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Ambling through a Medieval City: Must-See Places in York

There are very few cities in the world that can rival York for its history and charm. York is as medieval as it gets.

It is a city where Roman ruins and Viking legacy mingle with contemporary shops surrounded by ancient walls. Its pocket size makes it a perfect place to explore on foot and is an ideal weekend getaway. York is also a convenient mid-way point between London & Edinburgh.

Although classified as a city, it is little more than a large town located in the northeast of England. Having survived in various forms for around 2000 years, every corner in York has a story to tell. And ambling its crooked alleyways is an ideal way to regale in those tales.

Right at the heart of York is York Minster, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the country that is adorned with ornate stained glass and intricately carved stone that forms the magnificent structure. The imposing towers of the cathedral are visible from most parts of the town, giving it a grand aura.

The Undercroft Museum located in the chambers beneath the cathedral transport you back in time. They reveal the history of the cathedral and the city of York through state-of-the-art interactive displays. For those who like challenges and don’t suffer from claustrophobia, head up the towers. Here, a climb of about 300 steps opens up unobstructed views of the city and the surrounding countryside.

After satiating the history bug in you, it’s time for some retail therapy. Even if it is just window shopping, the Shambles is the place to be. While many tiny lanes in York boast quirky shops, quaint cafes, and lively pubs, the Shambles is one place that adds a medieval touch to it.

It is one of the best-preserved medieval streets in the UK, complete with cobbled walkways lined with crooked buildings on both sides. At some places, they are so close to each other that you will be able to touch buildings on both sides with a wide stretch of arms! Historically these buildings were used as butcher houses and find a mention in the Doomsday Book too.

A short walk from the Shambles as you exit onto Coppergate is the Jorvik (the Viking name for York) Viking center. Located at the site where the remains of a Viking community were discovered in the late 1970s, it is an interactive institution where visitors go underground to experience what the life of this community would have been around the 9th century.

A five-minute walk from here is Clifford’s Tower. Perched on its mound, it is part of the group of buildings that make up the York Castle. A powerful symbol of England’s medieval kings, it has seen gruesome acts, including the execution of one Roger de Clifford whose name it eventually took. Burned to ashes twice, the current stone structure was erected in the 13th century under the rule of Henry III.

The grisly history of York is brought to life at the York Dungeon, a short walk from Clifford’s Tower. Having been the gateway to the North, York has been the setting for many harrowing events in medieval times.

With incidents involving plague, witchcraft, torture chambers, executions, and serial killers, York’s darkest secrets can be experienced through iconic characters, gripping special-effects, and lifelike sets at the York Dungeon.

Ideally located at less than a 10-minute walk from the central train station of York, the National Railway Museum here is a playground for locomotive lovers! It is a deep dive into the past, present, and future of locomotive technology with displays that range from minute parts to iconic engines.

The biggest in the world, the museum displays over 100 locomotives and is housed in a giant railway shed. A wide array of historic royal carriages used by Queen Mary and King Edward VII share space with a 1960s Shinkansen bullet train. A high-tech simulator lets you experience the thrill of riding on the Mallard, which in 1938 set a world speed record for steam locomotives at 200km/hour!

If you prefer to watch all the action in the city from a distance, a stroll along the city’s medieval walls is a must. Built-in the 13th century, they offer a quiet alternative to navigating the crowded city lanes. The walls circle the city offering approximately 2kms of predominantly elevated trail that gives views from different directions over the city.

While York oozes medieval charm, it does have a modern vibe that blends beautifully with its historic architecture. Think pretty restaurants serving innovative cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. Then, there are landmark pubs that once housed Guy Fawkes, who almost blew up the Parliament building back in the 1600s. And, of course, medieval butcher houses converted to quaint cafes.

For a (short) break from all the history, York has an inviting art scene too. Art galleries here showcase contemporary art from artists around the UK and beyond. Among them, York Art Gallery is your best bet to find a variety of national and international art under one roof. Apart from this, you’ll find numerous independent galleries like the Art of Protest Gallery, Rogues Atelier, and Fossgate Social.

A perfect way to wind down your visit is by taking a boat ride on the River Ouse. Many private rentals are available where you can rest your tired feet yet see the city from a different perspective navigating the waterway at your own leisure!

Photos: Unsplash and Pixabay

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