York makes for a great stop on any UK itinerary. The small town is famous for its many chocolatiers and sweetie factories, and has a medieval centre that allegedly inspired the look of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. This city guide to York contains tips for places to stay, things to do and see, where to eat and drink – and they all fit into 24 hours in York!
This trip was supported by Safestay Hostels. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links, which I may make a commission from.
I had the pleasure of roaming the country on behalf of Travelettes and with the support of Safestay Hostels, a group of luxury hostels in the UK, Virgin Trains East Coast, and a couple of local partners. One of my stops along the way was the gorgeous little town of York in the north of England. It was my first time visiting and the city took me by complete surprise.
Another pretty medieval town in England is Oxford, which also makes for a great day trip!
I spent only 24 hours in York, but that was enough to soak up some of the best places to stay, do, see and eat in York for this city guide!
Getting to in York
York is a perfect stop on any England road trip itinerary, especially if you travel between London to Scotland. From London, driving takes about 4 hours and on the way, you could stop in places like Cambridge, Sheffield, Leeds or the Peak District. From Edinburgh, the drive also takes roughly 4 hours and followss the coastline. You could stop for breaks at Alnwick Castle, Newcastle or the North York Moors National Park. From Glasgow, the drive is a bit quicker and potential stops along the way include the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Travelling to York by train is a lot quicker. It takes only about 2 hours from London, 2.5 hours from Edinburgh and about 3.5 hours from Glasgow via Edinburgh. York lies on the Virgin East Coast line and I travelled with Virgin trains myself!
Where to stay in York
Safestay York hostel is located at Micklegate House, a listed Gregorian townhouse which is just as impressive as it sounds. From the train station, it takes about 10 minutes to walk here. Much of the original interior features, like the archways, the staircase with its balusters and its rococo ceilings are still intact, so that entering the buildings gives you the feeling of stepping inside a boutique hotel rather than a hostel. And indeed, Safestay hostels are not just simple backpacker joints, but luxury hostels that add a lot of style to your stay.
I had a private room with a bunk bed, a huge tree in front of the window and a view over bustling Micklegate road below. The hostel itself has all the necessary facilities – free WiFi, a bar in the old dining room, a social hub with a cosy courtyard, and a bright breakfast room in the townhouse’s former kitchen.
Being located so close to the train station Safestay York was super easy to get to, but also just a 10 minute walk away from the town centre. On my way, I came past Micklegate Bar – not actually a bar, but a gate where you can climb up the wall for a stroll with a view.
As I couldn’t check in until 2 pm, I simply dropped my bags off at the hostel and headed out towards the wall. But first, a stop at Your Bike Shed – a bike shop/cafe – where I planned my walk around York and people watched for a bit.
What to Do & See in York
York might be small, but there are plenty of things to do to fill your 24h in the city! Whether you are into classical sightseeing, special experiences, vintage shopping or pure sweet indulgence, York has got something for you. In general, I’d recommend to pick up a city map, because it can become quite confusing to get lost in the windy and narrow lanes of the town centre. Secondly, I’d recommend getting the York Pass, which gives you access to most museums, exhibitions and sights, and even includes a ride with the York Boat along the River Ouse.
For more tips, check out this post with budget-friendly things to do in York.
Walking along the town wall to get a better feel for the size of York, but also gorgeous views over York Minster is the perfect way to start your York experience. I walked along here twice and thought it was particularly nice early in the morning before the groups of tourists clutter the narrow wall.
You can more or less follow the wall around the entire town centre, but if you’re short on time, the section between Micklegate Bar and the River Ouse by York Minster is particularly rewarding.
If you get a chance to have a peek inside York Minster, I have been told it’s very impressive. Sadly the church was closed during my 24h in York, but even from the outside, I was blown away by the immaculate detail of the church facade.
The Shambles & other Old Town lanes
Did you know that York’s most famous Old Town lane, the Shambles, was the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley in the films? Once you see it you will immediately recognise the resemblance, and the wanted-signs in the windows showing Bellatrix Estrange among others, certainly help the illusion! The shops and pubs on this lane, however, can be a bit of a tourist trap. Make sure you also explore the other lanes in the town centre, because there is so much more to York than the Shambles!
York’s Chocolate Story
Another surprising fact about York, surprising to me at least, is its long-standing history as the chocolate capital of England. I had no clue that childhood favourites like Kitkat or After Eight were from here and are still produced in six-digit numbers every year.
To learn more about York’s sweet tradition I visited York’s Chocolate Story, which alone was worth having a York Pass. After a brief walkthrough of the chocolate families of York and some of the most famous brands, you might recognise from your treats cupboard, our guide Ben explained to us how chocolate is actually made. The cherry on top of the icing (quite literally) was the opportunity to decorate your own chocolate lolly and then tasting the freshest chocolate bites as they came out of the fridge.
Where to Eat & Drink in York
I wanted to avoid tourist traps at all costs, so I made it my aim to ask locals for their favourites and research cool places online. I might have only spend 24h in York, but that is enough time to check out all these places:
Luxury Ice Cream Co | It was a sunny day, so finding an ice cream parlour in town was a must. Check out LICC (Luxury Ice Cream Company) which turned out to be a real treat! They make their own ice creams, come up with different flavours all the time and should always have a few sorbets around for vegans too!
Your Bike Shed | A cosy but busy cafe on Micklegate right by the town wall gate and just five minutes from Safestay York. I sat down with rose lemonade, got out my city map and drew up a plan.
Betty’s Tea Rooms | Any tour guide will recommend this place, and for a good reason. Betty’s supposedly serves the most amazing afternoon tea in York. Since I was by myself and couldn’t face any more cake after LICC and the chocolate museum, I decided to buy a few fondant fancies to take home with me, and they were a true delight!
Lendal Cellars | Lendal Cellars was recommended to me by a staff member of the chocolate museum. The cellar pub is tucked away beneath Jamie Oliver’s restaurant and has a very traditional atmosphere. I had a quick pint there and enjoyed the hidden outside seating area all to myself.
Goji Cafe | I found this gem on the Happy Cow app. Goji Cafe is a vegetarian cafe, restaurant, deli and take-away with lots of vegan options. I had a salad and got some cake for take-away dessert!
El Piano | My favourite find during my 24 hours in York was El Piano, a Spanish-Indian-inspired vegan restaurant. I escaped inside just as heavy rain was starting to fall and spent a good two hours in there munching my way through a big vegan platter of Indian dishes.
Where to Shop in York
The best souvenir from York is chocolate or any other sweet treat you can find – so I spent most my money on edible memories from the chocolate museum and Betty’s, but there are loads of small shops and boutiques selling all kinds of stuff all over the Old Town.
Definitely check out the Shambles Market for fresh food, antiques and knick-knack. There are also loads of vintage shops in the Old Town, however, if you’ve only got 24h in York, you might not manage to seek them all out.
I really loved walking up and down Micklegate however, particularly before my train left on the next day. There are many small boutiques selling antiques, books and interior design that really caught my eye!
This town really took me by surprise, but now after spending 24h in York, I understand why so many people put it on their UK itinerary. I can definitely recommend staying at least for a night to experience the quiet lanes and a walk along either the wall or the river without the buzz of busloads of day tourists, and with the Safestay at Micklegate as your home base, this will easily turn into an unforgettable journey.
I’m already planning a return trip – maybe around Christmas time, as I’ve heard, it is simply magical with the lights and markets of the Old Town.
Have you ever been to York? What was your favourite part of the town?