A weekend break in York: what to see and do

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Weekend break in York - the city centre with the St Peter's Minster in the distance

From shopping and great eating spots to some incredible sights and attractions, York is ideal for a city break all year round

Nowhere captures the festive spirit quite like York. Rich in history, the city wears its Roman, Viking and Tudor badges with pride, but it also boasts a thriving cultural scene.

From its idyllic streets that have inspired some famous authors to the stunning cathedral in the centre, it's no wonder that it's a popular choice for those looking to get into the festive spirit. The St Nicholas Christmas Fair, running from 14 November to 22 December, brings festive cheer to the depths of winter, and gives you a perfect excuse to venture to York to see what else it has to offer.

Day 1: what to do in York

Get your bearings. Start with a stroll around the medieval town walls that encircle the old city, descending to explore some of the passageways that cross the centre. Then head for The Shambles, the famous alleyway of half-timbered buildings that provided JK Rowling with inspiration for magical Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.

The open-air Shambles Market is a hive of activity with independent food carts and artisan craft producers open daily, plus the supremely festive Nutcracker Christmas Shop.

Weekend in york - shambles

Where to eat in York

This year marks the centenary of Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, founded by the Swiss baker Frederick Belmont. Today, the third generation of the family runs the business, with the afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones and cake (£19.95) the quintessential experience. The must–try treat is a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, Bettys’ signature fruit scone, served warm with a pot of Taylors tea.

Then head to the art deco-style café at St Helen’s Square (there’s another on Stonegate) and check out festive events to mark the landmark birthday, including Carols by Candlelight (12, 18 and 19 December) and a Christmas Afternoon Tea in the historic Belmont Room from 13 November – it’s advisable to book ahead as both are popular.

For dinner, visit Roots on Marygate, the new restaurant from Yorkshire chef Tommy Banks; there's a seasonal menu of local produce, based around a sharing-plates concept for a lighter supper. Closed on Tuesdays.

Where to go at night in York

York has some cosy, traditional pubs, many home to spirits of the ghostly kind as well as their craft gins. You could follow an informal trail of haunted hostelries, visiting The Punch Bowl, The Old White Swan and, crucially, Ye Olde Starre Inne, which claims to be one of the city’s oldest licensed public houses, dating from 1644 and the Civil War.

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Weekend break in York: St Peter's Minster in the city centre

Day 2: what to do in York

York has a host of worthwhile museums, notably the JORVIK Viking Centre and the National Railway Museum, but York Minster is the essential visit. The second-largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe (after Cologne), its origins date back to the seventh century. Climb the Central Tower’s 275 spiral stone steps for cityscape views, or catch the 5.15pm evensong.

The Christmas countdown starts with the Advent Procession, an atmospheric candlelit service, on 1 December – or catch the carol concerts on 12 and 13 December. Entrance is £11.50; the tower climb costs an extra £5.

Where to eat in York

For breakfast, head to former fish market Fossgate, which has a great array of quirky independent cafés, for brunch. Spring Espresso has breakfasts at around £7.

At lunch try The Rattle Owl on Micklegate, a great little spot with a relaxed restaurant set in a 17th-century building. Lunch offers a seasonal menu of grazing plates, served on soda bread (£4.75 each), plus good coffee. Look out, too, for Sunday roasts with plump Yorkshire puds.

Treat yourself in York

The 5 Senses Spa, located within the Mount Royale Hotel just outside the city walls, offers a good range of pampering treatments for some post-shopping me time. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Images © Getty

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