Choosing to stay in York after I left university was anything but a difficult decision. Even while my first year was difficult, I fell in love with the city almost instantly, and something in me just felt right. It’s the perfect size (for me), with amazing connections to the rest of the country (except, of course, my parents back in Norfolk!). And, besides being utterly photogenic, there’s just something special about this historic little city. That I’m now able to properly call it ‘home’ still hasn’t quite sunk in, because from the food to the architecture to the culture, there’s just so much to love about York – so here are my top six.
It seems obvious, but this iconic cathedral is one of my favourite things about York. I love how you can see it from almost anywhere in the city, and how every time I think I’ve taken a picture of it from every possible angle, I realise there’s another one I’ve missed. A religious building has stood on this site since the seventh century, but the building we see now was begun in 1080 – nearly a thousand years ago. The largest cathedral in northern Europe to be completed during the Gothic period, it remains active in its worship and community practice.
The Minster itself is absolutely stunning, inside and out, and it’s all the more worth a visit following the full restoration of the phenomenal Great East Window. This astonishing piece of stained glass depicts the seven days of Creation and the Book of Revelation (the final book of the Bible) – and did I mention it’s larger than a tennis court? In a building like this, though, the upkeep is never finished, and just last week the next restoration project has begun on the Minster’s Grand Organ. Described as a ‘once-in-a-century’ event, the entire instrument has been removed to be repaired and refurbished in Durham, and it set to be back in use in a little under two years.
No visit to York is really complete without checking out the Minster; I wander by it almost every time I pop into town, and it functions as a really useful place to meet up with people. As a York student I used to get in free with my student card, as do under-16s, and they never charge you to attend a service. But a standard adult ticket will cost £10 if you book online (it’s a little cheaper if you’re a senior or a student at a non-York uni, and a little more expensive if you buy on the door), and if you pay a little more – and are up for the challenge – you can also climb the central tower for stunning views of beautiful York.
The City Walls
I’ll talk later about how York is so steeped in history, but the 13th-century city, or bar, walls are in a league of their own. At two miles, they are the longest town walls in England, and almost encircle the entire inner city. Even better, they’re open from 8am to dusk every day to walk – for free. There’s a full trail here to help you navigate.
I love the walls not only because of their amazing views of the city, but for how they enable you to get your bearings around York as a whole. Sometimes they even provide the quickest route to where you need to be if you have to cross town! What’s more, they provide a way to walk through hundreds of years of York’s history. Walking the walls is a perfect way to spend a couple of hours at any time of year, and even though you’re just a bit higher above the roads, they have this amazing ability to sweep you away from the hustle and bustle of the city below.
The Coffee-and-Cake Options
York is absolutely full of them. It’s a major foodie city, and the opportunities for cake-based consumption are endless. No doubt there’ll be a “favourite cafes” post one day – once I’ve been able to narrow them down properly – but my go-tos are Brew and Brownie, Spring Espresso, FortyFive Vinyl, Crumbs Cupcakery, Gatehouse Coffee, Daughter, Gulp and Graze, Dyls, and (a new find) Partisan. York’s a busy city, and cafes are often full, but one of my favourite things about it is that here will always be a table at somewhere amazing. (Oh, and it’s not for coffee and cake, but if you’re a wine fan get yourself to Pairings, and thank me later.)
People say York is a cycle city, and it’s true that there are bikes everywhere – but I think York is, above all, a walking city. It’s a town you get to know on your feet, by walking across and around and through it. Nowhere do you feel this more than its beautiful backstreets; the Shambles is by far the most famous, but the whole Minster quarter, and other areas of York by the city gates, is made up of winding, cobbled streets, lined by elderly buildings all leaning against one another for support. They didn’t make any sense to me at all for the first few months I lived here as I started at university, so I took myself off on a couple of self-guided walking tours around the city, and now I know my way around better than my hometown of Norwich. Whenever I need to settle myself, or if I’m not sure what to do, walking around York always brings me a bit of peace.
York gives you such a palpable sense of the past. History pulses through its streets. Founded in 71 AD as Eboracum, it’s since had enormous ecclesiastical, industrial, and cultural influence on the rest of the country. Perhaps most striking is just how well so much of this, from the walls to the train station, has been preserved: much of its medieval architecture still stands; the former castle and prison is now a brilliant museum; and the chocolate factories, on which much of York’s economy was built, are still major employers in the city. York is really proud of its heritage and identity, and it’s not a city that forgets where it came from. There are little nuggets of history dotted all over the city, and I love how it’s not even that hard to find them.
But all that said, York is anything but backwards-looking. Historic in its looks and tradition, it’s modern in its outlook and vision. It’s open, welcoming, and safe, and in 2017 was named the UK’s first ever Human Rights City, which means it ‘embraces a vision of a vibrant, diverse, fair and safe community built on the foundations of universal human rights‘. Culturally it thrives, with three theatres, a stunning art gallery, libraries, amazing musical heritage including the National Early Music Centre, the annual Festival of Ideas, and two universities with their own open lecture series. The Christmas market is one of the best in the country, and there’s always something going on. Plus its travel links to the rest of Yorkshire, and other cities like Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and even Edinburgh and London, are superb.
York is my favourite city in the world. There are hundreds of other things I love about it, and I’m sure I’ll follow up this post a few times (in fact, I’m excited to!). Like I said, deciding to stay here after graduating was anything but difficult, and I think that’s because of my real, number one favourite thing about it: York, to me, feels like home.