Lucas titled Ordinary Things. Inside, we discovered two floors of nylon stuffed phalluses...a bit out of the ordinary, I would say. We approached Leeds Town Hall. I really liked the majestic lions guarding the entrance. We passed the nearby Civic Hall with twin bell towers. An early dinner at Da Mario rounded out the day. We enjoyed chicken piccata and bowtie pasta with pesto and parmesan shavings. We toasted the end to our quick city break with a pint of Old Hooky at the train station pub. The bus picked us up and whisked us back to Leeds airport for our return flight to Dublin. Once again, every place is worth visiting at least once. Leeds and York did not disappoint.