A Local’s City Guide to York

When travelling, I am always looking for knowledge and recommendations from locals. What could be more valuable than tips from someone that lives and breathes the city you’re in? This gave me the idea for my first ever blog series on The Travelista, which I am calling ‘A Local’s City Guide to’. This series will be a collection of guest posts by travel-loving females I know from all around the world, sharing priceless tips and local insights either on their hometowns, or the place they call home. This post marks the very first blog of the series, which is A Local’s City Guide to York.


Welcome to York

The older I get the more in love I become with my hometown of York. But even though I have had this blog for almost 4 years, I have not once blogged about the city I grew up in. I now realise that this is kind of insane, especially as it’s one of the most beautiful and historic cities in England.

Similar to the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Bath, York is one of those charming quintessential towns that make you proud to be British. Imagine historic cobbled streets, medieval buildings and quirky shops. Whilst so many cities claim to be cosmopolitan, York is proud to remain beautifully frozen in time. Despite that, there are always new shops, bars, cafes and attractions popping up in this city and I find something new every time I head in to town. Most of the central streets are pedestrianised during the day, meaning you can easily amble through York’s cobbled labyrinth.

York is only 2-hours on the East Coast train line from London and 2-hours 30 minutes from Edinburgh, making it accessible from both the north and the south.


City Guide to York:
Weekend Highlights / Top 8 Things to do in York

Whether you’re into history, art, shopping, eating or well…just drinking, there are so many options in York. I’ve whittled it down the top 8 things which includes a bit of everything. If you’re coming for a weekend break you may not have time to do everything on this list, so pick and choose the ones that sound the most appealing to you!

1. Walk in the footsteps of Warriors on York’s City Walls

One of the first things you should do when arriving in York is to take a stroll along the medieval York City Walls, which are the best-preserved city walls in England. There’s no entry fee and it’s a great way to get your bearings of the city. Connected by 4 main gates, you can access the walls at multiple points around the city.


2. Hire a Little Red Boat on the River Ouse

Running through the centre of York is the River Ouse, meaning the city is rich with picturesque riverside locations (particularly great in summer). If you’re feeling adventurous you can hire your very own Red Boat and chug up and down the Ouse. Pack a picnic and some prosecco for a fun afternoon on the water. If you’re not keen on driving your own boat, Yorkboat run much larger group boat trips up and down the river.

For the Little Red Boats, seasonal prices range from £25-£40 per hour plus a returnable deposit. Dock is located on the River Ouse near the King’s Arms Pub, 3 King’s Staith, York YO1 9SN


3. Head to Betty’s for Afternoon Tea

If you love afternoon tea and all things sweet, Betty’s tearoom is a must. Set in the impressive location of St Helen’s Square, Betty’s often has visitors queuing around the block to get a table. Whether you choose to go for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, it’s always well worth the wait. I’d recommend trying the ‘Fat Rascal’ scone. 6-8 St. Helen’s Square, York YO1 8QP

York, England reputed to be the most haunted city in the world. , Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms is one of the most popular restaurants in York. Founded in 1919 it gained immense popularity with American servicemen during WWII. Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms Tel: 01904 659142 St Helen's Square, York

4. Climb to the top of The Minster

The Minster is York’s most iconic sights, and at the top of it is where you’ll find the best panoramic views of the city. Climb the winding tower of 275 steps and ascend 230 feet before stepping out onto an open-air platform. The views are spectacular and you can get up close and personal with the gothic gargoyles that live up there. For tickets including access to the tower: adults £15, children £5. Children must be 8+ to climb the tower, weather permitting.


5. Visit The Shambles: The UK’s Most Medieval Street

The Shambles was named Britain’s most picturesque street in the Google Street View Awards and is absolutely steeped in history. In medieval times The Shambles was a street of butchers and the original meat hooks from all those years ago still line the street today. The Shambles is so narrow that the buildings almost touch at either side and today it’s filled with boutique shops and independent retailers. A walk down The Shambles is a step back in time. It’s a real-life Diagon Alley.

The Shambles, York

6. Get Spooked on a Ghost Tour

Find out more about York’s more gruesome and sinister past on one of the famous York Ghost Tours. A haunting guide will take you around the most historical spots of the city and tell spooky tales of the past. Tours take place every night at 8.00pm, meeting at The Kings Arm’s Pub.


7. Visit The York Dungeons

You’ve heard of the London Dungeons right? But did you know The York Dungeons also exist? It’s on a slightly smaller scale to the London Dungeons, but the local stories are equally as grisly. A trip to The York Dungeons is sure to get you screaming and laughing in equal measure. Adults £10. 12 Clifford St, York YO1 9RD

York, England reputed to be the most haunted city in the world. , York is famed for its city walls, the longest and most complete in England, first built by the Romans, the vastly expanded by the Normans. Finally preserved from destruction during the Victorian era, today they are a major tourist attraction.

8. Go on a York Pub Crawl

Did you know that York has over 365 pubs? Meaning you could have a pint in a different pub every day of the year. Whilst that might be impossible on a weekend break, there are tonnes of great pub-crawl routes which will take you inside some of York’s most atmospheric and historic pubs. Pop in for a ‘swifty’ and move on to the next place!


The Hidden Gems of York

City Screen Picturehouse
13-17 Coney St, York YO1 9QL

City Screen is York’s independent picture house, showing big blockbusters alongside more niche and alternative films. There’s a gorgeous riverside bar within the cinema and you can bring your favourite tipple into the cinema screen with you. Perfect for a date night.

The Museum Gardens

The Museum Gardens are much-loved by locals. They’re right in the centre of town but provide a peaceful escape from the bustling crowds. I love coming here in summer to laze in the sun and get an ice cream. It’s the best place for a picnic.

The Guy Fawkes Pub
25 High Petergate, York YO1 7HP

If you know you’re English history you’ll know that Guy Fawkes was the man behind the famous Gunpowder Plot, and the reason Bonfire Night exists. His birthplace is now a cosy pub with a roaring fire and original medieval features. Come here for a warming glass of red wine on a cold day.

The Treasurer’s House
Minster Yard, York, YO1 7JL

Despite being just a few meters from The Minster, this historic house remains one of York’s hidden gems. Step into the home of wealthy Yorkshireman Frank Green and find out how they lived back in the 1900’s. Perfectly preserved, The Treasurer’s House is an fascinating step back in time. Adults £8, Children £4. Open 7 days a week.


City Guide to York:
The Top 5 of Everything

All the places that have made it into my Top 5’s are all personal favourites of mine. I’ve been to all of them at least once, and some I’ve been to countless times!

Top 5 Restaurants in York

1. Ambiente – Tapas
14 Goodramgate, York YO1 7LQ

An authentic Spanish tapas restaurant set in a quirky period house. Feast on a rich selection of tapas and wash it all down with a jug of sangria. Atmospheric and perfect for date night.

2. Khao Sarn – Thai
50-52 Walmgate, York YO1 9TJ

A buzzing Thai bistro with incredible food and contemporary interiors. Booking is essential here. Be sure to order the Thai fishcakes, deep fried soft shell crab for starters.

3. Rustique – French
28 Castlegate, York YO1 9RP and 2 Lendal, York YO1 8AA

An independent French restaurant that is so popular with locals, it expanded with a second premises. This is rustic French food at its finest, and the set menu offers some of the best dishes at a great price.

4. Bistro Guy – International
40 Gillygate, York YO31 7EQ

This small and friendly bistro is owned by two locals who are passionate about the city they live in and the dishes on their menu. Get two courses for £16 and three courses for £20 with their evening menu.

5. Lucia’s – Mediterranean
13 Back Swinegate, York YO1 8AJ

On a sunny day, Lucia’s can transport you to somewhere in the heart of the Mediterranean. Outside there is a sheltered piazza for al fresco dining, which has patio heaters and blankets in winter. Lucia’s is a tasty lunchtime option.


Top 5 Bars in York

1. Sotano Gin & Charcuterie Bar
1 Little Stonegate, York YO1 8AX

Sotano is a Mediterranean charcuterie bar serving over 25 different gins and 60 different beers. Hidden away underground, the bar has exposed brick walls and is lit with candles. Come here for nibbles, drinks and a great atmosphere.

2.Banyan Bar
3 Little Stonegate, York YO1 8AX

Banyan is part of a Yorkshire-based group of bars and is much-loved by locals. Head here to indulge in a cocktail throughout the day or to get your night out started. The food here is also great, serving everything from fresh salads to roasts and burgers.

3.Plonkers Wine Bar
5 Cumberland St, York YO1 9SW

This cosy little wine bar is located close to The Ouse and in the summer months it opens an al fresco restaurant right by the river. The wine list is extensive and there is always an exciting special to try. If you’re feeling peckish, try out their famous ‘hanging kebabs’.

4.The Biltmore
29 Swinegate, City Centre, York YO1 8AZ

This stylish Gastro Club in inspired by the establishments of New York which means the champagne and cocktails are free-flowing. It’s set in what feels like an old church, with high ceilings and a mezzanine-style second floor. Come here by day for a sophisticated drink or enter by night for a party.

5.Evil Eye Lounge
42 Stonegate, York YO1 8AS

On the other end of the spectrum, Evil Eye Lounge is a characterful, quirky and slightly grimy little joint that serves amazing cocktails. Hidden behind the back door of a liquor shop, there is a small outdoor area and an upstairs lounge area with four-poster beds.


Top 5 Brunch Spots in York

1 Blake St, York YO1 8QJ

A Relaxed rustic-chic cafe and deli dishing up French and Italian-style food and freshly-baked bread. The charcuterie board here is great.

2.Brew and Brownie
5 Museum St, York YO1 7DT

This place is my new favourite coffee shop in York and definitely takes inspiration from the endless hipster cafes popping in London. It’s famous for its pancake stacks and the avocado toast with chorizo and poached eggs is to die for. Oh, and the coffee is great too.

3.Betty’s Tea Room
6-8 St. Helen’s Square, York YO1 8QP

For the grandest brunch in town, head to Betty’s and indulge in some classic breakfast dishes with a swiss-twist.

4.Pig and Pastry
35 Bishopthorpe Rd, York YO23 1NA

Located a short walk from the centre of town on ‘Bishy Road’, Pig and Pastry is another local’s favourite. Leading the way on their brunch menu is the award-winning bacon sandwich but waffles, eggs benedict and eggs royale are also on offer.

5.Café No8
8 Gillygate, York YO31 7EQ

As an award-winning independent bistro, Café No8 uses seasonal and local produce. There’s a little walled garden at the back of the restaurant that’s perfect when the sun shines.


Top 5 Coffee Shops in York

2 Kings Square, City Centre, York YO1 8BH

Hidden away on the top floor of a building on King’s Square, you have to know about this place to find it. This has been my favourite artisan coffee shop in York for years because it feels like one of York’s best-kept secrets.

2.Coffee Culture
41 Goodramgate, York YO1 7LS

Coffee Culture is set in a crooked 3-storey house on Walmgate and has bags of character. The owners are passionate about coffee and the Panini’s are also great.

3.Brew and Brownie
5 Museum St, York YO1 7DT

Brew and Brownie also makes it into my top 5 coffee joints because they serve up a mean flat white in pretty blue cups and also do coffee to go.

4.Rae & Webb
74 Gillygate, York YO31 7EQ

A trendy little coffee spot on Gillygate. Sit in or get your freshly ground coffee to-go. The owners are incredibly friendly.

5.Spring Espresso
45 Fossgate, York YO1 9TF

Artisan coffee, Chinese tea and homemade cakes served in a cosy cafe with reclaimed 1600s furniture.

City Guide to York:
Top Sunday Lunch Spots

The Boatyard, Ferry Ln, Bishopthorpe, York YO23 2SB

Whilst it’s not located in York city centre, Bosun’s is well worth the trip out to this hidden Bishopthorpe riverside location. This is my most recent York discovery and having sampled the Sunday roasts here twice now, I’d be as bold as to say it’s the best Sunday roast in York. The price point is slightly above average but for the quality of the food and the service, I’d say it’s well worth it. The best way to get there from York centre is by bus or taxi.

The Fat Badger
2-4 High Petergate, York YO1 7EH

No trip to York should be complete without sampling a hearty roast dinner with all the trimmings and a Yorkshire pudding. In my opinion, The Lamb and Lion do the best roast in town. Fabulous food in a historical setting, just 1 minute away from The Minster.


City Guide to York:
Where to Stay

From boutique B&B’s to 5 star luxury, here are my top hotel picks in York;

Gray’s Court – Traditional Boutique

Gray’s Court is wonderfully historic and incredibly located right by The Minster and inside the York City Walls. It has a special place in my heart as my sister actually got married here last year! The décor is traditional and the food and service is fantastic. Book here.

The Grand Hotel & Spa York – 5* Luxury

If you’re planning a special occasion or simply want a luxurious break away, The Grand is the clear choice. It’s York’s only 5* hotel and has all the luxurious features that you’d expect from a top London hotel. It’s a 3-minute walk from York train station and the underground spa and pool is a great feature of this hotel. Book here.

The Indigo York – Contemporary Boutique

For something a little more stylish and contemporary, the boutique Hotel Indigo is a great choice. The rooms interiors are beautiful and is on the same street as some of York’s best restaurants (Khao Sarn and Blue Bicycle). Book here.

The Fat Badger York – A Charming & Central Pub with B&B

The quirky rooms at The Fat Badger are charming and full of history. Although the rooms are part of a B&B they have a luxurious feel. Book here for the 2 AA Rosette Sunday Roast alone. Book here.


What did you think of my Local’s City Guide to York? Are you planning a trip to York or has this post inspired you to plan a weekend break? I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment in the box below. Jess x 

What city are you an expert on? If you’d like to contribute a guest post to my ‘Local’s City Guide To’ series, then please get in touch.

Image credit: some photos used within this post are courtesy of www.visityork.org. All others are my own.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.


  • York is a great place to visit, it’s cosy and full of history and architecture. If you are a Viking fan you can’t miss a chance to visit this incredible city.

  • Loved this post so much! It was a great guide when I visited a few weeks ago. You inspired me to write a blog about my experience too. Really enjoying your blog.

    Kate Winney x

  • Lived in York for nearly 6 years. Here I studied fashion, worked in a bar same owners as plonkers wine bar which I highly recommend and I met my future partner. We got married 20 yrs ago in St Wilfred Catholic church beside the great minister. I worked for the wonderful Andrea bambridge bridal wear who made my dresses and had our wedding reception in the merchant adventure hall… b4 returning to Ireland. I loved York, have had great memories and plenty of friends made here. Beautiful city

    • Hi Elllen, thanks for your comment! My best friend is the Manager at Plonkers Wine Bar, what a small world 🙂 Your wedding at St Wilfred sounds gorgeous, I know exactly where it is. Also love Andrea Bambridge. Sounds like you’ve got some timeless memories in York. Hope you come back to visit soon! xx

  • Great to ready this and I agree with so much of what you have put. I loved living in York for a few years and it is still definitely one of my favourite UK cities. I think the Castle Museum is a pretty cool place to visit, particularly with the Victorian street, and I’d recommend going to LICC for ice cream in the summer.

    • Thanks for commenting Nicola! The Castle Museum is a great attraction and I 100% agree on the LICC recommendation! Such a great little ice cream shop – you’ve actually just reminded me about this! Must go back in summer xx

  • I’d love to visit York! thanks for the tips:)

  • Had to give this a read to see what I’d missed since living here (in my third year at the University of York) – I absolutely agree with everything you’ve written – The steps to the top of the Minster definitely went on, but boy was it a view! And the Castle walls are fab too! I really love the Museum Gardens in summer (there’s an amazing Ice Cream barge that comes by where the meet the river and I definitely recommend it, perfect on a summers day!). I’m in love with the Shambles too – anything Harry Potter-esque is always a win with me and they are the cutest! I’ve never been to Treasurer’s House though so I’m definitely going to pop in there before I leave!

    I took a sigh of relief when I saw Brew and Brownie’s mention – I will never be able to stray too far away from those pancakes I tell ya! Best I’ve ever had! Betty’s of course too – an absolute must when in York!

    Some lovely and perfect picks you’ve got here, and still a few cafes/brunch spots I haven’t tried so I better get a move on! Thanks for the tips!

    JosieVictoriaa // Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle

    • Hey Josie Victoria! So glad you agree with some of my favourites. I need to head back up to the top of the Minster as it’s been a while since I went up! If you like The Shambles you’ll LOVE the Treasurer’s House. It’s so old-worldy and so pretty. Must try the pancakes next at Brew and Brownie, I love the avocado toast! Hope you try a few more places on the list and keep enjoying this beautiful city xxx

  • Girl I love the idea of this series, so great to share tips on the locals favourite spots! I’ve never been to York but if I do visit I’m definitely coming back to this post and checking out some of the brunch spots for sure!

    Hayley xo

    • Hey Hayley! Thanks for your comment lovely. I really come you come to visit York this year for a city break. It’s such a nice place to come and now you have ALL the recommendations 😉 xx

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