York is regularly named one of the best places to live and visit in the UK. With a population of 200,000, it’s big enough to feel lively but small enough to feel like home.
If you're coming to an Open Day, be sure to explore the city while you're here.
Hot spots and hidden gems
These top picks, suggested by students and staff, will give you a good idea of city living in York.
From quirky pubs to popular clubs, York has a diverse mix of venues that showcase aspiring musicians and established acts. Venues across the city showcase everything from national names to local talent.
- Listen or play! There are acoustic and open mic nights happening most days of the week in York, including Sunday nights at the Blue Boar, Wednesday nights at The Habit, and Ruby Tuesdays open mic night at Sotano.
- If it's local artists and DIY/punk bands you're after, The Fulford Arms is the place to be. Similar bands often perform at other small venues in the city such as City Screen's The Basement.
- Practice your jazz hands at The Phoenix Inn, with live jams on Wednesdays and Sundays, which are usually free!
- For grassroots music, tribute acts and more, try The York Vaults.
- If you're into roots, reggae, dance hall and dub, check out the Irie Vibes Sound System nights at The Crescent, a community venue with other regular, independent gigs and events.
- The biggest venue in the city, York Barbican, puts on mainstream and nationally acclaimed artists.
- And you're only 20 minutes away from Leeds (by train) which has a number of larger venues including the O2 Academy and the First Direct Arena.
2nd best night out in the UK
The industry body Get Licensed have named York as the second best place in the UK for a night out (2023).
Purple Flag accreditation
The Association of Town and City Management have recognised York as a safe, entertaining and thriving destination after dark (2022).
York is a true foodie heaven. The city boasts a thriving food scene with independent restaurants and quirky coffee shops on every corner. With eateries for halal and vegan diners, you’ll find first-rate restaurants and cafes to suit.
- Visiting Bettys Café Tea Rooms at least once is a must as a student in York. The tea rooms and their spectacular interiors are a great choice for when your parents or family come to visit.
- Spark:York has turned old shipping containers into a community venue full of amazing local street food retailers, with regular events like gigs, quizzes and arts-and-crafts drop-ins.
- Get your chocolate and caffeine fix at Brew and Brownie, known for its tasty brunches, pretty pancakes and delicious pastries. You could also try one of the many other cosy cafes York has to offer including Dyls Cafe Bar, The Vanilla Cafe or Drift-In York.
- Get a view of the Minster from the roof terrace at The Habit over brunch or lunch with friends.
- Taste authentic flavours from around the world - try traditional Nepalese cuisine at the Yak & Yeti, North African street food at Los Moros or Thai-style tapas at Phranakhon.
- For a tasty curry (including Halal options) you could try Kalpakavadi's or check out Indian street food from Nukkad at Shambles Market, among many others.
- Sample some authentic Italian food at Il Paradiso del Cibo, Toto's or Delrios cellar restaurant. The gelatos at Trinacria are also hard to resist on a sunny day.
- For vegetarian and vegan food try Goji Café for their organic sharing platters.
For more information, see places to eat in York (visityork.org).
Festivals: citywide culture and national celebrations
York’s lively cultural scene offers lots to get involved with. With a major event happening every month, there is always something unique and exciting to discover in York. Whatever your interests, you’ll find plenty of entertaining cultural events to enjoy.
- A city-wide celebration of our rich Norse heritage, JORVIK Viking Festival sees York transported back to the Middle Ages with living history encampments, markets, workshops, talks and dramatic combat performances.
- For film fans the Aesthetica Short Film Festival is an annual celebration of independent film from around the world. Featuring emerging talent and established filmmakers, you can even submit an entry yourself.
- With inspiring speakers from all over the world, exhibitions, theatre, music, films and family-friendly activities, York Festival of Ideas offers a huge range of events at venues across campus and the city.
- There's something particularly magical about York at Christmas. Soak up the festive spirit at St Nicholas Christmas Fair and find unique crafted gifts, or get cosy at a pop-up alpine bar with a warming mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.
- The annual York Pride celebrations paint the town all the colours of the rainbow with a parade and musical performances to celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community.
- Nearby Leeds is well known for big music festivals such as Leeds Festival, Live at Leeds and Slam Dunk fest. Each year, they also host Light Night Leeds, the UK’s largest annual arts and light festival allowing you to explore art in the dark.
Art, cinema and comedy
There are plenty of options to soak up some media and arts culture in York! A haven for art lovers, film buffs and theatre fanatics, York is also a UNESCO City of Media Arts.
- York Art Gallery has a great collection showcasing 16th-century masters through to modern art, or for something more cutting-edge, try the Art of Protest Gallery.
- Theatre-goers can enjoy productions at York Theatre Royal or the Grand Opera House, while film fans will love our array of cinemas across the city including the cosy, riverside City Screen Picturehouse.
- For comedy, check out The Barbican for well-known names and All Gold Comedy Club for local talent. Also try out City Screen's The Basement for regular live comedy events.
- York's streets are filled with entertainers and buskers like The Magic Ball Man, or violinist Ed Alleyne-Johnson, who was a supporting artist for David Bowie and Bob Dylan.
- York Mediale run art related events, exhibitions and installations around York.
- The Arts Barge Project is converting a reclaimed river barge into a quirky arts venue, showcasing music, comedy, poetry and more.
Discover more about culture and entertainment on campus.
Shopping: superb independents and chain favourites
York’s iconic medieval streets are lined with the major fashion retail chains, independent stores and market stalls, so you’ll have plenty to choose from.
Explore the world-famous Shambles, York's very own Diagon Alley and one of the best preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe. From ghost merchants to Greek food, this charming cobbled street offers you a unique shopping experience. Around two-thirds of York’s businesses are independent, so you can find one-of-a-kind bargains while supporting the local economy.
- York is a city filled with excellent indie bookshops like Lucius Books or The Little Apple Bookshop.
- The Shambles Market in the heart of the city is the bustling home of York’s largest group of independent traders.
- There are plenty of Harry Potter-themed shops, including The Shop That Must Not be Named.
- Buying gifts or indulging in local products is an absolute pleasure in York, where there are intriguing speciality stores like York Cocoa Works, York Gin and Love Cheese.
- Or catch the regular bus up to the York Designer Outlet for discounted prices on designer products.
Read more about independent shops in York.
Museums and attractions
York offers museums and galleries galore - from Vikings to trains and ghosts to chocolate. When you start your studies, you can get a YorkCard for discounted (and sometimes free) entry to many York attractions.
- You can't miss the York Minster - the grand and Gothic highlight of the city.
- For a haunting experience check out The York Dungeon, hop on a ghost bus tour or dare to do a ghost walk.
- Come face-to-face with a Viking and take a tour of the sights, sounds and smells of 10th-century York at JORVIK Viking Centre.
- You don't have to be a trainspotter to enjoy the National Railway Museum. Their impressive collection tells the story of 300 years of railway history.
- York's Chocolate Story - take a tour through York's history of chocolate and learn how to make it and taste it like an expert.
- Explore York Castle Museum or the Yorkshire Museum to take in the history of the streets of York and Yorkshire. When visiting the Castle Museum, don't forget to take a look at Clifford's Tower, with stunning views over our ancient city.
For more information, see Museums in York.
You can travel between campus and the city centre using our regular bus service, which takes between 15 and 30 minutes. You can also cycle which takes about 15 minutes and by foot it's around 30 minutes.
Lots of York students use bikes. There are plenty of cycle paths and bike lanes, and not many hills! There is also a riverside route between the University and York railway station, which is a cycle-safe route into the city and takes about 20 minutes. You can buy a second-hand bike on campus or from many cycle shops in the city. Our on-campus Bike Doctor offers free bike safety checks once a month, and there are lots of places to lock up.
York is also home to an e-scooter scheme from TIER. You can rent an e-scooter or e-bike for as little as 18p per minute (£1 to unlock) and shuttle across campus or into the city.
from Cycling UK for being a cycle-friendly employer and campus.
Nowhere in northern England says 'medieval' quite like York, a city of extraordinary cultural and historical wealth.
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Culture on campus
Whether you want to play, watch, listen or perform, there are lots of ways to enjoy culture on campus.