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York city guide

Contemporary, full of culture and renowned for its rich history and heritage, York is a city of contrasts. If you're coming to an Open Day, be sure to explore the city while you're here.

Come for a visit

York is regularly voted one of the best places to live and visit in the UK. The city was named the best place to live in the North and North East by The Sunday Times 2019With a population of 200,000, it’s big enough to feel lively but small enough to feel like home.

Why our students love York

You don't have take our word for it, our student bloggers will happily tell you about why they love their city.

Got a question about living in York? 

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Hot spots and hidden gems

These top picks, suggested by students and staff, will give you a good idea of city living in York.

At 3.4 kilometres long, the beautifully preserved City of York walls are the longest medieval town walls in England.

Green spaces

York is easy to explore on foot or by bike, with plenty of cycle lanes and paths.

  • The York Museum GardensYork Minster gardens, and Treasurer's House gardens are idyllic settings for a spot of relaxation and reflection. You could also take a scenic riverside stroll or walk the ancient City Walls.
  • Rowntree Park is the perfect place for a picnic by the river, and you can savour a '99' from the solar-powered ice cream boat nearby!
  • Next to campus you'll find Walmgate Stray - a perfect summer spot for students and an outdoor practice space for student societies like the Juggle Society.
  • You can also cycle the Solar System, a 6 mile cycle route with to scale models of the planets.

Venues across the city showcase everything from national names to local talent.

YUSU's Summer Ball

  • Practice your jazz hands at the The Phoenix Inn. They have live jazz jams on Wednesdays and Sundays which are usually free!
  • For ska and rocksteady, try Bangarang at the Spread Eagle.
  • If you're into roots, reggae, dancehall and dub check out the Irie Vibes nights at The Crescent.
  • 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.
York has a vibrant nightlife that includes nightclubs, bars, live music, comedy, and theatre. There's something for everyone.

Nightlife

A long-standing urban legend says there's a pub for every day of the year in York. That’s not quite true, but there is a high density of pubs and bars in the compact city centre, including traditional pubs, cosy bars, indie nights and cheesy clubs.

  • The Students' Union (YUSU) organises regular student club nights in the city that cater to all tastes, as well as supporting student-run club nights.
  • If you're into real ale and craft beers you'll be spoilt for choice in York at pubs such as the House of Trembling MadnessBrew YorkPivni and York Tap.
  • For a cocktail or a mocktail Evil EyeSotano and Bar Lucia are all well-known spots.
  • You can also hop on a train to Leeds (20 minutes) or Manchester (90 minutes) for a taste of the nightlife in the bigger nearby student cities.

Art, cinema and comedy

There are plenty of options to soak up some culture in York - a haven for art lovers, film buffs and theatre fanatics. York has also recently become a UNESCO City of Media Arts.

  • The Arts Barge Project is the brainchild behind a quirky arts venue on a barge, which will be coming to York city centre. They also organise community arts events.
  • You can't go far in York without seeing street entertainers and buskers like The Magic Ball Man. Or violist Ed Alleyne-Johnson, who was a member of New Model Army and a supporting artist for David Bowie, Bob Dylan and more.

York City Art Gallery

Bishy Road street festival

The Shambles, arguably Europe's best preserved medieval street is transformed during Illuminating York.

Festivals and events

Being a major tourist destination, there are activities and festivals all year round.

  • For one weekend a year, the Ice Trail transforms York into a sparkling ice sculpture city.
  • York Festival of Ideas is a University of York event which attracts speakers from all over the world.
  • Celebrate York's Viking heritage at the largest Viking festival in Europe.
  • York Pride is an event to recognise LGBTQ history, protest for ongoing equality and celebrate what has been achieved so far.
  • And nearby Leeds is well-known for big music festivals such as Leeds FestivalLive@Leeds and Slam Dunk fest.

Museums

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 a Viking-age street at JORVIK Viking Centre.

Dean's Park next to York Minster.

York Museum Gardens

  • You don't have to be a trainspotter to enjoy the National Railway Museum. Their impressive collection tells the story of 300 years of 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.

For more information see Museums in York (yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk)

Eating out

York is a true foodie heaven. Every cuisine and budget are catered for.

  • Visiting Bettys Café Tea Rooms at least once is a must as a student in York. It's a great choice for when your parents visit.
  • Spark:York has turned old shipping containers into a community venue full of amazing local food retailers. 
  • Get your chocolate and caffeine fix at Brew and Brownie, known for its tasty brunches, pretty pancakes and delicious cakes.
  • Enjoy traditional Polish food at Barbakan, a cosy independent café and restaurant serving up delicious pierogi (Polish dumplings) and borscht (beetroot soup).
  • Get a view of the Minster from the roof terrace at The Habit while sampling some Jamaican street food.

Spark:York

The Yorkshire coastline encompasses some of the UK's most rugged and charming countryside.

Beyond York - city, coast and country

York is a great base from which to explore the stunning scenery of Yorkshire. Great rail and transport networks also connect you with the major cities of the UK, and friends at other universities.

  • We have two of the country’s most beautiful national parks right on our doorstep – the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
  • You're only an hour away from a stroll on the beach. There's sunny Scarborough, a charming seaside town where you'll find amazing fish and chips, and Whitby, where the bustling harbour is overlooked by the Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey and you can experience the annual Goth Festival.
  • And you're a short train ride away from big cities such as: Leeds (20 minutes), Manchester (1.5 hours) London (2 hours) and Edinburgh (2.5 hours).

7 reasons why there's nowhere else quite like it

The city centre is full of character that will surprise and delight you throughout your time at York and beyond.

  1. Ancient walls encircle the city centre dating back to Roman times. Take a stroll and see the city from a different perspective.
  2. Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate is the shortest street in York with the longest name. Hundreds of years ago it was the site of York's Pillory, a post where criminals were tied to for humiliation and punishment. These days it's a popular spot for selfies!
  3. The Shambles is believed to be the oldest shopping street in Europe, even getting a mention in the Domesday Book of 1086. Back then it was a street of butchers and slaughterhouses. It's also supposed to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter!

Illuminating York, a magical outdoor festival of lights.

York Minster by night

4. The spectacular York Minster is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Climb the 275 steps to the top of the Minster Tower to get a great view of the city.
5. Chocolate is a major part of York’s history - it’s the birthplace of the Kit Kat and Terry’s Chocolate Orange. If the wind is blowing in the right direction you can catch a whiff of chocolate in the air!
6. Guy Fawkes was born and educated in York; you can even have a pint in the Guy Fawkes Inn on the site where he grew up.
7. Our colourful city offers more than 25 festivals with free events throughout the year.

Nowhere in northern England says 'medieval' quite like York, a city of extraordinary cultural and historical wealth.

Lonely Planet

Awards

Here are just a few of the accolades the city and region have won:

Beautiful York

If you're still not convinced about how amazing our city is - watch this stunning video made by a North Yorkshire-based production company Hewitt & Walker. It features lots of the highlights mentioned on this page!