Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Day Trip to York: Historic Outings, Fine Dining and a Vibrant Nightlife

On your next visit to Leeds, as well as discovering the wonderful sites the city has to offer, why not plan a day trip to the nearby historic and picturesque city of York? Located just a 40 minute drive or train journey away, no Yorkshire visit is complete without being immersed in the sights and sounds of the county’s namesake. Explore the city’s fascinating Viking history at the Jorvik Centre (horned helmets optional), wander the medieval passages of The Shambles (watch your head) and experience the colourful York nightlife (don’t forget your feather boa and salsa shoes) on your next stay at 42 The Calls Leeds.

Morning: Trains, Castles and Shambles

Since there’s so much to do during a day in York, getting to the city as early as possible is advisable. If you travel by train, a perfect starting point is the National Railway Museum, which is just next door. This maze of trains big and small, old and new, can be fascinating for all the family – the experience is hands-on and visitors can get up close and personal with the inside of the carriages, climbing aboard to take a look around.

Best of all, this attraction is completely free of charge – unless you buy a cup of Yorkshire tea and a sticky bun from the café, of course. Speaking of charges, if you do choose to drive, parking in York can be pricey – at least £2 per hour – and, like everything in the city, parking spaces are rather ‘quaint’, not leaving a lot of room to manoeuvre larger cars. So it’s worth doing your research about train prices vs. parking costs before you plan your trip.

Heading to the centre (much of which is pedestrianised) through the pretty Museum Gardens, you’ll learn quickly that no matter where you stand in the city, the impressive, gothic presence of York Minster is never far away. This dominant cornerstone in the city’s heritage is a captivating building and has held visitors spellbound for over a millennia. Whether you just fancy a stroll around the exterior – which itself can take around 20 minutes due to the great size and wealth of details to look at – or you pay to go inside, visitors are sure to be awed by the Anglo-Saxon structure.

Tickets cost £15 for adults and £5 for children if you want admission to the whole attraction – minster and tower; however, if you just want entrance to the minster, tickets are £10 for adults and children go free with a paying adult. As well as the minster and tower, guests have access to the crypt, chapter house and gift shop. Getting yourselves on to a guided tour (included in the ticket cost) which run every hour, is a fascinating way of seeing the church in more depth. Offering the opportunity to discover the stories behind the gargoyle faces, famous burials and hidden treasures found in the minster.

As you exit York Minster, you might find you have not quite satisfied your thirst for castles yet – if so, head to the Castle Museum and Clifford’sTower, just a short walk away. Built on a steep hill overlooking the River Ouse and surrounding area, this Norman keep is another famous landmark of the city and hard to miss. It’s been the centre of violence, massacre, imprisonment, torture and plunder over the centuries, but now derelict, it’s a location for visitors to explore. You can climb the hill and ascend to the highest battlements for a breath-taking view over York.

On your way back into the centre, take a stroll along the famous Shambles (entering the quaint passage via the brilliantly named Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate) for a true slice of Medieval England. Once upon a time, all meat markets in the land were known as ‘Shambles’ – these rather gruesome places saw venders preparing animals in the street and throwing their blood and guts into a runnel down the centre of the road (this is clearly where our modern-day interpretation of ‘shambles’ – to mean a mess – comes from.) Nowadays, the quaint, tourist-friendly lane is rather different…

Famed for its historic, old-world charm, the road winds between two larger roads, Pavement and Colliergate, and boasts many tearooms, lunch spots, sweet shops and souvenir stalls along the way. Pretty little wooden boards hang over shop fronts and ancient painted signs inform visitors that these independent establishments have been here a very long time, passed down through the generations. A trip to York isn’t complete without an amble along this row, and picking up a memento – even if it’s a typically touristy piece – is essential.

Afternoon: Teapots and Vikings

A trip to North Yorkshire isn’t complete without a stop-off at one of the world-famous Betty’s tearooms. Whilst the flagship shop is in Harrogate and there are others in Northallerton, Ilkley and Harlow Carr, York boasts two cafes – Betty’s Café Tea Rooms and Little Betty’s – both with a bakers and confectioners attached. Whether it’s coffee and cake, Champagne afternoon tea or a full-blown three-course meal, everything at Betty’s is exquisitely cooked, locally sourced and fairly priced. This is a special outing, like stepping back in time into an upper crust Edwardian salon, so it must be savoured – allow yourselves a couple of hours to indulge in your Betty’s experience fully.

Don’t be put off by the inevitable queue you’ll find emerging from Betty’s doors – this is common any time after 11am, on any given day of the week. Betty’s popularity is internationally recognised but you’ll be encouraged by how quickly the line goes down and menus are promptly handed to waiting guests, giving you time to choose your dishes and duly start salivating. If you have time and are possibly celebrating an occasion, the afternoon tea with a glass of Champagne might be the way to go… exquisite sandwiches, home-made scones with strawberry preserve and clotted cream finished with a selection of miniature cakes will certainly set you up for an afternoon of further exploring in the city.

Alternatively their hot dishes, such as the bacon and raclette rosti or haddock, salmon and prawn gratin are scrumptious. If you run out of space for pudding, grab a sweet treat for later from the bakery section – we recommend a Yorkshire ‘Fat Rascal’, Florentine or Yorkshire Curd Tart (but anything you buy is sure to be delicious.) For a slightly less busy, quainter experience but with all of the charm, head for Little Betty’s which serves the exact menu of ‘big’ Betty’s. It’s on Stonegate – a fantastic shopping street, packed with boutique shops, chic galleries and traditional pubs.

After the gastronomic delights of Betty’s, you’ll be needing some light exercise to help you digest...and we suggest a stroll over to one of the city’s leading museums. Sadly, because of the 2015 floods, the Jorvik Centre has had to close for refurbishment until early 2017, so if you’re planning your visit after this, then you must pay this amazing site a visit. Until then, the artefacts have been set up in temporary exhibitions all around the city – at the moment, they’re being housed at York Theatre Royal, Coppergate (next to the museum) and from 1st August, at the Undercroft in York Minster. 

These exhibitions are split into different topics so take your pick or do all three: Life & Death, Home & Abroad and Treasured & Beliefs. This collection is dedicated to bringing to life the fascinating history of the Vikings who settled in this area over a millennia ago. This isn’t just a venture for kids, although the centre is certainly geared up for younger visitors. You’ll also discover preserved weapons, skeletons, jewellery, tools and even a longboat replica.

Evening: Yorkshire Pud, Cocktails and Salsa

After an afternoon charging around the city, or maybe even hiring boats on the river (follow this link for more information), you might actually be starting to feel a little peckish again. Whether you’re a Yorkshire pudding aficionado or you’ve never tried it (and may think it’s strange to eat something called ‘pudding’ with a main meal), York is the perfect place to sample some of the best in the land. Head to Nineteen for an upmarket traditional Sunday lunch, Royal Oak where roast beef with all the trimmings and home-made Old Peculiar gravy can be enjoyed for £10.95, or the most haunted pub in York – The Golden Fleece – where their Yorkshire pud is hailed as ‘the best ever.’ Whilst you’re in this pub, munching on your giant Yorkshire pud filled with savoury goodness, enjoy the historic surroundings – there’s been a pub on this site since at least 1503.

There is a ghost tour around York that lasts an hour and a half, ending at this spot… so if you still want to work up an appetite before dinner, book yourself a space. Alternatively, the Golden Fleece also boasts many different kinds of local beers and ale for a night-cap. Other city centre restaurants worth checking out are Rustique, The Park or Oscars for delicious food from a range of cultural influences.

Once you’ve eaten, it’s time to hit some bars and see what you make of the lively York night-life. There are endless choices to make it a night to remember with an estimated 365 bars and pubs open in the area – enough to visit a different one every single day of the year! An excellent starting place (though it’s so good, it may be your only place) is The Evil Eye Lounge. Reportedly Johnny Depp’s favourite haunt when he’s in town, if you’re thinking of Tim Burton-style quirk and darkness, you’re not far off. This is a tiki-meets-gothic themed bar with potent cocktails, reclining chairs, and excellent Thai food. It’s a little wild behind the bar – and not unusual to see the staff ringing a gong every time a punter gives them change and downing a swift shot together. Opt for the Caribbean Punch, Mai Tai or Jungle Martini for an exotic wake-up… but don’t try too many of them – they pack a punch.

From Evil Eye, you have loads of choice for a second venue. Nearby is Kennedy’s bar for chic cocktails and great mo-town hits for a dance. While down the road from there you’ll find Bora Bora, a retro Polynesian style cocktail café (think South Pacific) with an outdoor heated area and fresh cocktails that come in at under a fiver. For beers of the world, head to Pivni – a cosy cubbyhole, built in the beamed loft of an old Tudor building. There isn’t a craft beer, whether it’s keg, bottle or cask, that they don’t serve or can’t tell you about. From blond German ales to fruity Belgian beers, dark robust brews to rich ruby bottles, there is something to suit every palate under this roof. For those in search of a good dancefloor before the last train home to Leeds (in reality, they run throughout the night) your final stop has to be Bobo Lobo.

This South and Central American-themed venue screams all things Latino and ‘island paradise’ from the moment you enter. From the friendly Argentinian bar staff, to the voodoo-style cocktails – Zombie, Witchdoctor and Captain’s Grog – this place rocks a salsa vibe. It’s a long thin space with limited seating (though it does go up countless storeys – you may need oxygen masks by the time you reach the top) but there’s sure to be a corner you and your group can settle into. At the very back of the bar is the piece de resistance – the dance floor. It’s compact and, whilst plenty of well-known R&B, hip-hop and soul is played here, the best moments come when the DJ mixes it up with Middle Eastern or South American pop – this is when the bar feels less Yorkshire, more Buenos Aires! 

You can even join in with the Brazilian locals when they get up in pairs to salsa (you’re bound to be offered someone’s hand) or to do their impromptu line dancing – there’s nothing cowboy about this, it’s completely their own form and easy to pick up. This is the perfect way to round off an exciting – and exhausting day in York. Back in Leeds, 42 The Calls is just a 10 minute walk from Leeds station – alternatively taxis aren’t pricey. Shake off your dancing shoes and fall into bed after a day that’s ticked every box…

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