York, one of the oldest cities in the UK, a walled gem coveted by the Romans, Vikings and Normans over centuries of existence. Once the capital of a Roman North England and a Viking stronghold, the city is so steeped in history even the mighty New York City borrowed its name.
Now (Old) York is the capital of the UK’s largest county, Yorkshire. The walled city is a must see on any tourists agenda, with attractions for literally any taste.
York’s modern side, caters for a heady mix of tourists, students and residents, so all budgets, activities and tastes are accommodated for. The two large universities (York and St John) make for an eclectic nightlife, tourists provide year round festivals and street events and residents are well catered for with a number of multinational companies based in the city, like Nestle, Aviva and NetworkRail.
What better way to enjoy this pocket sized marvel the heart of England than in the true Yorkshire way? For dam good value!
That’s right, if there’s one thing us Yorkshire folk enjoy, it’s a good deal, so what better way to enjoy York than without spending too much brass (that’s money for the rest of you non YorkshireFolk).
So here is York, on a budget from a real-life frugal Yorkshireman…
Thanks to an industry boom in the 19th century, York is still a major train hub in the north of England, with most rail services heading to Scotland and the North East making their way via York Railway station, the train can be swift option getting to the city. Tickets on the day are always at a premium, however booked in advance via services like National Rail or The Train Line.
For drivers, York is linked to the rest of the country by the A1 (M1) and the A64 ring road. The old town itself can be a nightmare for navigation and parking due to strict parking enforcement, high tourist numbers and costly permits. York is also a rabbit warren of narrow streets, one way systems and wandering tourists.
The Major parking spots in the city are around Clifford’s Tower (& St George), Gillygate, York Train Station and Nunnery Lane (all about £2 per hour, or £2 flat rate after 6pm), however be warned they all fill up quickly over weekends, check out Parkopedia to see rough costings.
York council have addressed the parking issue with 3 brand new park and ride services on Hull Road (East), Tadcaster Road (South) and Shipton Road (North West), tickets are very reasonable at £2.80 for a standard return and buses are frequent (every 10 mins).
A quick one on navigation. York’s historic centre is small and easily walkable. Aside from bustling pedestrians and cobbled streets, most people can easily navigate the city centre without the need for public transport. The old town itself is no more than a mile by a mile and half in diameter, but a lot is packed into its walls.
The train station is west of the centre, just outside the walls and takes about 10 minutes by foot to the towering (on a York scale) Minster. If you do need transport, there are a number of tourist HopOn/Off buses (about £13) through the centre, or local buses can be accessed with an ALLYORK pass (£4.50 pp or £9 for a ‘family’ ticket).
To start with, if you do fancy hitting up all of York’s attractions, it’s worthwhile investing in a YorkPass. For about £35-£40 (some discounts available online) you’ll get entrance to over 30 attractions including: York Minster, York’s Chocolate Story, a York Brewery Tour, The Barley Hall, Clifford’s Tower, Richard III Experience, Henry VII Experience, Bar Convent Museum and discount vouchers at number of shops and restaurants. If you’re in York for more than a day, it’s worth the outlay.
York’s most distinguishing feature, its walls, is also completely free to visit. Although segmented at a few intervals you can walk round the whole thing(ish) in about an hour, with great views of the city and Minster. If you’re short of time the section between Goodramgate and Bootham is the most interesting. COST FREE
The largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, York Minster is visible from most of city and therefore is a great vantage point for looking out onto the city. Entry to the impressive minster is free, however to go deeper into the actual building it will cost £10 for a tour or £15 for a combined tower ticket. COST £10-15
Looks like something straight out of a Harry Potter book, nope, it’s not Diagon Ally it’s the Shambles. A narrow, cobbled, winding street filled with a varied selection of boutique shops food stores and overhanging buildings that date back to the 15th century. Always busy, and for good reason, it just looks straight up quirky. Costs nothing to have a wander down, but you may have to buy a pork pie due to their deliciousness. COST FREE
Train nerds all aboard!,,, And the rest of you will love it too. Based behind the actual train station the NRM is a possibly the largest train museum in the world, a true homage to the locomotive. Spread over two large hangars the NRM houses hundreds of locomotives including a Japanese Bullet train, a mammoth Chinese government locomotive, a chunk of the Eurostar, a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket and the iconic Mallard. Many of the exhibitions are interactive and best of all it’s free (although donations keep the museum running, so every little helps). COST FREE
York Train station is actually part of the film set used to replicate Kings Cross in the Harry Potter film(s). Always good for a photo opp.
In the same ilk as London and Edinburgh, York Dungeons are an interactive walkthrough of the spooky/murdery side of York. Well run and entertaining, lest not for the easily scared, lots of actors jumping out and scary things aplenty. Standard price is £15.95, however if you book online its £9.95 and always look out for beer mats and bus tickets with 2for1 discounts. COST £10+
Sweet tooth? Well York is for you. Once home to Rowntrees, Terry’s (of Chocolate orange fame) and now Nestle, York has sugar running through the air. The Chocolate Story is guided tour of the sweeter side of the city with a few interactive chocolate features thrown in, including a craft your own decadent lolly. Price is £10.95 for adults and booking ahead is well advised of a weekend. COST £10+
An old city like York is bound to have few skeletons in its closet and so the city has spurred quite a few ghost walks. Choices are open as to when you want to go but the dusk tours are often the most popular. Most are around £4-6 and well worth an hour of your time, no need to book, just rock up, most are based on the Shambles or outside the Minster.
This changes so much it’s hard to pin down a solid price for anything so bear with the generic recommendations.
Let’s start out for another of York’s claims to fame, its pubs. Allegedly a pub for every day in the year in York (I’d argue more). The city, especially the centre, is jammed full of what the guidebooks call ‘proper English pubs’. It’s almost impossible to go more than a minute without seeing a pub or bar adorning a winding street.
You’ll see a range of sizes, quality and price range so don’t be put off if one is a little rowdier/quieter than you had hoped.
York is a little pricier than other cities in the north, but still cheaper than London, so for more frugal drinking follow the students out of the walls protection and drink on Hull road or near the Barbican theatre. Beer is about £3.60-£4 per pint in the centre and the Local York Brewery is aplenty as well as West Yorkshire Based Ossett and Leeds Brewery.
Most of the central pubs will serve food 12-8pm with many rustling up traditional Yorkshire fayre. I’ll quickly list the good central pubs below, but for a more comprehensive guide check out York CAMRA
Food and Beer – The Black Swan, The Black Sheep, The Three Tuns, The Last Drop Inn.
Weird and quirky spaces- The House of Trembling Madness, Yorkshire Terrier, Pivni, Lendall Cellars.
Beer Garden Bonanza – Lamb and Lion, Fulford Arms, Golden Ball.
Beer, Beer, Beer- The Maltings, York Tap, York Brewery
Cost effective: Kings Arms, Rook & Gaskill, Blue Bell.
If beer isn’t your thing York has a plethora of café and coffee shops at reasonable prices. Favourites are Coffee Culture, Perky Peacock and The Attic (doubles as a gin bar after 6pm)
Excellent food is not hard to come by in York, but getting something cheap does restrict the frugal traveller. Unlike other tourist cities, York doesn’t have huge street food scene, unless there is a festival on, and even then the prices of stall food can be high. Anything below £5 is likely to be a bakery (Thomas The Baker, Cooplands, Greggs etc), fastfood outlet or a chain.
Many pubs and small restaurants offer good lunch menus & £10 meal deals… it’s worth having view around or checking menus. York also has the full complement of chain restaurants.
Other choices are Rice Style (Thai- £10 starter and main), Red Dragon (Chinese – £11 starter & main), The Hop (Pizza £6-9), Wackers (Fish & Chips £6-10), White Swan (Pub food £5-15).
If you can stretch the budget a little, the pubs mentioned above almost all have a varied menu of regional favourites and many do a pie & pint or sandwich/soup and a drink for under £10.
Again York can be a little on the pricey side for accommodation, but there are a few hack and ways around paying over the odds for rooms.
First off, avoid any of the horse racing weekends. Accommodation balloons in price over these summer dates (May-Oct). It’s also worth looking at hotels outside the city centre. Try B&Bs on Hull Road, The Mount or Fulford Rd for cheaper alternatives. There are also a chain hotels like Ibis, Holiday inn and Marriott dotted around the city with plenty of deals.
York actually has two very central hostels- Safestay and Fort Boutique, which are within the walls but do book up pretty sharp which group bookings. There are also hostels out of the centre in Clifton (YHA).
If the river hasn’t flooded York also has a rather nice central camping site in Rowntrees park which accommodates tents.