New York Meets Old York

As a born and raised New Yorker, the state’s namesake doesn’t often figure into my trip planning, but knowing that I wanted to explore cities outside of London, I made sure to add York, England to my trip docket this time around.

Since it was around the holidays, York was bustling with crowds and there was a definite cheer in the frosty air. Our stay was incredibly cold, and we got some of the first flurries of our entire trip while enjoying a cream tea in one of our many cafe stops.

The most famous site in York is easily Yorkminster Abbey, and the tiny Christmas market tucked into its shadow added to the delight. We declined to enter the church since it had a relatively pricey admission of £16-£22 per adult- though we were very tempted to check out the Evensong choir. The architecture of the church’s exterior was beautiful enough for us- and maybe we’d gotten a little “churched-out” over our trip through Europe.

My companion, a fan of the show Gentleman Jack, trotted us around Yorkminster for a moment before we realized that Anne Lister got married instead at Holy Trinity Church which was just a short walk away. The church, which is now celebrated as the birthplace of lesbian marriage in England, is marked by a rainbow themed historical marker. It’s also one of the few churches I’ve seen to still have box pews!

With churches on the mind, its definitely worth a visit to St. Mary’s Abbey. The once-prosperous church now lays in ruins in the York Museum Gardens. Though not much remains, what is still visible is a beautiful tribute to what was once a gorgeous church.

We also made sure to check out the Shambles- a historic street containing preserved medieval buildings. The narrow street with its timbered, overhanging buildings claims to have been an inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Though the claims have been denied by the author, the street remains a popular tourist site and hosts multiple wizard themed shops.

The Shambles opens up into the Shambles Market, a daily market thats been around since the 1950’s. These days the market is an excellent spot to snag a few souvenirs of the city.

Since it was the holiday season, we only skimmed through Shambles Market before heading to the Christmas Festival just a block over. The festival extended through a significant portion of the city, with market stalls set up to offer visitors everything from handmade crafts to specialty gins! I really liked the temporary indoor bar designed to look like a Swiss mountain chalet.

Clifford’s Tower is another major landmark in the area- the keep is sat upon an abrupt hill that was once an important fortification in Northern England. As the site has been around since the 1000’s, its role has changed dramatically from year to year, including its position as the site of a particular horrific program. These days, the tower is a Grade 1 listed building where tourists can climb to the top for a view of York.

Don’t worry, we also took a brief pit stop at Micklegate Bar and the York City Walls, but with England dropping into a cold snap, we spent a not insignificant amount of time indoors eating!

I highly recommend stopping for a quick bite at The Cornish Bakery. I was amused to find that England puts cocoa powder on their cappuccinos (the only country I’ve seen to do this), and less amused to find that they assume you want milk in your tea. Some people can’t have dairy!

When we went out at night, it was nearly impossible to avoid the many ghost tours available and event more difficult to find a bar that didn’t claim a ghost or two to its name! Sometimes you just want a nice, unhaunted night out.

Speaking of nights out, those familiar with Guy Fawkes Day may be interested to note that the man himself was actually born in this city! Oddly enough, this actually limits the celebrations on the day as all buildings formally owned by Guy Fawkes and his family are prohibited from celebrating Bonfire Night.

Despite the freezing cold, I enjoyed exploring York. We only stayed for two nights and I found it to be more than enough time to experience everything that I wanted to do in the city.

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