The weekend before last we had a plan to visit the Cotswolds. We would hire a car and drive around to see the countryside and visit little villages like Burton-on-Water and Chipping Campden.
Unfortunately we didn’t get Andre’s application for his UK driver’s licence off soon enough and we realised the week before that we wouldn’t have his licence in time (you can only drive on a foreign licence for 12 months, which we’ve long exceeded). Fortunately we hadn’t booked anything yet, so we decided to change our plans to a place which wouldn’t require a car.
After surveying Facebook and Lonely Planet’s ThornTree forum for a few days, we decided on York. And then I started looking for accommodation… and according to Booking.com and Expedia, the town was over 90% booked out, and everything left was over £150/night!
I decided to give AirBnB a go, and found a place close to the town centre for £60/night (a major improvement on any of the hotels available!)
Train tickets to York were a bit outrageous considering how late we’d left it and the fact the weekend was in high demand (as evidenced by the lack of accommodation – apparently there were races on) but fortunately our Two Together railcard helped a bit.
York is one of the few places I’ve come across where you can potentially get good value out of the tourist pass, because many of the attractions are quite expensive and the pass covers just about everywhere you’d want to visit in York (unlike London where there is lots of free stuff to do). It wasn’t quite good value for us, but if you didn’t spend quite so long in one spot like we did (we probably spent a total of nearly 4 hours in York Minster, split over two days) and wanted to visit more of the admission-charging attractions, it could be.
The afternoon we arrived was very warm and I wished I’d brought shorts with me. We had a few hours to kill before heading to our accommodation, so left our bag at a left luggage facility near the train station. We bought lunch from a supermarket and ate it in the park at the base of the Clifford Tower hill, then went and checked out Clifford Tower itself. It was about £5 which I’m not really sure is entirely worth it, as the tower is pretty simple with not a lot to see – especially in comparison to castles that we’ve seen. It did have a great view of the town though. We walked along the old city walls on our way to pick up our luggage, which also gave some nice views.
After dropping off our bags and taking a bit of time to cool off, we spent the last bit of the afternoon exploring the town centre and seeing York Minster (from the outside, as it was close to closing time). We ate dinner at a pub called the Lion & Lamb, although because the pub and beer garden were full we ate in the restaurant which had a slightly different (and slightly more expensive) menu. The food was pretty good though, so I would go back but I’d want to eat in the pub rather than the restaurant.
We spent the next day visiting our top ‘to visit’ priorities – the Jorvik Viking Centre and York Minster.
The Jorvik Viking Centre has mostly very good reviews on Trip Advisor, but the bad reviews were pretty damning, so I sought opinions on the ThornTree forum from anyone who had been there (especially without children). Several people responded who said they found it quite good so we decided to go along. The museum is located on the excavation site of an old Viking village, and the first room has a glass floor so you can walk across the remains of two Viking houses and see the bits and pieces that have been left behind. The room also had multiple audiovisual presentations about the Viking history of the area which were quite good.
The middle section of the museum is a ride (using the same ride technology as the ride we took in the Titanic Museum in Belfast) which takes you through a partially-reconstructed Viking village where you can view different parts of Viking life. You then exit into the last section of the museum which holds a range of exhibits such as skeletons, weapons, jewelry and combs. The £10.50 entry fee is a little on the expensive side when you consider the artifacts on display in the British Museum which is free, but for a small local museum I thought it was well done.
After lunch we wandered down The Shambles, a shopping area made up of hundreds-of-years-old medieval buildings.
We spent the afternoon in York Minster, which is enormous – along with Cologne Cathedral, it’s the biggest gothic cathedral in Europe (depends how you rate them). It also holds the largest collection of medieval stained glass in the world – largely thanks to wars which have destroyed other collections, and the fact that Henry VIII died before he destroyed the Minster’s collection like he had many other churches’. A wedding took place in the Quire while we were there, but the Quire reopened afterwards which meant our tour was able to go inside.
We also had entry to the tower lookout – something like 275 steps up a skinny spiral staircase! Not for the claustrophobic. There were sections Andre was too wide to fit through and had to twist himself to come down sideways. The view from the top was very good, although I’m not sure worth the extra £5 on the ticket price.
In the afternoon we went for a walk through the Yorkshire Museum Gardens and saw the ruins of the 13th century St Mary’s Abbey. We found a great Nicholson’s pub for tea with very good food for a good price, and much more laid back than the pub-restaurant we ate in the night before.
Our last morning in York dawned very grey and rainy. Our first stop was to the National Rail Museum near the train station to make use of their lockers, where, a bit damp from walking through the rain, we dropped our bag off and headed to the Yorkshire Museum.
We only picked a few sections to spend our time in – the Roman, Viking and medieval history of York. Again, at £7.50 it feels a little overpriced for what you get compared to the big museums in London, but they have done well for a small local museum. There were lots of interesting things though, including Roman statues and jars, skeletons, mosaics, jewelry, weapons, carvings – even parts of the old St Mary’s Abbey (which exists largely on the outside of the building) have been incorporated into the building.
By the time we got out the rain had stopped. On our way out we overheard a grounds keeper chatting to the staff and heard the words Queensland and XXXX – she was Australian and had found a XXXX umbrella in the gardens which had been left behind by someone!
After lunch we spent our last hour or so back at York Minster to re-visit the Chapter House which we didn’t spend much time in, and see the Museum underneath the building, which we’d not had time to see the previous day. If you visit the Minster, the museum underneath is worth checking out – full of the history of the Minster and the buildings that preceded it, right back to Roman times.
We were pleased we got the opportunity to visit York, and instead will head to the Cotswolds in August for a jousting tournament!