Step Into History in York, England

A tour of northern England would not be complete without a stop at the historic city of York, England. From the narrow, medieval Shambles alleyways with their little shops to Clifford’s Tower, there’s a lot to see in the old walled city off the moors.
York is about four hours of a drive from London or about two hours by train, making it accessible within a day’s trip but probably best enjoyed with an overnight stay, possibly at a bed and breakfast. There’s enough to do within the city to keep a tourist busy for more than a day.

Finding Your Way Around

One oddity that requires some getting used to is the use of the word “gate” for nearly every street. The city on the Ouse has numerous roadways, including Micklegate, Deangate, Singgate, and Walmgate — these are all streets. Do yourself a favor and hire a cab to get to your destination if you don’t have a great street map for navigating around town. Note that the Yorkshire accent is a bit different from that of much of the rest of Britain, so you may need to listen closely to understand what the cabbie or locals are saying if you ask directions.

Take a Walk Through the Shambles

The 14th-century Shambles is the tiny, narrow street that time forgot. Once a meat market, the road is now the site of numerous gift shops, restaurants, and bookshops. It’s also close by York Minster, another necessary stop.

Tour York Minster

Open for visiting Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m., last admission 5 p.m.; Sunday from 12 noon, last admission 5 p.m. Winter hours are different, see online.

One of the great northern cathedrals, York Minster was built in the 13th through 15th centuries. After paying the admission fee, there are guided tours through the Central Tour, the Glass Conservation Studio, and the great glass windows.

View Tragic Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower has a tragic history despite its imposing and impressive appearance. In 1190, English Jews, seeking protection at the keep at the location of the current tower, tried to seek shelter from hostile locals. When mobs threatened the Jewish community, most of those seeking shelter committed suicide and set fire to the keep. The survivors were killed by the mob.

Later in the 13th century, the keep was rebuilt into the unique quatrefoil plan it has today. It is the only example of this layout in England, and the stones can, at times, have a pinkish hue.