Since my first visit to the UK, my best friend’s mum has been insisting that I visit her hometown, York, England. It took me 10 years but I finally spent one day in York and jeez, I shouldn’t have waited so long. York is a fairytale.
Founded in 71 AD, with an array of rulers through the centuries, there are so many things to do in York. As one of the oldest cities in England, its varying architecture styles showcase its story, and the people are truly delightful. Due to its size, you can pretty much manage on foot, though there are some suggestions below for exploring in other ways.
What You Will Find in This One Day in York Guide
This 1 day in York guide is meant to help you plan your York sightseeing itinerary for one day.
Therefore, I’ve focused on the key stuff and included:
As always, if you have a question or would like some further insight on something I’ve listed (or haven’t!) in this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me here – I’ll do my best to get back quick!
Places to Visit in York
Despite it being a pretty small city, York is packed with really fascinating things to see and explore.
Traverse the York City Walls
With origins dating back almost 2000 years, the York City Walls are a quintessential part of experiencing York. Not only does the city have more miles of intact wall than any other city in England, but they allow you to experience York from a unique vantage point!
We hopped on and off the wall throughout our day, using the gatehouses or ‘bars’ as our entry and exit points. In some parts the wall is pretty high, so you can see things you wouldn’t notice from the ground.
You could stroll the walls in their entirety within an hour or so, though you aren’t required to walk the whole stretch. They are free to visit and going early or late in the day is wise to avoid crowds.
There are York City Walls tours if you’re looking for a bit more in depth history, and I’ve outlined those a little further down.
Wander the The Shambles
When I imagined the streets of York, the Shambles are exactly how I pictured them. This narrow street with crooked buildings has stood the test of time, having originated in the Middle Ages.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, the Shambles was apparently one of the inspirations for the famed Diagon Alley. Much like the many London walking tours about the famous wizard, there are Harry Potter tours in York that visit the Shambles and other spots around the city if you’re looking to bring out your inner wizard and learn about York. You can check them out and book here.
You can tell a number of kitschy shops have popped up along this adorable street which (in my opinion) detract a little bit from that atmosphere but nevertheless, its medieval charm shines through.
Admire Clifford’s Tower
One of the final remnants of York Castle is Clifford’s Tower, the keep of the castle. Perched upon a grassy mound, it has an intriguing look about it and there were plenty of people sitting around it enjoying the summer afternoon. While you can go inside, we opted not to and instead admired it from outside.
Perch on the Shores of The River Ouse
Running right through the middle of York is the River Ouse, making it a centerpiece of this small but popular city. We saw a number of boats offering York sightseeing cruises, and if you really plan out your day you might be able to squeeze one of them in. You’ll find more info on those cruises in the things to do in York section of this post.
We’ve often discussed where we would live in the UK, if not in London, and York peeked our interest when we saw tons of locals sitting along the water’s edge. They sat with drinks and takeaways, enjoying the summer evening watching the world float by. Make sure you find some time to take a break and join them.
Marvel at the The York Minster
Perhaps the most famous landmark that people flock to York for, or the North East of England for that matter, is York Minster. One of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe, The Minster is massive and truly a sight to be seen! It took a few centuries to complete and was finished in 1472.
The inside is said to be just as stunning as the outside, but as it was such a hot and sunny day out, we skipped the £11 entry ticket. Instead, we had breakfast outside a cute cafe right across the street from the cathedral.
An alternative option is to hop on a walking tour of the city that includes a guided tour of York Minster (like this one) to get a deeper knowledge of its history.
Things To Do in York
For those that enjoy a guided tour or experience, there are a number of excellent ones you can book and join in York. While you won’t have time for everything if you only have 1 day in York or are on a York day trip, here’s the top picks!
One Day in York with the “York Pass”
It’s worth mentioning that like many cities around the globe, York offers a pass that includes a number of experiences and tickets. While it offers a long list of things to do in York, I find it is best to add up the cost of each activity and attraction you know will be a part of your visit. If the pass costs less than buying them individually, go for it. Otherwise, it’s better to buy them as you go. Get more info and see whats included in the York Pass here.
It is well known that York is quite haunted. Many believe it’s one of the most haunted cities in the world. There are a mix of affordable ghost tours in York to choose from and of course, its best to go at night for that extra spooky factor! Three options to consider are the Dark Ghost Walking Tour (90 mins, approx £11/person), Shadows of York Tour (90 mins, approx £8.5/person) & The Bloody Tour of York (90 mins, £12/person). All have 5 stars and depart from central York.
York Sightseeing Bus
I’ll admit, I’m not the first person to book a sightseeing bus or Hop On Hop Off bus tour as I prefer to walk around or take public transit. That said, I know a lot of people love them (hi mom!), especially if mobility is a hindrance. York isn’t very big, but these buses will take you past the key places, usually with commentary as you go. If it’s a hop on hop off bus, you can do exactly that – hop off and explore by foot as you please.
There are a surprising number of different museums in York. In truth, we didn’t go into any during our visit as it was a stupendously gorgeous summer day. However, if it’s rainy and cold (it is northern England after all!) and you need a break from the weather, the museums on offer are a great escape.
Jorvik Viking Centre: Explore the site of the 10th century Viking-age city of Jorvik.
York Castle Museum: Taking you through the ages of York, in this old prison you can stroll down a Victorian street and take in a variety of exhibitions telling the story of York.
National Railway Museum: Not only is the train one of the best ways to get to York as the station is right in the city, but you can also visit the (free!) National Railway Museum!
York City Walls Walking Tour
As mentioned above, the city walls are one of the most historic parts of York and offer up great views of the city. While we explored on our own, I would have loved to have joined a York City Walls tour to learn more about their history and the role they played in the city throughout the centuries.
I’m a big fan of tours by WithLocals, who offer customizable private tours including some of York. You could also check out York Walls Tours which runs a number of different tours around York including a city walls tour.
With that said, I’d imagine most walking tours of the city would incorporate a portion or two of the city walls. This could be a good way to hit a few birds with one stone.
York Sightseeing Cruise
With the River Ouse running right through the city, a popular activity is to take in York from the water. If that’s your thing, there are a number of companies offering boat cruises departing right from the centre of town.
If time or budget doesn’t allow, be sure to take my earlier tip and admire the river from the shore – especially with a beverage in hand!
Where to Eat in York
Brew & Brownie
We LOVE breakfast, and we found quite the spot to indulge in a sweet and delicious start to the day. Brew & Brownie, right in the centre of the city, had quite the spread of breakfast treats. We had some sweet pastries and coffee, but also ordered some sandwiches to take away for lunch. Later, we ate them along the canal, as suggested above!
They have two locations, Brew & Brownie Cafe & Brew and Brownie Bakeshop, a few doors down from one another
This tea room is a Yorkshire institution, dating back to 1919. Tell anyone you’re headed to York (or nearby Harrogate) and they’ll tell you to go to Betty’s for tea. Key tip: book in advance. We didn’t, and unfortunately we didn’t get to dine at Betty’s. Gutted.
Bennett’s Cafe and Bistro
Right in front of York Minster, Bennett’s Cafe and Bistro is where we had breakfast on our main day. Sitting outside, you get an amazing view of the facade. We had the full English, and it was delicious!
The Market Cat
We stopped for a late night drink in The Market Cat. While it may not be an old time classic pub, though there are plenty of those around, I loved their stellar selection of beers on tap. Certainly worth stopping in for a pint or two.
Where to Stay in York
Whether you only have one day in York or are staying for a few days, picking a place to stay in the city is pretty easy. Staying in the centre of the city would mean that the key stuff will be within a short walking distance. I generally try to spotlight independent properties in an effort to keep tourism money local, but there are the bigger chains if that’s your preferred vibe.
Here are a few options we came across in our research, but really, you can’t go wrong.
The Ice Cream Factory: We stayed in this amazing loft-style Airbnb in York. Once an ice cream factory, hence the name, we had our very large room with a shared bathroom and kitchen. It was a short walk to everywhere we needed to go.
Judges Court: A Georgian Grade II listed building, Judges Court has stunning rooms, each unique with bespoke furniture. It’s a 5 minute walk from sites like York Minster and 10 minutes from the train station.
Jorvik House: Tapping into the Nordic days of York when it was ruled by the Vikings, Jorvik House is an 18th century property with so much charm. I’m a sucker for thoughtful design that goes a step beyond functional – so Jorvik House caught my eye! Once again, very well located!
Vas’ York House: Something I’ve loved about travelling through the UK is the prevalence of bed and breakfasts and guesthouses. Val’s York House is a well reviewed guesthouse that has all you’d need, with cute rooms and is centrally located.
Safestay York: As far as hostels go, this Georgian property has so much character. Some of the rooms have beautiful old beams and stone floors. There are an array of room sets ups, including both mixed and female only dorms, as well as private rooms.
For the rest of my accommodation Wishlist and more places to stay in York, click here.
And there you have it, my tips on how to have the best one day in York. This city is so full of charm that it would be hard not to fall in love with it. Just don’t make the same mistake as me and wait 10 years to visit.
If you have other tips or questions, leave them in the comments below.