Few places in England emanate as much charm as the historical walled city of York. Whether you’re savouring a real ale in a traditional English pub or raising a pinkie while sipping an afternoon tea, Yorkshire’s capital is sheer class. And while the gothic York Minster and surrounding roman walls are not to be missed, discovering the local insights is essential.
UK pubs are legendary around the world, and York has its own smattering of watering holes to quench the thirst of visitors. Venture into the city walls and along the river to find the best traditional pubs serving craft beers and hearty English grub.
The privately owned Masons Arms (6 Fishergate) welcomes you with a warm oak interior, friendly staff and delicious pub food. You certainly won’t be left hungry when you’re tucking into one of its legendary homemade meat pies or a roast beef dinner.
For a slightly, let’s say alternative vibe, head to House of The Trembling Madness (48 Stonegate). Part ship, part mounted animal head sanctuary, this pub has an extensive craft beer and cider selection (over 600) from local breweries. Get there early for a table and save room for the cheese and meat Yorkshire platter.
In the centre of historical York lurks many fine pubs and Pivni is one of the best. Hidden off the famous Shambles Street, this 16th century half-timber framed townhouse pub serves over 80 draught and bottle beers, alluring connoisseurs from around the country.
Mention you are heading to the train station for a drink and you may be scoffed at. The York Tap, however, quashes the stigma for inner-train station drinking. Indeed, the alluring décor transports you back to the late 1800s locomotive age and its selection of real ales are so good, you might just miss your own train.
For those yearning for a tipple a little more exotic than a pint of beer, York has a plethora of diverse cocktail bars. Evil Eye Lounge (42 Stonegate) has an extraordinary cocktail menu and buzzes with locals at weekends. Despite the crowds, bar staff are meticulous over each pisco sour and mojito, just as if they were making it for a loved one.
The lesser-known Sotano (1 Little Stonegate) surreptitiously lurks underground and has a cosy speakeasy vibe. Dark wooden alcoves are perfect for snuggling with a partner while sharing a bottle of wine from the extensive menu. An open mic night is held every Tuesday and live Jazz often seduces the crowd.
Hop over to The Drawing Board (10A New Street) for a quirky and intimate cocktail. Its blackboard walls are wiped clean every night so new drinkers can re-design the bar however they please.
Ideally sitting along the river, under the legendary Lendal Bridge, the Star Inn the City is the newly opened version of an old classic. The expansive décor is still there: tweed covered chairs and tassel quilted chandeliers, offset with a selection of well-cooked favourites such as posh fish and chips, salmon and prawn cocktails and delicious kebabs.
Slightly off the beaten track sits 1331 (13 Grape Lane) – a restaurant with a cosy top-floor setting. Locals laud the place for its kind and attentive service and extensive menu ranging from fish pies to immaculately cooked steaks. Stay afterwards as the party goes late into the night in the cocktail bar.
Many pubs in York merge real ale and good food, but none quite as good as Brigantes Bar and Brasserie (114 Micklegate). The comparatively small menu consists of hearty rustic food like chips with their skins on, cheddar and vegetable mash and crispy Yorkshire puddings – now that’s what we call ‘proper Northern grub.’
If only the Italians had good quality real ales, or the English good pizzas for that matter. Well, The Hop (11 – 12 Fossgate) brings the two contrasting cultures crashing together with a cracking pub/pizzeria. Simply head upstairs to the bar, choose from the wide range of craft beers and head back down to devour a beautifully made Italian pizza. Oh yeah, and on certain nights they have a live singer – could it be a Luciano Pavarotti act, or maybe a Beatles cover band?
The perfect alternative to eating out is a trip to Rafi’s Spicebox (17 Goodramgate). This Indian delicatessen, which opened in 2004, is hugely popular with locals and its range of flavoursome curry mixes, all simple to use, has given the shop a cult status in York. As well as the inexpensive selection (most costing £4.25) a range of authentic powders, spices, chutneys, pots, and gift sets are available from this vivacious purple-fronted shop. For curry lovers, this is an absolute must.
Though the York Minster is a hive of tourist activity, head down one of the adjoining cobbled streets and discover a delightful local bookstore. The Minster Gate Bookshop (8 Minster Yard) is diminutive yet its collection of books, maps and prints, most of which are in excellent condition, is hugely impressive.
For an absurd selection of alternative gear check out The Cactus Trading Post (26 Gillygate). From rock badges to studded belts and from Yorkshire memorabilia to quirky posters and t-shirts, this place packs it all. Be sure to save time for a good rummage.
Once fed, watered and lusting for a swing on the dance floor, we recommend a few of York’s late-night clubs. Fibbers (3-5 Toft Green) is the best place for live music, with indie, dance and electro acts wowing the young crowd. Club Salvation (3 George Hudson Street) has a quality sound system for its weekend club nights.
Elsewhere, Vudu Lounge (39 Swinegate) is open until 4am and caters for trendy party goers. Sparkling disco balls and glittery walls surround a black dance floor and several booths. This popular hangout is made evermore enticing by its 2 for 1 cocktail offers.
Ok, you can’t leave York without queuing outside Bettys Tea Rooms (6-8 St. Helen’s Square) and devouring one of its piquant desserts then slurping an English tea with your pinkie in the air. This iconic tea shop, however, is not alone. York offers a selection of equally delectable cafes and tea rooms such as award-winning Bullivant of York (15 Blake Street), which is like Bettys but without the queues. Take a seat inside the old fashioned, yet elegant, dining room and sip courteously at a cuppa and tuck into a homemade cake or sandwich.
Sitting outside the York Minster Cathedral is one of the best cafés: Bennett’s Café and Bistro (30 – 32 High Petergate) not only bakes the best scones (laden with cream and jam if you have any sense) and other cakes, but is also perfect for people watching through its huge windows.
Walking along the famous Roman walls wouldn’t be the same without delving into its brickwork and sipping a brew at the Gatehouse Coffee shop (Walmgate Bar). The glass counter brimming with cinnamon rolls, cookies and cake slices will leave you drooling in delight, as will the frankly absurdly cheap prices.