York is a place that is very close to my heart. I’ve been visiting the city for many years now, and each time I return I discover something new. From beautiful gothic architecture to modern, up and coming restaurants, York has enough tricks up its sleeve that it will keep you coming back time and time again. Also, for any fans of Susanna Clarke’s wonderful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll be aware of the magical aura that city so naturally possesses- it’s historical, secretive, with many a meandering street filled with the unexpected. Here I’ve comprised a list of my favourite destinations, and hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Perhaps the most famous street in the city, The Shambles encompasses a variety of overhanging timber buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. They’ve been built in such a manner that they almost crash into each other, giving a slightly haphazard edge to the street. This offers a curious juxtaposition in its blend between past and present, with many buildings now transformed into trendy boutiques or quaint tea rooms. Spend time pottering around the shops and cafes, as well as taking photos of this picturesque scene.
Double Dutch Pancake House
If you’re looking to break away from the traditional tea rooms of the city centre, Double Dutch offers a refreshing alternative. Opening its doors a mere nine months ago, this café has gone from strength to strength thanks to its friendly staff, comfortable surroundings, and most importantly, its knock out selection of pancakes. Styled as an open-plan kitchen, there’s an added sense of theatre as you see your pancake being assembled before your eyes; I couldn’t help but get a little over excited as I watched my pancake zooming its way towards me. Whether you’re after sweet or savoury, Double Dutch have it covered: tuck into a breakfast pancake with bananas and honey, or load your meal with helpings of chicken, mushroom and cheese. They also have a great selection of drinks, from gargantuan milkshakes to booze, making it the perfect place for a relaxed brunch. I’d recommend placing a reservation though, as the café tends to be packed out at weekends. If you only get to do one thing during your stay, make sure it involves eating pancakes at this lovely little eatery.
To continue with foodie theme, Skosh proves its worth as yet another contemporary restaurant offering innovative international cuisine. Meaning ‘a little’ from the Japanese term ‘sukoshi’, the name itself represents a whole concept of eating, delivering small, fine-dining style plates to its customers in an unpretentious fashion. Located in the Mickelgate area, it serves as an ideal spot for a sophisticated lunch. Head chef Neil Bentinck approaches his food in such a reassuringly confident manner that critics such as Jay Rayner are now raving about this independent eatery, so make sure you get in quick before the crowds do.
Minster Gate Book Shop
One of my all-time favourite book shops, Minster Gate is an absolute treasure trove for the avid reader. A gangling three-storey building, the shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with the most fabulous selection of books, featuring everything from traditional historical text to eclectic mixes of poetry. For those who love the classics, you’ll find plenty of beautiful vintage additions here- head up to the Literature room, which specialises in fiction, linguistics, and literary criticism.
Betty’s Café and Tea Rooms
It was impossible to list my favourite places in York without mentioning this iconic tea room. The biggest and the oldest in the city, Betty’s sets the bar for the quintessential afternoon tea at an astonishingly high level- beautifully crafted cakes and bakes, decadent chocolates, and a huge selection of teas are served in a polished, sophisticated environment. Smiley staff are on hand to guide you through the menu, and make recommendations if you’re struggling to pick what you want. I always find it difficult to settle on one item alone, so if you’re looking to sample plenty of treats while you’re there, it might be an idea to book an afternoon tea experience. Here you receive a variety of tea, cakes, and sandwiches, hosted in the suitably lavish Belmont Room.
House of The Trembling Madness
Part shop, part pub, Trembling Madness is a bit of a mecca for beer enthusiasts. There’s an abundance of traditional Belgian Beers, as well as flavours from new, independent brew houses. Head up the winding stairs and you’ll find a quaint little bar stocked with a great mix of unusual draught lagers and guest breweries. You can also sample traditional snacks and dishes while you drink, in the form of a platter, cheese board or hearty pie and mash.
There’s plenty of cultural pit stops dotted around the city, but Yorkshire Museum will always be my favourite. Located in the beautiful surroundings of the Museum Gardens, the museum itself houses exhibitions and galleries that are suitable for all ages. Take a wander round the archaeological collection, where you can examine the skeletons of long extinct creatures, or brush up on your historical knowledge by visiting the informative Roman York gallery. There’s also plenty of specialist exhibits taking place throughout the year.
Oshibi Korean Bistro
Tucked away from the main tourist trail, Oshibi can perhaps be considered as one of York’s hidden gems. Like most establishments in the city, the restaurant is small, and can sometimes feel like you’re sat in someone’s front room, but this doesn’t compromise your experience. The food itself is both authentic and adventurous; opt for a comforting bowl of bibimbap, a mixed rice dish, or enjoy a steaming pot of jjigae, similar to a western stew. Oshibi also specialises in BBQ dishes, which you can cook yourself on your own personal grill. While it’s not the prettiest of eateries, it certainly makes a welcome, exciting addition to York’s restaurant scene.
No trip to York would be complete without taking in the aesthetic delights of this gothic cathedral. Constructed in 1472, it serves as the most distinctive landmark of York. Not only can you enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the chapel area, but you can also climb the central tower for some great views over the city. There’s also regular events and concerts held at the Minster, so check what’s on offer during your visit.
Evil Eye Lounge
Dirty, rowdy, and full of character, Evil Eye Lounge is excellent place to begin a night of debauchery. Hidden behind a specialist gin shop is a bizarre den filled with decadent, vintage furniture and a fab selection of lethal cocktails. By day, things are suitably relaxed, but as night begins to descend, things become chaotic. If you’re up for a lairy one, I’d recommend asking staff about their drinking party games- just be prepared for a very sore head in the morning.