A weekend break in York: how to enjoy this historical city

Planning on spending a weekend in York? It’s a good idea, as it’s a beautiful city with an interesting history, varied amount of things to do and plenty of cute and quirky places to stay. Read on for more ideas for the ideal York weekend break.

York's cityscape, stretching out from one of its historic walls. Discover the best things to do on a York weekend break.
The beautiful cityscape of York.

Living in the United Kingdom is tough. The temptation to travel abroad can be all too much at times and this is a real shame.

There’s so much to see, do and eat within the country’s borders… heck, you could spend a lifetime exploring England alone.

This guide will cover what you can do during a York weekend break, in England’s north.

It’s a place that’s filled with plenty of history, good food and fun activities to get yourself into, making it the perfect city break from London and the other bigger cities of the UK.

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Looking across York with the York Minster in the background.
Part of the city with York Minster in the background.

How to spend a weekend in York

I’ll outline some suggestions for things to do in York and places to stay, so you’re totally prepared for your York weekend break.

A row of houses in York with brightly coloured front doors.
Damn it, English houses! Why you so pretty?

Where to stay during a weekend break in York

  • Budget: I generally find YHA Hotels to be of a high standard around the world – they’re clean, affordable and friendly.
  • Mid-range: The Churchill is a Grade II listed mansion, not far at all from the city centre. The decor inside will certainly live up to its name, but its pricing is quite affordable.
  • Lah-di-dah: If you want to go all out, The Grand may be the hotel for you. The Grade II listed former railway headquarters has boutique bedrooms and a luxury spa onsite.
  • Boutique: Judges Court is a boutique hotel, centrally located. As the name may suggest, it was originally used as lodgings for judges in the city on legal business.
  • Quirky: Lendal Tower was once part of York’s medieval wall defences. It’s now renovated holiday apartments, set on the river. Perfect for those wishing to experience medieval York, with higher levels of hygiene.

Things to do during a weekend break in York

The York Minster.
The Minster. If you peer closely, you can see some of the grotesques.

Here’s a few things you can get up to during your weekend in York.

1. Visit the York Minster

The Minster may be one of the most beautiful buildings in all of England, or at least I felt that way when I saw it. It should be at the top of your list of what to do during a weekend in York.

It’s equally as interesting to view inside, as out. The outside is dotted with figures known as ‘grotesques’ rather than gargoyles. So, rather than gremlin type creatures, you’ll see figures depicting a blind beggar, someone with leprosy and so on.

If you like stained glass windows, you wont be disappointed by the interior of the Minster, which contains over 100 windows featuring historic images. Some of the more famous works are the Pilgrimage Window and beautiful Great Rose Window.

Also, here I was thinking that a cathedral and minster were essentially the same thing. According to the internet, whose information should never be taken at face value, this is simply not the case. Minster is apparently a honorific title attributed to churches from the Anglo-saxon period.

The York Minster dominates the cityscape and is a gorgeous piece of architecture. Be sure to check it out.

2. …& watch (or rather, listen to) the choir sing

Whilst you’re there, do your darnedest to witness the York Minster Choir sing. They have a history which dates back an incomprehensible amount of time and are said to be very, very good.

The Choir normally performs on Sundays at 10:00am, 11:30am and 4:00pm; on Tuesdays to Saturdays daily at 5:15pm. I spent a Tuesday in the city and tried to catch them, but typically they’d sung the day before and were taking a special break that day.

Looking out across a pathway which leads around the walls of York.
Walking the wall one fine, winter’s day.

3. Walk the city wall

You can see the Roman influence across the UK, particularly in the presence of city walls, a form of defence from times gone past. Some are merely crumbling versions of their former selves, but York has one of the most intact walls within the country.

3.4 kilometres of wall remains and it’s now considered a historic site.

Yet, you can still walk the wall – if anything, you should as you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the city, for free.

If you’d like to hear about the city’s history while you wander around it, jump onto a walking tour of York, where you’ll hear about everything from the impact of Christianity on the place, to the creation of the KitKat® chocolate bar.

4. Go ghost hunting on a spooky tour

A medieval town like York would certainly have some disgruntled spirits – in fact, the place is inundated with ghosts and is considered to be the most haunted city in England.

Places of supernatural interest include the Minster, the Museum and the Brewery, among many others.

There are plenty of ghost tours on offer, which will take you around the city to learn of its unsettling history. Navigate the city by foot on a
tour with a local expert or book onto a private experience as you seek out spooks among the city’s walls.

Alternatively, you can attempt to go ghost watching via a comedy Ghost bus!

York houses with the sun breaking through cloud cover in the background. Discover top things to do during a York weekend break.
I don’t have a single photo of a pub in York, which seems so wrong.

5. Grab a pint or meal in the House of the Trembling Madness

York has its share of historic pubs and one of the best known (and cutest – I have an interminable weakness for British pubs) is The House of Trembling Madness (or Delirium Tremens).

People have been drinking on this site since 1180AD. That’s a mighty long time.

Grab a meal, grab a pint, but make sure you head there early before the after-work crowd descend upon it.

6. Or alternatively, make do with any pub in the city

If you can’t get into the DT, there are other venues to try your luck in, such as The Black Swan (another site that’s rumoured to be haunted), The Drawing Board or Pivni.

Looking up at Clifford's Tower, which is perched on a hill.
Clifford’s Tower in York.

7. Check out Clifford’s Tower

If you’re after a top view of the city, head out to Clifford’s Tower.

This tower is all that remains of York Castle and was raised by William the Conqueror.

Adult entry costs £8.10.

8. Visit the National Railway Museum

If you’re into museums, or trains, or museums about trains, you’ve come to the right place.

British Rail has over 300 years of history and the National Railway Museum is the place to head if you want to learn more about the impact of trains on the UK over the last few centuries.

You can even take Afternoon Tea in a restored railway carriage. Well. I’m sold on the idea.

Buildings lining the River Ouse in York.

9. Sniff the flowers at the Museum Gardens after visiting the York Museum

After exploring the York Museum and trying to not bump into any (un)friendly ghosts, take a stroll around the adjoining gardens, set within the Medieval ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.

If you time it right, i.e. go during the shoulder seasons and particularly spring, I can only imagine you will be delighted.

9. Take a day trip to the Yorkshire Dales or Moors

Make the most of your York weekend break, to breathe in some fresh, country air.

I can’t really blame you if you head to York only to leave immediately to explore the surrounding countryside, such as the Yorkshire Dales.

There’s stone built villages, rolling greens – basically England as you’ve always imagined it.

I also highly encourage making a trip to the Yorkshire Moors, which was actually the first part of England I ever stepped foot on! Well, if you don’t count Manchester Airport.

Fancy a day tour from York? Here are some ideas:

The river Ouse in York.
The River Ouse.

10. Cruise the River Ouse

Firstly, I love how the above heading rhymes.

Secondly, you can’t go wrong with seeing a city from water. Or boats in general. A river cruise down the Ouse (I had to again, I’m not sorry) will provide you of a unique perspective of the city of York.

I know when I did a cruise on the River Thames in London, I learned stuff about the city I’d never known before, despite having lived there for almost two years at the time.

So book a spot on a cruise of the Ouse and see York from a different perspective.

11. Discover York’s sweet history

York has a long history with chocolate and is even where the beloved KitKat® chocolate bar first broke mould.

Jump on a chocolate-themed tour of the city, where you can learn sweet facts about its connections with the confectionery industry and try a sample, to boot.

A woman walks the walls of York during a York weekend break.
More wall strollings.

Concluding your York weekend break

Well, I hope that gives you a bit of an introductory idea of what’s on offer in this wonderful town. You can certainly squeeze a lot into a weekend in York.

However, if you’re after more ideas, here’s a detailed itinerary for Yorkshire. It’s a truly underrated corner of England.

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Want to get out of the big city and head somewhere quiet and fun in the United Kingdom? A York weekend break may just be exactly what you need. Here are some ideas of what you can do over a two day period and where to stay. / UK Weekend Breaks / York Itinerary / #England / #York / #Yorkshire /

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  1. I totally know the feeling. We recently did a weekend away in Somerset, looking forward to some quality hikes and walks through the countryside. We were met with driving rain and 50mph wind. We made the best of it and still had fun. Sometimes, things don’t work out like you planned, but it is okay.

  2. I loved York! The cathedral is amazing. And one of my favorite museums in the whole world is located in York – the York Castle Museum (which oddly has nothing to do with castles). I would love to go back.

  3. I enjoyed this comprehensive overview of York. Would love to go on a Ghost Tour, but will need to drag my husband as he is afraid of ghosts. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Love British history, so I’ve had the vague idea of going to York some day for a while. Now I want to go sooner =-). Looks like a neat place, though I think I prefer England in the summer LOL. We are getting too used to being warm here in Sicily!

    1. I find summer and winter so hit and miss – you can have crappy weather or no summer at all and then the most glorious winter days! Definitely recommend York, it’s one of my favourite cities in England for sure.

  5. You’re absolutely right that if you live in the UK you often overlook how amazing it can be to travel around. After living abroad for 4 years we travelled and camped around the UK last summer and absolutely loved it. It’s almost 20 years since I’ve been to York, yikes! But would love to go back and your post have loads of ideas of what to do, love it!

    1. Camping around the UK would be amazing! I have such high aspirations to do this one day. There really is so much packed in, it’s such a great country to explore.

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