Sitting on layers of history dating back to the Neolithic groups that first settled the area, England’s city of York provides visitors with a myriad of activities and sites from modern to ancient. York was officially established by the Romans in 71 CE and has since been host to Angles, Normans, and royal lines of the Stuarts and Tudors. Today, the city’s center is still completely enclosed by the Bar Walls and offers Roman ruins, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern England, quaint medieval streets, numerous museums, a racetrack, a theatre, a railway station, and an ample shopping district. York is located just a short drive from other exciting cultural sites, making it the perfect weeklong getaway.

The City Center

The city center is a great place to begin your week. You can get your bearings by walking the Bar Walls, named for the four bars or gates that punctuate the walls and surround the city center. The original walls were constructed around 71 CE, and parts of this original foundation can still be found in some of the existing walls around the city.

Photo by Lindsay Brown. York Minster, seat of the Bishop of York.

Next you will want to be sure to visit York Minster, seat of the Archbishop of York. Located in the center of the inner city, the site of York Minster has hosted a church or cathedral since 627 CE. Be sure to see the intricate choir screen, chapter house, and Undercroft, which shows the remains of the buildings that existed on the site before the minster.

Many of York’s medieval streets are too narrow for automotive traffic, making York an excellent city to explore on foot. Get lost in the city by wandering York’s vast shopping district, which provides everything from outdoor markets to favorite British chains such as Marks & Spencer and Cath Kidston. On your walk, be sure to stop by the Shambles, a medieval street where the houses are so close together that people hanging out the windows of the buildings on either side of the street could touch hands.

If you are interested in a history lesson that is a little less conventional, be sure to try one of the city’s ghost tours that take place each night. As a medieval city, York is steeped in legend and lore. Whether you are looking for some history off the beaten path or a bit of a nighttime thrill, be sure to see this ancient city after the sun goes down.

Outside the City Center

If you want to stretch your legs and get outside the city, there are several great sites within an hour or two of York that you can visit to round out your cultural week. If you are looking for more modern entertainment, just outside the city center you can catch some hoof-pounding action at the York Racecourse. The Dante Festival, which promises three superb days of horse racing, will take place May 16–18, and tickets can be purchased for as little as £5.

Photo by Lindsay Brown. The ruins of Fountains Abbey at Studley Royal Park.

If you are seeking culture as well as great outdoors, spring is the perfect time to take a trip to Studley Royal Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the picturesque ruins of Fountains Abbey and is located less than an hour from York. The abbey was founded in 1132, and even though it was partially destroyed in 1539 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the ruins set against the vibrant green grass of the park are just as beautiful today as they were when the abbey was first built. After exploring the ruins, you can wander the 800-acre park to see dozens of other wonders it has to offer, including trails, lakes, bridges, halls, churches, and the famous water garden. Visit to find events going on at the park during your visit.

If you are feeling more adventurous, make the hour and a half trip to the city of Durham, home to Durham Cathedral, another World Heritage Site. The Cathedral contains the tombs of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, and if you take the guided tour you can learn about the exciting history of each, including the contributions they made during their lifetimes and legends surrounding their deaths. If you are an avid pop-culture muggle, Durham Cathedral holds a further claim on your interest: it was featured as Hogwarts (with digitally added spires) in the Harry Potter films and was a filming location for the first movie.

Whether you are looking for ancient culture, modern entertainment, or a mix of both, the many layers of York will surprise and delight you each day of your weeklong stay in the city and in its surrounding areas.

—Lindsay Brown