Timber-framed buildings characterise The Shambles, a 14th-century street in York
Timber-framed buildings characterise The Shambles, a 14th-century street in York

The best boutique hotels in York

York native Joanna Whitehead selects the best chic hotels in one of the UK’s prettiest cities

Joanna Whitehead@MsWhitehead100
Friday 08 November 2019 10:44

A trip to York is always a good idea, but as the days get shorter and the mornings frostier, the cobbled streets and Snickelways (narrow alleys) of this historic city take on a more romantic, atmospheric quality. Visitors won’t be short of things to see and do, with cultural attractions such as York Art Gallery, Theatre Royal and The Crescent complementing the many museums and ancient sites of interest.

York’s dining game has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years with the arrival of Skosh, Roots and The Ivy. The city has an enviable pub scene too, with a reputed 365 watering holes – one for each day of the year.

The Independent’s hotel reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and book, but we never allow this to affect our coverage.

Best for history: Grays Court Hotel

Neighbourhood: City centre

Grays Court Hotel is York as its luxurious best

Located down a quiet, ancient cobbled street adjacent to York Minster and the Treasurer’s House, Gray’s Court really is old York at its luxurious, romantic best.

Standing on the site of a Roman legionary fortress, history thrums through the very foundations of this property, which has hosted kings, seen knighthoods bestowed and even witnessed a duel to the death. As York’s oldest inhabited house – and allegedly the oldest continuously occupied house in Britain – this is a special place indeed.

A Victorian dining room, library and wood-panelled Jacobean gallery (The Long Room), all of which include views onto pristine gardens complete with private access to the city walls, provide an ideal space to drift away and dream of the past. Antique furniture fills all 12 rooms – some of which have Minster views – alongside contemporary bathrooms, with monsoon showers, roll-top baths and posh toiletries. Throughout the house, contemporary black and white photographs contrast with oak beams and stone walls, while service is unstuffy and warm.

The Bow Room Restaurant, holder of two AA Rosettes, serves up bold and imaginative dishes in a blind tasting menu sourced from ingredients grown in the hotel gardens.

Doubles from £200, B&B

Best for traditionalists: Middlethorpe Hall & Spa

Neighbourhood: Middlethorpe

Many rooms at Middlethorpe Hall have four-poster beds (Middlethorpe Hall & Spa)

Entering this historic country house on the edge of York feels like stepping back in time. Built in 1699, this stately pile sits in 20 acres of exquisite gardens and parkland, home to wild deer and a staggering array of majestic trees. Inside, guests can admire an impressive collection of antique furniture and a magnificent oak staircase. All rooms are decorated individually, many with four-poster beds, writing desks and chaise longue, and views over the south lawn.

Exploring the maze of communal rooms feels like starring in your own period drama, with plenty of space to enjoy a pre-dinner drink or lounge in front of the marble fireplaces in the library, drawing room and parlour. Service, as one might expect, is impeccable and, if you’re lucky, you might get to pet the manager’s affectionate cat, Baloo, who can often be found dozing in a comfortable chair.

The spa, in a neighbouring pair of Edwardian cottages, incorporates a swimming pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and a menu of treatments – try the essential rose facial to check-out positively glowing.

Doubles from £219, B&B, including use of the spa

Best for design lovers: The Parisi Hotel

Neighbourhood: City centre

Family affair: the award-winning Parisi Hotel is run by two sisters

Winner of (deep breath) the best York hotel on TripAdvisor in 2015, Traveller’s Choice Award for service in 2016 and for service and romance in 2017, 2018 and 2019, this 11-room hotel sits opposite one of York’s oldest churches, St Denys, and used to be the parsonage.

Located down a quiet side street off Walmgate, The Parisi is run by local lasses Maria and Sophie and is very much a family affair. Flowers grown on their parent’s farm fill the space, along with colourful abstract paintings by their father, artist Gerry Scott.

Pops of colour and pattern on soft furnishings and walls combine with an eclectic selection of furniture to create a perfectly lively, balanced and welcoming feel. The best rooms feature four-poster beds, mini Smeg fridges and a freestanding bathtub, but each has a unique character.

The breakfast area is light and airy, but it’s the library, complete with wood-burning stove, plush chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the small garden, which is the best spot for a relaxing afternoon tea.

Doubles from £99, room only

Best for foodies: Marmadukes Hotel

Neighbourhood: Bootham

Marmadukes Hotel has a barrel sauna in the attic

On first appearance, Marmadukes Hotel isn’t the most impressive establishment in a city with some stiff competition. Don’t be fooled, however: this Victorian residence located down a quiet residential street opposite Guy Fawke’s alma mater is home to some of the city’s most exciting cuisine. Overseen by chef Adam Jackson, who previously earned a Michelin star at the Black Swan in Oldstead, the Park Restaurant has recently retained its three Rosettes for a fifth year. Diners can opt for a four or seven-course tasting menu, complete with wine pairings. Locally sourced produce on a regularly changing menu is presented with care. Standout dishes include: succulent guinea fowl breast, homemade bread and whipped Marmite butter, pistachio financiers and plum ice cream. Front-of-house staff are warm and knowledgeable – and when you’re fit to burst, head to the top of the house to the attic suite, where a barrel sauna, Victorian roll-top bath and dual double monsoon shower await.

Doubles from £49, room only.

Best for revolutionaries: Guy Fawkes Inn

Neighbourhood: City centre

This historic inn has a central location and a claim to fame

Situated in the shadow of York Minster, the Guy Fawkes Inn is a tall, Georgian terrace with a busy pub and 13 rooms. Its historical pedigree is hard to beat: a cottage behind the main building is where the notorious member of the Gunpowder Plot was born in 1570. Downstairs, the place is certainly atmospheric, with charcoal walls and a gas-lit bar area. Rooms are olde worlde, with original beams, wonky staircases and period furniture to match, but opt for the Belfry Suite to really get a sense of this historic building’s heritage: low doorways and ceilings certainly add to its vintage but, thankfully, free-standing tubs with jets and solid four-poster beds mean you don’t have to scrimp on modern amenities. Location wise, it’s in plum position in the heart of the city, which makes the peace and serenity in the rooms at the back of the building all the more magical.

Doubles from £59, room only

Best for a treat: The Grand

Neighbourhood: City centre

The Grand is York’s only five-star hotel

As York’s only five-star hotel, The Grand occupies a building to match its reputation. Built in 1906, this behemoth of a property was once the Edwardian headquarters of the prosperous North Eastern Railway Company. These days, original features such as a sweeping stone staircase, parquet flooring and wooden columns marry with chic, contemporary design in dark colours and sumptuous fabrics. With 207 rooms, it’s more boutique in feel than in size; a highlight is the marble bathrooms, which include underfloor heating, great lighting and Molton Brown toiletries, plus Bose multi-room speakers.

A basement spa, once home to the company vaults, retains original doors and iron bars. Inside there’s a fitness room, sauna, steam room, 14-metre pool and Jacuzzi, which was sadly too cool for real relaxation during our visit. Executive residents and above have full access, while Classic room guests are granted access for a £15 fee. In a nod to sustainability, The Grand is also home to a number of bee hives, whose occupants produce honey for consumption in one of two dining areas.

Doubles from £189, B&B

Best for lie-ins: The Principal

Neighbourhood: City centre

The Principal has undergone extensive refurbishment

Previously known as the Royal York Hotel, this five-storey Grade II listed building of yellow Scarborough brick used to be one of the UK’s great Victorian railway hotels. Opened in 1878, the hotel was built to accommodate northern aristocrats and wealthy industrialists. While many of its period features remain – original columns, high-ceilinged banqueting rooms and a sweeping staircase – the 164-room establishment has also undergone extensive refurbishment, winning the Gold Award for Hospitality Interior Design at the London Design Awards in 2016.

Rooms are spacious, with giant flat screen TVs, porcelain cups, a complimentary tuck box composed of teas, coffee, crisps and chocolate bars, and blackout curtains that make sleeping-in mandatory. Large marble bathrooms come complete with rainfall showers, fluffy bathrobes and posh toiletries.

The hotel’s basement also includes a 15-metre pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. Travellers arriving by train don’t even need to step outside to check-in, with a special entrance on the station platform.

Doubles from £159, room only

Best for legal eagles: Judges Court

Neighbourhood: City centre

Judges Court used to host the most senior legal professionals

Tucked away down one of York’s many Snickelways is Judges Court, a Georgian Grade II listed building dating back to the early 17th century. Between 1720 and 1806, the property hosted Britain’s most senior judges who presided over serious criminal cases at York Castle, including Judge William Chapple, who sentenced the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin to death in 1739.

All 15 rooms are named after judges who have resided here, with luxury and king options available; the former includes a four-poster bed and freestanding roll-top bathtub, ideal for a romantic minibreak.

A moody palette of darker colours works well in this atmospheric building. Original period features such as wood panels and fireplaces accompany more contemporary touches, such as HDTVs, Egyptian cotton sheets, minibar and a large 18th-century satirical cartoon image that covers an entire wall. Smaller rooms in the bowels of the building feature low, exposed brick ceilings, which can feel cosy or claustrophobic, depending on your perspective (and height).

Doubles from £99, room only

Best for fitness fanatics: Middletons Hotel

Neighbourhood: City centre

Located down a quiet street within the city walls and close to the banks of the Ouse, Middletons is comprised of six Grade II listed buildings, some dating back to the 16th century. Cromwell House, home to the restaurant and reception area, used to be a sawmill and its original features have been preserved to excellent effect, with beautiful wooden beams.

Guests of the hotel also get full use of the adjacent gym, Emperors, including classes; and of the 56 rooms, even the most basic, include fresh milk and proper mugs.

At the other end of the spectrum, Cottage Rooms are ideal for families and groups, with king-size doubles, bunk beds and a sofa bed, plus a separate sitting area, fluffy bathrobes and a coffee machine. Decor is a mixture of cool neutral tones, vintage lamps and welcome contemporary touches such as flatscreen TVs and digital radios.

Doubles from £99 B&B

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