When deciding which cities to visit while in England this summer, York, an ancient walled city, seemed like a perfect choice. Though not a big city, with 2000 years of history behind it, there’s plenty to see. Although the rain was heavier than normal during our visit we still managed fit in quite a bit and really enjoyed our visit.
The York Minster
Having learned my lesson about the unpredictability of opening hours (see Seville and Toledo) when visiting houses of worship, it made sense that the center piece of York, York Minster, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, would be our first stop. The current Minster is 800 years old, but the site itself dates back a few millennia! The Minster dominates the city skyline and is viewable from just about everywhere in the city.
Upon arrival we found that the Minster was open (phew!), however there was a special event taking place during our visit. The Mystery Plays, which tell the story of creation and good vs. evil are a York tradition dating back 700 years, but have only been performed in the York minster twice! The knave (the longest in England) was transformed into a giant 1,000 seat auditorium. I loved learning about the Minster’s impressive stained glass and the exhibit’s interactive exhibits were fascinating.
Another favorite was the Undercroft, a museum in the basement of the Minster, which explained not just the history of the Minster, but York as well. The ancient Roman Emperor, Constantine, was crowned while visiting York and you can see the very spot where it took place. Since we had recently visited Hadrian’s Wall It was fun to see it mentioned on the Museum’s timeline of history. There were many interactive exhibits, films and artifacts to look at and all four of us found something of interest.
I highly recommend climbing the Central Tower, which provides amazing views of the city and Minster in every direction. Keep in mind there is a separate charge for the Central Tower and the visit is timed. Younger children are free, but still need a ticket.
Walking the Walls of York
A visit to York wouldn’t be complete without a walk along the city’s walls, which surround the original medieval city and provide lovely views of the Minster and city. To walk completely around the walls takes around two hours, but there are many places along the way where one can enter and exit the path.
The medieval walls are standing upon the remains of earlier walls which date back to the Roman times. We appreciated that their were safety fences in place and as we walked along we imagined what it might have been like for the soldiers up there without them…
The Shambles, a charming medieval street, dates back to the time of William the Conqueror and is considered to be one the best preserved medieval streets in the world. We wandered up and down this street multiple times, popping in and out of the various shops. I came back multiple times throughout the day hoping for that perfect shot, but unfortunately the weather was not on my side!
By late afternoon the rain was coming down in buckets and when I mentioned walking over to Clifford’s Tower the boys were having no part of it. No matter, after 20+ days in the car together I could use a little “me” time, even in the pouring rain! Unfortunately I arrived just after it had closed for the day, but spent some time wandering around the area and snapping a few photos. Clifford’s Tower is all that’s left of York Castle which was at one time the North’s center of government. Its history is quite dark as it was the site of a mass suicide and massacre and was also at one time a prison.
The Hotel Indigo York
With cozy rooms, excellent service and a great location we really enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Indigo. Decorated in a very homey style the rooms were a welcome place to relax and wait out the heaviest rain of the day. The boys really enjoyed the complimentary treats, which included cocoa, and candy bars!
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