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9 Things to Do in York England - Complete Guide to the City
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York is one of the best destinations for a city break or a weekend getaway in England. It’s a super charming city full of many incredible things to see and do, as well as places to eat or grab a drink. In case you were looking for a complete city guide that includes all the top things to do in York, as well as the best tours, restaurants and more useful info, you’ll find everything in the article below! It includes everything you need to know before you visit York!

I was in York at the beginning of this year for a 4-day trip and I really loved it! York is super cute and walkable – you can see the entirety of inside the city walls in a day. 

But my recommendation is to book a whole weekend away to York – this is kind of a perfect scenario for anyone that is looking for a relaxed getaway.

Okay, let’s dive right into it!

Quick info about York, UK

Is York worth visiting, really? My honest answer is: YES! Definitely! York is a place of rich history and culture where you will find charming streets, cute shops and eateries and interesting museums everywhere you look. Plus frequent festivals and events for those of you that are in for a bit of extra fun!

Trust me, there are so many things to do in York! From the impressive York Minster (which is, basically, one of the most well-known York attractions) to the entire stone wall that circles the city, tons of Harry Potter sites, chocolate tours, ghost walks, fine dining restaurants, historic homes and some cute parks, you can already understand that York caters to all types of travellers out there!

Where is York located?

York is located in North Yorkshire, in the northern part of England. It is only 35 km (22 miles) away from Leeds, another cute city that I really enjoyed.

Here’s a map of York so you can better understand its location:

map of York UK
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9 Best things to do in York, UK

Below you will find my list of the best things to do in York – these are things that any first-time visitor should check out (if time allows) in order to completely understand the charm of this city.

TIP: One thing to know right from the start: if you’re planning to visit most of the popular attractions in York, a very good idea would be to buy a York Pass. It’s an excellent way to save on costs – it includes more than 45 things to visit in York and around. I’ll talk about it in more detail in this special section below.

1 - Take a York city tour

River Ouse in York UK
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Whenever I land in a relatively small, walkable city, one of the first things I do is take a stroll around or book a city tour. I think it’s one of the best ideas if you’re eager to find out more about the city you’re going to spend the following days in right from the start! 

This is especially true when it comes to a historic city such as York – the city was founded by the Romans after all! And the best part about it is that you have so many options to choose from – from the classic Hop On Hop Off buses to themed York walking tours on the gorgeous cobbled streets – ghost walks, chocolate tours, boat cruises, Harry Potter tours, a cat trail and many, many more.

I won’t get into detail about them here because you’ll find my complete list of recommended tours of York in this section down below.

NOTE: Alternatively, if you want to experience Leeds from a different perspective, I recommend taking a ride in one of the yellow water taxis. The price is only £1/person/journey and it takes you from Leeds Docks to Granary Wharf. More information on their website here. There is also a shorter, free taxi boat from Leeds Docks.

2 - Walk the city wall - The Bar Walls

The York Wall
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One thing you will notice right after you set foot in York is its impressive stone walls. The Bar Walls is the official name for the thick stone walls that go all around the city. These were once Roman fortifications that protected York, now transformed into one of the most interesting “York things” to do and one of the best-preserved city walls in all of England.

Although incomplete, walking around the city on these walls is an excellent option for those in search of free things to do in York city centre – and it will only take around 2 hours (3.4 km). Plus, the view over the famous Minster from the walls is worth the effort.

The walls are free to visit and open from 8:00 AM ‘till sunset. Bad weather conditions or repairs might make them inaccessible to explore. You can check out a map of the trail here.

3 - Visit the impressive cathedral - York Minster

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Except for being one of the best things to do in York, York Minster is also one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the entire world, towering over all the buildings in the city – heck, you can see it from literally everywhere you go! And continuing with the fun facts about the impressive building that is York Minster, I must also say that it is the second biggest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe – how cool is that?

Construction began in 1230 and it “only” took 250 years to build, so you can rest assured that you’re walking inside a piece of history with its gorgeous stained glass windows and well-preserved artefacts. 

Except for admiring it from the outside and a visit inside, you can also step into the crypt of York Minster or climb its central tower. One thing to note, though: there are 275 steps to the top in a narrow, steep spiral stairway, but the view is definitely worth it!

PRICE: £12.50/adult, free for kids under 16. Ticket is valid for a full year after your first visit. There is an extra fee if you want to go up to the tower (£18,50 for the cathedral + tower). Book your ticket in advance here

TIP: If you’re into cathedral-related things, make sure you don’t miss the details on the Great East Window. It’s the biggest mediaeval stained glass in the world and it is definitely gorgeous.

4 - Shop on York’s most famous street - The Shambles

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The Shambles York
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Ask any English person about York, and they will tell you about The Shambles. This is definitely one of the most famous streets in the city – it is actually a pedestrianised shopping street dating from medieval times and it is also one of the best-preserved ones in Europe! 

I recommend at least a short stroll on this street to admire the cute storefronts and façades. And if you’re looking for a little bit of (grime) history, know that these streets were once scattered with slaughterhouses instead of shops… Just York things! But hey, at least it’s been transformed into something nice now!

In the event that you want to hang around for longer, you can enter one of the 85 shops, drink a coffee in one of the cute cafes or grab a beer at Ye Old Shambles Tavern. Except for the iconic shops, at the Shambles Market you can find lots of stalls selling goodies and fresh produce.

TIP: There are no less than four Harry Potter-themed shops to explore on The Shambles, as well as a “Ghost Shop”. More info in the Harry Potter section below!

FUN FACT: Although I’m not sure this is 100% true, it is said that The Shambles is the inspiration behind Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books and movies. It’s just as narrow, wonky and wonderful!

5 - Admire the spectacular view from the top of Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower in York England
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Clifford’s Tower is located right in the city centre and, together with York Minster, it is considered one of the unmissable things to do in York

Clifford’s Tower is a big piece of history in the city (part of the English Heritage) and it was a true symbol of power – it is one of the few remains of York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror. Since then, it was burned down not once, but twice, and then rebuilt in the 13th century.

The tower also has a bit of a… sad history. Its name comes from Roger de Clifford, who was hanged for treason in 1322 right here. Hey, I told you that York has a gruesome history, right?

The truth is that there aren’t any very interesting things to see inside and most visitors just go there to climb to the top of the tower. The view from the top is pretty cool, you can see not only York Minster, but as far as North York Moors National Park!

PRICE: £9/adult. No need to book your ticket in advance, but you can do so here.

6 - See the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey

St. Mary’s Abbey in York England
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St. Mary’s Abbey in York England
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St. Mary’s Abbey is part of the York Museum Gardens (which I am recommending in the “Free things to do in York” section below) and, for history lovers, it is a wonderful thing to see. You can only see the ruins now of what once was the wealthiest Benedictine monastery in the UK. 

The original church was built in 1055 and you can still see its surrounding walls and the places where the monks used to pray, sing, wash their clothes and more.

PRICE: York Museum Gardens have a free entrance, including St. Mary’s Abbey

7 - Harry Potter everywhere

The Shop That Must Not Be Named in York England
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the shambles street in york
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York is an extra special place for all Harry Potter fans out there. There are many spots around the city that have inspired or have been inspired by the Harry Potter series. 

In fact, one of the scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed here – at York Railway Station, where you can see the famous Platform 9 ¾ (yes, the original platform used in the first film is in York, not Kings Cross!).

Here are some magical HP activities and places to visit in York:

8 - Weird/wonderful thing to do - Visit the Ghost Shop Merchant

The York Ghost Merchants
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© Image: Yorkshire Wonders

I didn’t know what this was, but I kept seeing massive queues outside this shop. On day 3 I asked someone (because, actually, this massive queue was there all day, every day, preventing me from getting a cool photo of the Shambles! Haha – which I never got btw!). So – basically, this shop sells… souls. 👀  Weird? Yes. Bizarre? Completely. Intriguing? Tell me more!

To really understand the traditional process of creating these little handmade ghost figures (which are said to hold a ‘spirit’), well.. you need to go into the shop and see for yourself!

The shop is on the Shambles, at no. 6. Find the location on Google Maps here.

9 - York’s Chocolate Story

York's Chocolate Story experience
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© Image: York's Chocolate Story

I just left the best for last – an activity for all chocolate lovers out there! Did you know that York’s past is tightly connected with… chocolate? The city has a long, 3.000 years-long chocolate-making history and it is the place where Rowntree’s (known as Nestlé nowadays) and Terry’s were founded. 

The York Chocolate Story is an interactive guided tour during which you will learn all about York’s chocolate-making history, as well as the origins of chocolate itself and how to properly taste a chocolate bar like a connaisseur

Of course, you will also get to indulge in sweet samples at the end – the best part of any chocolate tour, right? I definitely recommend tasting the hot chocolate as well, it is said to be the best one in town!

PRICE: £15.95/adults and £13.50/kids. Book your guided tour here. If you’re looking for more, they also have a tour + truffle rolling workshop – more details here.

TIP: Alternatively, if you want to make your own chocolate bar, you can do so at York Cocoa Works. Price is £19.50 per participant. More details here.

FUN FACT: No less than six million Kit-Kats are produced in York each and every day!

BONUS #1: 4 More free things to do in York

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Although I have mentioned a couple of free things to do in York above (the Shambles, the city wall and St. Mary’s Abbey), there are a couple more activities worth mentioning for all those of you looking to save a penny during your trip:

1 - The Museum Gardens

You may remember I mentioned the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey before. These are part of a bigger museum complex called The Museum Gardens in York, all free to visit. There’s also the award-winning Yorkshire Museum to visit here for archeology fans and sometimes there are also events happening.

Even if you’re not planning on entering any of the sites here, the gardens are pretty vast and gorgeous by themselves (you can spot up to 40 species of birds!) and an excellent spot to have a picnic.

2 - National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum in York is a very good spot for the entire family, regardless if you’re trainspotters or not! The museum offers plenty of things to see – more than 1 million pieces on display and more than 100 locomotives (including royal ones) and it is also the largest railway museum in England.

Don’t forget to take a ride on the mini-railway outside the National Railway Museum – the little ones will surely love it!

3 - Rowntree Park

For those looking for a couple of hours of peace and quiet and one of the best things to do in York for families, Rowntree Park is the perfect choice for those with kids. There are cute gardens here, as well as ducks and geese. For the little ones there’s also a dedicated playground and a skate park, and adults and older kids can enjoy the mini golf or basketball court.

TIP: If you’re an avid fan of mini golf, you can go to Puttstars Mini Golf as well!

4 - Yorkshire Lavender

If you don’t mind going a bit outside of York (24 km / 15 miles away), Yorkshire Lavender is the perfect place for flower lovers. You’ll find a lavender farm, a lavender maze and some beautiful gardens there that have received numerous awards over time. 

There’s also some white deer there, as well as lambs and cattle – so cute! I also recommend going on the hill nearby for a gorgeous view over the Vale of York.

BONUS #2: 9 Extra things to do in York if you have more time

york castle museum
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For those of you that are not on your first visit to the city, I have prepared a short list of extra things to do in York. Who knows, maybe this will be your perfect excuse to go and see York again!

  • York Castle Museum – this museum is perfect for all history lovers, as you’ll find a realistic Victorian street with shops here, as well as real prison cells and Kirkgate as well. York Castle Museum is the perfect spot to learn more about York’s long history!
  • York Dungeon – grim, funny and definitely interesting – this is how I’d characterise a visit to the famous York Dungeon. With live acts, realistic sets and talented actors performing for you, this is the place to go if you want to discover York’s gruesome past!
  • Jorvik Viking Centre – this is your chance to learn more about viking life and the times when York was ruled by the Danish – and also THE place to go for those looking for unusual things to do in York! During your visit to Jorvik Viking Centre you’ll get to see life-size dioramas, a 9th-century village and life-like animatronic characters. Very interactive and fun – and quite a popular activity, too! Btw, ‘Jorvik’ is the Viking name for ‘York’.
  • York Brewery – although it was only founded in 1996, York Brewery is the ideal place to go if you want to discover more about York’s signature beer – Yorkshire Terrier. Plus, it’s a fun activity to explore the entire brewing process and taste some goodies on the way as well!
Merchant Adventurers' Hall in York
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  • Merchant Adventurers Hall – This beautiful timber-framed building is kind of unknown and underrated, but I’m recommending it if you want to see one of the finest medieval guilds – or simply drink a coffee in an unusual place!
  • Roman Bath House – I’ve told you that York is a Roman city, now it’s time to discover one of the most Roman things to do: visit a Roman bathhouse and museum!
  • Van Gogh Immersive ExperienceI guess the title says it all, right? This truly is an immersive experience of the famous painter’s life and work. You can also join an optional VR experience for an extra fee.
  • York Art Gallery– if you’re a fan of galleries, this one should surely be on your itinerary for York. It hosts lots of important pieces, from the 14th up to the 20th century, including some David Hockney paintings as well!
  • Breezy Knees Garden – with such a cute name, it’s a real shame I left this place for last! Breezy Knees Garden is a stunning array of gardens that host more than 7.000 varieties of flowers and trees, including rare plants that you can buy!

My no. 1 tip: Buy a York Pass

york pass
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I briefly mentioned the York Pass at the beginning of this article; now it’s time to get into the details. The York Pass is an excellent choice for all travellers that plan on visiting a substantial number of attractions in York, including the surrounding region of North Yorkshire. 

I know some city passes out there are not worth the money, it has happened to me before. But, in my opinion, this is not the case with the York city pass. 

It includes more than 45 attractions – most of the best things to do in York, actually, which means places that were on your list anyway! Plus additional discounts for restaurants, taxis and more. For me, one of the best things about this pass is that you can download it on your phone and easily use it as you go around and explore York.

The price for an adult York Pass is £55 for one day, £70 for two days and £85 for three days and it also has a 24-hour Hop On Hop Off bus included.

Let’s make a short calculation to see if it’s really worth it or not, shall we? Let’s say you want to buy the York Pass for one adult for two days. Your standard itinerary may include the following top attractions + prices:

  • York Minster – £12.50
  • Clifford’s Tower – £9.00
  • Hop On Hop Off bus – £16.00
  • River Ouse city cruise – £12.50
  • York Dungeon – £19.50
  • Jorvik Viking Centre – £13.50

The total for all these activities is £83. The pass is £70 for two days. Win! Also, the value increases if you buy it for 3 days and add more activities to your itinerary.

Best York tours

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Ah, there are so many guided tours in York, and all of them are so different from each other! Below are some of my favourites:

1 – Guided walking tours – this is one of the best things to do in York and you have so many options here! My recommendation is this one that will take you to all the main attractions and tell you lots of info about York’s history.

2 – York Ghost Walk Tour – an iconic York tour if you want to find out the events of the city’s past! The Original Ghost Walk of York is £7.50 and you can book it here.

4 – The Bloody Tour of York – an alternative to the ghost walk, this one will help you explore York’s history of criminals, kings, queens and even Guy Fawkes. The tour is hosted by a girl called “mad Alice” and it’s a really unique experience. It has even won awards! Btw, they also have a ‘Bloody York Gin tour’ if you want to add some booze into your experience.

5 – Harry Potter Tour – unmissable for any HP fan out there. Book yours for £10 here (btw, this one sells out super fast, so make sure to reserve in advance!)

6 – York Cat Trail – free self-guided tour specifically tailored for cat lovers – soooo cute and great for kids!

7 – Hop On Hop Off bus – if you’re a fan of this activity (I know I am!), you can book a 24-hour bus pass for York for only £16 here.

8 – River Ouse city cruises York – River Ouse offers a picturesque way to discover the city on the water, including its most iconic attractions such as Clifford’s Tower. I recommend booking an early evening cruise, you will catch the beautiful sunset light! Book your city cruise for £12.50 here

9 – Drive your own boat down the river – if you’re not a fan of my recommendation above and prefer to explore York’s river at your own pace, you can hire a little red boat for yourself! The price goes from £45 per group for 1h on the river and you can book yours here

10 – The Wizard Walk of York – I mentioned the Wizard Walk of York before in the ‘Harry Potter’ section above, but I’ll mention it again. It’s perfect for kids!

11 – Invisible York – a very different type of walking experience, as this one is hosted by homeless people. Each tour is tailored differently in the centre of York and all money will help support the homeless people of York – such a nice initiative!

Where to stay in York, England

Where to stay in York England - Gray's Court
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RELATED READ: Where to Stay in York, UK – Complete Guide

Luckily, York has tons of amazing options for accommodation for all budgets. And because I’ve made the search before going, I want to share my shortlist of great hotels in York with you below:

LUXURY. The Grand. If you’re looking for real luxury right in the centre of York, look no further than this hotel. This is where I stayed and I can surely recommend it for its location and service. They have a nice spa as well, but unfortunately I didn’t get to have any treatments as they were already completely booked up by the time I arrived. So book ahead of your stay if you want to indulge in that!

BOUTIQUE HOTEL. Gray’s Court – Amazing 4-star hotel with a super boutique feel. I stayed here too and I really liked it! They also have a Michelin-star restaurant worth checking out. 

BOUTIQUE GUEST HOUSE. Judges Court – super cool design concept and excellent central location. This guest house is inside a Georgian grade II listed building.

MID-RANGE. The Bar Convent – simple and clean, only 15 minutes away by foot from the city centre.

APARTMENT. The Butler Suite – a very nice whole apartment with a nice balcony as well. It’s also a good family option!

BUDGET / HOSTEL. Safestay York. Good accommodation for a super accessible price. They have lots of social spaces for solo travellers, which I think is a nice plus!

Where to eat in York, UK

Betty’s Tea Room in York
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Where to eat in York England
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During my long walks on the streets of York, I discovered some excellent places to eat and drink. Below are the ones that I really liked:

BREAKFAST:

LUNCH:

DINNER:

DRINKS:

MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION: You simply can’t miss Betty’s Tea Room during your trip, it is iconic! As for food, my favourite was Star Inn the City, especially for dinner or an amazing Sunday lunch.

What to eat in York

One of the best things to do in York is, of course… eat! Although York doesn’t have traditional dishes itself, the region of Yorkshire has the following, which I definitely recommend you try:

YORKSHIRE PUDDING.

A yummy, baked pudding made from a heavenly batter with eggs, flour and milk. The composition is very similar to a pancake, but the Yorkshire pudding is served as a savoury side, and usually with lots of gravy!

Yorkshire pudding
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WENSLEYDALE CHEESE.

Also called “Yorkshire Wensleydale”, this type of cheese originated in, you guessed it, Wensleydale, it’s crumbly and made from cow’s milk. There’s also a version of this cheese with cranberries in the mixture – yum!

You can buy it here.

Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese
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YORKSHIRE CURD TART.

This is basically a variation of a cheesecake, made with fresh curd and filled with currants and egg.

Yorkshire Curd Tart
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YORKSHIRE TEA.

Of course this part of Britain had to have its own type of tea, right? And personally, I think it’s the very best! Yorkshire Tea is a blend a black tea that has been produced since 1977.

Yorkshire Tea
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Day trips from York

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If you’re looking for fun things to do around York, I might have quite some interesting options for you below:

  • Yorkshire Dales – this national park is huge, full of hills, waterfalls, valleys, bridges and villages – a real natural wonderland. And it’s only a short drive (1h) away!
  • Peak District – another charming national park full of hills, moorland, forests and meadows. Ironically, no peaks.
  • Lake District – yep, you guessed it, another national park! This one houses some of the country’s biggest lakes and tallest peaks. 
  • Castle Howard – if you want to skip York Castle Museum, make sure you visit this place instead! It’s a superb historic house a bit outside of the centre. The landscaped gardens are a must-see!
  • North York Moors – a special national park that includes one of the biggest expanses of moorland in England
  • Whitby – in case you are on the search for a little bit of seaside, visit the small town-port called Whitby! It’s really charming, scattered with little white houses with orange roofs.
  • Harrogate – the Victorian era in all its glory! This fashionable town is located close to the Yorkshire Dales, so you might want to ‘tick’ both of them in one day trip?
  • Beningbrough Hall National Trust – relatively close to York (24 km / 15 miles away), Beningbrough Hall is a superb country house and one of the best things to do if you have enough time in the region! Btw, entrance is included in the York Pass and they also have a cute gift shop if you want to bring some memorabilia back home.

How to get to York

york city uk how to get there
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Good news! York is one of the easiest accessible cities in the country, with plenty of transportation options to choose from. If you’re planning to explore this city soon, here are your options of getting there:

BY PLANE. Although York doesn’t have its own airport, it’s in close distance to 4 other options: Leeds Airport, Manchester, Humberside and Sheffield. The closest option would be from Leeds Bradford International Airport – just take a bus to Leeds Train Station and take a train to York from there. Btw, if you want to hang around in Leeds for a bit, I recommend reading my complete guide to this city too!

BY TRAIN. Lots of trains available, including direct lines from Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh. Just so you can get an idea, if you take the train, York is only 1h 50m from London, 1h 30m from Manchester, 1h from Sheffield, 2h from Nottingham, 2h from Liverpool and 2h 30m from Edinburgh.

BY CAR. York is also easily accessible by car – a bit less than 4h from London, 1h 30 from Manchester, 4h from Glasgow, 2h from Newcastle, 2h from Liverpool. Up for a road trip?

BY FERRY. If you’re travelling to York by ferry from other parts of Europe, Hull Port is super close to York, only 1 hour away by car. 

BY BUS AND COACH. In case you don’t have a driver’s licence or if you dislike travelling by train or plane, you can also get to York by bus or coach. There are many destinations across England connected to York and different bus operators such as First Bus or MegaBus.

This was my complete York travel guide! After my 4-day stay in the city, I decided I liked it so much, I just had to share everything I found out with you! 

This is how I came up with this complete York tourist guide that includes the best things to do in York (both free and not), the best tours, places to stay and places to eat, plus lots of useful info. And my advice to buy the York Pass, of course!

This city in northern England is definitely worth a weekend getaway and, if you decide to visit York after reading this post, that would make me more than happy! From York Castle Museum to the famous York Minster, Yorkshire Museum, English Heritage sites, the biggest National Railway Museum, a gorgeous art gallery, the impressive Jorvik Viking Centre and lots more, there are so many things to do in York, I’m sure you’ll have a great time there!

In case you need more information and help with planning your trip around England, I recommend clicking here to find all my posts about my home country – lots of charming places to explore here!

xoxo,

Melissa

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A Complete Guide to York England
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    9 Things to Do in York England - Complete Guide to the City
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    I’m a travel enthusiast, content creator and sun seeker extraordinaire! I love a good matcha latte, am obsessed with hats and like to give human names to the stray animals that I befriend on my travels ( I’m talking about you, Lesley!) In 2018 I took the leap and switched my London lifestyle for continuous adventures abroad.

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