We set off bright and early in order to maximise our time in York as there were so many things we wanted to see and do during our short stay. Arriving mid-morning at our riverside accommodation, the newly opened Roomzzz Aparthotel, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our room was ready so we dropped off our bags and then helped ourselves to a cappuccino from the complimentary coffee machine in the hotel lobby.
Fuelled with caffeine, we were ready to go, making our first stop at the Tourist Information office located close to the Minster, a pleasant 15 minutes stroll. From there we picked up some maps, leaflets and took advantage of the York Pass which offers substantial savings when planning on visiting a number of attractions in the city.
York Minster was just across the square and as it is one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals we decided to head there first. Standard adult admission is £11.50 and free to holders of the York Pass. The awe inspiring cathedral has an unrivalled collection of medieval stained glass including the Rose Window high in the south transept which is one of the best known stained glass windows in England.
We had hoped to climb the 275 steps to the top of the Minster ‘s central tower but this was unfortunately closed for maintenance at the time of our visit. Instead, we explored the undercroft where we saw the remains of the original Roman barracks visible through glass floors beneath the Minster.
Leaving there, it was then just a short walk to Barley Hall in Coffee Yard and accessed off either Stonegate or Swinegate. This stunning medieval building was built around 1360 by the monks of Nostell Priory. More recently the hall has been lovingly restored to its original splendour and we marvelled at its high ceilings and exposed timbers. Unusual for a museum, visitors are actively encouraged to make themselves at home by sitting in the chairs and handling the objects. Relaxing in one of the antique chairs we were able to gain an impression of what it might have been like to have lived in medieval York.
Close by is York’s Chocolate Story and being a chocoholic (I wonder who isn’t) it was definitely the place for me. We joined a one hour guided tour which began with a history of York’s most famous chocolate making families of Rowntree, Terry’s and Craven. Our guide Simon was knowledgeable and engaging and each time we paused to look at something he appeared with tins of Quality Street for us to dig into or trays of delicious chocolate samples!
I knew that York was synonymous with chocolate but didn’t know the full story so it was interesting to gain some deeper knowledge of the city’s connections with confectionery. Rowntree’s of York was founded in 1862 and is famous for brands including fruit pastilles, Aero, Yorkie Bars, After Eight Mints and of course, KitKat. It merged with Mackintosh in 1969 which then jointly became part of Nestlé in 1988. The York factory has been retained as the KitKat headquarters with 5 million bars rolling off its production line each day, that’s a staggering billion bars a year!
Next, we learnt about Terry’s of York, famous for its Chocolate Orange and boxes of Terry’s Old Gold. The business, established in 1767 had its headquarters and factory at the city’s Terry’s Chocolate Works. It was acquired by Kraft Foods in 1993 with the factory closing its doors for the last time in 2005 with production moving to Poland, Sweden, Belgium and Slovakia. Not quite so well known but also based in York were Cravens, noted for their mints, French almonds, humbugs and boiled sweets. At one point 25% of York’s population were involved in the chocolate industry.
After hearing about York’s long association with chocolate and discovering how it is made, it was time for us to have a go ourselves. Stood around a counter we were each given a plastic bag to write our name on then requested to turn it over as on top of it, a dollop of white chocolate was placed. Instructions to produce our very own chocolate lollipop followed. First we needed to place the wooden stick in the middle and then decorate the lolly with a selection of toppings. I selected salted caramel and raspberry, as they are my favourites, and scattered these on top as best I could.
Whilst our chocolate creations were setting, we moved along to observe a chocolatier in action, demonstrating how gourmet chocolate should be made and yes, you guessed it, we were able to sample these irresistible confections as well! Soon, our own lollipops were ready for collection and although it’s unlikely I’ll ever make it as a chocolatier, I was quite proud of my achievements. In summary, York’s Chocolate Story is a brilliant attraction in the city centre and suitable for all ages. A school party were following us around and hopefully learning something as well as scoffing the samples! Entrance is £12.95 and free with the York Pass. I suggest booking a tour in advance as there are a maximum of 24 places on each one, and as it’s so interesting it would be a shame to miss out.
A good thing about York is that most of its attractions are close together making getting around quick and easy. Located just around the corner from the Chocolate Story lies The Shambles, a quant old street featuring overhanging timber buildings dating back to medieval times. It was once a street of butchers shops but now the small shops are mostly occupied by cafes, gift shops and a wonderful fudge shop that we couldn’t resist going inside. It can get very crowded along this narrow street but was actually fairly quiet whilst we were there.
Checking the time, we realised that we could make the next pleasure boat trip on the River Ouse, so after popping into a nearby bakery for some sandwiches and cartons of juice we headed along to King’s Staith Landing to board a 45 minute cruise operated by City Cruises – York and also included in our York Pass.
We braved the cold and sat out on the upper deck accompanied by a group of nine year old school children. We munched our sandwiches as the boat passed through the city centre and were fortunate that it was bright and sunny. Taking the short cruise was relaxing and also provided us with a different perspective of the city from the river. There was an interesting live commentary focusing on points of interest and the city’s famous history. The school children took great delight in shouting loudly each time we passed beneath a bridge so that they could hear their echoes but generally were very well behaved, remaining in their seats the entire time. Our cruise travelled both up and down stream even passing our riverside accommodation.
After our pleasant river cruise and bite to eat we checked our map of York for directions to the Jorvik Viking Centre on Coppergate, a museum I’d visited a long time back when my children were small but not since its recent refurbishments.
Our self-guided tour began in the basement where a glass floor revealed houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking city of Jorvik as it stood 1,000 years ago. It was between 1976-1981 that archaeologists made the discoveries which led to the Jorvik Centre being built on the site.
After viewing this gallery, we then took a journey in a car which holds a maximum of 6 visitors for a ride experience through the sights and sounds of Jorvik.
This little trip lasted around 15 minutes and was enthralling and fun for everyone whether you’re 7 or 70. There’s a touch screen on each seat and passengers can choose to hear the commentary in any one of 15 languages with an option for children’s versions. Following our ride there were more galleries to view containing a unique collection of Viking artefacts. Visiting the museum is £12.50 and included in the York Pass, making it good value.
Coppergate is at the heart of York’s vibrant shopping centre so we took the opportunity of looking in a few of its stores and buying some food for dinner from Marks & Spencer. On the way back to our Aparthotel we just had time to take a look in the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall as it didn’t close until 4.30 p.m.
The medieval Guildhall is set in landscaped gardens and has been in continuous use for 660 years. Each major historical period is documented in some way either in the fabric of the building or in its collection of Tudor trades and Guilds.
The Great Hall is stunning and easy to understand why it’s popular as an event and wedding venue. After viewing its 15th century chapel and taking a look in its gift shop and cafe we returned to our hotel, glad to rest our feet.
We’d had such an interesting day, visiting several of York’s main sights but although we’d packed quite a lot into the day, we never felt rushed as some of the attractions were quite small and all reasonably close together.
It was so good staying in an Aparthotel as on such a cold night we didn’t really want to venture out again so we unpacked our Dinner for Two from M & S, prepared it in our fully equipped kitchen then flopped down on the sofa with our glasses of wine, what more could we wish for!
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