‘Tis the Season to Travel: A Festive Weekend in York

This year my work has taken me to new places in England and one of my favourite spots is York.  It’s only 2 hours away from London on the train and with tickets as cheap as £20 each way it’s hard to think of a reason not to head north for a wee look-see.  You can do a day trip if you like with trains leaving as early as 06:15 and the last train back with East Coast rail will just about get you back to King’s Cross in time to catch the last Tube home.

As I had been to York a few times I had already built a list of things I was keen to see so opted for a 2 night stay in an air b’n’b house along with my pal Victoria.  It worked out pretty reasonable and cost under £50 each for two nights accommodation including breakfast.  Our host Claire really welcomed us into her home and was keen to recommend places she thought we might enjoy.  It was the first time I had used air b’n’b and I was really impressed with it.  It’s definitely an option to consider if you are on a tight budget and it was great to have a local person’s perspective on what was worth a visit and what we could easily give a miss.

One of the places I really wanted to see was Castle Howard – if you’ve ever seen Brideshead Revisited you’ll recognise it from there.  Our trip coincided with the first day the house was reopened after being closed for renovations and it was full of festive flair to celebrate Christmas.  There were different events going on for families with music and a chance to meet Santa – sadly we were a little too late for this!  As we were reliant on public transport we were a little peeved when we realised there are only a few buses that go to Castle Howard per day with lengthy waits of over an hour between services. The last bus also leaves Castle Howard at 17:05 – don’t miss it.  The journey back is over an hour and a taxi will set you back £70+.  You have been warned!

The upside of being at the mercy of public transport is that the route to the Castle is picturesque and offers a lovely opportunity to take in views of the idyllic Yorkshire countryside.  If you travel by bus keep hold of your ticket because it will entitle you to a vastly reduced entrance to the Castle – I think ours worked out at around £8 per person instead of £14.  Facilities at the house are as you would expect – a choice of cafe, souvenir shop and a farm shop with locally sourced produce offering up the chance to take home some little trinkets from your trip.

The real jewel in Castle Howard’s crown is the astonishing wealth of knowledge the staff have about the house, grounds and family who still reside there today.  There was no tour as such when we were there but staff are in each room and were very approachable and keen to share their passion for this beautiful place with visitors.  They really made the house’s history come alive and for that alone we felt the admission price was deserved.

We followed our afternoon of culture with a meal out in the city centre which proved tricky as every restaurant we tried was very busy catering to the whim of lots of Christmas parties which we hadn’t bargained for.  Still, we did eventually manage to get a table at Bill’s and had a great meal there which was reasonably priced.  A great spot in the centre of town with friendly staff, great food and fast service.

We rounded off our first night in York with a trip to a real hidden gem of a pub called The House of Trembling Madness.  If you are ever in York and fancy a quick pit stop I cannot recommend this bar enough.  It looks like a fairly non-descript off-licence on the outside boasting an extensive selection of beers and ales.  However, head towards said ales at the rear of the shop and you’re met with a staircase and, as we discovered, its custodian.  He informed us that it was ‘one out, one up’ and that the bar was already at full capacity.  ‘Oh great’ I thought: it’s going to be hellish.  We pottered about in the off-licence for a bit selecting the ales with the daftest names to buy as souvenirs before finally we were summoned to the staircase.

When we reached the top of the stairs I was amazed to see probably the coolest and most civilised full-to-capacity bar I had ever encountered.  As the building is so old for health and safety reasons there were less than 100 people in the bar – ie: everyone had a seat – perfect.  On the walls was an homage to taxidermy with mounted busts of animals, fearsome and otherwise, along with musical instruments and tankards dotted about for posterity.  The atmosphere was fun and friendly, the music was just at the right level and the mulled cider was just the ticket after a long day on the hoof.

Our second and final day in the city was all about eating and shopping as we made the pilgrimage (via a walk along York’s City Walls) to Betty’s for their famous afternoon tea.  We had to queue up for a while before we luckily snapped up a window seat and enjoyed three tiers of finger sandwiches, scones and little desserts I cannot even begin to imagine how to make.  It cost £18 each and while it wasn’t the most outstanding afternoon tea I’ve ever tasted it was a really nice thing to be able to do as part of our trip.

After we waddled our way out of Betty’s we made our way through the Shambles visiting little boutiques in between marvelling at the incredible architecture of York Minster mere feet away.  There’s a great selection of shops and prices are much more reasonable than in London, even in chain stores.  My favourite was a shop called The Imaginarium on Blake Street for the most enticing scented candles and quirky little keepsakes and works of art that won’t dent your budget too much.  There are a couple of shops I didn’t manage to get to this time round that deserve a mention:

If you are looking for a new perfume for you or for a friend the only place to go is Burgins of York.  It’s a teeny tiny perfumery on the corner of Coney Street with a huge personality.  The team led by Hanus really know their stuff and will pick out the perfect scent to suit you.  They are so good they can pick the ideal scent for you in seconds – amazing!

If you’re a fan of vintage head down to Gillygate to Dog & Bone Vintage where you’ll step back in time in this wonderfully curated shop.  I really love vintage suitcases as an alternative for storing blankets and make-up and they have a great range along with a good selection of men and women’s apparel at reasonable prices.

I think we managed to cram in a fair amount on our trip and there’s still plenty to visit again.  York is a lovely city to spend time in.  The people are genuine and friendly and the sights are certainly breathtaking.  It’s a very pedestrian-friendly city though though the majority of the streets are narrow and cobbled so leave the high heels at home and throw on a pair of flats for exploring and shopping.  Just make sure you get into town nice and early to catch that bus to Castle Howard.  It really is worth a visit – just make sure your trip coincides with the house being open otherwise there isn’t a great deal to do there other than take photos of the spectacular scenery and indulge in a hot chocolate or two.

Are there any great places in the UK you would recommend?  I’m always on the hunt for new places to visit and explore – recommendations are always welcome!  Bon voyage!xx

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