Published on April 12th, 2014 | by Kelly Rose Bradford0
Holidaying Solo: Weekend break in York
This was my third visit to York, although my first as a solo traveller (or indeed a solo parent). Trip number one was for a family wedding when my son was 18 months old, trip number two a frenetic overnighter for my former partner’s work when my son was around three. Given my past visits were to other people’s timetables with little downtime, I was really keen to return and explore the city on my own (and it must be said I am a sucker for a cobbled street and a hidden alleyway).
It’s kind of my mission as a single parent to make the most of the weekends when my son is with his dad, and to not fill them with household chores and moping. I am quite happy travelling alone, and having the luxury of doing things at my own pace and to my own agenda. To be fair, I did meet up with a pal in the evenings whilst I was in York, but in the main, my day and a half break was free to fill as I liked, and having armed myself with info from the Visit York website in advance, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do.
After driving up from London, I checked into the Holiday Inn on the edge of the race course and resisted the temptation to nap (which seems to be my default setting when not parenting these days). Instead, I dumped my cases and jumped back in the car and drove the four miles to the McArthurGlen designer outlet, which being a retail addict, was top of my list of places to visit. I love outlet villages, and this one was better than most as it is all undercover (so a mall, basically), and on the late Friday afternoon I visited, practically deserted. On the basis I don’t need any more frocks (OK, actually, on the basis I am skint) I did no more than longingly caress some gorgeous and bargainiferous togs in Reiss, Phase Eight and Coast, and instead shopped tactically and practically: a bag of Cadbury Mishapes and a bottle of Estee Lauder foundation (for the mega cheap price of £19 – although gallingly, just a week previously I’d shelled out £28.50 on the same product in Debenhams…). Had my bank balance not been looking quite so woeful, I could have happily travelled to York JUST for the outlet centre, but make up and choc in hand, I did the sensible thing and headed back to my hotel to change for dinner.
Being a fussy veggie, I’d already been online and checked out the very local eating options for the Friday evening. I didn’t want to go into the city centre, knowing it would be busy and most restaurants booked, and I didn’t want to spend my entire evening in the hotel, so I met up with my friend and we wandered across the road to the oddly named (or perhaps I just didn’t ‘get it’) Fox and Roman pub. They had a fab selection of meat free dishes, admittedly of the ‘pub grub’ variety, but well prepared. I had a very good veg korma followed by an even better peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake. The fact I was so stuffed I felt sick for an hour after is a compliment to the chef.
York is full of things to do, and I got up early on the Saturday in an attempt to fit in as many as possible. The advantage of doing a trip like this on my own is that I can weed out the wheat from the chaff in advance of visiting again with my son. One place I will definitely be returning to with him is Haunted, a supposedly ‘haunted’ house on Stonegate. I arrived as the attraction opened and was the only visitor for the duration of my time there, which added somewhat to my unease as I toured the darkened rooms… I have to confess I had my phone’s torch switched on at some points as I was just so freaked out (an audio plays as you go around, and one particularly graphic tale about a maid having a stillbirth in an attic bedroom left me a quivering wreck).
The York Castle Museum was also on my list of places to go, and didn’t disappoint, with its room sets of interiors through the ages and authentic Victorian street. I wasn’t so interested in the 1960s onwards part of the museum, so instead headed back to the city centre for a swift visit to Fairfax House, a breathtaking Georgian home with beautiful period furniture on display (not to mention a magnificent staircase which I took about 300 pics of).
I assumed that by around 2pm, I’d find it easy to get a table in a restaurant for lunch. Hmmm. not so – I’d obviously seriously underestimated just how popular York is on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t prepared to queue round the block for Betty’s tea room no matter how much I wanted cake (yet many, many others apparently were), or indeed at Goji Vegetarian Cafe – a place I was desperate to try, but which had a 20 minute wait for a table. Instead, I found myself at the far too familiar but reliable Wagamama, where I stuffed myself with noodles before walking round the town snapping ginnels and alleyways, and of course the Minster.
I was keen to discover what York had to offer at night, but Saturday evening probably wasn’t the best time to do so. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t take my son in to the city in the evening – watching all the stag and hen parties traipsing through the streets was fun as an adult, but it would have been a bit much for kids. I ate an entirely mediocre Turkish meal on the outer fringes of the city (no halloumi! How can you NOT have halloumi on your menu in a Turkish restaurant?), before heading to a quietish bar for a night cap.
The advantages of staying outside of town really hit home as I made my way back around 10pm – unless I had been out amongst the action, the noise and busyness meant I wouldn’t have wanted to be staying centrally. As such my ‘outskirts’ hotel was ideal – very quiet and peaceful, and exactly what I needed on a weekend ‘off’ (and although I used cabs to get back and forward from the centre, I could have actually walked the 1.5miles in around 30 minutes, or taken one of the many buses).
Sunday morning was spent lazing in my hotel room, making the most of the relaxed 11am checkout, and full on breakfast buffet, before heading back down the motorway to London. It was a fun weekend, and I would have liked longer. I’ll definitely be returning with my my son – there’s loads for families to do (I barely skimmed the surface with my visit) and lots for grown ups too – I particularly want to take him on the Chocolate Story Tour which I didn’t have time for on the Saturday (there was a queue and a wait), and on one of the ghost walks around the town, too (do your research on these – locals told me some are MUCH better than others). Kids aside, York is the perfect grown up city break destination – I really want to do a midweek trip with my girlfriends just for the outlet village – hopefully, very soon.
Fifteen Things To Do In and Around York
1. Circumnavigate the city as you walk around York’s famous medieval walls, the longest in England – the best way to get your bearings.
2. You can’t go to York and not visit the Minster, the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe. Soothe your soul with a lunchtime recital, view the largest concentration of medieval stained glass in Britain or tunnel underground to the Roman, Saxon and Norman remains in the undercroft and crypt.
3.Take the time machine back to AD975 and experience the sights, sounds and smells of Viking York at Jorvik in Coppergate.
4.Celebrate York’s chocolate and confectionery heritage in York’s newest visitor attraction ‘York’s Chocolate Story’ and immerse yourself and interact with this special story. Follow the path and walk along York’s chocolate heritage on York’s new self-guided Chocolate Trail, and taste York’s chocolaty centre at the newly opened York Cocoa House on Blake Street.
5.Named by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, as Europe’s fifth best and the UK’s top food and wine destination, York offers a whole host of eateries to enjoy throughout the day and in the evening.
6.Visit the National Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the world. Admission is free to this spectacular attraction, featuring Stephenson’s Rocket, the only Japanese Bullet train outside Japan, a virtual channel tunnel trip, historic royal carriages and daily events.
7.Browse around the designer shops of Petergate, Stonegate and the Swinegate Quarter; shop for souvenirs in the narrow cobbled streets of the Shambles; explore York’s antique centres; hop on a bus to York Designer Outlet, 10 mins from the city centre.
8.If time allows, get out into fresh air – take the North Yorkshire Moors Steam Railway from Pickering into the North York Moors National Park; hire a bike at York railway station and cycle along the Selby Cycle Track; hop on the Yorkshire Coastliner bus for a day at Castle Howard or Whitby; board the Scarborough Spa Express train for a day on the beach at Yorkshire’s biggest seaside resort.
9.Evoke memories of wartime Britain at the Yorkshire Air Museum.
10.Take a cruise along the River Ouse and get a different angle on the city. YorkBoat offers various themed evenings, including ghost cruises, Summer Night parties, floodlit evening cruises.
11.Take a ghost walk around York’s spookiest haunts, choosing from a whole host of different ghost walks – from in-depth story telling in York’s most haunted locations to evenings of horror and hilarity.
12.Around 50 ginnels and snickleways are within the city walls, evidence of their popularity with the footbound medieval folk. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a short cut?
13.Treat yourself to the best views in York – climb Clifford’s Tower or tackle the steps at the Minster, the views are breathtaking. Or ride the York Wheel boasting magnificent views of the city, entrance through the gardens of the Royal York hotel.
14.Book a show at the Grand Opera House, which hosts performances all year round including comedy, music, entertainment, children’s theatre and travelling West End productions and musicals. Enjoy a night of elegance at the York Theatre Royal, or see at big name concerts at the York Barbican.
15.Dress up for a day at York Races (May – October)
For more info York Visitor Information Centre on 01904 550099 or visit the website at www.visityork.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org