York is a vibrant city, steeped in history and culture, and bustling with activity. A visit to this beautiful site is never regretted, as there are ample opportunities to enjoy everything from Michelin star restaurants to medieval monuments to Roman ruins and much more. There are so many well-known sights to see and things to do in York that you probably already have plans for your visit, but before you set your itinerary in stone, we would like to make a few suggestions. Here, we offer a look at some of the hidden gems in York, unknown even to some locals, which will enrich your experience and make your trip unique.
The York Museum gardens are free to the public. When you need a break from exploring all the attractions and historical sites the city has to offer, the gardens are a perfect place to relax, enjoy the beauty of nature, and perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch. Just make sure you pack up any rubbish, to keep the gardens as beautiful as you found them.
The Minster gardens are a bit of a secret because they only just opened in April. A beautiful new public park, these gardens are situated between the York Minster Refectory and the South Piazza, the perfect place to take in spectacular views of the cathedral. Relax and enjoy the view in this charming spot, which includes a sensory planting scheme.
The Shambles is one of the world’s most famous streets, but there are ways to enjoy it that very few people know. The inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, this is a fascinating area, with a cobblestone pavement and Elizabethan buildings. Highlights include The Shop That Must Not Be Named, for Potterheads, and the York Ghost Merchants, for those who are interested in the paranormal, but there are also some lovely eateries, including the Parlormade Café & Scone House, and the Shambles Tavern. Along the way are several interesting places, like the alley that connects The Shambles to Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate, as well as the Snickelways, a series of well-concealed alleys that lead off the Shambles, connect with each other, and spirit the curious off to unusual and interesting landmarks. One quirky way to explore The Shambles is by following the York Cat Trail, marked by cat statuettes placed on buildings throughout the town. You can get a map of the cats’ locations from the Cat Gallery on Low Petergate.
Malmaison rooftop bar, the Sora, is a dining experience that literally rises above the rest. High on the seventh floor, sitting above the city, you can enjoy a mixture of small places from a selection of sushi, Robatayaki, and pan-Asian style tapas dishes while enjoying a signature cocktail and taking in the panoramic view. With an ambiance that is easy going yet elegant, it is a relaxing spot to take a date, have dinner, or listen to live entertainment on the weekends.
Rowntree Park sit on the banks of the River Ouse. Awarded a Green Flag Award every year since 2004, this 30-acre space is considered to be one of the best parks in the country. A beautiful green space, it contains the Millennium Bridge, which spans the River Ouse and carries pedestrians and cyclists to the Fulford area. The park was a gift to the City of York by Messrs Rowntree & Co. in 1921, meant as a memorial for the Cocoa Works factory staff who suffered and fell during the First World War. To honour those who fell in World War II, a set of listed gates were added to the park, off Terry Avenue. Bronze plaques within the centrally located Lynch Gate mark both of these occasions. The park is open all year, with the exception of Christmas Day, and features an ornamental lake with ducks and geese, six tennis courts, a skate park, a basketball court, the Rowntree Park Reading Café, a well-equipped children’s play area, and opportunities for model boating. There are well maintained toilets, and dogs on lead are welcome, as long as you clean up after them.
The York City walls contain many interesting highlights. Surrounding York’s city centre are historic walls that can be accessed on foot all year, free of charge. These beautifully preserved walls are 3.4 kilometres long, the longest and most complete medieval town walls in all of England. Built primarily in the 13th century, on top of other earth banks, they once had a moat, which you can see as just a few dry bits remaining today. In the spring, their slopes are covered in daffodils, and at other times of year they are either grassy or blooming with wildflowers. It takes about two hours to walk around the walls, either on top of the wall walk or on the ground, but it may take you much longer if you stop to look at the interesting parts of the walls, which you will probably want to do. Consider Bitchdaughter Tower, which forms one of the corners of the walls, and was originally part of a little-known second Norman Castle. Intrigued? While you might think it gained its moniker in honour of someone’s unpleasant offspring, it is believed that it was originally called “Biche Dortour,” meaning nightmare dormitory. In other words, it was an unpleasant place to be imprisoned. The walls also feature beautiful old gatehouses, fortified gateways, and intriguing details like arrow slits, musket loops, sculptures, and mason’s marks, as well as impressive views of interesting buildings below.
Strolling along or boating on the river should not be overlooked. Walking along the River Ouse, you can take in the sights and picture how this beautiful river shaped the city. For a different perspective, take a boat ride along the river, either on a river cruise or by hiring a small boat at the York Marina.
York Minster isn’t a secret, but the hidden gems lie in its finer details. One of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world, York Minster has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England since the 7th century, and it is still a thriving, active church. This ancient building is a masterpiece, with exquisite, handcrafted stone and an unequalled collection of medieval stained glass. It is the tallest building in the city, thanks to the requirement of an obscure local law, and if you care to access the top via the 275 steps, the view is amazing. What makes this a really interesting place to visit, though, are the strange little details. In the West Window, you will find a romantic heart-shaped stained glass window known as The Heart of Yorkshire, while on the Great East Window you can view some graphic Apocalyptic scenes. Outside, if you look closely at the grotesques, you will find some very odd things, like a depiction of a man who has dropped is trousers and is about to relieve himself.
Clifford’s Tower is another spot that isn’t exactly hidden, as it draws plenty of tourists eager to take photos of its gorgeous views. However, it’s well worth a visit because of the history as well as the photo ops. Part of a larger complex that no longer exists- York Castle- it was built by William the Conqueror. There was a massacre of Jews here in 1190, and today it is commemorated by daffodils covering the hill in the spring. Clifford’s Tower recently reopened after a massive renovation, and it is in a perfect location to visit other attractions, like the York Army Museum, Fairfax House, and York Castle Museum.
York Maze is a fun place to visit, especially with children. From July through September, the Maze is open to explore, with a wealth of attractions and several mazes for all ages to enjoy. If you prefer non-maze attractions, let your little ones discover the Volcorno, the Cobstacle course, and the Cornwall, while the racing enthusiast take a ride around the Cornula. Visit the House of Cornfusion, or let the kids play Corn on the Club Crazy Golf and drive remote “control” boats. There is a souvenir shop and a coffee shop, and even rustic barns that are hired out for weddings.
If you are looking for the perfect place to stay while exploring all that York has to offer, Together Travel has stunning apartments, right in the city’s bustling centre. Choose from newly converted, fully-equipped, modern, self-catering apartments along the riverfront, or semi-urban, self-catering, modern apartments on a quiet corner in the heart of the city. Whether you are visiting York or you want to travel to any other of the amazing locations the UK has to offer, Together Travel Co. is here to bring your holiday dreams to life, just around the corner from home. All across the UK, we have luxurious, comfortable, unique properties located wherever you want to be, spending your family holidays connecting, relaxing, and enjoying all these vacation spots have to offer. Find out how we can make your trip amazing by contacting our expert concierge team at +44(0)1625 416430 or emailing us for more information.