The hotel is a mere toddle from York’s historic centre, set between the redbrick-filled Bootham and Clifton neighbourhoods.
If you’re arriving from a major city in Europe, you can fly direct to Leeds Bradford Airport, around an hour’s drive away from the hotel. Manchester Airport is further away (a two-hour drive), but flights landing here connect directly from the US, Asia and Africa.
York station is a 10-minute drive or a 15-minute walk from the hotel. If you choose to walk – and it’s a lovely one, over the River Ouse and past the York Museum Gardens – the hotel will send someone out on a bike to grab your bags (and give you a brolly if it’s raining), so you can stroll unimpeded. The London to Edinburgh line (which runs from King’s Cross) stops at York, so the city’s easy to reach from either direction.
You won’t need a car in York – it’s easily walkable and the made-for-mediaeval-traffic centre is largely pedestrianised (just try squeezing a car through the Shambles). There’s a car park at the side of the hotel with 19 spaces and 24-hour access for £20 a night; or public car park Marygate is a five-minute walk away.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’d need a long spade to dig into York’s history, which is a whirl through prehistoric tribes, Roman and Viking invasions, Norman rebellions, the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, assorted besiegements and finally finding a foothold as a noble cultural powerhouse during the Georgian period. It’s been a rocky road to the present, but what’s left is a city where layers of history can be seen in a 10-minute walk. The remnants of Roman Walls and columns are the most visible legacy of Empire, but there are also sarcophagi, stretches of road, sewers and bathhouses unearthed under various establishments – some of which are open to the public. There are fewer prominent Viking ruins, but you can learn about their lives in the city at the fascinating Jorvik Viking Centre, which has a ride through their reign and an archaeological centre.
Clifford’s Tower, the keep of the former York Castle, sits atop a hill and has a dark history as the site of a Jewish massacre and a prison, but it’s worth seeing as part of a tour (the city’s famous ghost tours tell tales of blood running down the walls, but it’s safe to say these are somewhat exaggerated). The Treasurer’s House has Roman ruins in the basement and genteel Victorian interiors upstairs (it, too, is allegedly haunted by centurion ghosts). And the spectacular York Minster is a time capsule on a very grand scale; it’s stained-glass rose window is maybe its most recognisable feature, but there’s much to explore: climb the central tower for panoramic city views, gaze up at the intricate nave and chancel ceiling, explore the details of its many colourful windows in depth and head down to the undercroft and crypt.
The quaintest remnant of mediaeval York is the Shambles, a very narrow yet picturesque street left pretty much as it was, now lined with tea salons, sweet shops and places where you can buy souvenirs (and to round off your tour of strangely named throughways, seek out Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate – the city’s shortest street – close by). You can also explore the restored wattle-and-daub Barley Hall and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. History buffs will be in heaven, but if you want a (relatively) more modern distraction, you can visit the Wonka-esque Chocolate Story or Penny Arcadia with its old-school games, see a restored Cold War Bunker, wander the Art Gallery or see exotic species at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. And, York's indie shops make it a magnet for shoppers too – try Heima (named after a documentary about Icelandic band Sigur Rós) for eco-chic homewares, Devil's Elbow Antiques for vintage curios and Botanic for exotic houseplants.
York’s dining scene is decidedly modern, with plenty of mover-and-shaker chefs, fine produce from the surrounding dales and moors, and well-executed novel concepts. Skosh gives you the choice of small plates to pick greedily at or sharing courses for the hungrier – whichever you choose, you’re sure to be delighted, with plates such as puris stuffed with Whitby crab, mango and tamarind; Lindisfarne oysters laden with pickled-ginger granita; braised ox cheek with wasabi and lemon; and a whisky-quince doughnut with masala chai spice (they even have savoury ‘afters’; gorgonzola cheesecake with mince-pie ice-cream anyone? Close to the station, the Rattle Owl has a Roman road in the cellar and a small yet coolly contemporary eatery upstairs. It has strong ties to artisanal markets, farms and foragers, dairies, fowlers and more, so the menu changes depending on what’s available and in season, but dishes tend to be mightily creative, say crab with apple sorbet and curried granola, roast mutton with apricot chutney and mint fritters, or peanut butter parfait with lime jelly and caramelised bananas. Partisan also partners with the finest suppliers in York (Haxby Bakehouse, Love Cheese, M&K Butchers…) and brings in herbs and veggies from the family farm to craft delicious brunches and lunches with a Middle-Eastern accent. Head here for Persian eggs with medjool dates and almond dukkah, a chorizo ibérico sandwich with homemade chimichurri, a weekly changing selection of cakes and brownies, and fulsome veggie and vegan breakfasts. And, if you like the furnishings and accoutrements here, you can buy them to take home. There are only eight pizzerias in the UK recognised by Italy's True Neapolitan Pizza Association, and York is lucky enough to have one – Cresci uses only the good stuff (San Marzano tomatoes, EVO oil, fior di latte), so even the simplest dish is top-notch.
Bettys is a beloved York institution, where staff dress like they’re in the 1930s and interiors are inspired by an ocean liner of old, and its afternoon tea is fittingly genteel. It has cakes and pastries to suit all sweet tooths, and tip-top teas, but it’s also best known for its Swiss rostis and Fat Rascal scones, which have almond teeth and glacé-cherry eyes. They don't take bookings, so be prepared to queue. And, less established but fast becoming a favourite is the Pig and Pastry, which does full-to-bursting breakfast butties and sandwiches, and has a dedicated ‘Benedict’ menu. And, just a short hop down the road from No. 1, get your hand caught in various cookie jars at glorious Greek patisserie Oleria, who have plump sausage rolls and tastily filled filo parcels, plus baklawa, cakes and many kinds of cookie. The Shambles Sausage and Pie Company is squeezed into its charming namesake medieval street and serves pies bursting with steak and ale, pork and bramley aple and daily changing flavours, alongside portly sausage rolls. Or find street-food favourites at Spark, a sprawling community hub. Try tacos from Dog's Nose Taqueria, buttermilk-fried chicken burgers from Clucking Oinks, and juicy cuts from the Smokeyard Club, washed down with pints from Brew York.
York’s more of a spot for cosy old pubs with wonky dimensions and fiercely loyal – yet friendly – regulars. There are many to choose from in this cathedral city, but why not go for the cosiest, the Blue Bell, a traditional, Edwardian-sized pub for just a handful of drinkers, where conversations easily cross-pollinate. And, if you want somewhere a little more lively, with a mixologist manning the bar, Fossgate Social is a laidback caff by day, and by night becomes one of York’s coolest hangouts, serving craft beers and cocktails under neon lights.