After taking the 2.5 hour morning train from Edinburgh, our family arrived for a delightful day in York. When traveling to England, York is a great city for kids: lots of pedestrian streets, interesting activities, and fun for the parents too!
After spending a few days in a large, 2-bedroom apartment in Edinburgh, our tiny family room in the Hampton by Hilton York felt a bit cozy. That said, it was only one night, and it was a fairly decent location, which makes a difference in a short stay.
We started with a walk from our hotel to “the Shambles,” originally called the Great Flesh Shambles, which most likely means that this was a street full of butcher shops that were displaying their wares. If you look closely, you can still see some of the hooks on which the meat was displayed. While there are no butcher shops that remain, there were still 25 of them in 1872.
Some people also think this street was an inspiration for the Diagon Alley scenes in the Harry Potter movies, although there are plenty of dissenters.
On the way there, we saw some signs to the York Dungeon, but while we were intrigued, we ultimately decided that the kids were way too young at the time.
York Minster Church
Our next stop was at the York Minster towering church.
Unlike many churches in Europe, there’s a non-negligible fee to visit (currently £11.50 for adults, free for children, more to visit the tower), but it is a beautiful church. If you don’t feel the need to walk around and gawk at the ornamentation, consider attending a service, which is free.
The official name of York Minster is Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York and after being under construction for 250 years, was completed in 1472. Prior to this, there were other church buildings on location since 627.
Built in the Gothic style, I found the stained glass and other decorations to be beautiful. A lot of the treasures of the cathedral were lost in looting during the English Reformation. Throughout the years, there were several fires, one was arson, and there were several renovation projects. Today it is a functioning cathedral under the authority of the Church of England.
The City Walls
Next, we decided to let the boys scramble around on the city walls. During our travels, we have discovered that our children almost always love to explore city walls, so if a town has an access point, we usually make a point of visiting them, particularly when they have free entry, like the ones in York.
Sometimes city walls are fairly safe, with rails like the the ones above. Other times, there may be rails, but there can be very large gaps at the bottom where children can easily slip through. Always pay attention to the conditions – most places aren’t super “bubble padded” like we are used to in the United States.
St. Mary’s Abbey
Along the walls, you can see the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, which was built in 1088 and also is the abbey mentioned in one of the earliest ballads of Robin Hood, A Gest of Robyn Hode, printed in the late 14th or early 15th century.
On our way back to our hotel, we decided to stop at Clifford’s Tower, which is the main remnants of York Castle, originally built in 1068 when William the Conquer decided he needed show dominance Norman dominance over the Vikings.
The castle was used for a wide range of military and government activities until 1684, when there was a massive explosion that rendered it uninhabitable. At that point, the parts that remained were mostly used as a jail and debtor’s prison until 1929, when a new prison was built.
It is pretty cool to look at, but has a dark history. Apparently in 1190 a mob chased 150 Jewish people into the castle, at which point most of them decided that suicide was a better alternative to falling into the hands of the mob.
Our Evening and Next Morning
In the evening, we decided that we were ready for some non-Irish/Scottish/English food and decided to go out for Thai food. The meat pies and pasties that we had earlier in the trip were quite tasty, but there is really only so much of that type of food that a person should eat. The nice thing about England is that there is a ready supply of almost any international food that you might want.
In the morning we took another walk around York, then caught the train to London. What fun!