6 Strange Things to Do in York

One of the best things about living in King’s Cross is the easy access to trains heading north towards Scotland. We wanted to show our visiting relatives a side of England that you can’t get in London, and decided to take them up to York for the day to experience Ye Olde England.

East Coast trains offer cheap off-peak tickets, provided you book about three months ahead when tickets are released. And the hi-speed service only takes two hours from King’s Cross to York, making it a perfectly accessible day trip from London.

Sunset over the river as we were leaving York

And there’s a lot to do in York once you get there. I did plenty of research to ensure we could make the most of our time, and here’s what ended up on the itinerary:

Sing “The Grand Old Duke of York” at Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower
While there is no real link between York Castle and the nursery rhyme “the Grand Old Duke of York”, the shape of the hill on which it sits is so absurd that I personally found idea of 10,000 men marching up and back down again irresistible. Actually Clifford’s Tower is the most prominent remaining section of York Castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068 – so it’s a legitimate York attraction and well worth a visit even if you’re too mature to sing about it.

Smell a Viking
Thirty years ago, archaeologists in York excavated the thousand-year old Viking city of Jorvik. Now the site has been developed into a visitor experience that even extends the sensory experience to smells – from the cooking to the latrine. If you’ve been to a Viking centre in Scandinavia then this probably won’t compete, but if it’s your first Viking encounter then it’s a bit of fun – especially with kids.

Have an unusual pub meal
Ever tried rabbit? Or pigeon? The best pub in York is called Black Swan, and it serves both. My pie was roughly the size of my head. I suggest one meal between two.

Paul’s rabbit stew
The Black Swan pub

Echo in the chapter house at York Minster

The Chapter House roof
The English really know how to make a glorious cathedral, and this gothic one is a must for anyone visiting York. Entry is expensive, but don’t let that put you off: it’s worth it. The climb to the top is not for the faint hearted, but the view is spectacular. However the highlight for me is the amazing acoustics in the 800 year-old round Chapter House. When you’re alone, stand in the centre and sing. The echo is the best I’ve ever encountered! We were in the second verse of Barbara Ann before we got snapped by a confused looking attendant.
View from the top of York Minster
Wander the York Shambles
The old town of York still feels like it’s haunted by the ghost of Guy Fawkes, probably because some of the buildings in the Shambles date as far back as the fourteenth century. The creaky Tudor buildings make the leaning tower of Pisa look positively ordinary – and it wouldn’t be hard to believe that this street is where we get the word ‘shambles’ from (though it isn’t).

Relax in a Ruined Abbey
St Mary’s Abbey oozes history. I lay on the grass for over half an hour, staring up at the ruined arch windows and imagining the 800 years of history. The surrounding gardens are lovely too, and we were delighted to see scurrying squirrels everywhere.

The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey
We left feeling as though we had experienced about as much of York as you possibly could in one day. And we were home before 9pm! 
It was a surprisingly easy day-trip, and one I would highly recommend for visitors to London who are short on time but still keen to see more of England.

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