As beautiful as our little city, Durham, maybe, we sometimes need to evacuate and indulge in a day trip with our friends. Whilst looking for affordable places to visit, our criteria being: good Christmas Markets, further away than Newcastle, but not far enough as for The Trainline to make us pay the equivalent of plane ticket prices, York seemed like the perfect answer.
The charming little city (still bigger than Durham) is home to some of the best Christmas markets around. Not only that but even if you decide to go at another time of the year, York never fails to awe. Whether it is to buy fudge, eat a roast dinner wrap (you read that right), or stroll around The Shambles, browsing the Harry Potter shops, the 45 minute train from Durham will do the trick. For ticket prices, they may vary from £17 to £25, depending on when you buy them.
So, what is there to see in York?
- The York Minster: if like me, you’ve seen Durham cathedral one-too-many times, this will provide you with the architectural break you seek. Fun fact: the Minster commemorates the monks who converted those living in the surrounding countryside to Christianity. Its central tower is the highest point in the city and just 275 steps away from your reach! (Grey Hill is a breeze compared to this). The 10 minute walk from the train station will be worth seeing this imposing monument which precedes the entrance to the old town.
- The Medieval City Walls: well that’s one thing we don’t have in Durham (unless you’re lucky enough to be in the 1/3 of University College that actually lives there). The walls of the old city were built in the 14th Century and are a total of 3 miles long. They do provide some of the best views in town.
- The Shambles: for those of you who don’t know, The Shambles is the name of a narrow, 14th Century street in York, that used to be mainly lined with butcher shops and stalls. Don’t worry fellow vegetarians, the famous alley is now decorated with restaurants and gift shops. The street is well known for having been one of the main inspirations for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and you’ll undoubtedly see why. A Potterhead’s paradise, you’ll find all the wizarding world goods you need in the various Harry Potter gift shops!
- The Christmas Markets: they’re amazing, and there are signs everywhere to guide you to them. There are endless gift stalls, artisan cheeses galore, plenty of mulled wine, hot chocolate and baileys, and craft fudge and liquors. These are also distributed around town, so you can make a whole day of it!
Places to eat and food to buy
Double Dutch Pancake House: some of the best pancakes you’ll ever eat. They still use the original Dutch recipe and have many gluten-free and vegan options!
The Shambles food court: from Greek gyros to Sicilian pizza and a wine bar, this offers a lovely break from your (window) shopping spree.
Bettys: York’s most famous coffee shop. I had to include it, but I can’t suggest you anything because I’ve never managed to get a table…
York’s Chocolate Story: Fun fact, York’s wealth and fortune has rested on the chocolate industry for almost 300 years. KitKat, Aero and Terry’s Chocolate Orange all originated from York! In this shop located in the old town, you can learn about York’s chocolate history, and, obviously, there’s a cafe too.
The York Roast Co.: You’ve probably heard of this one. The York Roast Co. became world-famous for its roast dinner wrap and roast dinner bowl. Yes, this is a whole roast dinner in a Yorkshire Pudding Wrap (or bowl). If you go this Christmas season, try the festive wrap (I couldn’t eat it but my friends seemed to really enjoy it). Fellow veggies, there are options for you too, don’t panic.
I wish I could recommend more places, but I’ve only included the ones I’ve been to or heard of!
More places to visit
If you have a bit more time check out the Jorvik Viking Centre. Honestly, I feel like I must mention this. I visited the ‘museum’ as part of a school trip to the UK with my Spanish school in year 5 (I know it’s a very random thing to do) and I STILL REMEMBER IT. Now, I haven’t gone since, but if a 9 year-old Spanish kid enjoyed it enough as to still have the medieval coin she bought from the gift shop, it’s probably worth checking out.
There are many other incredible attractions: The National Railway Museum, Clifford’s Tower, Castle Howard, and, like every other town in the UK, a never-ending supply of small, yet almost indistinguishable, churches and chapels. Again, though, I am talking from experience, and I haven’t been able to visit York enough to explore all these.
In conclusion, York is a beautiful city, not too far from our good old Durham, that can provide us with the break we sometimes must allow ourselves during assignment season. Essays may pile up, but mental health and work-life balance are important. I, for instance, had a delightful Saturday walking around the Christmassy streets with my friends, and it gave me with the right amount of distraction and joy for the final round of work before the holidays!
Trains run regularly from Durham to York and it only takes 45 minutes!