From the remains of a Viking settlement discovered deep beneath Coppergate Street, to the medieval wall surrounding the old city and the splendour of Castle Howard (the setting for TV's Brideshead Revisited), York is a city richly steeped in history.
Founded in the year 71 AD, York is located at the convergence of the Ouse and Foss Rivers, and was thus a strategic Northern hub, passing through the hands of the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans respectively. The varied history of the city is evident in its magnificent architecture - from Viking ruins and the walled city to York's most imposing building, the spectacular York Minster cathedral. Northern Europe's largest Gothic Cathedral, the Minster took more than 250 years to complete, and is an impressive and photogenic structure surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Other popular attractions in the city include the fascinating Jorvik Viking Centre, the York Maze, the York Dungeons and the Shambles, one of Europe's best-preserved medieval cobbled streets. The Shambles area is well worth an afternoon stroll, with its winding narrow lanes, picturesque buildings and quaint shops. Alternatively, a more 'otherworldly' way to experience this historic area is on the York Ghost Hunt - a fun and fascinating tour that operates rain or shine through the city streets, in search of York's more illusive residents.
This is not just a city of history, however, and the presence of York University makes for a lively mix of the old and the new. There are plenty of shops, bars, clubs and restaurants, and weary travellers in York can spend their afternoon in one of the city's excellent tea rooms or coffee shops, while the evenings offer West End-style shows at reasonable prices, and plenty of places to find some solid English pub grub.
As York is highly pedestrianised, the best way to take in all the sights and sounds of the city is on foot. Many travellers also choose to hire a car, and there are plenty of major car rental agencies around, but taxis, buses and trains are all reliable and readily available. Parking tends to be expensive, and the streets can be confusing for new arrivals. There are about 20 bus routes, and the city is separated into zones, with the cost of the journey varying accordingly. Off-peak day passes are available. Hiring a bicycle is also a good option for exploring the city, as it is accommodating towards cyclists.
Jorvik Viking Festival
The exciting, exhilarating and unusual Jorvik Viking Festival draws over 40,000 visitors a year to the historical city of York. Over 100 events and activities take place over the five days of the festival, including an 'invasion day', weapons displays, film screenings, walks, talks and more. There are plenty of fun, hands-on events for the whole family to enjoy that celebrate the early Viking heritage of York. For more information, call (0)1904 643 211.
Award-winning Castle Howard is one of York's most striking attractions. Home to the Howard family for over 300 years, the Castle took 100 years to build, outliving several architects, craftsmen and three earls, before eventually becoming the setting for the popular TV series, Brideshead Revisited. The spectacular estate comprises acres of farmland and exquisite gardens, while the interior is a treasure trove of paintings, furniture, sculptures and more. Visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour, but historical costumed guides are available to answer questions and share information about the history of the house, the Howard family and the collections. Regular guided tours are also available, and the Castle frequently plays host to a range of exhibitions, lectures, events and dinners. The Castle also has a gift shop, cafÃ©s and a plant centre.
For over a thousand years, York Minster has been the principal place of worship in York and its surrounding areas. The largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, this impressive building is open to the public and visitors can enjoy the peace and beauty of the interior of the church and its many stained glass windows, including the well-known Rose Window. Visitors are also able to marvel at the fascinating ancient remains held beneath the church, in the Undercroft, and to enjoy the spectacular views from the top of its 275-step tower. Audio tours are available and York Minster also has its own gift shop, as well as a restaurant and cafÃ©.
Jorvik Viking Centre
Set on a 'Viking Dig' archaeological site, the Jorvik Viking Centre is a fascinating exploration of the Viking presence in York over 1,000 years ago. Between 1976 and 1981, the York Archaeological Trust excavated thousands of Viking-era objects, including wooden houses, alleyways and fence lines, all part of the ancient centre of Viking power in England, Jorvik. Shortly after, the centre opened its doors and swiftly became a popular tourist attraction in the city. With over 800 items on display, this 'living history site' presents informative exhibits, reconstructions of the excavated Viking village (including authentic smells and sounds!) and costumed 'Viking' guides, offering visitors the chance to experience what life was like in 975 AD. A highly popular event is the annual Jorvik Viking Festival in February, where Vikings roam the streets of York once more. Enjoy weaponry displays, hands-on activities (including shield-building and excavating), re-enactments of Viking boat burials, guided walks, an evening of ancient tales and songs, and much more.
Not for the faint-hearted, the York Dungeons present a fascinating journey back in time, and visitors are guaranteed a ghoulish, grisly experience that will be hard to forget. With attractions that run the gamut from the plague-riddled streets of 14th century York, to the Labyrinth of the Lost and its ghostly Lost Roman Legion, to adventures with the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, to the Pit of Despair, Witch Trials, and a recreated Viking attack, visitors should brace themselves for a hair-raising tour of the more macabre aspects of York's history. Be tried and convicted in a Judgement of Sinners trial, witness hangings, and marvel at the life-like waxworks on display. The tour is not recommended for those with a nervous disposition or a weak stomach, and children must be accompanied by an adult.
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