York: England’s best preserved ancient walled city

Acre for acre no place in the United Kingdom concentrates more bang for a traveler’s buck than York, England.

York Minster has magnificent stained glass windows dating to the 14th century (wikipedia)

YORK, England, Feb. 20, 2016 – Acre for acre no place in the United Kingdom concentrates more bang for a traveler’s buck than York, England.

Situated on the east coast of Great Britain, roughly halfway between London and Edinburgh, Scotland, the ancient walled city of York is an ideal base as the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales as well as a treasure trove of interesting things to explore in its own right.

York's wall goes around the city (wikipedia)
York’s wall goes around the city (Wikipedia)

A good way to get oriented is to circumnavigate the perfectly preserved walls surrounding the city. From there, walk into the heart of the village and immerse yourself in its ancient streets.

Located at the confluence of the Ouse and Foss Rivers, York has long been a crossroads as well as a backdrop for major political events throughout its 2,000-year history.

The city was founded in AD 71 by the Romans and, at one time or another, during various campaigns, the emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantius I all held court in York.

Jorvik Viking Centre takes travelers back in time more than a thousand years (wikipedia)

In 866, the region of Northumbria was raided by the Vikings, who brought York under their rule. It was during this period that York became a major river port for Viking trade throughout northern Europe. By 954, less than a century later, the last Jorvik (Viking) ruler, Eric Bloodaxe, was driven from the city during King Eadred’s successful efforts to unify England.

Clifford's Tower was built by William the Conqueror (wikipedia)

Over time, the word “Jorvik” underwent numerous iterations before if eventually became “York.”

In 1068, two years after the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England, the citizens of York rebelled against the new leadership. Though successful, the victory was short-lived when William the Conqueror put down the uprising.

Over the next thousand years, York became a thriving center for wool, a hub for the growing railway network in the 19th century and a confectionery manufacturing center, all of which translates to a rich diversity of things for travelers to discover.

The Shambles at dusk (wikipedia)
The Shambles at dusk

Perhaps it is the surrounding walls that provide the slightly claustrophobic sense of concentration that makes everything in York is \\\easily accessible.

Begin with the historic York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Some of the stained glass in the church dates to the 12th century. The Great East Window, completed in 1408, survives as one of the largest examples of medieval stained glass in the world. Though the minster dwarfs the sense of proportion of the windows, many are larger than a full-sized tennis court.

Next stroll to the ancient street known as the Shambles with its timber-framed buildings. This was the meat market in the 14th and 15th centuries where butchers displayed their wares. Though the butcher shops no longer remain, they were active until as recently as 1872.

As you amble through the Shambles, stop to visit No. 10, which has become a shrine for the area. Today, the shop sells cufflinks rather than meat.

Coin making demonstration at the Jorvik Viking Centre (wikipedia)

Though not in the city center, the Jorvik Viking Centre provides an excellent history of the influence of the Vikings on the region of Northumbria and their role in the history of the United Kingdom. Currently the museum is closed due to damage from flooding, but it is scheduled to reopen this year, so be sure to check before making a visit. The local tourist office will have any information you need.

Great Hall of the National Railway Museum in York (wikipedia)

One museum that should not be missed however, is the National Railway Museum outside the city walls of York. If you get nostalgic about the old days when steam engines made their way across steel tracks, this museum is for you.

The Railway Museum is more than just trains (wikipedia)
The Railway Museum is more than just trains (Wikipedia)

Though the museum focuses upon the historic connections of the British railway system, it is actually a museum of transportation that features other modes of travel throughout the centuries.

Just when the “thrill of victory” is ready to yield to the “agony of the feet” head for Betty’s Tea Rooms to sample mint tea and scones with clotted cream. Warning: Betty’s is a world-famous institution, so be prepared to wait…it is well worth it.

And speaking of confectionery delights, thanks to York’s chocolate history, you can even walk the city’s “Chocolate Trail” which is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings regardless of how large.

Finally, no country has more ghosts per capita than the United Kingdom and, arguably, no city has a greater concentration of spooky stories than York. Many cities throughout England and Scotland feature ghost walks, but none are better than the ones in York.

York has the best ghost walks in the United Kingdom (the original ghost walk)

London and Edinburgh may be larger, but York’s compact size and the sinister crooked shapes of its silhouetted buildings make the ideal ambiance to these delightfully haunting and macabre stories.

With its narrow streets and medieval setting, York’s pubs are properly inviting and fun when it comes time to enjoy a pint with the locals.

Yes, New York, New York may be a “helluva town” but for pure nostalgia and traveling pleasure, give me “Old York” in England any time.

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About the author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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