York is the perfect bite-sized taste of medieval England: the twisting alleys and teetering houses look virtually the same now as they did 600 years ago.
Its beautiful streets and long history have helped make York one of England’s favourite cities – it’s one of those places you absolutely have to scratch off the bucket list.
And if you can only spend one day in York, this is the perfect way to do it.
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A Full Itinerary for One Day in York
This itinerary has been made to include all of York’s most famous sights on an easily walkable tour of the city. I’ve included some of my favourite food stops, coffee shops and lesser-known spots along the way.
Have a Full English Breakfast at Brew & Brownie
A breakfast at Brew & Brownie is the best way to start your day in York. They do both a traditional and veggie English breakfast made using high-quality seasonal produce, sourced from around Yorkshire whenever possible.
If a full English is – understandably – too much for you early in the morning, there’s plenty of other options, vegan or otherwise, to choose from. I recommend the smashed avocado on sourdough toast – it’s amazing.
The cafe is cosy but contemporary, and made welcoming with that classic warm, northern hospitality. With delicious food, coffee and a lovely atmosphere, there’s nowhere in York I’d rather go for breakfast.
Beat the Crowds to York Minster
Follow up your hearty breakfast with a trip to the city’s most iconic building, York Minster. Conveniently located just down the street from Brew & Brownie, you can nip in early and avoid the crowds that tend to gather later in the day.
In the morning, it feels incredibly peaceful to walk around at your own pace, admiring some of the finest examples of medieval art in the stained glass windows around the cathedral.
There are few things more awe-inspiring than witnessing the careful craftsmanship that went into building the cathedral. It really is mind-blowing that people were able to achieve something on the scale of York Minster 800 years ago.
It is literally an unmissable part of the city: the cathedral is the largest example of Gothic architecture in northern Europe. The imposing structure took centuries to build, starting in the 1200s and finally reaching completion in 1472.
For an extra fee, you can climb up the 275 steps to the top of the Central Tower for wonderful panoramas over the city.
Wander Through Ruins at the Museum Gardens
Doubleback on yourself slightly and head to the Museum Gardens, by the River Ouse.
The beautiful botanical gardens are home to the York Observatory, the Yorkshire Museum and a scattering of medieval and Roman ruins. The ruined Benedictine St Mary’s Abbey was built in the 11th Century. Weaving between the crumbling remains of the monastery inspires the imagination – it’s easy to envision a time before the Abbey’s destruction.
Even older is the Roman Multangular Tower. The legionary fortress was once a part of a huge stone wall, and was built around 1800 years ago. It’s the best preserved example of the Roman presence in York – which there was a surprising amount of. Constantine the Great was even proclaimed Emperor in the city in 306 AD, supposedly on the site of York Minster.
Wander back along Dame Judi Dench Walk – named for the York native – to get back into town.
Grab a Coffee from Spring Espresso
York isn’t short of independent artisan coffee shops. Many an hour has been spent staring wistfully out onto cobbled streets and spired rooftops, clutching a hot drink – the city might as well have been built with coffee shops in mind.
But the coffee at Spring Espresso is a cut above the rest. Award-winning baristas crafting artisan coffee – the drinks here are exceptional, and the best York has to offer.
Other great picks for a cup of coffee:
- The Perky Peacock
- Coffee Culture
- The Attic
Stroll down the Shambles & Discover York’s Snickelways
Amble down to the Shambles for a glimpse into history on England’s most picturesque street. The delightful ramshackle of overhanging timber-framed buildings and crooked storefronts are thought to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
Have the Shambles become a tourist trap? A little bit, yes. But there’s nowhere in York that better captures the romance and charm of medieval England.
In between the tacky tourist shops and endless Harry Potter souvenirs, you can still find a few authentic independent stores. Ye Olde Sausage & Pie Shoppe is a personal favourite – they make a phenomenal pork pie!
While the Shambles is a contender for the most famous street in England, the Snickelways are often forgotten.
These cute medieval alleys are often similar to the Shambles in appearance, with wonky buildings and narrow footpaths the norm. Lady Peckett’s Yard is the prettiest, and Mad Alice Lane is the most memorable – for obvious reasons!
Lunch at the Fossgate Social
The Fossgate Social is really a bar, but the lunch menu is so good that it is easy to forget.
You can get pancakes, toasties, sourdoughs and sandwiches alongside your drink (but maybe not all at once!). There’s vegan options as well, and though the menu is small, the quality is good. I love the chill atmosphere in the Fossgate Social. It’s got that indie, laid-back vibe you often find in creative districts.
It’s also just around the corner from the 14th Century Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, which is worth a quick stop.
Pick a Museum
In a city where history is practically infused into the walls, a collection of excellent museums seems inevitable. York has some of the most fun and interactive museums in any city I’ve encountered!
- JORVIK – this famous Viking museum mixes fascinating exhibitions with an entertaining jaunt into 10th Century York. The animatronic ride gives you the chance to experience the sights, sounds and, unfortunately, smells of the Viking Age. Adult ticket (advance): £12.50. For an alternative Viking themed activity, try axe-throwing at the Hilt.
- National Railway Museum – the railway has had an immeasurable impact on the world as we know it. The National Railway Museum houses an impressive collection of locomotives, and offers great insight into the history of the railway. Free to enter.
- York’s Chocolate Story – the history of chocolate is a story that I think we can all get behind. Throw in some of York’s most famous brands and plenty of taste-testing – this is a tour guaranteed to make you melt. Adult ticket: £15.
- York Castle Museum – the award-winning Castle Museum explores 400 years of York history. From Georgian prisons to iron corsets, the museum leaves no aspect of historical society unexplored. Adult ticket: £8.50.
Ignore any and all lists telling you the climb up to Clifford’s Tower is essential viewing. The tower is honestly more impressive from below, and is really only worth entering for die-hard history buffs and the – admittedly spectacular – view. But if a view is all that you’re after, you’d be better off heading to the swish new Sora Sky bar.
Walk Along the City Walls
The City Walls are as much a part of the fabric of York as the Minster and the Shambles. They have been a part of the city since Roman times, though little remains of the original wall.
What you see today is mostly from the 13th Century – and were built to help defend against the Scots. People flock to the walls for a lovely walk around the city, with fantastic views of the cathedral and gatehouses.
It can get pretty busy, which is why I have put it towards the end of the day. The best time to walk along the walls is either early morning or just before dusk, as most of the crowds have dispersed by then.
The entire circuit is around 4km long, but you’re not stuck on the walls until the bitter end. You can hop on and off at different entry points – you can only do a small section if you’d prefer.
I recommend seeing the small fortresses and gatehouses of Monk Bar and Walmgate Bar if you can. These ornate town gates were once the main entry points into the city.
Got some time? Head to the Quiet Place at York University
If you find yourself with a bit of time to kill, or just fancy some peace and serenity away from the crowds, visit the Quiet Place. The landscaped gardens at York University are a designated area of stillness and quiet. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day, and is often used for contemplation and meditation.
You don’t have to be a student to enter: visitors can obtain the access code for the gate and door from Derwent Reception. This pretty spot is a little out of the way though, so be prepared to walk some distance or catch a bus.
You could head to the Reading Cafe in Rowntree Park for a similar experience closer to the centre.
Around the World Dining at SPARK*
If you like vibrant, bohemian-style eateries with a fantastic variety in cuisine and vendors, you’ll love SPARK*. The trendy food hall offers a casual dining experience – you sit down to eat in a piled up collection of artfully upcycled shipping containers.
The project began as a way to revitalise the Piccadilly neighbourhood, supporting independent traders and bringing a burst of colour to a rundown area – it’s been a huge success. The food hall is one of the coolest places in York for an evening meal, and always has an electric atmosphere.
From vegan tacos to Sicilian street food, the food at SPARK* is rich in flavour and dips into so many different cultures. Whether you want to eat BBQ from the Smokeyard Club or a Mediterranean salad from Frango Eduardo, there’s so much choice – even pickier eaters are bound to find something to enjoy!
Go on a Ghost Tour
A city as old as York is bound to have a few ghosts lurking around, and the tall-tales and local legends told on the ghost tours are sure to entertain even the most staunch of sceptics.
It’s a fun way to explore the city with a knowledgeable guide. Most of the guides are locals to York with a passion for history and a flair for the dramatic – but the over-the-top storytelling is half the fun.
Turning the spooky factor up is the fact that York has some notoriously haunted locations. The Golden Fleece is one of the most haunted pubs in England!
Whether you are hoping to spot a ghost or get a macabre insight into the city’s dark underbelly, a ghost tour is a memorable way to start the evening. There are a number of different tours available, but the Ghost Keeper Tour of York and The Bloody Tour of York are both great options.
Have a Drink in the House of the Trembling Madness & Evil Eye
End your day in York with a visit to one of the city’s best loved bars.
Evil Eye has been a fixture in lists for best bars in England for years, and for good reason. The cocktails are absolutely exquisite and the gin menu is the most extensive you’ll ever see. It’s a bar with a quirky vibe that feels more like London than York, but has a relaxed atmosphere that is easy to enjoy.
House of the Trembling Madness gives a different experience. Exchanging the cocktails for craft beers and the colourful interior for rustic tavern chic, the Trembling Madness is a low-key, very York-like way to enjoy a few pints.
The final adventure of the day is navigating those cobbled streets after a few drinks!
As you can see, it’s easy to pack a full day of activities into walking around York. This ancient city is a must-see in England – and you’ll love every minute exploring it as much as I did.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.