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Want to know how to spend 24 hours in York? You’re in the right place!
York is one of England’s most beautiful historic cities. With this guide, you’ll learn the best things to do in York, and how to see them all in just 24 hours. Experience York’s dark and extensive history, taste some of the best food, and become a true Yorkshireman for a day.
In this itinerary, you’ll get to see the marks left by the ancient Romans who first created York back in 71 AD. You’ll discover another proud period of York’s history, the Vikings Era, and visit one of the most important modern archaeological finds. And, of course, walk along the medieval wall that so famously encompasses York’s city centre.
York is the perfect destination for a history lover, but this itinerary will balance the city’s extensive history with the city’s friendly and vibrant atmosphere. On this itinerary, you’ll visit the best restaurants and cocktail bars to make sure you have the best 24 hours in York.
York is also one of the safest cities in Europe, which makes it a great destination for solo travellers and families. York has everything you need to have a great day out.
Is 24 Hours Enough Time to See York?
In an ideal world, you’ll want to spend at least a weekend in York. That way, you can see all the highlights in this guide, plus have a bit more downtime to enjoy the many bars and cafes York has to offer. York is a great weekend destination and comes alive during this time.
However, whilst 24 hours is pushing it a little for time, you can still see a lot of York. Not everyone has the time to spend a whole weekend away. Perhaps you’re coming to York on a day trip, or are passing through on your way to somewhere else. Its central location makes it a great stopover if you’re travelling between London and Edinburgh.
If that sounds like you, this itinerary is the perfect guide. It will show you how to see see the top sights in York and dine in its best restaurants, all in 24 hour period.
How to Get to York
The best way to get to York is by train. It’s in a very central location with direct lines to all of the UK’s major cities, including London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. This makes York the perfect location for in-between larger trips if you’re travelling across the UK.
Or, as it is just a 2-hour train journey from London, it is entirely possible to make a day trip to York. The station is right in the city centre, so you can head straight into town as soon as you step off the train.
If you’re driving, there is a park-and-ride option on the outskirts of the city. There are a few parking areas in the city centre, but they are very expensive and you run the risk of them being full.
This is especially true if you’re travelling at the weekend or during the school holidays. The park and ride busses run frequently and take you straight to the city centre.
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24-Hour Itinerary for York 2023
To start your day, you have to have a delicious breakfast. Here are a few recommendations for you depending on your tastes:
Betty’s Tea Rooms: Perhaps one of the most well-known tourist spots in town, you’ll want to head to Betty’s Tea Rooms for breakfast rather than lunch. This way, you’ll avoid those midday tourist rushes. With just 24 hours in York, every minute counts. You’ll end up wasting your precious hours queueing to get in here if you leave it too late.
Betty’s sells delicate but delightful teas as well as classic breakfast meals. If you want to try special unique, order the Yorkshire Fat Rascal, a large fruit scone stuffed with currants and glazed with sugar.
Double Dutch Pancake House: If you’re after something a little less crowded but just as good, head to the Double Dutch Pancake House. Whilst the classics of lemon and sugar, strawberries, and Nutella are delicious, why not try some of their more adventurous pancake options? They have items such as the Frankfurter or the Rocket to the Moon, all of which sounds incredible.
Once you’re fueled up and ready for the day ahead, make your way over to the Shambles. One of the most picturesque streets in York, it is a popular destination for tourists. You’ll want to make this one of your first stops to get ahead of the crowds.
The Shambles is a small but lively street. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with 15th-century timber framed buildings that hang rather precariously over the street. It’s like stepping back in time when you head down here.
Inside these leaning buildings, you’ll find many independent and unique shops to explore. It’s common to find many queues along this street as people try to get a piece of the magic. One of the most popular stores at the moment is the Ghost Merchants of York where you can pick up your own little ceramic ghost to take home.
It is perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for the film set of Diagon Ally. With its leaning buildings and cobbled streets, it’s easy to see why and you’ll find no shortage of Harry Potter memorabilia down here.
York Minster is a beautiful piece of medieval architecture. It is the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Europe and is as impressive on the inside as on the out. It has a history spanning over 1200 years and continues to be used as a place of worship today.
Take a few hours to explore the many rooms inside here, including the largest single expanse of a medieval-stained glass window in the UK. The Undercroft Museum even has the remains of Roman Barracks there for you to see.
Whilst you have to pay to enter the cathedral, free guided tours are running every half an hour. Take advantage of these tours to get the most out of your visit.
If you want to see York from above, head up the York Minster Central Tower. Whilst the 275 steps to the top might sound intimidating, you are rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the city. It’s from up here you can see how the cobbled, winding streets of York twist together.
Jorkvik Viking Centre
Over 1000 years ago, Vikings roamed the streets of York. With their trade and workmanship, they turned York into a prosperous city that is still proud of its Viking heritage today.
At the Jorvik Viking Centre, you can get a glimpse of what life was like back in those days. It is a brilliant interactive museum, celebrating York’s Viking history. Here, you can explore a reconstruction of a Viking street, with buildings showing Viking crafts like weaving, leatherwork and glassmaking. See how the Vikings lived in their homes, shopped, and lived.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Jorvik Centre is the Jorvik Dig. The centre is built upon rediscovered ruins of Viking homes, workshops, and backyards. As one of the most exciting modern archaeological discoveries, you can walk above the ruins and see them for yourself.
At the Jorvik Centre, they have used modern technology to bring 10th-century York to life, recreating authentic smells and sounds to set the scenes. The smells are pretty bad, so be prepared to do a lot of nose-holding as you go around!
For lunch, head to Brew and Brownie. A lovely independent cafe that specialises in sweet treats, you can grab a delicious handmade sandwich or a full fry-up, depending on what you fancy.
If you don’t have time for a full lunch, feel free to pop in and browse their cakes and traybakes. You can purchase one to take away and snack on as you wander the rest of the city.
Museum Gardens and Museum
Next, it’s time to explore York’s Museum gardens. There are lots of things to see here such as the Yorkshire Museum and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.
The ruins you can see are the walls of the nave and the crossing of the abbey church. Around that, you’ll find the stone walls that were built in the 1260s and are the most complete set of abbey walls in the country.
This is a great place to get some stunning photographs, so make sure you’re ready to snap away! If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a couple of the many squirrels that live here and love to run between your feet.
Once you’ve explored the abbey ruins, it’s time to head into the Yorkshire Museum. The Yorkshire Museum is a great place to learn all about York’s Roman history. It is home to the Ryedale Hoard, which contains some of Yorkshire’s most significant Roman objects. Most impressively, they have a 1,800-year-old bust of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
They also have lots of dinosaur goodies discovered around Yorkshire, including a life-size plesiosaur and rare fossil remains.
After enjoying a lot of time indoors on this 24-hour itinerary of York, it’s time to explore the city in the lovely fresh air. One of the best things to do in York is walk the medieval walls that surround the city centre.
For this itinerary, it makes the most sense to start and end at Bootham Bar. However, it takes about 2 hours to walk the walls completely, so you might want to only do a few of the sections depending on how much time you have.
As you walk around the walls, you get a sense of York’s Roman and Medieval past. Whilst most of the current walls were built in the Middle Ages, it was originally built by the Romans to protect the 9th Legion from locals. There is just one part of the Roman wall that has survived, which is a 3rd-century stone tower currently in the York Museum Gardens.
You’ll also come across the gates that once controlled access to the city, like Monk Bar and Walmgate Bar. Micklegate Bar was the main entrance to the city for anyone arriving in the south and is traditionally used by the monarch when they visit York. Here, they have to stop and as the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the city.
Bonus Stop: Gatehouse Coffee
Inside the Walmgate Bar, you’ll find a lovely little coffee shop called Gatehouse Coffee. As you’re now halfway through your walk, you might be needing a little fuel. Stop by here for some delicious homemade cakes and a perfectly brewed coffee.
If you’re short on time, this might be a good place to come off the walls. Head straight back down Walmgate and you’ll find yourself back in the city centre.
Roman Baths Museum
Whilst this might not be the largest museum you’ll ever visit, the Roman Baths Museum is a unique find in York. Beneath this traditional British pub, discovered beneath when building a new cellar in the early 1900s, are the ruins of an ancient Roman bathhouse.
It has just three rooms to explore: the Tepidarium (warm room), Caldarium (hot steam room), and Frigidarium (cold plunge room). Walk along metal walkways to see the ruins below you. For just £3.50 and hidden beneath a pub, it’s something not many visitors know about or get to experience.
If you’ve got time, stop by the pub on your way out for a quick drink before dinner.
For dinner, head to Sotano. A Spanish tapas bar is hidden behind a nondescript door on Little Stonegate, you’ll find delicious food and a warm atmosphere to enjoy your evening in York.
They regularly update their menu to coincide with the season, so you know you’re always getting the best quality food. Order around 5-6 dishes to share between two people. The dishes arrive when they’re ready, so have a constant stream of fresh, delicious food being delivered to you. Try the refreshing Pan Con Tomate or the delicious Patatas Bravas aliolí.
If you’re travelling to York in the winter, enjoy the cosy ambient lighting and intimate interior. Or, if you’re lucky to visit in the warmer months, Sotano has a great outdoor terrace area that is wonderful to dine in the sun.
Now that the sun has set, it’s time to explore York’s more sinister side with a walking Ghost Tour.
As you walk around the city, you’ll notice signs advertising different walking ghost tours. On here, they’ll have their start time and meeting point. Take note of these, and simply turn up at the designated time and place for your tour. These tours tend to be free, but it’s customary to leave a tip for your tour guide at the end.
As you can imagine for a city so old, there are a lot of grim and grisly events that have happened here. On your tour, you’ll visit sights such as the York Minster, Shambles, and Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, the shortest street in York with a silly history to go with it.
These tours are theatrical and engaging, and a great way to see a different side of York.
Cocktails: Evil Eye
End your night in York on a high by visiting the cocktail bar, Evil Eye. The best cocktail bar in York, it’s known for its incredible and extensive range of handmade cocktails.
The mixologists know their menu well, so if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice, let them know your drinking taste and ask for a recommendation. With so much on the menu, you’re sure to find a drink you like.
The interior is cosy but with an edge that makes it both a relaxing and interesting place to hand out. Head upstairs to see their newly renovated boudoir-like rooms, or take a seat on the large four-poster converted into seating areas.
The Wrap-Up: How to Spend a Perfect 24 Hours in York
After a full day of exploring the historic city of York, you’ll have seen all of the best things to do in York. There are still many museums to explore, including the infamous Railway Museum and the York Castle Museum.
However, you’ll have seen beautiful sights like the York Minster and experienced fascinating parts of York’s history with ghost tours and reconstructed Viking streets.
The beautiful cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, and ancient ruins make York a beautiful destination. Make sure your camera is all charged and ready to capture your memory of this visit forever.
So whether you’re a solo traveller looking for things to do in York, a family wanting a great day trip, or a couple looking for a romantic date day, this guide is suited to all.
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