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A trip to York will immerse you in a little world of history and culture. Steeped in stories of days gone by, a day trip to York from London promises a rich experience and a day full of exploration.
And after my recent visit to York, it’s one of my top day trips from London. Fans of Harry Potter rejoice as I have found the holy land of wizardry.
Founded in 71 AD by the Romans, York would come to be the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior.
Over the years, the city became the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria and Jórvik before becoming the iconic cathedral city that it is today.
Here’s all that you need to know about visiting the extraordinarily beautiful and well-preserved medieval city from London, and how to enjoy it in a day.
Why Plan A Day Trip To York?
You can spend years in London and still not tick off all of the recommended activities and sights. So why would you choose to explore a new destination during your short trip to the iconic city?
The United Kingdom is steeped in history, and it would be a sin to limit your trip to a single city (no matter how spellbinding London can be).
York may be further out than your usual London day excursion destinations, such as a trip to Canterbury, but Britain’s efficient transport system will have you there in no time.
If you love history and culture, then York makes for the perfect day trip. There are reliable transportation options, plenty of tours to enjoy, sights to marvel at and food to enjoy.
Things To Do During One Day In York
While a simple stroll will teach you more than you could expect, these specific activities will blow your mind.
York’s Minster is renowned around the world as the largest medieval gothic cathedral in northern Europe.
The cathedral took over 250 years to complete and it was finally declared complete (and was consecrated) in 1472.
The Minster contains some of the country’s oldest and finest stained glass with the newly- restored Great East Window, which is the largest single expanse of medieval stained glass in the country.
Clifford’s Tower York
Clifford’s Tower is a historical landmark in York. Located in the aptly named Tower Street, Clifford’s Tower offers tours and the chance to scan the panoramic views from the top.
It’s a fantastic spot to begin your day in York, as it gives you an overview of the city’s layout.
The majestic tower is essentially the last remaining structure from William the Conqueror’s castle and has a storytelling history in its own right.
Once you’re at the top, see if you can spot York Minster and the North York Moors. It will be hard to miss them.
York River Ouse City Cruise
The River Ouse is a continuation of the River Ure. The section of the river that runs through York is made up of water calmly flowing across 84 kilometres.
Flanked by quaint buildings and lush greenery, the River Ouse is the perfect spot for a relaxing cruise.
Booking a city cruise on the river will give you a glimpse of York from a different perspective.
The commentary of a live guide on board the charming boats will add context to your experience and accentuate the enjoyment. There is as an evening river cruise that you can on the river Ouse.
Top tip: Make sure that you check the height of the water before booking the cruise. If the water is too low, the boat can’t sail.
Visit The Shambles
The Shambles is an old street in York that encapsulates a mood of time travel. Walking along the cobblestone streets will conjure up memories of reading Harry Potter and stories of Sherlock Holmes.
Although the name “Shambles” refers to an actual lane in the middle of the old city, it also refers to the maze of narrow lanes that twist and turn, adding charm to the city of York.
The street is revered as one of the best-preserved medieval streets in the world.
Shambles is also a host of The Shop That Must Not Be Named – original and premier shop specialising in officially licensed Harry Potter merchandise.
Another interesting fact is that the film depiction of the Diagon Alley was inspired by the Shambles- one of oldest medieval streets in the whole of Europe.
In fact, some of the overhanging timber-framed buildings date back to the fourteenth century!
To fully early the Shambles arrive early before the shops open, so you can walk along the street by yourself and snap as many photos as you want undistributed.
York City Walls
When York was first founded by the Romans, it was used as a military fortress. The city walls were used as a primary mode of defence, and sections of this wall remain intact today.
Also known as the Bar Walls and the Roman Walls, the miles of the stone structure are quite a sight to behold.
Anyone can walk along the iconic walls and snap a picture or two. Along the route, you’ll also come across the Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens. This is the most intact section of the wall.
Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar serve as the four main gatehouses and stand out among the minor bars, Fishergate and Victoria Bar.
At 3.4 kilometres long, the beautifully preserved walls are the longest medieval town walls in England.
The completion of the entire circuit will take approximately two hours on foot, although there are many chances to climb down and explore any nearby attractions.
From the city walls you’ll get some ionic views of York and York Minster.
Jorvik Viking Centre
If you’ve watched the acclaimed television show Vikings then you’ll know that York was once a settlement area of the Nordic warriors.
The Jorvik Viking Centre showcases this fascinating part of British history and is a must-see for visitors in the city.
The award-winning learning centre not only offers educational visits but also hands-on workshops.
This is a state-of-the-art capsules takes you on a sensory adventure through the Viking settlement as it was over a thousand years ago.
I really enjoyed my visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre, but must warn you that it does smell and the mannequins showing what life was like during that period are extremely lifelike.
After a visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre, you’ll be able to appreciate more than Ragnar Lothbrok’s character on the television screen.
The York Dungeon
A visit to York Dungeon offers an alternative learning experience that is immersive and interactive.
A group of actors, special effects and historical displays replay the history of the dungeon and walk you through “York’s darkest history”.
The group of nine actors tell the tale of 2,000 years of York’s history over the course of an hour.
As a popular attraction, pre-booking is strongly recommended (and can save you up to 20% of the full ticket price).
I really loved visiting the London Dungeon and enjoyed visiting York Dungeon. The actors and interacting keeps you engaged, and I learnt a lot. More than I did in history class.
The iconic Yorkshire Museum dates back to 1830 and has five permanent collections that highlight key moments in the history of the city.
These exhibitions cover areas of biology, geology, archaeology and astronomy.
The museum is home to historical gems including The Vale of York Viking Hoard, the most significant Viking find in more than 150 years, the head of the earliest portrait statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and the famous ‘Cawood Sword’.
The interactive experience is a great activity for solo travellers, families and groups. The Yorkshire Museum is located in Museum Gardens right across from Clifford’s Tower, with the wide-open space highlighting the beauty of the Greek Revival architecture.
There’s also the recently-opened York Museum Gardens which is a registered botanical garden and offers free entry to the public.
York Castle Museum
Another major historical attraction is the York Castle Museum, which was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068.
The museum showcases hundreds of years of history, including the Victorian era, the sixties and the Space Age.
The collection of this museum was the brainchild of John Kirk, a country doctor and antiquarian, who between 1890 and 1920, who rescued a variety of everyday items he realised were part of a vanishing way of life.
Even the museum staff are invested in the experience, dressing in costumes to further detail the era.
Not only is the York Castle Museum educational, but it is also interactive, fun and alluring.
Highlights include the York Castle Prison and Kirkgate, the recreated Victorian street from the 19th century.
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Calling all art lovers! York has a lot more to offer than charming buildings and captivating history. I
t is also a buzzing destination for art enthusiasts. The Van Gogh Immersive Experience gives you a taste of this artistic flair with a 360-degree immersion into a projected painting.
Van Gogh’s paintings are projected onto all four walls of the building, accompanied by music and animations to further create the virtual reality experience.
A visit to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience promises to leave you feeling moved by the light and sound show.
Where To Eat In York
It’s difficult to run a city flat in a day without proper nourishment. These amazing York venues are some of the best places to eat, allowing you to enjoy local food while filling your belly.
From a light snack at a tearoom to delicious drinks and finer food – here are a few suggestions of places to eat in York.
Betty’s Cafe Tea Room
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy afternoon tea, blending a gentle mood with weighted history.
Be prepared – trying to pick between the macaroons, chocolate cake and Yorkshire curd tarts will prove to be a challenge. Luckily, there is a shop on site for you to purchase some goodies to enjoy later.
I would suggest getting there early or making reservation as its really popular with locals for breakfast and brunch.
The Shambles Market
The Shambles Market sells a variety of fashion, gifts, local fruit and veg, fresh meat and street food. Browse the 70 stalls and take your pick of delectable food and snacks.
The variety of street food available is diverse, including traditional Italian pizzas and North African dishes as well.
Under normal circumstances, the market is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm, giving you a prime opportunity to grab a bite whenever your stomach begins to grumble.
If you’re in the area on the night of an event, then you could also enjoy live music and entertainment until the late evening.
Sotano, located on Little Stonegate, is the perfect spot for casual dining and an indulgent drink.
The venue sells 60 different types of beers, 27 artisan gins and a choice of refreshing cocktails. Accompanying these drinks is an irresistible menu of tapas dishes.
If this spot tickles your fancy, then you can phone ahead and book a spot on the terrace for a bit of fresh air.
All dishes are served fresh, complete with a Spanish flavour. Sotano prides itself on offering an authentic experience with a modern twist.
The Pig & Pastry
If you’re looking for cheap eats and casual dining, then Pig & Pastry is the place! The restaurant is located on the outskirts of York, on Bishopthorpe Road, and is particularly popular for breakfasts.
Pig & Pastry is loved as a kid-friendly venue and the team put in a lot of love to produce home-made, affordable food.
If you’re at a loss on what to order, then I’d recommend beginning with the buttermilk waffles and sourdough sandwiches.
If your day trip to York commemorates a special occasion, then Skosh is the perfect spot to celebrate. Treat yourself to the contemporary British dishes that are blended with an international influence.
Skosh prides themselves on a “precise yet playful style of cookery” which is a special way to end off a day in York.
Each dish is a masterpiece and presents a wonderful blend of traditional and eclectic flavours. Skosh also offers a detailed wine list, seasonal cocktails and finely-brewed craft beers to conclude the culinary experience.
From goats curd marshmallow with apricot, black olive and almond, to Thirkelby duck ham with pickled lime purée – there’s something for everyone!
Best York, England, Tours
Walking through the city is a wonderful experience but ticking off the main attractions is a lot easier with an organised tour.
Local guides are also able to offer expert knowledge and context to the attraction. Day trips to York would be incomplete without one of these tours.
York Minster And City Walking Tour
One of the best ways to discover a city is on foot. However, it’s quite easy to miss the small, yet powerful, details without expert knowledge to point them out.
An organised York walking tour, with a focus on York Minster, will take you past the most historic sites in the city.
Learn about one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe, The King’s Manor, Stonegate and the War of the Roses – among many other famous historical moments.
Make sure that you wear comfortable shoes because there’s a lot to discover!
An Alternative: The Best Of York On Foot
It’s already been established that York is a historical wonderland. But the city’s unique value includes far more than museums and ancient structures.
A lot can be learned from meandering through the medieval streets, wandering through the Shambles, and discussing the history of the city.
A relaxing walking tour of York will showcase the loud and soft volumes of the city, including the Museum Gardens and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.
You’ll also have the opportunity to ask all the burning questions that you may have about Vikings, warfare and the medieval skyline.
City Sightseeing York Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
York day trips are normally jam-packed with activity as travellers attempt to tick off as many key attractions and sights as possible.
The city sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus allows you to visit several of these landmarks after boarding the UK’s slightly less famous big red bus.
As the name suggests, you can hop on and hop off of the bus, picking from 20 stops along the route.
You’ll be given a map which makes it easy to plan your stops depending on which sights you’d like to dive deeper into.
York’s Chocolate Story Guided Tour
If you’ve ever needed an excuse to indulge in chocolate, then this is it. York has an interesting chocolate history which includes the Rowntree’s factory which opened in 1890. A guided tour of York’s Chocolate Story uncovers this sweet narrative and the historical families in the business.
The venue is located in the historic heart of York. It features a museum that boasts three floors of interactive exhibitions, a chocolate-making demonstration and an opportunity to support the business (and your sweet tooth).
York Ghost Tours
Your trip to York is about to get spooky, in the most hilarious way imaginable. The comedy-horror show invites travellers to join a sightseeing experience of York with a creepy conductor.
These ghost tours will lead you to the city’s iconic sights, with the addition of bone-chilling insights and humorous commentary.
This experience is best enjoyed once the sun goes down, which means that you may need to plan the returning York to London train journey for a later time.
Are you ready to learn about the darker side of York’s history?
Best Photo Spots In York
Did it even happen if it’s not on the ‘gram?
Whether you love taking photographs to add a filter and accumulate likes, or to store as a personal library of moments, York has you covered.
There are countless stunning scenes in the city that will happily serve as your backdrop. While you can snap an aesthetic shot on any random street, these particular spots are especially charming.
York City Wall
Standing next to the breathtaking York city wall doesn’t cost a cent, meaning that you can take your time to test and try out different angles (as Drake said gotta hit them angles girl).
The wall stretches across a distance of 3.4 kilometres, with several photo opportunities along the way.
If you visit in spring, your pictures will be framed with bright yellow daffodils, adding an extra dose of magic to the historical backdrop.
The only detail that limits your photography is that the city wall gates close at dusk.
Arguably the most iconic street in the whole of York, the Shambles is also one of the most photographed.
One glimpse of the cobblestone paving, old timber buildings and magical mood, and it becomes obvious why people gravitate to the historic area. As well as how it inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
It can be tough to catch a moment without too much distraction in the background, but an early morning arrival can grant you the dream scene that you desire. That’s how I got these shots of the empty street.
No matter which angle you snap York Minster from, it’s always alluring and majestic. Each angle offers a unique shot that both whisks you off of your feet while rooting you to the spot.
If you’re looking for one of the best spots of York Minster, then find a position along the city walls between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar.
This will give you a shot that fits in the entire length of the striking building. Keep in mind that if you want to include yourself in the shot, then you may need to compromise a bit of the building.
Clifford’s Tower York
There are several reasons that Clifford’s Tower is one of the best photo spots in York. Countless York day trips are documented by a snap of the striking tower on the green bank of grass. From the top of the tower, the view is equally as photogenic.
If entry into the tower falls within your budget, then it’s worth the trip to the top. From here, you’ll be able to snap as many panoramic views of the historical city as your heart desires.
York’s Chocolate Factory
What better way to seduce your followers than with a decadent picture of drool-worthy chocolate?
There are few things as tempting as melted, flowing chocolate and finely crafted sweet treats.
History has never looked as decadent as it does at York’s Chocolate Factory – as if we needed another reason to appreciate the cocoa dessert!
What To Pack For A York Trip
Although it’s possible to enjoy an unforgettable day trip to York, it’s still a far way to turn back if you’ve forgotten something important.
When deciding what to wear for the day, make sure that you include comfortable walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing in your outfit.
You should also take care to include the following items;
● Camera to snap your favourite moments
● Windbreaker and/or coat as the weather can be unpredictable
● Water bottle to stay hydrated
● Backpack to store all your souvenirs and layers as you peel them off
● Sunscreen and hat to protect you from the sun
● Umbrella because York’s rainfall is unpredictable
● Powerbank to keep your devices charged
How To Get To York From London
Chances are that you won’t have a car on your trip to London. The city’s traffic is frustrating at the best of times, and the public transportation options make the tube a joyful alternative.
If you want to enjoy York in a day, then you can harness the availability of these transportation options.
Train From London To York, England
The train is one of the easiest and least admin-intensive ways to enjoy a York day out. On average, the journey will take you about 3 hours and 10 minutes, so pack a book or download a couple of podcasts to listen to.
However, there are faster trains that can cut your time down to 1 hour 45 minutes, it will just cost you a little bit more (this is the ticket I brought).
If you’re budget conscious, then make sure you book in advance. An early ticket is as little as £13.30 but this can vary depending on the time of day, the route and the class. There are direct trains that leave as early as 05:15.
The last one departs from London to York at 23:00. The same train from York to London will get you back safely.
These are just a few of the London to York trains that you can take.
Day Trip To York By Coach
It’s possible to book a bus and travel from London to York, but this isn’t the best option for a day trip. The coach ride takes approximately 5 hours 30 minutes, which is a big chunk of your daily hours.
These buses are operated by the UK National Express and their timetable runs around the clock. The tickets are also a cost-effective thought at £10, making a handful of stops along the way.
If you have more time and are planning to add Doncaster or Milton Keynes to your London itinerary, then travelling coach could be an option.
Day Trips From York By Car
If you’re a traveller who enjoys flexibility and independence, and you have the financial freedom to put down a deposit for car hire, then you can also get to York by car.
The trip is roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes and driving yourself gives you the opportunity to stop along the way.
Top tip: If you’re visiting from another country, take note that vehicles in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road.
York City Pass/York Pass
If you plan on arriving in York and fitting in as many sights as possible within the day, then the York Pass could be your new best friend.
I got the York City Pass and that’s how I was able to cramp this many activities into my day trip to York, without going broke.
The pass offers visitors a cost-effective solution to see as many sights, attractions, and monuments in York as possible.
Once you’ve made the purchase, you can download the digital pass to your mobile device and use the pass to enter the attractions of your choice.
The price of a standard York City Pass for an adult costs roughly £38.40 at the time of writing (November 2020) and £24 for children.
These passes are valid for one or two consecutive days and promise a world of fun.
Ready, Set, Go!
The London to York train makes a day trip to the medieval city an easy adventure. If you’re a history lover, then it’s worth the short trip, and if you’re not a history enthusiast – then prepare to become one!
These are just a few of the many popular sights to see and attractions to visit, but there are plenty of joyful moments to be had simply by walking through the streets.
Have your camera ready and charged, because you simply can’t recreate these scenes.
● If you’re looking for a reliable and compact travel camera, you can browse my guide to the best mirrorless cameras
● Learn more about visiting York for a longer period of time as a city break
● If you’re using London as your base, you can explore more of my helpful travel tips