Last Updated on 4th March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Brimming with a history that is not always for the faint-hearted, York is a top-rated UK destination just a two hour train ride away from London. Perfect to visit over the course of a weekend thanks to its compact size, here’s how to spend the perfect weekend in York, a suggested 2 day itinerary.
York is a gorgeous city in northern England, not far from Hadrian’s Wall and the border with Scotland. There’s no evidence of human inhabitation in York prior to the Romans’ arrival some two millennia ago, and so York is truly a Roman city.
Over the centuries, the city has been the favourite of many royals and celebrities alike. The city also happens to be the birthplace of Guy Fawkes, of the November 5th notoriety.
What is York known for?
York is probably most famous for its York Minster, a grandiose Gothic Cathedral that’s one of the largest in Europe (it’s the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe).
Other highlights of this mesmerising city include timber-framed buildings, hidden alleyways that are known locally as snickelways, and more ghost stories than you would probably care to hear about prior to your visit.
Getting to York
York has easy transport links to the rest of the UK and direct trains run between York central station and London’s King’s Cross in just under two hours. While you probably could manage to visit York as part of a day trip from London, you’ll want to set aside at least a weekend so as to truly enjoy everything the city has to offer.
Once in York, the easiest way to get around town is on your own two feet and so comfortable shoes are an absolute must. There is a comprehensive bus network which serves the city centre as well as its surroundings. As of 2023, you can use your debit card to simply ‘tap in’ to the transportation system, much like using the Tube in London.
Is 2 days enough time to visit York?
Yes, resoundingly 48 hours is more than enough time to explore all that York has to offer, as well as enjoy some of its restaurants and wander its streets. In 2 days, you’ll have enough time to see all of the major attractions, though if you want to visit every single museum in the city, you’ll probably need 3 or 4 days.
2 days in York suggested itinerary
Day 1 in York: Must-sees of York
Museum Gardens: If you are arriving in York via train, then your first port of call when heading towards the historic city centre (just across the River Ouse) should be the Museum Gardens.
This beautiful green space is free to visit and boasts treasures such as the ruins of St Leonard’s Hospital, a piece of Roman wall, and the beautiful ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. For an extra fee, you can pay to visit the Yorkshire Museum which counts archaeological treasures and rare birds, animals, and fossils among its collections.
York Minster: Without a doubt, the number one attraction you have to see in York is the Minster. Also known as the The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, this cathedral was founded in the 7th-century and is now one of the most impressive ecclesiastical buildings in the world.
Unfortunately, York Minster is incredibly pricey (£16 per adult as of 2023) and you’ll have to pay a further £12 per person if you want to clamber up to the viewing tower. You don’t really need to purchase tickets in advance as we didn’t queue for very long to buy the tickets on the day.
With this being said, York Minster is the only attraction in York that I would prioritise above all others in visiting, especially considering the treasures held within its historic walls.
Highlights include the stained glass windows of he Chapter House, the Astronomical Clock, and the crypt (which contains the tomb of Saint William, the Patron Saint of York).
Walk the city walls: One of the best free activities to do in York is to walk the city walls. Overall, these well-preserved medieval walls cover a distance of 1.9 miles (3.1 km) and offer outstanding bird’s eye views of York.
You don’t have to walk the entire length of the walls all at once but instead can opt to walk it in sections. Particularly special parts of the walls are those parts which encompass ‘Bars’. These aren’t drinking taverns but are instead former city gateways which date back to a time when the city would have been defended against would-be invaders.
Bootham Bar is probably the most famous city gate and is located right next to the Minster so is hard to miss when strolling through the town. The stretch of wall branching out from Monk Bar is a must-see and provides beautiful views of the cathedral and its surroundings.
Lunch House of Trembling Madness: If there’s one pub which truly surprised me during my time in York, it was the House of Trembling Madness. Despite its enviable location just minutes’ walk away from the Minster, this tavern serves up quality food in huge portions.
House of Trembling Madness functions as both a shop and pub; the lower floor of the building is in use as a shop selling one of the most impressive collection of beer I’ve ever seen while the top floor serves as a pub. We personally opted for the vegan/ vegetarian burger and found it a really hearty and filing lunch.
Roman Bath Museum: Many visitors to York miss this little hidden gem by accident, but if you’re able to, I highly recommend making the stop off at the Roman Bath. This little museum costs £3.50 per adult as of 2023 and only consists of a handful of rooms but is well worth the entrance fee if you’re a history buff like me.
After all, once you’ve made it down the steep and narrow staircase you’ll soon be rewarded with the sight of a former Roman bathing complex. The museum staff are really friendly and there are a few displays about what life would have been like in Roman York. If you have time after your visit, then you can head upstairs to the pub for a pint!
The Dark Chronicles of York Tour: York is reputedly one of the most haunted places in the UK and so if you want to get to grips with its history, then you’ll want to embark on one of the many famous ghost tours which take visitors through the city.
Together with a local guide, you’ll wander the streets of the city and discover all of the stories of the city’s past, all the way back to Roman times when York was known as Eboracum. Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes! Check prices and availability here.
The Orchid Vegan Restaurant: As a vegetarian, I am always pleasantly surprised just how many vegan and vegetarian options there are in the UK, even in smaller cities such as York. For dinner I suggest heading to the Orchid Vegan restaurant, which serves up classic Asian fusion dishes made vegan.
The service was impeccable and the portions were incredibly large for the price so my husband and I left full and content! Just be sure to reserve a table in advance as walk-ins are no longer possible and so the restaurant will only accept parties who gave booked ahead of time.
Day 2 in York
Breakfast/ brunch at Partisan: One of the best places to head to for a hearty breakfast or brunch is Partisan café. This delightful little space serves up mouthwatering version of your favourite fry-ups including vegan and vegetarian version.
Just be sure to reserve a table well in advance (especially during the weekend) as it’s quite a small space and places fill up fast. During our time at Partisan, we ended up eating so much that we didn’t even have lunch later that day and only stopped briefly to rest our legs, drink a coffee, and have a slice of cake!
Head to the Shambles: One spot which you won’t want to miss on your trip to York, especially if you are a Harry Potter fan is the Shambles. This historic street is alleged to have inspired JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley and now there are a smattering of wizard-inspired shops as well as older boutiques and souvenir shops.
Clifford’s Tower: This 13th-century castle keep is now owned and managed by English Heritage. Members go free but everyone else will have to pay. Whether or not you choose to enter the former prison turned museum, you can still admire its exterior, especially if you’re planning to visit Clifford’s Tower.
JORVIK Viking Centre/ Castle Museum of York: In the afternoon, you have an option of what you want to see/ do, depending on your personal preferences. If you are travelling with kids, both the JORVIK and the Castle Museum will provide a good few hours of entertainment.
Both museums are all about the experience and we personally opted to visit the Castle Museum of York. Set within a former prison, this interactive museum showcases what York would have looked like during Victorian times and you can even visit the former cells of the Men’s Prison.
Gatehouse Coffee: You’ll probably be a little bit hungry after all of the walking around and so I recommend heading to a coffee shop for a sandwich, coffee, and some other light refreshments.
One coffee shop which is especially highly recommended is Gatehouse Coffee. As its name suggests, it is quite literally set against the backdrop of a former gatehouse which has seen plenty of uses over the years. Today this quirky café serves up speciality coffees and tasty cakes.
Boat tour/ rent your own boat: If you are visiting York during the summer season, then one of the best ways to enjoy the city and its surroundings is by taking a boat tour like this one. If you prefer a hands on activity, then you can even rent your own boat like this one.
National Railway Museum: One museum in York which is completely free (though donations are always welcome) and is close to the station, making it a great final stop if you have time, is the Railway Museum.
This museum is fun to visit for all the family (I don’t really care for trains but truly enjoyed this museum) and boasts within its collections full-sized train carriages which you can admire from every angle. There’s also small exhibitions about the history of trains and even a train simulation!
Drinks at the Ackhorne: End your stay in York the English way by heading to the pub. For a cosy and friendly local that’s less than a fifteen-minute walk away from the station pay a visit to the Ackhorne. This pub has a laid-back relaxed atmosphere and is filled with locals. We each enjoyed a pint here before heading back on our train home.
Where to stay in York
As one of the most popular weekend getaways in the UK, York has no shortage of accommodation options to suit almost every taste and budget. Here are some of the top places to stay in York based on web-reviews and location:
Budget: This low cost hostel has mixed and female only dorm rooms, as well as private rooms for an extra fee. Other amenities include free Wi-Fi and free parking. Check prices and availability here.
Mid-range: This cosy pub offers up travellers the chance to stay in a 17th-century inn complete with quirky decor and historic features. Amenities include a restaurant on-site and air conditioning. Check prices and availability here.
Luxury: For the crème de la crème of accommodation when it comes to York, you need to look no further than this five-star hotel. Highlights include a spa, pool, and hot tub. Check prices and availability here.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.