Exploring historic York – the original adventure city

York - Copyright www.visityork.org

York. Without doubt one of England’s finest historic cities and a destination that has been high on our UK ‘hit’ list for years. Despite living only 3 hours away from the city, neither Heather nor I have visited York since we were children on school trips. We both vividly remember the spooky night-time ghost tours, the impossibly real smells of ye olde times at the Jorvik Viking Centre, as well as staying in our first ever hotels. We’ve come a long way since those days, and so has York, so we’re really excited to be heading back to what has become known as the ‘Original Adventure City’ in a couple of weeks.


As well as snapping selfies at historic sights, shopping in vintage boutiques and designer outlets, and eating all the homemade fudge (which seems to be a ‘thing’ in many of the UK’s ancient cities, not that we’re complaining!) we’ll be checking out the culture, and wondering just how one city can fit in so many festivals and events in a single year!

But first…

The History Bit

There are many reasons why York is such a great place to visit, but the big one is the history.

It’s thought that York dates back to the Mesolithic period (let’s just say a long time ago!), although it wasn’t until around 71 AD when 5000 Romans from the ninth legion set out from Lincoln to conquer the inhabitants of the area and set the foundations for the city that we know today. Strategically located where the river Foss joins the river Ouse, York, or Eboracum as it was called back then, was a perfect place for the Romans to build a fort, giving easy access to the North York Moors and Pennine Valley. Over the next three centuries Eboracum grew into a city of international importance.

York went through another name change when the Vikings, led by Ivar the Boneless, conquered the city in 866 AD. Jorvik, as the city was now known, continued to prosper. No visitor to York today should miss the fascinating Jorvik Viking Centre, an immersive experience that transports them back through 1000 years of history.


Since 627 AD York has had an Archbishop and the world famous York Minster is described as one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. Taking approximately 250 years to build, the cathedral was consecrated in 1472 and is sited on the remains of a Roman Basilica. It’s understandably one of the main attractions to visit in York today.

Medieval England saw York become a powerhouse and England’s second largest city. It was during this era that many of the well-known city landmarks were built as the result of prosperous trade and commerce.

And now?

Well, York can be described as an exciting and vibrant city, providing a vast mixture of history, culture, adventure and relaxation. And with 2018 hosting a whole lot of new events and festivals, and with more attractions per square mile than any other destination in the UK, there really is no better year to visit.

York Minster and Bootham Bar - copyright www.visityork.org
York Minster and Bootham Bar – copyright Visit York

Sights you need to see in York this summer

There’s so much to see and do in York that you could easily spend a couple of weeks here, but like most people we have just a few days, so are vigorously planning our itinerary to ensure we make the most of our time, with a little help from the popular York Pass. The multi-day pass will allow us entry into many of York’s top sights as well as other attractions beyond the city walls. We can’t wait!

Here are just a few of the places we’re hoping to see:

York Minster

York Minster is definitely at the top of our sightseeing list for next week. The largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe is the second most important in the Church of England and its iconic spires have long dominated the city skyline. The Minster has been drawing people to gaze upon its magnificence for hundreds of years, and after nearly a decade of restoration work the famous Great East Window is now once again on display for visitors to admire.


Jorvik Viking Centre

Ever wondered what it was like to live in Viking England? On the new and improved ride experience at the Jorvik Viking Centre, visitors are transported back to 960 AD to a recreation of what York was like nearly 1000 years ago. But we’re not talking just about sights. The experience also includes sounds and smells to create a fully authentic Viking adventure! This is a great attraction for families, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll pop in too and see how it’s changed in the 25 years since we were last there.

National Railway Museum

You don’t need to be a trainspotter to enjoy a visit to the National Railway Museum in York. Celebrating past, present and future railway innovations, free entry to this award winning museum lets you get up close to such icons as the Mallard, Queen Victoria’s favourite saloon, and a Japanese bullet train. They also do afternoon tea on board one of the carriages, how fun is that?!

Steam Train at National Railway Museum - copyright www.visityork.org
Steam Train at National Railway Museum – copyright www.visityork.org

The York Dungeon

A must-see attraction for those who want to explore the city’s darkest elements of history. At York Dungeon, Don’t just listen to stories of the past, experience them with immersive sets and state-of-the-art special effects as you get to meet Vikings, Guy Fawkes and even the notorious Dick Turpin!

Clifford’s Tower

Originally built by William the Conqueror, twice burnt to the ground and named after Roger de Clifford (who was executed for treason and hung from the tower walls), Clifford’s Tower boasts sweeping panoramic views of York and remains a proud symbol of the power of England’s medieval kings.

Clifford's Tower in York - copyright www.visityork.org
Clifford’s Tower in York – copyright www.visityork.org

York Designer Outlet

As much as we’re looking forward to taking in all the culture, we’re also secretly rather excited about checking out the York Designer Outlet too. Living in the rural Lake District such shopping opportunities are a rarity, and like most people, we’re suckers for designer labels at discount prices.

Just 10 minutes out from York city centre, this 120-store retail outlet houses a whole host of high street and designer brands, all with permanent discounts of up to 60% of RRP. With a park and ride scheme from the city centre, parking for 2800 vehicles, children’s play area and food court, this is the place for those people seeking some retail therapy.

The best of York’s Festivals and Events in Summer 2018

If you’re looking for something more than the plethora of permanent attractions, and want to make your trip to York even more memorable, then make sure you visit during some of the many festivals and events taking place here during 2018.

Take a look at this great video from Visit York showing some of the exciting festivals coming up this year:

York Festivals 2018 | Visit York

Although there are events taking place throughout the year, here are the highlights we’d recommend:

For History Buffs

The successful June Eboracum Roman Festival will return to the city with a combination of displays, exhibits, events and activities for all ages. You can enjoy military parades, demonstrations of siege weapons and even walk around a Roman camp! Over at York Castle Museum there’s a great new exhibition open until the end of 2018 that explores the impact of war on daily life, to mark the Centenary of World War I.

Roman Festival - Copyright www.visityork.org
Roman Festival – copyright www.visityork.org

For Foodies

Small in size yet big in flavour, the York Taster Festival offers a wide range of cuisines to sample, from Thai to Greek, and Jamaican to Indian. It runs from the 9th – 10th June with workshops, demonstrations and of course tastings, and is the little sister of the York Food and Drink Festival which takes place in September.

York Food and Drink Festival - Copyright www.visityork.org
York Food and Drink Festival – copyright www.visityork.org

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, York Chocolate Story have created the exhibition Times of Change: Women and Confectionery, which tells the story about the amazing women who worked in the chocolate industry, and whose products (such as mint humbugs and French almonds) became worldwide phenomena.

For Music Lovers

There’ll also be an opportunity to enjoy music ranging from the 12th to 18th centuries, being performed at historical sites around the city as part of the York Early Music Festival during July. On the 30th June, York Museum Gardens will be used as a backdrop for the inaugural open air York Proms, with picnics, classical music and of course champagne and strawberries.

For Culture Vultures

In June there’s the York Festival of Ideas, with lots of free events, talks and performances suitable for all ages and interests, with a theme of Imagining the Impossible. If street entertainment is your thing then why not head over to the Great Yorkshire Fringe Festival between the 9th – 24th July, when the historic city centre will be filled with comedians, musicians, food and drink. Between June and September there are plans to bring Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean Theatre to York, inspired by the legendary Rose Theatre in London. The 10-week season will include plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo & Juliet, which will be staged beside Clifford’s Tower.

Visiting the city during September? Then make sure you check out the famous York Mystery Plays which are staged on pageant wagons in the city streets, as well as the National Book Fair which is now the largest rare book fair in the UK. If you plan your visit for the end of the month, then you’ll be able to enjoy a transformation of the York skies during a fun packed festival-style weekend at the York International Balloon Fiesta.

York Mystery Plays - Copyright www.visityork.org
York Mystery Plays – copyright www.visityork.org

For Flower Enthusiasts

For flower lovers, the Ancient Society of York Florists (the oldest existing florists’ society in the world!) will be celebrating their 250th anniversary by holding the new horticultural Bloom! Festival over four days between the 5th – 8th July. Even if you don’t know your geraniums from your gardenias, it’s sure to be a sight to behold for everyone.

For Budding Artists

If you’re into art, then York is the place to be this summer. At the York Art Gallery until 10th June there’s a unique exhibition by British ceramic artist Sara Radstone, which explores themes of memory, landscape, humanity, loss and absence. Another exhibition worth seeing is The Genesis and Genius of Grinling Gibbons at Fairfax House which runs until 14th September. A rare 17th century wood sculpture by Grinling Gibbons (the ‘Michelangelo of Wood’) is a recent addition to the collection, which celebrates the 350th anniversary of the sculptor’s arrival in York.

For more information on festivals and events in York, pop over Visit York for some inspiration and ideas for planning your trip.

Want to find out what we get up to on our visit to York next week? Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram, and there will of course be a post on our experience coming soon.

This post has been written in collaboration with Visit York. Words and opinions remain our own.

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Best things to see and do in York, UK, from historic sites and festivals to food and entertainment. #york #visityork #yorkshire #onlyinyork #yorkminster

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