48 Hours In: York
This city, rich in history from its Roman foundations to the Industrial Revolution, is gearing up for a new role as host to the Tour de France, says Simon Calder
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Friday 24 January 2014
Why go now?
Resolve to make 2014 the year to visit the northern bastion of Roman Britain. It’s a tribute to York’s spirituality, history and sheer good looks that it was chosen as the starting point for the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France on 6 July. So, before the crowds converge, explore the historic streets then shop and feast splendidly.
All rail lines lead to York station (1), the halfway point on the East Coast mainline between London and Edinburgh. Trains from the English capital take two hours or less. The lowest East Coast fares are available at eastcoast.co.uk; one-way tickets start at £13 from London, £15 from Edinburgh. Fast trains run to York from across Britain with other operators (08457 48 49 50 or nationalrail.co.uk for fares and times).
Get your bearings
York Minster (2) dominates the city, providing a universal reference point. York has more intact walls than any other city in England. They wrap around the core, but are at their most complete close to the Minster. Bootham Bar (3) gatehouse providing easy access.
The Visit York Information Centre (4) is at 1 Museum Street (01904 550099; visityork.org); sells the York Pass, which provides free entry to more than 30 attractions and a range of discounts. A two-day pass costs £48; 10 per cent less if you book your accommodation through visityork.org. Needs to be - A 3 day pass costs £58 20% less if you book your accommodation through visityork.org.
Beyond the city’s walls there is a fascinating mix of tranquil parkland and industrialheritage. The Tour de France stage will begin at the racecourse (5) at Knavesmire, two miles south of the city walls.
On the south-east edge of the racecourse (5), amid beautifully landscaped grounds, is Middlethorpe Hall (01904 641241; www.middlethorpe.com). This 300-year-old manor house has been a boarding school and nightclub (though not at the same time). It is now a luxury hotel and spa, and won VisitYork’s Hotel of the Year in 2013. Double rooms begin at £199, including breakfast and use of the spa, with specials available on some nights before Easter. All profits go to the National Trust.
Si vales valeo – “if you’re well, I’m well” – is the Roman saying painted on an interior wall of a serviced apartment in the Old Brewery (6), on Ogleforth close to the Minster grounds (07771 966 895; yorkoldbrewery.co.uk). The property sleeps four; a two-night stay costs £350.
To sample some of York’s history on a budget, the 1752 Micklegate House is now the Ace Boutique Hostel (7), close to the station at 88 Micklegate (01904 627720; acehotelyork .co.uk). A night in a dorm can cost as little as £16, with twin rooms from £60.
Take a view
The city walls provide a series of elevated views. The best place to see the layers of history up close is the 3rd-century Multangular Tower (8), part of the Roman fort that defendedthe empire’s main military base in northern Britain, Eboracum.
The Viking imprint is also evident. Many street names end in “gate”, the Norse word for street, but only in the 1970s did the big picture emergeof the city of Jorvik – as it stood a millennium ago. Work began with a York Archaeological Trust excavation. Then the Jorvik Viking Centre (9) was created on the site of the archaeological dig at Coppergate (01904 615505; jorvik-vikingcentre.co.uk; 10am-5pm; entry £9.75). You discover that these settlers lived orderly lives – “Viking” was more a job description than an ethnic identity.
Lunch on the run
The Hairy Fig (10) delicatessen opened at 39 Fossgate (01904 677074; thehairyfig.co.uk) in 2008. Soon, customers demanded a café. Arrive early for one of just 10 places and tuck into such specialities as smoked eel with beetroot.
After the regular deli, try a “liquid deli”. That is how Demijohn (11) at 11 Museum Street (01904 637487; demijohn.co.uk) styles itself, selling mead, malt whisky, oil and vinegar straight from large glass vessels.
York’s inner core is made for window shopping, with a 19th-century feel and independent retailers offering Victorian value. The most celebrated street is The Shambles (12), formerly a straggle of butchers’ shops. For fresh produce, try Newgate Market (13), with Yorkshire cheeses and fish caught at Whitby.
Take a hike
The Original Ghost Walk of York (01759 373090; theoriginalghostwalkofyork.co.uk), created more than 40 years ago, is believed to be the world’s first. Daily walks depart from the King’s Arms (14) by the river at Ousebridge – also known as “the pub that floods”.
The main tour is at 8pm and costs £5, or make the most of the eerie twilight in January and February with a private tour (£100 for groups of two people or more).
Go back to basics at York Brewery (15), near the station at 12 Toft Green (01904 621162; york-brewery.co.uk). The 5pm tour of the microbrewery runs daily except Sunday for £8 – including a tasting. To continue your appreciation, wander to the Yorkshire Terrier (16) at 10 Stonegate. In a bar that prefixes York with “New”, the Biltmore (17) at 29 Swinegate (01904 610075; thebiltmorebarandgrill.com) has cocktails plus a DJ.
Dining with the locals
“Proper York beef sourced from just around the corner” is among the dishes at Café Concerto (18) at 21 High Petergate (01904 610478; cafeconcerto.biz), as well as home-made hummus and other Mediterranean delights. This eclectic, rambling café, decorated with music scores, becomes a classy bistro by night.
Take a ride
The ideal form of transport for exploring beyond the city centre is a bike. Scoot (01904 720003; scootcyclingholidays.co.uk) offers guided city tours daily at 11am and 1.30pm (book in advance; £20pp; £15pp for two or more; or £25 including the hire of your bike for the rest of the day)..
Out to brunch
Arrive back in the centre with a healthy appetite and ready to tackle Bettys (19) at 6 St Helen’s Square (01904 659142; bettys.co.uk; 9am- 9pm daily) – an Art Deco institution. Afternoon tea is served at any time for £26.95, or £7 more with a glass of champagne.
The Star Inn the City (20) opened in last autumn in the Old Engine House beside Lendal Bridge. Chef Andrew Pern has made it a showcase for Yorkshire produce. A full Yorkshire breakfast costs £11.50. Refrain from wearing the breadbasket; it’s a cloth cap.
A walk in the park
The Star Inn the City stands on the edge of Museum Gardens and the atmospheric ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Opposite stands the Yorkshire Museum (21) (01904 687687; yorkshiremuseum.org.uk; 10am-5pm daily; £7.50). One of the most notable pieces is the sculpture of the head of Constantine the Great, who was proclaimed Roman emperor in York in 306.
Go to church
Constantine’s elevation took place next to the present-day York Minster (2) (01904 557200 ; yorkminster.org; 12:30pm-5pm Sundays, from 9am other days; £10 or £15 with a tower visit). This English Gothic masterpiece rests on the remains of the Roman fortress. The latest addition is “Revealing York Minster,” in which you explore the Undercroft. In the 1960s, the pressure of 4,000 tons of stone on each of the four columns jeopardised the tower. Engineers created an underground safety “collar” of concrete and steel, now filled with the story of the rescue, as well as two millennia of worship.
Celebrate the tracks of our years at the National Railway Museum (22), in a former steam locomotive depot behind the station (08448 153139; nrm.org.uk; 10am- 6pm daily; free). The star of the show at the world’s biggest railway museum is Mallard which, in 1938, set the steam train record at 126mph.
Icing on the cake
As other northern cities made wealth from wool, coal, cotton and steel, York went its own sweet way and became Britain’s chocolate capital. York’s Chocolate Story (23) on King’s Square (0845 498 9411; yorkschocolatestory.com; 10am-6pm daily; £9.50) explains all.
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