A stay in North Yorkshire combines country and city, with market towns, scenic hikes in the dales and a trip to York’s lively centre. We’ve teamed up with Visit York to plan the perfect spring city break, when York’s most abuzz with activity. Literary festivals, lavish operas, horse-race hobnobbing and haunted houses can all be found at its historic heart, alongside generous Sunday roasts. To enjoy all this and moors, pick up a York Pass, for free access to more than 30 attractions. Read on to find out more…
Travel through time
Discover the multi-layered history that lies within York’s Roman walls. Enter in regal style through Micklegate Bar – five-minute’s walk from York Station – a 12th-century, crest-garlanded gate, where monarchs both revered and reviled have been received. Marvel at the gilt-trimmed nave and ancient effigies in glorious Gothic cathedral, York Minster (+44 (0)1904 557200), on Deangate; we recommend pausing to peek at the gargoyle-festooned Chapter House and stealing a kiss under the kaleidoscopic Rose Window. Evensong is held at 5.15pm every day (4pm on Sundays), when heavenly voices reach up to the vaulted rafters. Take a spirited trip to Treasurer’s House (+44 (0)1904 624247), in Minster Yard, a haunted National Trust property where the resident ghostly centurion soldiers march along a Roman road in the cellar. Too spooky? Detour to the Richard III Museum (+44 (0)1904 634191) in Goodramgate, to spark dinnertime debates about whether Tricky Dicky was murderous or unfairly maligned.
While away an afternoon playing croquet, lawn bowls or table tennis at Goddards (+44 (0)1904 771930) – a 30-minute walk or five-minute taxi ride from the city centre. This sprawling estate – formerly owned by Terry’s Chocolate Orange creator Noel Terry – also has an Edwardian tea room, where chocolate-making classes are held, and sculptures scattered throughout the grounds. Raise a glass of champagne in York Racecourse‘s Georgian Terrace, to kick off the Dante Festival on 14 May (+44 (0)1904 620911), on Knavesmire Road. Fancy a good ramble? Head to the North York Moors National Park, an hour’s drive from the centre, to immerse yourself in some of England’s most photogenic scenery.
Arias and authors
Book in for one of this season’s lavish productions, including Aida, Don Giovanni and Alice in Wonderland, at The Grand Opera House (+44 (0)844 871 3024) – a glamorous fin de siècle theatre, bedecked with scarlet curtains and tiered balconies – on Cumberland Street. Join the literati at the York Literature Festival (20–31 March 2014, at various city venues), where Germaine Greer, Roger McGough and fellow authors pay homage to the city’s pen-wielding past (WH Auden and Kate Atkinson both hail from the city).
Sipping and supping
When seeking out a top-notch afternoon tea, Bettys (+44 (0)1904 659142) really takes the (fondant-filled) cake – serving dreamy fruit-laden scones and immaculate finger sandwiches in art deco surrounds. For dinner, colourful contemporary gastropub the Star Inn the City (+44 (0)1904 619208) serves locally sourced steaks, seafood and comfort puddings with a mod twist. Stop for a nightcap at The Roman Bath (+44 (0)1904 620455) – a laid-back drinking den with Roman ruins in the cellar – or tackle the Micklegate run: an eight-strong pub crawl.
Amble down the Shambles
Feeling envious of the gracious Georgian interiors at Fairfax House (+44 (0)1904 655543) in Castlegate, and mayoral residence, Mansion House (+44 (0)1904 552036) in St Helen’s Square? Crystal-dripping chandeliers and life-size Regency portraits may be a stretch, but Wedgewood serving plates and Baccarat cake stands can be bought at Mulberry Hall (+44 (0)1904 620736) on Stonegate. Pick up some souvenir trinkets from the gift shops on the Shambles, a slender cobbled street dating back to mediaeval times; here you’ll also find more tea rooms and a shrine to martyr Margaret Clitherow.
Clamber up the castle ruins
Climb to the top of Clifford’s Tower (+44 (0)1904 646940) for panoramic city views. This 11th-century former prison – the last remnant of York Castle – is especially beautiful in the spring when the grassy mound it perches on is dotted with daffodils. At 1,900 years old, York’s city walls are still strong enough to withstand tourists. Start a free self-guided tour at Micklegate and exit through Walmgate Bar (the circuit takes roughly two hours); the gates are open from dawn till dusk.
Placed halfway between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations, York Railway Station – a fleet two-hour trip from London – has direct links to most major UK cities by East Coast Trains (www.eastcoast.co.uk). York’s a compact pedestrian-friendly city with tucked-away treasures. When in the city go on foot and acquire a car for magical moorland drives. Book a base in bucolic splendour at the Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa – an hour’s drive from York – or rustic retreat Yorebridge House (a 90-minute drive from the city centre).
Access-all-areas flexibility is yours with the York Pass. See everything from marauding vikings at Jorvik, to the mind-bending York maze with this penny-saving card, which lets you breeze in to more than 30 of the city’s attractions without fumbling for entrance fees. One, two or three-day passes for adults or children (age five to 16), including a guidebook and vouchers, can be bought before your trip; visit the York Pass website to start planning your action-packed city break.