How to get cheaper rail tickets in the UK (without booking billions of years in advance)

The price of UK rail travel has undoubtedly gone up over the past 2 years. What used to be a cheap trip is now double the price for a lot of people. This article explores some ways you can buy cheaper tickets, whether you’re a native or coming to the UK from abroad.

Many people suggest “oh, you have to book in advance to get the cheap tickets” but this isn’t helpful for many people. There are three issues with this:

First, if you try and book in advance, you might think you’ll definitely get the cheaper tickets. But let’s say you booked three or four months in advance. The cheap tickets won’t show up because they haven’t been released yet! How ridiculous is that? Nowadays, they don’t automatically make the cheapest tickets available for all advance customers, there’s actually a narrow window of opportunity, so you might be getting penalized for buying tickets too far in advance!

Second, those advance tickets often sell out quickly (especially to regular travellers who snap them up the day they’re released which is exactly 9 weeks in advance of the travel date).

Third, many people don’t plan their travel that far ahead of time. A few years ago, you could get a one-month advance ticket or a two-week advance ticket and get decent prices compared to an anytime single or day return. There was even a three-day advance ticket once upon a time! Now? The whole system is so broken it’s insane.

So whether you’re a planner or you live life by the seat of your pants, you’re probably getting ripped off for the cost of your UK train tickets. But there are still things you can do to reduce your train ticket costs for journeys within Britain:

Check what railcards you are entitled to buy

This is absolutely the first and most important step in saving money on a train ticket. Unless you are travelling alone and aged 30-60, there’s probably a railcard that will net you about 1/3 off your travel. You usually pay about £30 for the year (or £70 for three years) and the savings can mean this pays for itself after just one long-distance or big family rail journey!

Instead of family tickets, senior tickets, and other discounts at the point-of-sale of the tickets, train tickets in the UK don’t work like that (why would they? That would make sense, and nothing about British train travel makes sense, as the rest of this article will show). Instead, you need to buy an advance railcard and then book your tickets with it. Be sure to have the railcard with you when you travel or you have to pay full price (so keep the tickets with the railcard if possible and take the lot for your journey).

The railcard options are:

16-17 Saver Railcard (gets you 50% off travel if you’re the right age)

16-25 Railcard (gets you 1/3 off off-peak travel when you’re this age)

25-30 Railcard (same as 16-25 railcard; I don’t know why the two are not just combined into a 16-30 card to be honest)

Disabled person’s railcard (1/3 off peak AND off-peak travel for you and a carer/friend)

Family and Friends Railcard (great for group bookings, this gets you 1/3 off for up to 4 adults and 60% off for up to 4 children). You only need ONE family and friends railcard for your booking, not one per person.

Network Railcard (perfect if you live in the South East, this covers 16 of the home counties and London. You get 1/3 off for up to 4 adults and 4 children). However, if you can get the family and friends railcard, the discount is better than the network railcard, and the family and friends one covers the whole of Britain. Again, you only need ONE Network Railcard for your booking, not one per person.

Senior Railcard (1/3 off for the over 60s)

Two together railcard (1/3 off for you and one other person) This card has no age restrictions or other requirements so anyone can get this card as long as you’re travelling on the train with someone else.

Veteran’s Railcard (discount and terms unclear). This card is for anyone who has served at least 1 day in the UK forces (including territorial/reserves) or anyone in the merchant navy who has seen active duty on UK operations.

With so many cards to choose from, there is probably one that can get your ticket price down.

What if you can’t get a UK railcard?

If you aren’t eligible to get a UK railcard, look into whether you can get an Interrail or Eurail pass if you’re coming from another country (or if you have a foreign passport). If you’re doing a lot of traveling in a short amount of time, this could save you hundreds compared to the cost of individual tickets. The Interrail pass is for Europeans. The Eurail pass is mainly for Americans.

The terms and conditions are very specific to your individual situation so read all the info thoroughly. You may still need to pre-book tickets at the train station (don’t pre-book via Trainline or anywhere else online if you have an Interrail/Eurail pass as it won’t work properly and you may end up paying full price for the tickets which puts you back to square one).

With or without a railcard, another good way to reduce the cost of your ticket is to split the journey (ideally on the same train).

What is journey splitting?

Due to ticket pricing algorithms, it is often more expensive to buy a ticket from a main city to another main city (or tourist destination). There might be another train station right next to your usual one where prices are cheaper. For example, if you’re travelling from Stoke on Trent to Derby, it could be cheaper to get a ticket from Stoke to Uttoxeter, then Uttoxeter to Derby. As long as the two tickets together cover your full journey on the train, this is fully legal and allowed.

There are sites that can help you find the best price for splitting your journey, otherwise, you can “overbook” your ticket.

What is overbooking?

Overbooking is booking a ticket for more stops than you actually wanted to travel to. Bizarrely, it can sometimes be cheaper than a shorter journey. This works best with day tickets or day returns due to the way ticketing works.

Say you wanted to go from York to Leeds. The trainline goes Nether Poppleton, York, Leeds, Bradford (I’m simplifying the stops here). It could be cheaper for you to get a ticket from Nether Poppleton to Leeds, or from York to Bradford, or from Nether Poppleton to Bradford. Put all of these into your train ticket booking site (such as National Rail Enquiries) to find the cheapest ticket, then get on/off at your usual stops. So you could buy a ticket that starts at Nether Poppleton, but still get on the train at York. As long as your ticket is valid for the whole journey, this is allowed.

Does this work with ticket barriers?

I have never had a problem using a ticket at ticket barriers but it depends on the ticket type and how rigid your journey times are.

With an anytime single or day return, if you’re on a train with a long stop, e.g. York to Manchester, and you get off at Leeds to grab a McDonald’s then get back on the train for the rest of your journey, you would need to go through the ticket barriers to get to McDonald’s. The day ticket (anytime single) or day return would allow you to do this. The same would apply to an over-booked ticket, for the same reason. The ticket barrier doesn’t know why you got off the train, but it should know that the ticket is valid.

Instead of being classed as an “anytime single” or “day return”, some tickets are classed as a “this journey only ticket”. These might not register correctly at the barriers for a different station to the ones where the journey begins and ends, so trying to get on at a later station can be a little more risky, but a reasonable ticket guard would check your ticket, see it’s valid for the train at the platform, and let you get on.

Avoid London if possible

Many tickets are more expensive if they include “London Terminals” (the big train stations in London). This includes travel via King’s Cross, Marylebone, St. Pancras, Waterloo, etc. If you can organize your journey avoiding these stations, you can probably bring the price down significantly.

For example, let’s say you’re travelling from Newcastle (Upon Tyne) to Bristol Temple Mead. Instead of going Newcastle to London on one train then changing at London to get to Bristol, you could specify a different route on your ticket booking to avoid London. So you could travel Newcastle to Birmingham New Street then Birmingham New Street to Bristol Temple Mead and it would work out cheaper (for this specific journey, this route is also quicker, and there’s usually a direct Newcastle-Bristol train that you could travel on, depending on the time of day you were travelling).

Some tickets even say, “avoiding London terminals” on them. If yours says this, you have got a cheaper ticket that hasn’t had the “London surcharge” applied to it.

Nice ideas, but what if you’re travelling TO London?

If you are trying to travel to London, you will probably be looking at the most expensive train tickets in the UK. No one knows why. The pricing of tickets to or from London doesn’t make any sense when you think about rules of “economies of scale” or “supply and demand” but there we go.

Travelling to or from London, you have two options to reduce your ticket cost, depending on where you live and whether you drive (or can get a bus) or not.

Your first option is to drive/bus to the edge of London, park at a train station such as Luton/Leagrave, Slough, Croydon etc then get just your TfL ticket for the overground/underground to reach your final destination.

The other option is, you could book your main train ticket to the edge of one of the TfL zones (the areas of London are broken up into zones and underground/overground tickets are priced according to which zones you’re going to) then use your debit card or oyster card to finish the journey. Paying separately like this can work out cheaper for some people, it depends on where you’re trying to go and what the cost for the full ticket is.

Overall though, get one of the railcards mentioned above to cover your main journey, then prepare to still bend over and be screwed a bit by the London train ticket prices.

Do also consider alternatives to the train (such as the bus) in areas of London where this is feasable. Some areas, especially at peak hours, the bus takes longer than just walking due to traffic, but other areas, such as Twickenham or Southwark, the bus is a reasonable and cheap alternative. I actually had a decently fast bus ride from Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square during the middle of the day last time I was in London, though, so don’t rule this out even in Zone 1!

Will these methods add to my journey time?

Not if you were travelling that way anyway. If you were going into London, at some point you would have to change from a mainline train to an underground/overground train anyway, so you might as well do it in the cheapest possible way.

The TfL network has clear and transparent fixed prices for the different zones whereas the mainline (longer distance) trains tend not to have transparent prices–and that’s where you want to avoid getting ripped off. In my own experience the main thing that adds to journey time is transfers, so if there’s a lot of walking such as between a train station and an underground station, or from a station to a bus stop, then a wait for the next mode of transport, it can take ages.

But if you’re splitting a ticket and staying on the same train, or getting off the mainline one stop early and getting the underground, you shouldn’t have a noticeable difference in journey times. Use a journey planner to help you decide (Google’s one can be shockingly inaccurate), and make sure to include all the places you want to stop/change so you can get a realistic timing.

Conclusion:

There is a lot you can do to reduce the price of a train journey in the UK. It seems counter-intuitive to pay £30 extra for a railcard, but if it saves you £100 on a £300 booking, it’s absolutely worth it!

If you have any other (legal) methods to get train costs down, let me know in the comments.

Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum

Vindolanda was famed as the last outpost of the Roman Empire. Sited along Hadrian’s Wall, on what used to be the border between England and Scotland, this fortified settlement defended Roman-occupied England from the untamed Picts. I went in 2016 and have never gotten around to writing about it so here it finally is.

The site of Vindolanda is split into two attractions.

There’s the (enormous) site itself, where you can see the real Roman remains of the buildings that have been excavated. This is Vindolanda and to my knowledge there’s no other Roman site as extensive or as high-quality in Britain which is publicly accessible.

The second attraction is the Roman Army Museum, which is part of the same site, shares a car park etc, and has the small finds from the excavations of Vindolanda along with displays, interactive things and information explaining the written history of the time period. This is a great place to get out of the rain which is plentiful and often unpredictable in this part of England.

I really enjoyed seeing the remains of Vindolanda. Don’t get me wrong, the Roman Army Museum is probably one of the best museums (musea, if you’re pedantic) in Britain, certainly the best Roman museum, but I’m not the biggest fan of museums due to my ADHD, so for me, my favourite part was being outside and walking around amongst the remains of the buildings, getting to see what it all would have been like, and learning from the real remains. There’s a reason I’m an archaeology grad not a museum studies grad. But the quality of finds in the Roman Army Museum are excellent, it’s incredible to see such well-preserved artefacts from the time period. My favourite thing to see in the Roman Army Museum was the wax stylus which still contained writing from its erstwhile Roman owner.

You can pay separately or get a joint ticket which makes it easy to do both sites, and there are also family tickets (for up to 2 adults/3 children). 

Getting there:

Cycling/Driving: Find the A69 (the road between the A1(M) motorway at Newcastle and the M6 motorway at Carlisle). About halfway down this road, turn off at Bardon Mill toward the B6138. The B6138 roughly follows a large section of Hadrian’s Wall which is accessible from the road, so this is a good place to do some off-path exploring. However, for Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum, there are big brown tourist signs from the link road between the A69 and the B6138.

Public transport: There is a bus stop right outside Vindolanda. This is for the AD122 from Hexham to Haltwhistle (and back again). Check which direction you need (Hexham or Haltwhistle) as buses to each are hourly but both stop at the same bus stop (which is at the car park for Vindolanda). Hexham has a train station with a 30-minute journey time to/from Newcastle Upon Tyne station. Haltwhistle is on the same railway line which is the Carlisle to Newcastle line, but the line doesn’t stop at Vindolanda.

A Brief History of York (and where to find its remains)

York is a lot older than it looks. Situated in rolling plains at the heel of the North York Moors, downstream from the glacial valley of the Vale of Pickering, York seems fixed in time as a medieval city with later additions, but its past is much older than that. If you want a quick history to help you plan a trip to York, read on! This article covers everything from prehistory through medieval all the way to modern times, with named buildings/landmarks for you to find from each time period, too!

Prehistory

The city of York has a shorter prehistory than other parts of North Yorkshire, for example Scarborough. There’s nothing of it to see in the city, unfortunately, but the monolith in Rudston, near Bridlington, is one of several places in North and East Yorkshire where you can take a day trip to see some prehistory.

If you love the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, check out these 9 prehistoric day trips you can take from York.

Celtic York (Iron Age)

Nothing really remains from York’s Celtic past but we know about it from the Romans. York was located at the confluence of two Celtic tribes, the Brigantes who occupied much of what are now the counties of North and West Yorkshire, and the smaller Parisi tribe, who occupied what is now East Riding of Yorkshire.

Not much is known about the area that became York at this time, but it was probably a small settlement or trading outpost where the two tribes could exchange goods, since the Parisi’s main town was near what is now Brough, East Riding.

Ptolemy said York was already called Eboracum and under the Brigantes’ control by the time the Romans occupied. He may not be a reliable source since he was a Greek historian who lived in Egypt and had never been to England. His knowledge of Britain likely came from rumours and Roman propaganda, so take it with a pinch of salt.

Celtic buildings were biodegradable, made out of wattle and daub (big stick frames packed with manure reinforced with hay), so it is much harder to find the remains of Celtic settlements than it is to find Roman ones, which incorporated stone.

We get a lot of our information on the Celts from burials. The nearest Celtic burial site includes an incredible chariot burial in Pocklington, which was Parisi controlled. This site is currently being studied and they haven’t decided how to display the discoveries, yet.

Roman York

The Romans conquered Britain in AD43 after previous, failed attempts. It was 28 more years before they reached York, where they built a fort in the city of Eboracum. It was actually already a settlement (as we have just seen) but the Romans moved in and made it their own, first with a military fort, and then a civilian settlement.

Archaeologists think the Brigantes were originally working with the Romans but dissented over taxation issues, at which point the Brigantes had a short future with a lot of sharp things in it. The Romans took over Eboracum and made it a military outpost. Once the area was at peace, the Romans turned their fort into a walled city, still called Eboracum.

The Romans built the Basilica (administrative civic building with a courthouse) beneath what is now York Minster. We also have evidence of Roman baths, and some remains of other Roman sites in York, but a lot of it is probably built under existing buildings. Where a building is medieval, it is unlikely that we will ever find out what Roman things lay beneath it, because the new building has to be preserved.

Some people say the Multangular tower is Roman but actually only its base is. The council have it listed as built between 1250-70.

There are still Roman remains you can see in York. Check out this article on them!

Anglo-Saxon York

The Saxons renamed Eboracum to Eoforwic. Influences from this time include place names, such as the nearby Queen Ethelburga’s school. At the time, England was devolved into six kingdoms: Wessex, Essex, Sussex and Kent across the south coast; East Anglia, in modern-day Norfolk; Mercia, in the midlands; and Northumbria in the north. Little remains of this time. During this time, the first York Minster was built in 627. The original building was made of wood. This was replaced by the second Minster, a stone building completed in 637. This was extensively renovated in the 670s and the Minster library and Minster school were founded. This second Minster burned down in 741. Not to be deterred, the Saxons rebuilt it a third time (it was later destroyed again, by marauding Vikings in 1075).

Viking York

In 866, Ivar the Boneless brought an army of Danes to York. From East Anglia, they moved north through Bernicia and into Deira. In 875-954, the area was mostly controlled by Vikings with the occasional Saxon resurgence. The Vikings quickly established themselves in the area and while they were not even here for a century, they transformed York into England’s second largest city in that time. The old Roman wall was covered with earth and a huge wooden palisade was built on top to make it more effective at keeping people out. Viking coins were minted in York, the title “King of York” was created, and one Viking king (Guthred) was buried in York Minster, and the city was largely at peace again. The Viking rule ended in 954 with the death of Eric Bloodaxe, and the next ruler of York was an Earl, rather than a King, as the warring countries within England all became one large country. The Vikings did return and attempted to take Jorvik again but they did not succeed and the whole area returned to Anglo-Saxon rule for 110 years.

What’s left to see:

Across the river on Bishophill Jr, you can find the church of St Mary Bishophill, a 10th Century church. This is the only building left from this period.

Norman Medieval York

After the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, York suffered heavy damage during the harrying of the north, a programme aimed at subjugating the last vestiges of resistance to Normandy rule. The land around the city of York was razed, to make it impossible to grow crops there, and 150,000 people died. After starving out the resistance and paying the Danes to leave, William removed all Anglo-Saxon nobles and installed Norman rulers and York was rebuilt mostly the way it is today.

Important buildings you can see from the Norman medieval period include the Minster (current version 4.0) and the remains of York Castle (Clifford’s tower). The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens is from 1089. St Martin-cum-Gregory church, while it has been altered over the years, still has an 11th century nave which you can see from the outside. Further afield, on Lawrence Street, the 12th century tower of the Old Church of St Lawrence creates a mysterious silhouette in the churchyard of what is now St. Lawrence parish church.

There is also a secret building you can find if you are feeling adventurous. The Norman House is the ruined remains of a twelfth century house. Behind Stonegate, it is unmarked on Google maps. Those in the know will tell you to find an archway on Stonegate to access The Norman House. It’s actually a neat, black door, marked 52A. Presumably, this door was installed to protect the house from the local yoof and potential squatters. Info here.

Plantagenet Medieval York

The house of Plantagenet was a continuous line from William the Conqueror, but not known as such until Richard of York adopted the name. This era spanned 1216 to 1485 and was characterised by a long and bloody feud between the rival branches of the family: The house of Lancaster and the house of York. The city of York wasn’t greatly involved, the house of York was largely York in name only, but some locals do feel a loyalty to these kings – mostly called Richard or Edward – over the rival Lancastrian kings – the Henrys. This turbulent time is known as the War of the Roses, and references to this can still be seen today, as the White Rose of York is now an emblem for the whole of Yorkshire and none of the fighting took place in the city of York, which thrived and finished this era unscathed—by politics.

The Black Death In York

In 1348, The Black Death reached England and spread across the entire country before the end of the following year. It reached York in 1349. Higden of Chester travelled across the north of England and asserted that “scarcely a tenth of the population was left.” By this measure, York fared better than many nearby towns and cities; estimates suggest it lost 30-60% of the population. A more concrete number is difficult to calculate because York actively recruited more citizens from the surrounding rural lands, which added to the population.

The graveyards overflowed and plague victims were buried in huge mass unmarked graves in grassy ditches just outside the walls. An unreliable source suggests these victims were buried in the embankments, and still remain undisturbed, but this is not true. As we have already seen, the embankments cover the Roman walls (and this would be a bizarre way to bury the dead at a time when religious zeal was at its peak). It is far more likely that they were buried below ground level, perhaps where the former moat was.

In some parts of the city, houses and roads either side of the walls make it impossible for there to be undisturbed medieval burials in them. In what remains, it is doubtful the city had the space to bury around 10,000 people around the walls, which calls into question the higher death toll estimates.

Within the city, daily life was a balancing act between waste disposal and grand ideas. On one hand, St. Leonard’s Hospital was the biggest hospital in the North of England (with 225 beds compared to most hospitals having around 20) and the medieval Minster was a great Catholic cathedral. On the other, the streets were swamped with domestic and business waste and sewage, and the water was unsanitary. None of these issues are peculiar to York, however, and are representative of how people understood things during this time.

The evidence shows the presence of leprosy and other diseases in York, but largely health problems were due to poor diet, with iron-deficiency anaemia, joint problems, and rickets commonly found in skeletons from this time. When it comes to medieval hospitals, more is known about the buildings than the people or their ailments/infirmities, and St Leonard’s is no exception.

Things in the city from this time period are plentiful and include: The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall (completed in 1361), which was most recently an almshouse until 1900. The Shambles (the houses you see today date from 1350-1475), a former street of butchers. 2 Jubbergate, at the top of The Shambles, is a fantastic building from the late 14th century. York Barley Hall, a former priory which is now a museum. What you can see of York walls, the third version of the walls, was constructed during the fourteenth century with some accessibility modifications in Victorian times. You can also see the ruins of St Leonard’s hospital (destroyed during Henry VIII’s Reformation) in the Museum Gardens and even venture into its undercroft where there are some displays.

A grand example of the overlap between styles can be seen at St. William’s College, on College Street near the Minster. This impressive half-timbered building was built in the middle of the reign of Edward IV. It was the home of twenty-four priests whose job was to pray for the dead. Later, it became the home of the chantry priests of the Minster. At a first glance it looks Tudor, but the yellow brickwork belies the fact it is older.

Tudor York

The Renaissance in Italy spread to England by the reign of Henry VIII, with ideas such as humanism which would shatter the philosophy underpinning the state. The Reformation and subsequent swinging pendulum between whether the monarchy expected the population to be Catholic or Protestant in any given year caused deep rifts between people that probably began the decline of faith in Britain. Whether this was good or bad depends on your point of view.

Vernacular buildings (houses, shops, and other small projects) in Tudor York were timber-framed, with the wooden beams exposed on the outside of the building. The first floor often projected further into the street than the floor below, and many Tudor buildings were famous for their black-and-white effect between the dark timbers and the white daub between it. The roofs had a steep pitch and leaded glass windows, to avoid Henry VIII’s glass tax. Some buildings were brick-built rather than timbered.

You can see Tudor buildings in York at King’s Manor (the king in question being Henry VIII), A home built in the reign of Henry VII at 31 North Street (designated “Church Cottages” but this name isn’t findable on Google). 7, 8, 12, 12a, 41 and 42 The Shambles are also from the same time period as are 85-89 Micklegate.

For Elizabethan-era buildings, Mulberry Hall on Stonegate is exactly what people imagine when they think of Tudor buildings. Heslington Hall (about 2.5 miles out from the city centre) is a grand example of “high architecture” of the time, but you can’t go inside as it’s part of the University of York’s admin buildings. King’s Manor is older, more accessible and very impressive, situated between the Yorkshire Museum and the Art Gallery.

After the Tudors

The House of Stuart ruled England from 1603 to the eighteenth century, a time of great turbulence. During the Civil War, York’s walls had to defend the city as it became a Royalist stronghold, with the ousted King Charles even holding court in York after London became untenable. Soon, Republican forces marched on the city and laid siege to it. The Royalist army based at York burned the east side of the city down to buy time keeping the Republicans out. The city was badly damaged by the siege, which is why there is a sudden shift from ancient monuments to modern buildings in the east.

Financially, York struggled during this period, especially as the many soldiers in the city were waiting on back pay. A gunpowder explosion in 1684 destroyed York Castle, leaving only what exists today. This ended York’s military power for the time being.

There are a few Jacobean buildings, from the reign of King James I/VI, which look identical to the Tudor style but more dowdy. Examples include St Anthony’s Hall (also known as The Hospital of St Anthony) on Peasholme Green; 28, 30 and 32 Coppergate; the Dutch House at 9 Ogleforth; 35 Stonegate.

Eighteenth Century

After the repressive Puritanism and troubled times of the seventeenth century, the eighteenth brought back abundance, optimism and refinement to the city. The glass tax had been abolished and windows became ginormous. Ceilings also got higher, as new building methods using fired bricks transformed architecture and design. Buildings became light and spacious.

In York, the century began with the debtor’s prison opening in the severely-damaged York Castle in 1705. In 1740, York finally got a hospital again – the first since St. Leonard’s was ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The industrial revolution of 1760 largely bypassed the city. Where other northern towns such as Leeds and Bradford were transformed during this time, York was already a profitable city, its residents were largely gainfully employed in skilled industries which couldn’t be streamlined by factories yet, and only a handful of factories appeared over the next century and a half.

Barely touched by time, York’s city centre remained the same as ever, adding grand buildings to the streets but no slums or factories. Science came to York, and one notable scientist was the astronomer John Goodricke, the namesake of one of the University of York’s colleges.

19th Century

The first factory industry to come to York was in 1824, when the York Gas Light Company, who made lights powered by gas, founded their factory in Layerthorpe. Nothing remains of this. An iron foundry was set up inside the walls at Dixon’s Yard, Walmgate in 1837.

In 1829, tragedy hit the Minster when an arsonist motivated by religious delusions set fire to the building. The choir and the roof of the nave (the main length of the cross-shaped Minster) were severely damaged. Another fire in 1840 completely destroyed the roof and extensive repairs had to be made.

In two separate endeavours, Mary Tuke and Joseph Rowntree, whose families were well-acquainted, opened grocery stores in the 1820s. Mary Tuke developed a successful family cocoa business which was bought out by Henry Isaac Rowntree in 1862. When he got into financial difficulties, his older brother Joseph Rowntree invested, paving the way for York’s main industry for the next hundred and fifty years—confectionery.

A second confectionery company—Terry’s, of the chocolate oranges—predates Rowntree. Terry’s was founded in York in 1797, by Bayldon and Berry. Joseph Terry, Berry’s son-in-law, took over the family business in 1821 and, with his qualifications and experience as a pharmacist, created fruit sweets, candied peel, cough sweets and other medicinal sweets. Later, his successor, son Joseph Terry Jr, launched a line of cocoa products. The famous Chocolate Works on Bishopthorpe Road beside the racecourse dates to 1923, and you can still see it today, although it closed in 2005 when production moved abroad.

Other major developments to York in the nineteenth century include the railway. The line was first constructed in 1842, but the station, with its famous late Victorian architectural style similar to the old St. Pancras Station, was not built until 1877.

Industry wasn’t the only thing that transformed nineteenth-century York; between 1829-1851, the cholera epidemic plaguing Britain also deeply affected York. You can visit the York Cholera Graves on Station Road, in a graveyard just outside the walls en-route to the railway station. The outbreak was so severe, and people were so afraid of it, that the city stopped funeral processions taking place along narrow roads, in an attempt to halt the spread. Outdoor funerals were also mandated. These measures caused an uproar amongst people at a time when giving people a “proper send-off” had become almost an art-form and very specific etiquette and customs were usually observed. Fear of contagion caused widespread anxiety, which led to rioting, and in some cases, angry, frightened citizens threw coffins of the deceased into the river.

Where to see York’s nineteenth century past

The Terry’s confectionery shop is in St. Helen’s Square, opposite Betty’s. The business inside it has long-since changed to a high street store, but the building still has a fresco between floors two and three which says “Terry’s” on it. The Cholera Graves are still maintained by York Council and are beside the walls, across the road from the Memorial Garden on Station Road. The railway station is also on Station Road (funnily enough), and if you ascend the bridge between platforms, you can get a good view of the original construction of the roof.

Of the factories founded in the nineteenth century, only one building remains—the Nestle factory, formerly the Rowntree factory, out in New Earswick. However, the “Morrisons Chimney” (real name: The Destructor) still stands, alone and without any context or even a memorial plaque. It was the 55m high (180 feet) chimney stack used as part of the incinerator for destroying the city’s waste.

This area was still the old city tip a hundred years later, in the 1990s. The chimney was situated near where the city’s small, original power station was built, but the power station, and most of York’s industrial heritage, was destroyed in the early 2000s. It seems very ironic that York should know the value of the past better than anywhere, and yet they so readily threw an entire chapter of theirs away to make room for a shopping park on Foss Islands Road/Jewbury.

Modern history

York’s modern history is easy to spot because it really stands out among the backdrop of the mostly historic buildings! From the car park on Stonebow which is a controversially ugly example of 1960s brutalist architecture (and which isn’t a listed building, despite rumours to the contrary), to the war memorial and memorial garden near the train station, the past hundred-and-twenty years did not leave York untouched.

9 Prehistoric sites you can day trip from York

The county of North Yorkshire has some pretty fantastic prehistoric sites. The City of York itself doesn’t really have anything but within an hour’s drive, there’s lots to see. If you want to visit Neolithic monoliths, Iron Age ceremonial mounds, Bronze age stone circles or prehistoric art in the form of cup and ring marks, you’ve found the right article.

I haven’t included most of these in my big list of 54 day trips from York, because I know a lot of people aren’t that interested in prehistory (I don’t understand them at all). The best part is, all of these are free, all you need is petrol money and lunch. If you’re not sure when each time period was, or its key features, you will find info below under the heading, “some dates”.

Because this is a travel article, I haven’t included some key North Yorkshire sites which archaeologists find important, such as Star Carr. This is because what makes these sites important is beneath the ground, while they’re being dug for the 4-12 weeks of digging season once a year. The rest of the time, you can’t see anything except the soil of the farmer’s fields covering them up. They are usually on private land, too. All of this makes it not practical or worthwhile to visit them in a day trip.

Places to see prehistoric stuff

I’ve included the nearest town so you can get an idea for where they are, because isn’t it really annoying when people just rattle off the names of prehistoric sites in the middle of nowhere and one could be in Cornwall while another is in Aberdeen.

Thornborough henge, nr. Ripon: A triple henge of three stone circles close to one another, along with a huge mile-long cursus (two ditches side by side creating a sort of pathway). At one point, it was apparently used for jousting and was known locally as “The Charging Ground.” The site is Neolithic, from at least 4,000BCE. Findable on Google Maps, but be aware extensive quarrying has taken place in the environs and the landscape beyond the stones therefore isn’t safe to free-explore.

Rudston Megalith, nr. Bridlington: I’ve talked about this one in my other article on day trips from York, because if you’re heading out toward Flamborough Head or Bempton, this is well worth a shufty. It’s an 8m tall megalith single-standing stone which is in a churchyard in the village of Rudston. If you’re into megaliths, you might want to make a day of it. Findable on Google Maps.

The Devils Arrows, nr. Boroughbridge: This is a small circle of three tall megalith standing stones. Dating to the late Neolithic, it is thought there were four or five stones originally. The tallest of the three is 7m high, and a Victorian excavation discovered it was buried a further 1.8m below the ground. According to local folklore, these are three actual giant arrows thrown by Old Nick himself in a spectacularly poor attempt at destroying the village of Aldborough. Founded in Roman times, Aldborough didn’t exist until thousands of years after the stones were put here. More likely, the legend sprung up around the superstitious time of the witch hunts and stuck. You can find it on Google maps.

Harwood Dale, nr. Ravenscar/Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Probably the nicest stone circle to photograph on this list, at 14m around you can fit a nice amount of stones into one shot. Bronze Age Harwood Dale is locally known as the Druid’s Circle. It is not, however, a typical circle. It is a Bronze Age burial cist, a stone-built box shape where human remains would have been buried. There are three upright stones in the centre. Two more cup-and-ring marked stones from the vicinity were taken to Scarborough Museum in Victorian times and the rest of the site was seemingly forgotten. More details and a map reference here.

Ramsdale Stone Circle, nr. Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire: Only three stones make up this tiny stone circle, which makes it fascinating and easy to look at in its entirety (unlike gigantic circles such as Long Meg and Her Daughters, in Cumbria, or Avebury, in Avebury). It has been suggested that the three stones once formed part of a burial cairn, or that they were originally a larger stone circle, but the truth is that no one knows. More info and map reference here (not marked on Google maps).

Simon Howe, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: This visually intriguing stone circle has a more recent addition, in the form of a modern cairn like the ones you see at the top of many mountains frequented by ramblers. It’s due south of Goathland (where you can also find the Mallyan Spout waterfall). I have attempted to add it to Google Maps so hopefully it will be more findable for other people. If not, get the map reference and inspiring photos here.

High Bridestones, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: While you’re here, the road above Goathland also has two more Bronze Age sites. High Bridestones is four standing stones and they are thought to be what is left of two circles that have been joined together. North of it sits Low Bridestones. Get the deets here.

Brow Moor Carved Stones, nr. Ravenscar, N. Yorks: The rock art at Brow Moor is incredible. These stones were carved in the Bronze age and they are highly striking, speckled with lots of small dots (cups) and some bigger circles (rings) and even concentric circles known as double rings. If you’re into prehistoric rock art, this is a worthwhile day out. Photos and map reference here.

Blakey Topping, nr. Scarborough, N. Yorks: This intriguing and mysterious site has been suggested to be a sacred hill. From the top, you can see another potential sacred hill to the southeast (Howden Hill). A sacred hill is a relatively new class of ancient monument, and there’s no consensus yet on whether they exist or not. Blakey Topping has four standing stones at the top.

Legend has it that Blakey Topping was created by Wade the Giant, who was angry at his wife Bell and scooped up soil from the Hole of Horcum to throw at her. Blakey Topping was created where the soil landed, along with some other local hills. Looking at the shape of the hill and how it fits into the landscape, it is clearly a man-made hill, with a very uniform shape and a flat top typical of Iron Age earthworks, although it could be older. Well worth a look and there are loads of walking guides if you DuckDuckGo Blakey Topping hill. Photos and map reference here.

Some dates:

Neolithic: 4000-2500BCE Britain transitioned from a marine-based diet to livestock farming. Inland settlements became more permanent as the same land could feed people year-round with domesticated cattle. Stone tools still the norm.

Bronze Age: 2500-800BCE Metallurgy was invented and bronze could be forged into shapes to take the place of stone tools. Archaeologists have found many ceremonial burials from this period.

Iron Age: 800BCE to 43AD Iron smelting replaced bronze, allowing metal production to be faster and the tools to be better as iron is harder than bronze. Iron age forts abound in the English landscape but for most of them, all that remains is a big hill with no trace of what it looked like, because stone wasn’t used widely for building until the Romans arrived.

The Romans arrived 43AD, bringing an end to the stone monuments and circle building traditions of the past and eventually blanketing England in Christianity. Also started writing stuff down and calling it “history”.

5 places where you can see Roman remains in York (3 are free)

York is a city famous for its rich history. However, York’s Roman past can be hard to find on your first trip to the city, as most of the historic buildings are younger. Here is a list of five places where you can see some real Roman remains in York (three of them are free) and a little bit of York’s Roman history!

The Roman city of York was founded in 71AD as an outpost fort and later a city called Eboracum. The Roman Empire was quite late to Britain. Rome had colonised Spain in 206BC, the Greeks in 146BC and France in the 1st century BC, yet they didn’t manage to take Britain until 43AD. Only Germany was conquered later- a defeat that ultimately led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, but that’s a topic for another time.

The Romans extensively colonised the south of England, but their presence in the north was less established, because of the perpetual threat from the Picts in what is now Scotland. Additionally, the cost of over-extending the Roman Republic was starting to take its toll on Rome’s ability to defend itself in every direction, due both to money and manpower.

When the Roman Empire went into decline and withdrew between 405 and 420AD, York remained populated, and ultimately grew into the city you see today.

It is estimated that only two per-cent of ancient Eboracum has been excavated. This is because the city expanded enormously during the medieval period and a lot of this was built over the remains of the older, Roman city.

I love discovering aspects of a city’s past, especially somewhere like York where there’s so much of it. Here are five places with Roman remains that you can find yourself (three are free) on your York adventure, plus a sixth bonus statue that isn’t Roman, but it’s of a Roman Emperor.

Roman Baths

The Roman baths are, funnily enough, situated beneath the floor of the pub Roman Bath. What you will see here are the excavated remains (you can’t take a bath here). You will spot them immediately on entering the pub.

If you’re wondering, the type of bath here was most likely a balneae, a small public or private bath, not a grand Imperial thermae. This bath was used by the Roman army which occupied York, and was probably built by them. The remains of other Roman baths have been found around the city, but the ones at Roman Bath pub are the only ones that you can go and see. If you visit, remember this is a pub and a business. You don’t need to pay entry, but you can support the bath by buying a drink.

Roman Column

An 8m tall column sits outside the Minster. It was one of many which supported the Basilica–a huge Roman building. The Roman Column was discovered in 1969, during excavations around York Minster. It was raised and left on display near where it was found. It was donated to the city by the Dean and Chapter. Unfortunately, the builders made a terrible mistake and it is, in fact, upside-down.

To find it, head to the main entrance of York minster. From the entrance, locate the black metal gates that can be used to close the road. The column is on the right of the railings, near the school. Free access 24/7.

The Basilica

More of the Basilica can be seen in the Undercroft of York Minster, where the foundations have been excavated. The Basilica was built in 100AD, only 29 years after Eboracum was founded. It was a huge civic building intended for use as a courthouse and other public functions. Usually, basilicas were sited next to a forum, but none has been discovered in York, yet (also missing: York’s Colosseum).

You can visit the Undercroft by going inside the Minster and buying a ticket. There are three different areas of the Minster with separate tickets; be sure to get a ticket specifically for the Undercroft to see the Roman remains of York’s basilica.

The Roman wall

The Romans built walls around many of their settlements. Most archaeologists will tell you walls are there to keep invaders out, but Bar-Yosef put forward an alternative idea in 1986 which deserves more attention; walls can be used as a flood defence and to prevent mud flows damaging the city. Walls also keep people in. It is much easier to control a population when they can’t simply get up and leave, and it’s also easier to find criminals and to accurately collect taxes inside a walled city.

Most of the Roman wall actually lies beneath the Medieval wall you can walk on. The Roman remains are tucked within the embankment that holds up the Medieval walls. But in a little green area, beside a car park on Museum Street, there’s an exposed area of the original Roman walls. From the art gallery, walk to the gate of King’s Manor and don’t go inside. Instead, go left along the pavement toward the theatre (don’t cross the road).

The Roman wall is immediately on your right.

The Yorkshire Museum

Of course, you’re going to find a lot more of York’s Roman artefacts if you visit a museum. The Yorkshire Museum holds quite a collection of small finds, including the reconstructed Coppergate helmet (which the reconstructors got wrong, I believe the museum now goes into detail on this). There are also Roman sarcophagi and other large items like a mosaic floor and a wall fresco. I think a better way to present the past is to do what they do in Athens and leave it in-situ but put protective glass over it, so the past becomes part of today’s buildings, retaining the context of where they were found. However, this is why I don’t work in a museum.

So there you have it. Five places you can see York’s Roman past.

And the sixth (not quite Roman)…

As a bonus, check out the statue of Constantine outside the Minster. This isn’t a Roman find, but was created later to memorialise the Emperor due to his ties with the city. His father Emperor Constantius is one of two Roman emperors who died in the City of York (the other is the African-Roman who became Emperor of Rome, Septimus Severus). Constantine the Great (pictured below) was the first Christian Emperor of Rome, legitimising the religion in 312AD and paving the way for its widespread acceptance in Europe.

CC Zero

6 Best Picnic Spots in York

If you’ve brought a picnic to York (or bought takeaway food), the biggest city in North Yorkshire, at some point you will be looking for somewhere to eat it. One thing you will definitely want to do is sit down. You can’t move for cafes in York these days, but nothing beats just sitting on a bench and eating a picnic.

There are loads of benches dotted around the city centre but my criteria for inclusion on this list was that a family of at least three people could comfortably eat together. Many of the city centre benches are full of people non-stop, and pigeons are a problem, too, such as around Parliament street.

To make this list, the picnic spot had to give you a half-decent chance of eating without being robbed by a pigeon and without someone trying to sit on you. It also had to be within the walls or very close to a landmark or place of interest.

At some of these locations, you can unfurl a blanket to sit on the grass but at most of them, you will need to keep your picnic in its bag and pull out what you want to eat individually.

Remember to always find a bin to throw your rubbish away and don’t be a litterbug!

At places with grass to sit on, use your common sense and judgement, examine the area before laying your blanket down to check for duck, squirrel or dog poo (or other nasties).

Here are the 6 best spots to eat a picnic in York:

  1. Tower Gardens, York: Across the road from Clifford’s Tower hides a tiny park where you can sit and contemplate things. There’s a cafe by the river, here, so if plans change and you need a hot coffee or cake, you can find those, too. Benches, or grass if you want to set out a blanket, although there might be duck poo as it’s next to the river.
  2. Dame Judi Dench Walk, York: On the other side of the city, if you go down the stone steps to the left of the York Museum Gardens, you can find a riverside walk with plenty of places to sit and rest.
  3. York Minster Gardens (aka Dean’s Park): To the left of the inspiring York Minster lies the Minster Gardens. You can sit here amid tranquil surroundings and regroup before your afternoon activities. Benches, or grass for picnic blankets.
  4. York Museum Gardens: This is a fabulous place to sit down with a picnic. There are squirrels to feed as well, as well as the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. Benches, or grass for picnic blankets.
  5. Memorial Gardens: On the other side of the river, near the railway station, the Memorial Gardens are an especially convenient place to eat a picnic if you’re headed to the National Railway Museum. Benches, or grass for picnic blankets.
  6. The John Snow Memorial: Found on Wellington Row, this small and out-of-the-way memorial park has benches and a river view.

That’s my top 6 spots to eat a picnic in York. Which is yours? Let me know in the comments!

54 Easy Day Trips From York

York is perfectly situated for a range of day trips in North Yorkshire, from Knaresborough to the Vale of Pickering, and from Whitby to Bridlington. Here are forty of the many places you can visit in a day from York. All of these will take an hour or less to drive to (unless bad traffic), except Whitby which is 1 hour 10 from York by car. Sites owned by National Trust or English Heritage are noted for those with passes.

Obviously availability of indoor attractions is varying like a yoyo in 2021, but this article is written to be timeless for the future so do check the relevant attraction’s website if your heart is set on going inside something.

Harrogate and Knaresborough Area:

To the west of York lies Harrogate, famed as a Victorian spa. It’s not a very touristy town anymore but neighbouring Knaresborough and environs are simply packed with amazing and unique things to do if you’re looking for a North Yorkshire day trip.

Mother Shipton’s Cave: Mother Shipton was a famous witch (or “prophetess”) in the area. The cave is beside the Petrifying Well, which is a mineral-rich water source that turns things into stone.

Knaresborough Castle: A 14th century ruined castle with stunning views. Car parking is available. There is a beautiful walk from the castle down to the river.

Aldborough Roman Site: This is the remains of a Roman town in the village of Aldborough, just outside Boroughbridge. The Roman site is complete with mosaics, the original town wall, along with a museum, all sited within a Victorian arboretum which was created around the town’s remains. English Heritage.

Spofforth Castle, Spofforth: A 13th century ruined castle in Spofforth, between Wetherby and Harrogate. It’s the sort of ancient ruin you can take a picnic and explore with the whole family, very exciting for children. Open 24/7. English Heritage.

RHS Garden Harlow Carr: A Royal Horticultural Society gardens offering the chance to see rare and local plants cultivated in a scenic environment. They have a garden centre where you can get RHS seeds and gardening stuff. There’s also a Betty’s cafe.

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, Knaresborough: A stunning and uniquely-designed 15th Century Catholic chapel that is carved into the cliff-face.

Stockeld Park: A fab play park and farm where children can play. There’s also a maze and an enchanted forest.

Nidd Gorge: A verdant forest in the valley beside a river with walks and wildlife. There are also traces of Iron Age occupation in the area. Can be visited by itself or incorporated into the longer Knaresborough to Ripley Castle walk. Maintained by the Woodland Trust. Parking available. Free entry.

Nidd Gorge Viaduct: Further North West of Nidd Gorge is the Nidd Gorge Viaduct, a feat of engineering that’s part of the route to Ripley Castle.

Ripley Castle: A privately-owned castle with a long and fascinating history. It makes a fab end point for a walk from Knaresborough (approximately 6.5 miles one way). Adult and children’s tours available as well as grounds/gardens to explore.

Knaresborough Viaduct: An easier to find viaduct can be found in Knaresborough town near the train station, and with the railway line now running across it.

Knaresborough Blenkhorn’s Boat Hire: Hire wooden boats with long oars and enjoy punting down the river at a relaxed pace.

Little Pasture Pony Trekking Knaresborough: Would you like to go pony trekking through the scenic North Yorkshire countryside with an experienced instructor? This is the place to go. Full days or two-hour hacks available, tailored to your experience and ability.

Scarborough Area:

Venturing north-east from York, you will come to Scarborough, North Yorkshire. A day trip to this seaside town offers an incredible range of things to do and you could easily spend a week here!

Scarborough castle: An English Heritage-owned castle dating to the 12th century, built on a site that has been occupied since 1000BC. The castle is now a ruin because it was the site of a bitter siege during the 1645 English Civil War, which saw half the tower destroyed. I visited on a very foggy day which only added to the mystique. English Heritage.

Sea Life Scarborough: An aquarium with various sea creatures, situated to the north-west of the town. Children will especially enjoy visiting.

Alpamare water park: Waterslides and other water park fun along with parking and a cafe. Ideal for families.

Scarborough beach: A long sandy beach where you can swim or splash in the sea, or just sit on the shore and build a sandcastle. Gets very busy in summer.

Anne Brontë’s grave (St. Mary’s church): When people think of the Brontë sisters, they usually know only Charlotte and Emily, the authors of Jane Eyre (and more) and Wuthering Heights, respectively. The third sister (of five, but only the three lived to adulthood with their brother) was Anne, who wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall before dying at only 29. Her grave is in this churchyard, if you wish to pay your respects.

The Secret Garden, Scarborough: This is a beautiful garden tucked away from the main streets. There are flowers, a graveyard, and wild, natural plants which give it an uncultivated feel.

Oliver’s Mount War Memorial and Viewing Point: This high point has a memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I and II, and also presents stunning views of the town and across the bay.

Shuttleworth Gardens: This Victorian garden has a sensory garden, originally intended for the blind, but will also appeal to other visitors such as young babies, people with learning disabilities etc who can experience the garden without the need to process visual information.

Playdale Farm Park: A fun day out for children, the Playdale Farm Park has farm animals to see and little rides for tiny people.

Burton Riggs Nature Reserve: A big open space with a lake and wetlands where water birds frequently visit. There are also foxes and badgers (do not approach these). Floods regularly. Take wellies unless there’s a current hosepipe ban in force in the area.

West Ayton Castle: A derelict ruin almost lost to time, this was once a 15th century castle. Constructed in 1410 by Sir Ralph Eure, the design is based on a pele tower, a type of defensive fortification. No one knows why he built it like this although it was built right in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War between the houses Plantagenet and Lancaster, who were vying for control of England amongst their other goals.

Scarborough Fair Collection Vintage Transport Museum: This is a beautiful private collection of Victoriana with a fairground and vintage rides.

Whitby Area:

Due North from York, Whitby hardly needs much introduction. It was featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a fact the town is hugely proud of and which inspired the annual Whitby Goth Festival. The town is fun to free-explore without a plan.

Nowadays, Whitby is famous for having the best fish and chips in Britain, and there is plenty of choice when looking for a chip shop. It’s also famous for Whitby Jet, a fossilised wood polished by the sea, which is used locally in jewellery. You can pick up a Whitby jet souvenir at several different shops. Here are some of the many day trips in the Whitby area:

Whitby Abbey: Originally a seventh century monastery, it later became a Benedictine abbey. It became a ruin due to the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s. This huge site is still impressive as a ruin and it still has lots of architectural details from the Gothic style as the remains you see today were built in the 1220s. English Heritage.

199 Steps: This is a pathway to Whitby Abbey which goes upwards from a bit above sea level all the way to the striking height of the hill where the abbey is sited. Stunning views, and an interesting graveyard and church near the top. Free and well worth the mild exertion.

Captain Cook Memorial Museum: An unusual museum to find in the North of England, this small museum is set in the house where Cook was apprenticed. It covers famous explorer Captain Cook’s life and his voyages to the South Pacific. A must-see.

Whitby Museum: A big museum covering history of the local area. Particularly good if you’re interested in fossils or Whitby Jet (a type of petrified wood which is locally made into jewellery).

Whitby beach: A beach which includes two lighthouses at the mouth of the river Esk. Don’t miss the Captain Cook memorial on the North Beach.

Robin Hood’s Bay: A fascinating cove town 6 miles below Whitby with a history of smuggling (not great for the mobility impaired) with a very long, steep walk to the sea. Town also has a museum. It’s the end of the Coast-to-Coast walk (one of Wainwright’s).

Bridlington area:

Bridlington is just over the border in East Riding of Yorkshire, and there are several day trips you can make to this neck of the woods.

Flamborough Head: A stunning and beautiful beach at the split between two cliffs. At low tide, there are caves you can explore. Usually not as busy as other areas of the coast.

RSPB Bempton: Do you love puffins? Have you ever wanted to see them in the wild? This is the place to go to see puffins! Take some good binoculars and a coat, standing at the cliff-top, it can get quite chilly from the wind.

Sewerby Hall: A lovely example of a Georgian country house and gardens, this is especially worth visiting for its small zoo which has Humboldt Penguins among other animals. The house has interactive displays where children can get involved by dressing up as servants or householders, and there’s even an Edwardian playroom they can play in.

Burton Agnes Hall: A grand Tudor house with a walled garden and a vast art collection. The garden is quite visually striking and children love it. Nice cafe with local produce.

Rudston Monolith: A prehistoric megalith that stands in the churchyard of All Saints Church. This is the tallest standing stone in Britain (7.1m or 25 feet) and dates to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age period. The source for the stone is 10 miles (16km) away in Cornelian Bay. Free entry but be respectful of the fact it’s in a churchyard.

Malton/Pickering area:

The Vale of Pickering and surrounding area is known for tiny villages each with its own unique charm. There are also a range of day trips. Some of these are quite out of the way and most of these would need about 5-6 hours, which would equate to a full day on my itinerary as I don’t like over-packing activities until they become box-ticking exercises.

Eden Camp Modern History Museum: Eden Camp was formerly a POW camp for foreign prisoners of war during World War II. Now it’s a modern history museum. There’s a play area for children.

Flamingoland: My favourite attraction in North Yorkshire is Flamingoland (I reviewed it here). This is a zoo with a theme park. This zoo has giraffes, bactrian camels, penguins, zebras, and of course, lots of flamingos.

Dalby Forest: This is an 8,000-acre forest. You can hike, picnic, climb trees or even follow one of the mountain bike trails.

Pickering Castle: The grounds of this thirteenth-century ruined castle are huge. The castle itself is impressive with stunning views of the local countryside. Well worth a visit. English Heritage.

Nunnington Hall: A Yorkshire manor house developed from a Tudor hall with organic gardens. National Trust.

Castle Howard and Yorkshire Arboretum: A ginormous country estate with endless gardens and a big house. The arboretum (120 acres of trees) is part of the estate but they are run as separate attractions.

Kirkham Priory: Founded in 1120, this Augustinian priory is now a stunning ruin. Another one that was destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. English Heritage.

Helmsley Castle: This dates to the 1100s but later was the site of a Tudor house. It has an impressive sculpture garden. English Heritage.

Rievaulx Abbey: The remains of a Cistercian abbey. Annoyingly it has been split so Rievaulx Abbey is English Heritage but…

Rievaulx Terrace: An eighteenth-century garden with a folly and views of the abbey. There’s no joint Rievaulx ticket because the terrace is National Trust and the two heritage organizations have to be subscribed to and paid for separately. No other country in the world does this with their national monuments.

Selby area:

The Selby area is noticeably different from the rest of North Yorkshire. There are fewer things to see and do in this area than North or East of York. Having said that, Selby is a pleasant old market town to visit.

Selby Abbey: A medieval abbey that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries intact but was half was ruined in the English Civil War. In 1906 it was badly damaged in a fire and this was used as an opportunity to completely reconstruct the abbey. A lot of what you see today is reconstruction rather than original, but it’s very convincing.

ROC Cawood: A Royal Observer Corps outpost. These are underground listening posts that were used during the Cold War between 1955-1991, although many of these were still manned throughout the 90s and into the 2000s. It was abandoned due to flooding. You obviously can’t get inside but there are some traces above ground.

Drax Power Station: A fully-functioning power station with huge cooling towers, mostly fuelled by biomass. You can go on guided tours and also visit their nature reserve. Not great for autism/anyone who cannot abide extremely loud noises as some areas are very loud. You do get ear protection but it’s still difficult for the non-NT.

Under 30 min drive from York:

Outside the walls of the city centre, these mini-adventures should take less than 30 minutes to drive to, traffic permitting. The traffic management in York city centre is notoriously abysmal however, so the actual journey time may vary, especially during peak times.

Yorkshire Air Museum: A former RAF bomber command station from WWII. Now a museum with 60 different military aircraft. Also has a wildlife walk.

Piglets Adventure Farm: A fun kids attraction with goats, baby chicks, bunnies and newborn piglets. There are also fun activities, a farmyard trail, a beach, crazy golf, and rides on farm-type vehicles and go-karts.

Beningbrough Hall: A Georgian stately home featuring gardens and artwork on long-term loan from the National Portrait Gallery. National Trust.

York Cold War Bunker: Situated in Holgate, this underground nuclear bunker is a fascinating trip back in time. The fixtures are all original and the guides extremely knowledgable. English Heritage, but not too commercialised (as of my last visit).

Holgate Windmill: Near the Cold War bunker you will find this 18th century windmill. You can only go inside on specific dates as it is still producing flour today.

So that’s my list of 54 things you can do in a day trip to North Yorkshire, starting from York. I haven’t included anything from West Yorkshire because I want to write a separate article on that at some point. Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!


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Top 5 places to eat vegan in York

For the longest time, El Piano was York’s vegan restaurant. There was only one. The food was incredible. Sadly, they have closed down, now. But there are other vegan eateries these days. Most food places do vegan options, but these ones offer an outstanding experience. Do remember to book, few restaurants in York can accommodate walk-ins for dinner:

The Orchid Vegan Restaurant, Rougier Street, York: 100% vegan. It’s a bit out of the way but worth it if you want to pick anything at all from the menu with confidence. Their ethos is imitation meat, not vegetable dishes, so take it or leave it, and that’s certainly a minor criticism compared to the value of a fully vegan restaurant with zero chance of cross-contamination. Also, they have vegan desserts.

Source, 1 Castlegate, York: A fantastic selection of vegan food and alcoholic drinks alongside other options.

Kalpakavadi Indian Restaurant, Fossgate, York: A South Indian restaurant which offers a choice of vegan dishes and servers are happy to assist you with these.

Double Dutch pancake house, 7 Church Street, York: A whole vegan menu including vegan pancakes. You really feel welcome here as a vegan.

The Yak and Yeti, 63A Goodramgate, York: Nepalese restaurant offering traditional vegan options alongside meaty dishes.

10 Alternatives To Betty’s Cafe in York

Yes, Betty’s Cafe & Tea Rooms is a big deal. It’s one of York’s most iconic eateries. Their Easter display alone is legendary. People have been talking about the stunning art-deco interior since the days when this building was a dance hall.

However, because of its success, there is always a huge queue and you might not have time to wait. You can book a table in advance if you’re organised. In spite of how long you might have to wait, some people have said they were given a specific length of time to actually eat or drink, so you absolutely cannot linger over your tea here. It’s also quite pricey. Of course, this is reflective of the quality and the fact they are so popular (and York’s crippling business rates). But it’s definitely out for travellers on a budget or a tight schedule, or people who want (or need) to take their time over their food. They also don’t do any vegan sweets/cakes which I didn’t think was great in 2008 and definitely isn’t amazing in this day and age.

People say no visit to York is complete without going to Betty’s. Whether or not that is true, I think these indie alternatives to Betty’s will also give you a fab, unique and unforgettable experience.

If you’re looking for a cosy place to get a cup of tea and maybe a little cake or lunch in York, these independent alternatives will be right up your street:

Lucky Days, 1 Church Street, York: This quirky eatery has a really fun addition– you can roll a dice and if you hit the lucky number, you get your order for free! And, I can attest to the fact they will honor that, as I got a free cup of tea here once by successfully rolling. This place is also quite laid back on weekdays and lets you linger over your tea if you need to.

The Attic, 2 King’s Square, York: Up a flight of stairs, so not ideal for disabled visitors, but The Attic has delicious gourmet tea blends and a cosy atmosphere. Ideal if you’ve just battled your way through The Shambles and need to recharge.

Bennett’s Cafe And Bistro, 30-32 High Petergate, York: This cosy cafe has Victorian decor and is overlooked by York Minster. I’m not sure if there’s a more scenic place in York to get a cup of tea.

Mannetti’s, 5 Lendal, York: A cafe serving impressive lunches and delicious coffee, definitely a perfect alternative which is sure to appeal to the Betty’s crowd.

Forty-Five Vinyl Cafe, 29 Micklegate, York: A unique, laid-back cafe away from the madding crowds that will appeal to music-lovers as they also offer live music (currently, videos). Going here is a real experience and you won’t want to leave!

Partisan, 112 Micklegate, York: Head up Micklegate and you will find this cafe with stunning decor and an equally impressive menu. Whether you’re after coffee, cakes, lunch or breakfast, Partisan will not disappoint.

Spring Espresso, 45 Fossgate, York: Intriguing light-roasted coffee and Chinese teas are available here alongside a great lunch menu and homemade cakes.

York Cocoa House, 10 Castlegate, York: Not a fan of coffee or tea? Prefer hot chocolate? This is the place to go. Hot chocolate and chocolate-based food available here. Also hand-crafted chocolate bars. Perfect for the chocolate-lovers. Even Vegan ones.

Molly’s Tearooms, 41 Stonegate, York: Craving tea and some traditional home cooking? Molly’s has you covered. Try the soup, it’s top-notch.

Madhatter Tea Rooms (aka Teddy Bear Tearooms), 13 Stonegate, York: A beautifully-decorated, quirky, Alice in Wonderland themed cafe offering tea and afternoon tea (with the cakes and such), as well as a selection of little snacks. Perfect for the young and the young-at-heart.

There are of course tons of other excellent independent cafes in York, but I’m recommending places I’ve tried-and-tested and which I know will give a great experience for people specifically looking for a hot drink and a cake or a light bite. Got a favourite? Let me know in the comments!

*Obviously following Covid rules, some places may not be able to accommodate you, or may be offering different fare than usual.

23 things to do in York

If you’re visiting York, you might wonder what there is to do in the city. It has quite a lot of museums, especially for such a small city, and you could easily spend a weekend in just one area, such as Coppergate or the area around the Minster, if you wanted to visit every museum available.

Here is a list of 23 things you can do in York. It includes all the main tourist attractions and then some:

  1. National Railway Museum; a museum all about trains and British railway history. There are lots of steam trains, as well as some more modern trains, and a now-obsolete early Japanese bullet train from the 1980s.
  2. Walk the walls (free): The current walls around the city are incomplete, but they date from the medieval period. They’re actually built on top of the city’s original Roman walls. Some sections are more interesting than others. Be careful taking young children on the walls as they don’t have safety barriers and have some open sides.
  3. York Minster: This beautiful medieval cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of York. It has been undergoing extensive restoration work pretty much non-stop since the 1980s. There are three main areas to the Minster: The main (ground) floor, the undercroft and the roof. You pay separate entry to each. The roof is excellent (but a huge climb, not suitable for anyone with mobility issues) because there’s an edict which says no building within the walls can be taller than the Minster, so you get a phenomenal, unrestricted view of York from the top. The undercroft is also fascinating and has some intriguing archaeological finds from some of the excavations of the minster.
  4. Yorkshire Museum: A fairly bog-standard museum with an emphasis on Roman and Viking displays.
  5. Museum Gardens and St. Mary’s Abbey: Far more interesting than the museum itself, the museum gardens is home to the picturesque remains of St. Mary’s Abbey. This is the perfect place to have a picnic.
  6. Cholera Graves: Between the Railway Museum and Yorkshire Museum, you can find the Cholera Graves across the road from York Railway Station. They are easy to overlook as they look like a grass verge beside the pavement but there is a small plaque marking it out.
  7. DIG: A fun place to take the kids, this hands-on ‘museum’ lets children be archaeologists for an hour or so, complete with plastic trowels and safety rubber ‘soil’ to dig so they can discover resin ‘artefacts’.
  8. Jorvik Viking Museum: An interactive Viking museum that takes you on a journey back in time to the age of the Vikings. Includes re-enactors and a ‘ride’ (don’t worry, it’s not a rollercoaster).
  9. Richard III Experience: Ever wanted to know everything about Richard III? This is the place to do it. Don’t know who King Richard III was? This Horrible Histories video will explain it for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL2se6BzIHk
  10. Barley Hall: Once a 14th century priory, this is an authentic medieval building you can take a look around.
  11. Merchant Adventurers Building: Built in 1350, this stunning medieval building still has its original timber frame as well as a chapel and alms house.
  12. York’s Chocolate Story: A museum dedicated to the history of chocolate making in York, which was the home of Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Nestle (but not Cadbury’s, that’s in Birmingham).
  13. The Wiggly Trail: I totally made this one up, but it’s a short trail you can follow with preschoolers. Details here.
  14. Fairfax House: There are actually TWO buildings called Fairfax House in York (yeah… imaginative). One is a Victorian building which used to house student nurses and now houses all sorts of students. You can’t go in that one. The other is around the corner from Jorkvik Viking centre, and it’s an 18th century townhouse that’s been turned into a museum. If you want to see how rich people lived in the age of Jane Austen, this is the place to go. To avoid confusion, the address for the correct Fairfax House is Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN.
  15. York Army Museum: Near Fairfax House and Jorvik, you can find York Army Museum tucked away next to the York Hilton. It has exhibitions on York’s military past.
  16. Clifford’s Tower: You cannot miss this. It’s on top of a big hill in the middle of an open space that includes York Army Museum and York Castle Museum. You have to climb the hill to gain entry to the tower (so it’s not disabled-friendly) . At one point it was even a royal mint, which is difficult to believe when you see how small it is inside!
  17. York Dungeon: One of the “[Town Name] Dungeon” tourist attractions that plague many touristy cities across the UK. If you’ve never been to one before and it’s raining it might be worth a look, but otherwise it’s a bit of a tourist trap.
  18. Ghost Walk: A few people around the city offer ghost walks, where they take you on a tour of various parts of the city centre and tell you grisly, ghostly tales about what happened in particular buildings. Obviously, take it as fun entertainment and don’t expect any real ghosts. There was a time when one of the ghost walk people resorted to trashy gimmicks like having an accomplice to make noises in certain areas, but all the shenanigans seem to have stopped since Most Haunted fell by the wayside, and now all the ghost walks I know of tend to consist of good storytelling.
  19. Morris Dancers: The Ebor Morris dances publicly in King’s Square, near The Shambles, at 7pm every Monday.
  20. Red boats: Go down to the river on the Kings Staith side and, by Tower Gardens, you will find York Red Boats. They let you hire self-drive small motorboats to drive up and down the river.
  21. York Castle Museum: This museum is more focused on the 19th century, which in York’s timeline makes it relatively modern, but if you ever wanted to imagine yourself on one of the streets of Sherlock Holmes, it’s well worth a look. The Victorian period of York’s history is mostly overlooked around the rest of the city so this museum makes a great addition to any itinerary.
  22. York Art Gallery: Around the corner from the Yorkshire Museum, you’ll find the York Art Gallery. It has a nice fountain in front of it that children might enjoy sticking their hands in.
  23. Henry VII Experience: Like the Richard III experience but on the other side of town, the Henry VII experience tells you all about the life and times of Henry VII. If that makes you say, “Once more unto the breech dear friends”, this is the place for you!

So there you have it, 23 things to do in York. I haven’t included temporary exhibitions such as the beer festival or the many crafts fairs that go on around the year because I wanted to cover things you could do no matter when you visit. I decided to leave out cafes, restaurants, shops and pubs as these aren’t really tourist attractions (but I have written articles about these, see below). Have you done them all? Let me know in the comments!


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