Steeped in history, the city of York entertains Malcolm Ginsberg with a rich tapestry of sights to see and savour
You can travel to York from King’s Cross in just under two hours on the East Coast train service and the ancient city is easily accessible by road too if you prefer to have the car to get around.
However, it is worth noting that once you are in York, everything can be reached by walking. Alternatively, if you need a bus, you don’t have to look far; they seem to be everywhere and are free for pensioners – with the exception of the ‘hop-on/hop-off’ city sightseeing double-decker, which I highly recommend.
During our three-day visit we stayed at the Royal York Hotel. Next to the station and also close to the National Rail Museum, it is a large Victorian building with swimming pool, gym and spa and sits in attractive grounds with a walkway down to the River Ouse.
The good-value York Pass, which offers visitors big savings on more than 30 attractions around the city, costs £48 per adult for two days and £24 for a child but we booked online and gained a 10 percent discount.
York is an historic settlement dating back to Roman times and has a strong Jewish heritage. In 1190, a wave of anti-Semitic riots culminated in the massacre of an estimated 150 Jews – the entire Jewish community of York – who had taken refuge in the royal castle where Clifford’s Tower now stands. A plaque at the foot of the tower marks this darkest chapter in the history of the York community.
The now-world-famous Jorvik Viking Centre, which has welcomed 17 million visitors over the past 30 years, is definitely worth a visit. It was created by the York Archaeological Trust in 1984 following extensive archaeological discoveries.
Visitors, who ride in Disney-style suspended capsules, are taken back to 975 AD, embarking on a tour of a reconstructed Viking settlement which includes Viking voices speaking in Old Norse, as well as aromas and life-like animated figures created by laser technology from skeletons found on the site.
We had taken our eight-year-old grandson with us, and he unsurprisingly voted the York’s Chocolate Story his favourite part of the trip. The attraction is right in the centre of the city, at King’s Square, close to the historic narrow street called the Shambles. An entertaining tour guide takes visitors through the history of York’s most famous chocolate-making families and their finest creations, including the Rowntrees and Terrys and their Birmingham-based cousins the Cadburys. Visitors are invited to indulge in chocolate on each floor of the building and can make their own bars to take home with you.
As befits its name, York was the main base of Richard III, the last king of England produced by the House of York. Forever tainted by Shakespeare as a major villain, he was alleged to be responsible for the deaths of the princes in the Tower of London.
The local historical society failed in its bid for his recently-recovered remains to be interred in York Minster, but his battles and short kingship are well documented in the Richard III Experience attraction at Goodramgate. Richard was succeeded by Henry VII, who has an exhibition at Mickelgate in the centre of the city.
York boasts numerous dining options but Bettys Café Tea Rooms is the big attraction, renowned for its delicious afternoon teas.
What to do in the evening? One suggestion is to take the 70-minute river cruise on the Ouse as far as Bishopthorpe Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of York. The captain gives an interesting commentary on the development of the river during the Industrial Revolution, and there is a bar on board too. We were also shown how high the river rises during the rainy season – 16ft above its normal level.
Dating from 1774, the Theatre Royal York claims to be the oldest in the country and boasts the remains of a Roman structure backstage. The theatre programme changes every week, as does that at the nearby Grand Opera House, which hosts a variety of entertainment including West End musicals, stand-up comedians, live bands and family shows.
Another place to visit is York Minster – one of the great cathedrals of England with some fine examples of stained-glass work. There are tours and organ recitals for those keen to experience the building more.
The National Rail Museum, considered one of the greatest train collections in the world, is another site well worth seeing.
It covers just about everything from Stevenson’s Rocket to Eurostar, with a special place for Mallard, the fastest-ever steam engine, which was timed over a measured mile in 1938 at a blistering 126mph.
There are also hands-on displays, a large model railway and one hall kitted out as a 1950s’ train station.
• Useful Contacts:
York Tourism: www.visityork.org
The Royal York Hotel: www.hotelroyalyork.co.uk
The York Pass: www.yorkpass.com