This Charming U.K. City Is Home to One of the Prettiest Streets in Europe — Plus Lots of Culture and Beautiful Architecture

Here's how to plan the perfect trip to York, one of the most charming cities in the U.K.

Sunset at Helmsley, Yorkshire, England

Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Born in Yorkshire, I've visited York multiple times over the last 30 years. I grew up 45 minutes from the city and have always felt its magnetic pull. In fact, of all the cities I've had the pleasure of experiencing, York is the most charming, luring visitors with picnics by the cathedral and idyllic cobblestoned streets.

If you're heading across the pond, here's why you should add York to your itinerary.


'The Shambles' is a centre piece of historic York, England

TJ Blackwell/Getty Images

Shambles (as it’s officially known) is an iconic area with narrow streets and alleys that congregate in a maze of twists and turns. These are flanked with 13th-century timber buildings that jut out toward each other, vying for the space floating between them and transporting you to another world.

Inspired by the "Smell York" book, I decided to discover the Shambles through my nose during my last visit. Through every snickleway and side street, I dutifully followed lingering aromas and infusions of hot brewing tea, musty old books, and baked cakes. The reward? Molly’s Tea Room, a quaint hidden gem situated on the first floor of York’s largest antique store.

One of Europe's best preserved medieval streets for its picturesque, half-timbered buildings, the Shambles has become an Instagram-worthy destination. And though a lively, bustling atmosphere can add to any travel experience, carving out time to go early (or later) in the day will ensure you don’t miss out on anything.

Related: 17 Best Small Towns in Europe

York Minster 

View of York Minster (Cathedral) from the walls

Maremagnum/Getty Images

A stone's throw from the Shambles, York Minster is a large gothic cathedral that has served as a place of reverence since the seventh century.

With handcrafted stone work and stained glass, this sacred place of worship is known as "one of the world's most magnificent cathedrals." Visitors can order tickets online to marvel at this masterpiece.

Great Wall 

York Minster seen from the city walls, York, UK

bushton3/Getty Images

Once the capital of the Roman Empire, York has plenty of historic gems. Start by trailing the city walls to explore 2,000 years of stony remains. The 2.8-mile defense boundary encircles the city, revealing the surviving masonry and splendid views of York Minster. A leisurely stroll along England's longest medieval wall takes approximately two hours (or three, if you pause at every checkpoint).

A few relics to look out for include the Multangular Tower, defense gateways (known as the Bars), and the ruins of what was once St. Mary’s Abbey — all beautifully preserved and still as gallant as the day they were built. 

The wall provides a gentle walk with some easy steps to climb along the way. Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the little coffee shop that hides inside Barker Tower.

Access to the wall is free — just grab a map and head over to Lendal Bridge where you can start your journey. 

Mystery and Gore

View of York Minster (Cathedral) from below during the fall time

Jack Liddle/Getty Images

York, known as one of the most haunted cities in Europe, has ghosts and folklore etched into the fabric of its loneliest alleyways, cobbled corners, and ancient buildings. 

Celebrating (and embracing) ghostly sightings, witches, and vampires is customary here, and the evening walking tours are a testament to that. During these tours, guides take visitors on a reenactment of the gory legends that came before. And remember, if you're visiting outside the summer months, pack a warm jacket — the temperature can plummet come nightfall. 

An actor from the York Dungeons in York, England

Courtesy of Visit York

Another great way to learn about the city’s dark history is by visiting the York Dungeon. In an immersive history lesson, actors lead visitors through a series of spine-chilling events, from the Plague to the Vikings. Visitors must book online in advance or face the perils of their actions — a very long wait outside. 

Browsing With a Sprinkle of Magic

A woman standing outside of The Shop That Must Not Be Named in York, England

Courtesy of The Shop That Must Not Be Named

Shopping on the Shambles can be an enchanting family treat.

My first stop is usually Käthe Wohlfahrt, a Christmas-themed gift shop that's open all year round. Stepping into the building instantly transports visitors to the holiday season, with unique trinkets and dazzling tree decorations.

More recently, Harry Potter fans have been making trips to The Shop That Must Not Be Named, full of mementos and memorabilia from the franchise. Located on the street that inspired Diagon Alley, the magical shop frontage is sure to lure in any regular Muggle or wannabe wizards. Oh, and if you leave with anything, let it be the chocolate frogs and Butterbeer.

In keeping with the theme of magic, there's the Evil Eye bar, which welcomes a menagerie of wacky and wonderful clientele. In addition to fresh cocktails, guests can expect views of the York Minster.

Potion cocktails from The Potions Cauldron in York, UK

Courtesy of Visit York

The little wizards on your trip may appreciate a thirst-quenching visit to The Potions Cauldron. According to the website, it's the “most magical drinks emporium in the world,” and with their spellbinding concoctions, it's easy to see why. Check online for the immersive Potions Experience.

And just when you think York can't get any more captivating, it does. The festive season — my favorite time to visit — brings the St. Nicholas Fair. Once the scent of traditional mince pies, mulled wine, and hot roasted chestnuts hit the air, the city becomes a real winter charm. 

Related: 22 Postcard-perfect European Villages Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

Where to Eat in York

Exterior of Betty's Cafe + Tea Room in York, England

Courtesy of Visit York

A day spent on the Shambles is incomplete without surrendering to the food here.

Ye Old Shambles Tavern serves up classic northern food, while Ye Olde Pie & Sausage Shoppe is a dream come true for most Yorkshire locals, especially with a pint of ale thrown in. Within its ancient walls, you’ll find a British pub ambience and an award-winning menu to boot. And if you’re lucky, there’s usually a live acoustic set, too.

If you're short on time, you may want to avoid long restaurant queues. Instead, pop over to the Shambles food court in the Shambles Market, where you’ll encounter talented chefs whipping up fare you can take with you. If there’s space, grab a seat in the courtyard.

York is also known as the "city of chocolate," with 250 years of cocoa history behind it. From handmade fudge to luxury chocolatiers, it would be a miss not to indulge in a tasty, buttery treat during your visit. Check out the Fudge Kitchen, Monk Bar Chocolatiers, and Mrs. B’s Emporium of Gifts — the latter serves up the best ice cream on the street.

Bettys Cafe, meanwhile, delivers an afternoon tea that's worthy of its reputation, as well as delicious Fat Rascal scones. Make reservations, though, as Bettys is popular with both locals and tourists.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles