Keep track of the past

Home to Vikings, Romans and the National Railway Museum, York is also appetising for lovers of food and drink
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The Independent Travel

ANCIENT AND MODERN

ANCIENT AND MODERN

"The history of York is the history of England," said George VI. Although its commercial importance has dramatically declined since the Middle Ages, when it was the second city in England, it's still number two to London as a tourist attraction. Four million visitors a year are drawn by its first-class amenities and many layers of history. The Roman 9th Legion got there first (in AD71), building baths, temples, amphitheatres and a forum. The city thrived under the Saxons, until the Vikings sailed up the River Ouse in their longboats in 866 and claimed it as their own. Much bloodshed ensued as they sought to keep it that way. When the Normans brought political stability to England exactly 200 years later, York's golden period began - as port, trading centre and religious site. York Minster, a truly stupendous construction towering over the well-preserved mediaeval streets and lanes, was begun in 1220 and took 252 years to build, adorned by the largest collection of mediaeval stained glass in Britain. By-passed by the Industrial Revolution, York was given a new lease of life by the train. A direct line to London was completed in 1841 and one of Britain's finest stations was constructed. York's pivotal role as a railway centre is commemorated at the outstanding National Railway Museum (see below), one of several must-see venues that bring the city's colourful story to life.

OLD-SCHOOL COMFORT OR URBAN COOL?

Once a Regency townhouse, the Grange Hotel at 1 Clifton (01904 644744; www.grangehotel.co.uk) combines the chic with the unashamedly chintzy. The highlight is the hotel's renowned Ivy Restaurant, offering "New British Cuisine". Main courses include roast duckling with gooseberry relish, vanilla mash and lime juice (£19.50) and wild salmon with horseradish dauphinoise, tomato confit and fine asparagus (£17). There's also an extensive vegetarian menu and a separate Seafood Bar. Double rooms, including breakfast, range from £140 to £200.

Self-consciously modern One3two at 132 The Mount (01904 600060; www.one3two.co.uk) is a converted Georgian townhouse styled as York's first bed and breakfast hotel. Its five bedrooms contain massive teak beds, and are adjoined by gorgeous marble en-suites with cavernous baths, walk-in showers and luxurious toiletries. The bed and breakfast for two starts at £95 per night.

PATHWAY TO THE PAST

York is appealingly compact, and most of its historical treasures are easily accessible on foot. A simple way of viewing everything is to take a circular walk along the medieval wall - at just over two miles, the longest in England. For a close-up of some of the finest medieval landmarks, start at St Margaret's Church in Walmgate, now the National Centre for Early Music, and head for the city centre. Turn left at Pavement into the narrow Shambles. Cross King's Square to Goodramgate, site of the exquisite 15th-century Holy Trinity Church, and carry on to the Gothic giant of the Minster, with its Roman, Saxon and Norman relics. Leave by the south door and walk along the Roman road of Stonegate past St Helen's Church, another study in mediaeval stained glass. Continue along Coney Street, High Ousegate and Pavement to complete the circle. Illustrated guides to this and several other walks are available at the city's Tourist Information Centres.

MUSEUM PIECES

See, hear and even smell what life was like in AD975 at the recently refurbished Jorvik Viking Centre at Coppergate (01904 643211; www.vikingjorvik.com), built on the site of a Viking settlement uncovered in 1976. There's also a fine exhibition showing how the whole site was excavated and the countless artefacts uncovered. Jorvik opens every day in the summer from 9am-5pm and costs £7.20 for adults and £5.10 for children. There is something of interest for everyone at the National Railway Museum in Leeman Road (01904 621261; www.nrm.org.uk), which is open free between 10am and 6pm daily. Set in a former steam engine maintenance shed, the world's largest railway museum covers nearly 200 years of history. Railway aficionados will enjoy the 1.4 million photographs, 15,000 books and 7,000 historic posters.

LOCAL FLAVOUR

Yorkies are so proud of their food and drink that they devote a festival to it every September (see below), and there are regular farmers markets where food producers from the region sell direct to the public. One of the best venues for traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is Russells at 34 Stonegate and Coppergate (01904 638857). Also look out for traditional York hams, which are dry-salted and light pink in colour. These and the region's best-known cheese, Wensleydale, are available at all good delicatessens.

Betty's Café Tea Rooms at 6-8 St Helen's Square (01904 659142) and 46 Stonegate (01904 622865) is a shrine to the traditional English afternoon tea, with specialities such as curd tarts, tea loaves and Fat Rascal, a large fruity scone served warm with butter. For beer drinkers, the York Brewery at 12 Toft Green, Micklegate (01904 621162) organises guided tours and tastings of its highly regarded Stonewall and Yorkshire Terrier ales. Among the city's many fine pubs are the Last Drop Inn on Colliergate, the Rook and Gaskill on Lawrence Street and the Three Legged Mare on High Petergate.

FUTURE PERFECT

Scarcely a month goes by without the city staging a major festival of some description. Forthcoming highlights include the Early Music Festival (2-10 July), inspired by the 300th anniversary of composers Charpentier and Biber. Tickets cost £3-£20 (01904 658338; www.yorkearlymusic.org).

The eighth annual Festival of Food and Drink (10-19 September) will feature speciality markets, celebrity cooking demonstrations and themed tastings. For further information call 01904 554430 or go to www.yorkfestivaloffoodanddrink.com.

The world's most famous steam engine, The Flying Scotsman, is still working hard to earn its keep 70 years after first breaking the 100mph barrier. The venerable puffer will make three excursions a day between York and Scarborough from 20 July to 31 August. Return fares from £25 for adults and £15 for children. Call 0870 145 1198 or click on www.nrm.org.uk; more details on these and other events from York Tourist Information Centre (01904 621756; www.visityork.com).

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