One of the most delightful cities we’ve visited in the last 10 years is York, England. Most Americans never set foot too far out of London or Edinburgh when they visit the UK, but multi-layered historical York is a treasure not to be missed. We stayed there for three days on an autumn trip last year.
Here are SEVEN great things to see in & near York, England:
1. Roman Walls – The layers of history in York are incredible, starting with the Roman wall and ruins that surround the city. Unlike many cities that have a crumbling piece of wall in a few places, York has a wall that still surrounds the old town and you can take a delightful stroll around the city on it. This wall dates from 71 AD and it has a number of gatehouses (“bars”) where entry into the city was once tightly controlled. We went up the wall at the Monk Bar and followed it around the city, across the river to Toft Tower. It was only about a 15-20 minute tour.
#2 – Roman History – One of the most surprising (to us, at least) part of the Roman history in York was that the St. Constantine the Great was actually crowned Emperor of the Roman Empire here. In 293 AD, he and his father were fighting the native Scots north of here when his father was killed in battle. A statue of Constantine and an original column marking the occasion are just outside York Minster.
#3 – York Minster – A cathedral is called a ‘Minster’ in the Anglican Church and this beautiful limestone church towers over old town York. Originally consecrated in the 627 AD and rebuilt in the middle ages, this cathedral is perhaps the most spectacular Gothic church I have seen in all of Europe. Craftspeople are continually working in the church courtyard carving replacement stones for the structure. Beneath it’s foundations there is a terrific tour of Roman & Viking artifacts found beneath the church.
Inside, York Minster’s massive interior is lit with spectacular medieval stain glass dating back to the 1200s. This one building holds half of the medieval stained glass in all of England. The glass in the Chapter House is particularly colorful. The East Transcept glass is currently being restored and there is an interesting exhibit on how the restoration is being undertaken.
#4 – Viking History / Yorkshire Museum – The nearby Yorkshire Museum tells the story of the city through the ages. Starting with the Roman era, the museum guides the visitor into a very intriguing Viking exhibit, as the Norsemen conquered the city after the Roman Empire fell. Even having traveled a bit in Scandinavia, we had not encountered such a well curated exhibit on the Vikings before. Since we are from Minnesota, the Viking connection was particularly interesting – even if most of people in York hadn’t heard to much about the NFL.
#5 – “The Shambles” – The Old Town area of York is known as “The Shambles” and is as close to stepping into a little Dicken’s Village as we’ve ever had the experience of. Winding lanes and side streets from the 1600s are filled with cute pubs, shops, restaurants, and attractions. The streetscape is free of cars for the most part and wonderful to walk. While it is a tourist area, they have done a terrific job ensuring that the district isn’t run over by T-shirt shops. One special stop is the Olde Starr Inne – a pub dating back to the 1400s.
#6 – National Railway Museum – I’m a big fan of trains and the railway museum in York is considered the finest in the world. No surprise as the collection here includes some of the earliest ‘trains’ (horse-drawn railway vehicles) and the most modern (Japanese Shinkansen). There are wonderful old steam engines like the Flying Scotsman (that broke the 100mph barrier), ornate carriages used by the British Royal Family, and a cross-section of the Channel Tunnel with a Eurostar Locomotive moving through it.
#7 – Hadrian’s Wall – A worthwhile day trip out of York, might include a stop at Hadrian’s Wall – 110 miles north of the city walls. Roman Emperor Hadrian built the massive 73 mile wide defensive stone wall to protect the Empire from Scottish Picts in 122 AD. Every 1/3 mile of the wall had a turret, every mile had a ‘milecastle’, and every five miles had a Roman Fort. We visited the Housesteads Fort, which was occupied by the Romans for almost 400 years. We saw many people hiking along the wall which still stands 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide in many places. This is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other interesting things you have seen in York or nearby?
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