York is one of those places that you'll come across occasionally, a city that you only have to visit once to completely fall in love with. Teeming with gorgeous little shops, boutiques and culture, sporting a magnificent Minster and full of olde-worlde charm, York is a strange contrast of past and present, dotted with tea shops and traditional pubs.
Don't let the historical side of York fool you into thinking that it's locked in the past though. York has some lovely spas as well as everything you need for an up to the minute city break. Being a university city also guarantees an excellent nightlife, so you're unlikely to be stuck for places to visit after dark as well as during daylight hours.
The delightful Shambles is a must-visit lane of touristy and specialist shops that you can while away some serious meandering time in, and there's plenty to do elsewhere too - York Races, the JORVIK Centre (where you can experience what Viking England was really like...down to the smell...) and the York museum - boat trips along the River Ouse and places to chill out like the aptly named Breezy Knees gardens in Warthill, Deans Park (close to the Minster) and Castle Howard.
York likes to boast of a ghostly heritage, see some of it for yourself with one of the many ghost walks or even a ghost cruise down the river. For more cultured pursuits there's the Theatre Royal and Grand Opera on hand, too
Out of the city, pretty coastal towns like Harrogate provide a quaint taste of the seaside era and a few well hidden spa secrets too...
Spa Breaks in York
- Outside of the city walls, if you delve a bit further into scenic North Yorkshire you'll find the gem that is the Aldwark Manor Golf and Spa Hotel. The beautiful hotel is set into 100 acres of lovely parkland on the banks of the River Ure, and it comes with its very own 18 hole, 72-par golf course if a golf-spa break is something that appeals. The deliciously-scented spa boasts seven treatment rooms and a selection of 36 treatments, and you can even try a fish pedicure!
- Also one for lovers of scenery as well as all things spa-related, the Feversham Arms Hotel and Verbena Spa was voted one of the 101 best spas in the world by Tatler for a reason. It's a total haven of luxury with an eclectic spa menu that features spa favourites like Elemis as well as Anne Semonin. The comforting under floor heating adds a little bit more luxury, as does the monsoon shower, salt chamber, aromatherapy room and ice cave. Outdoors you'll find a sun terrace hot tub for warmer days.
- For a spa with a rich history, Middlethorpe Hall and Spa has everything for a discerning spa-goer as well as seriously elegant accommodation. The spa lies behind the facade of two listed Grade II Edwardian cottages opposite the main hotel, and it's open to anyone staying in the hotel as well as members of the Spa Club. Its centrepiece swimming pool is perfect for a relaxing swim, and there's a spa bath, sauna and steam room nearby as well as a private garden to relax in. Spa treatments include Decleor, ESPA and Jessica.
You really ought to be able to get something nice to eat if you're on a spa break in York, because the city actually lies in the heart of one of the most important food producing regions in the country. Restaurant-wise, York caters for pretty much every taste and budget with a cool selection of up-market restaurants, cafes, traditional pub grub and chilled out bistros serving local produce.
- The Blue Bicycle on High Petergate is one of the most popular places to enjoy a meal in York, with award winning food and a relaxed vibe. The restaurant is well known for fresh fish, scrumptious desserts and a great selection of fine wines. For history buffs the cellar in the Blue Bicycle was once a famous brothel, and you can still see photographs of some of the girls who might have worked there downstairs!
Address: 34 Fossgate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 9TA
Tel: 01904 673990
- Nestling down an alley, right in the city centre, is ate o'clock - the first go-it-alone venture for Kenny Noble; one of York's best known chefs. You'll find fresh, local produce, all cooked to order and as you like it, and the dishes are 'Mediterranean with a twist of Scouse' which certainly needs investigating. The decor is individual too, featuring clocks all set to 8 o'clock and film sets in the toilets...
Address: 13A High Ousegate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 8RZ
Tel: 01904 644 080
- 31 Castlegate is a refined establishment set in the former home of a Georgian architect close to York Castle and the Jorvik Viking Centre. The restaurant serves up delicious modern European cuisine, with dishes that involve the freshest, best quality local ingredients. Food is available all day, but after dark expect elegance, candlelight and a menu of a la carte dishes, complemented by an extensive wine list. 31 Castlegate also caters for all dietary requirements, just call ahead and let them know.
Address: 31 Castlegate, York,
North Yorkshire YO1 9RN
Tel: 01904 621404
- A convenient stroll from York Minster and the Theatre Royal will bring you to Strada, where you can find authentic Italian cuisine and a setting inside a grade I listed building that still has many of its original features. Dishes are created with authentic ingredients like Parma ham and Buffalo mozzarella imported from Italy, to bring a delicious Italian experience to the heart of York.
Address: 75 Low Petergate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 7HY
Tel: 01904 672 999
- Another independent restaurant/bar is the relaxing Dusk where you can try fresh home cooked British and Mediterranean style cuisine. Some of the dishes that Dusk is best-known for are its burgers, breakfasts and the Deli Board which is a range of taster-sized dishes giving you a chance to sample something a little bit different. Smokers and pets are welcome on the outside terrace tables and later on there's music and club nights.
Address: 8 New St, York YO1 8RA
Tel: 01904 634 851
- For more exotic tastes, you can find delicious Indian and traditional Bangladeshi cuisine at York Spice, which you'll find just outside the city walls on the South Bank. York Spice likes to give discerning Indian food lovers a treat with traditional dishes, and along authentic traditional cuisine they are also happy to cook you a dish that's not on the menu, ingredients permitting.
Address: 21 Bishopthorpe Road, York, North Yorkshire YO23 1NA
Tel: 01904 628 886
- Tokyo Joes is one of York's most tasty oriental food restaurants, serving up a diverse selection of authentic Japanese dishes in the restaurant which is close to York Minster. Dishes are fast and healthy Japanese favourites, and while the inspiration is exotic, the ingredients are sourced locally where possible. Budding performers will also enjoy the regular karaoke sessions!
Address: 20-24 Swinegate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 8AZ
Tel: 01904 640 222
- ...and one definitely not to miss is the celebrated Betty's Tea Rooms, which was founded in 1919. Cakes, pastries, cream teas and full meals all jostle for attention on the menu, which is elegant, and the restaurant is a throwback to bygone times. You can even buy cakes, treats and bread to take away.
Address: 46 Stonegate, York, North Yorkshire YO1 8AS
Tel: 01904 622 865
York can do fun nights out with the best of them, buoyed up by the influence of its two universities, a constant stream of tourists and a list of cultural events that take place all through the year.
- Music lovers flock to the Stone Roses Bar - named after the iconic band, of course. Opened in 2004, and the only bar and venue in York to play classic and new indie and alternative music, the bar is perfectly placed in the city centre. The Stone Roses has a reputation for supporting local up and coming music acts. Memorabilia fans will love the place, and there's even a classic Lambretta over the dance floor. Popular with students, there are great club nights, football and special events.
- Established back in 1992, Fibbers is one of the most successful music venues in the city, boasting that it has played host to over 5000 gigs since it was opened. Just breaking into the scene bands and locals play the same venue as household names, the club stays open until 4am every night with live music and DJs playing everything from Dubstep and Drum n Bass to Indie and Rock.
- BoBo LoBo is York's only Latin themed cocktail bar, offering a night out with South American flavours, food and cocktails, Salsa and Merengue music, all served up in an exciting vibrant atmosphere. The decor is as lively as the clientele and the drinks menu includes an extensive selection of tequilas and rums to sample as well as cocktails, wines and drinks.
- The Gallery Nightclub is open seven nights a week, offering up a selection of five bars and promising a good night out. Gallery boasts some of the best DJ's in the north and claims to be the premier nightclub for York. Three rooms are also on hand including the exclusive VIP lounge for a special night out and some extravagant partying.
- Club Salvation is another major player on the York clubbing scene, and with a recent facelift it's now more glamorous than ever. With two distinctly different rooms the club likes to cater for as many tastes as possible with individual club and themed nights. Top of the range sound and lighting combined with lasers, Co2 cannons and pyrotechnic displays make it a night out not to be missed.
- For a more chilled out vibe, head over to Kennedys Bar and Restaurant which occupies a prime spot just a stone's throw away from York Minster. Spread out over three floors, there's something there for everyone, including food, a roof top terrace to relax on and basement music bar with dance floor.
- Plonkers Wine Bar is a contemporary drinking spot that's to be found right in the centre of York, close to the River Ouse. You can take your pick from a wide range of beers and spirits, wines and champagnes, and it's a perfect pre and post-performance venue due to its close proximity to the Grand Opera House.
- A fantastic cocktail bar with a difference, The Evil Eye Lounge is truly unusual! The layout is quite disorienting and if you've already had a few before you get there you could find yourself walking round in circles. The ground floor bar is decorated with vast numbers of empty bottles of exotic alcohol and interestingly, part of the first floor contains Internet access computers, while the other room is exotic and unusual with Bedouin wooden bed-like structures and tables overlooking Stonegate.
- For a more traditional pub night out, go for The Maltings. You'll find it the foot of Lendal Bridge in the city centre. A former Yorkshire Pub of the Year, the pub likes to serve up quality beers and good food, with a choice of up seven Real Ales or four traditional ciders. The resident beer is the Black Sheep Bitter and there are six ever changing guest beers to choose from too.
York city centre has some of the prettiest and most historic stone and half-timbered buildings in the country, some of which have been in use for many centuries. It's also home to Europe's largest single pedestrianised area so there's no pesky traffic to get in the way of your retail therapy either.
- York is a great place to find designer labels, vintage and antique shops nestled among the high street names, and the most obvious place to start is the street that was voted the most picturesque street in Britain - still popular with shoppers after 900 years. Shambles (or The Shambles as you'll often hear it referred to) is small but perfectly formed, and crammed with adorable shops, cafes, restaurants and tourist attractions. If you are thinking of taking any pictures get there early to avoid the crowds.
- Some of the 'Gates' - like Petergate and Stonegate, Coppergate and Fossgate, are great shopping opportunities. In 2010, Petergate was awarded the title of the Second Best Street in Britain, and both Petergate and Stonegate are close to the Minster and have a great selection of high-fashion and accessories on offer, alongside independent stores selling a huge variety of interesting things.
- Coppergate is a more modern, up to date shopping experience in the city centre that offers a chance to shop till you drop at high street favourites like the Body Shop, Thorntons and Marks and Spencer.
- Fossgate is pure heaven for foodies, and one of the top three food streets in Britain for food, but is also worth investigating retro and vintage clothing.
- Located a short distance from Stonegate and York Minster, Swinegate is the street of designer fashion, as well as some upmarket restaurants and cafes.
- Bargain hunters can get some tax free shopping at the McArthur Glen York Designer Outlet, located on the outskirts of the city. There's over 100 brand named stores with discounts of up to 60 per cent, including Armani Collections, Hugo Boss, Jaeger and Bose.
YORK'S TOP THREE SPAS
- If you’re looking for a York-centric spa break, the obvious place to start your spa journey is the fabulous Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa, where you can enjoy a longer break or simply drop in for a spa day. The in-hotel spa has all the facilities you could need, a Nordic sauna and aromatic steam room, sumptuous Germaine de Cappuccini treatments, relaxing pools and an up-to-the-minute Cybex gym to work out in before you move on to the Whisky Lounge or partake in a spot of afternoon tea!
- For a state of the art gym that combines with the very best in spa temptation, there's the well-appointed Spa at Bannatyne's Health Club in York, where you can work out energetically, swim and relax by the pools, then enjoy a treatment or two in one of the four separate treatment rooms. The spa menu features the gorgeous Elemis spa range to guarantee a good quality beauty treatment, and the sauna and relaxation room are on hand for some post-workout chill out time.
- Worth a mention although not in the city itself is The Academy Spa in Harrogate. This delightful day spa has won UK Day Spa of the Year awards on more than one occasion, and there are plenty of great reasons why. The ten treatment rooms all offer a fantastic selection of pampering, massage and more and you can push the boat out and give dry floatation and holistic therapies a try too if you feel like it. There's a cafe and relaxation room on hand to chill out in, a sauna and steam room, and of course, a gym.