Shopping is an irresistible part of a visit to York. Always has been. The Vikings set up shop in Coppergate, making and selling cups. In 1972 archaeologists uncovered knives, jewellery, shoes, bags, sheaths and scabbards all now displayed in the Jorvik Viking Centre (www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk).
You can wander through more history in Swinegate, the old pig market, or Grape Lane, originally Grope Lane, a long gone red light district. But York today is no medieval theme park. A compact and largely pedestrianised shopping centre sustains both individual traders and high street chains with enough quality bars, tearooms and restaurants to keep you sane in between.
Using the Minster as your lodestar it’s hard to get lost, though exploring the snickets and ginnels is all part of the fun. Parliament Street and Coney Street deliver the fashion chains: M & S, Zara, H&M, Hobbs, Mango and the rest. Newgate open air market is cheap and cheerful with good veg and fish stalls. The excellent Farmers’ Market runs in Parliament Street on the last Friday of the month.
Beside the market is the photogenic Shambles, a cobbled lane of close-packed overhanging medieval houses. Touristy? Yes, but with worthy finds like Cox’s leather shop (www.leathershop.co.uk) Lily Shambles for jewellery, Via Vecchia for artisan breads and Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe, (www.yorksausageshop.co.uk) for a perfect, still-warm pork pie. Shopping for Catholic martyrs? The Shambles has the shrine of Margaret Clitherow who was persecuted for her Catholic faith, and was gruesomely pressed to death between two boards.
At Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate cross to Fossgate for a clutch of antiquarian bookshops, vintage clothes stores and the lovely deli (and tiny tearoom) the Hairy Fig (www.thehairyfig.co.uk). The medieval Merchant Adventurers Hall (www.theyorkcompany.co.uk) is the location for regular vintage markets run by York Does Vintage (www.britaindoesvintage.co.uk) or head for Coppergate for Topshop and Fenwicks (www.fenwick.co.uk) department store.
Stonegate is another old spectacular street with upmarket chains like Crabtree & Evelyn (www.crabtree-evelyn.co.uk), Pure Collection (www.purecollection.com) Jo Malone and The White Company. Elegant Mulberry Hall (www.mulberryhall.co.uk) specializes in fine china, crystal and kitchenware.
At the junction with Petergate you’ll discover modern jewellery at Pandora (www.pandora.net) shoes from Timberland (www.timberlandonline.co.uk) at Low Petergate and in nearby Colliergate, Barnitt’s (www.barnitts.co.uk) is a York treasure selling every household item from buckets to baking trays.
Rootle around charity shops on Goodramgate where they are packed on one easy stretch along with Red Cow Music, (www.redcowmusic.co.uk) a folk and acoustic instrument shop, Rafi’s Spice Box (www.spicebox.co.uk) for Indian spices and great curry packs and Monkbar Chocolates, (www.monkbar.com) here and in the Shambles, are classy chocolatiers. For lunch there’s the new Retro Fondue (www.retrofondue.co.uk) or Ambiente (www.ambiente-tapas.co.uk) for good tapas, after which you might want to stroll the city walls to Bootham Bar.
At Bootham Bar head for Gillygate, a street of proudly independent shops
that includes Snowhome (www.snow-home.co.uk) selling covetable and contemporary stuff for home, the delightful Bubbles toyshop, Dog & Bone Vintage (www.facebook.com/DogAndBoneVintage) and Sound Organisation (www.soundorg.co.uk) for state of the art audio. Love Cheese (love-cheese.co.uk) tells you all you need to know while Café Number 8 (www.cafeno8.co.uk) is worth booking for dinner.
Two contrasting art galleries are the Braithwaite Gallery (www.yorkartist.com) on Low Petergate and the contemporary white cube gallery, According to McGee (www.accordingtomcgee.com) on Tower Street. Janette Ray’s (www.janetteray.co.uk) specialist art and architecture bookshop is on Bootham and Ken Spelman (www.kenspelman.com) antiquarian bookshop on Micklegate is gorgeously Dickensian.
Sometimes though, it’s to hell with the old and the quaint and in with the new and the chance of a bargain. Catch the Red Line 7 bus from the railway station to McArthur Glen Designer Outlet (www.yorkdesigneroutlet.com) and overdose on 120 high street names: Hugo Boss, Ted Baker, Ralph Lauren and Timberland all at substantially discounted prices.
Jill Turton is a freelance food and travel writer who lives in York and runs the Yorkshire food and drink website - www.squidbeak.co.uk