Panorama of the River Ouse looking south from Lendal Bridge - wikipedia.org
The city of York is one of the world's most impressive walled cities, and that alone would be enough to draw us to it, but it has so much more to offer. Whether strolling around the top of the 2000 year old walls, or simply driving into the city through one of the imposing stone gates, I can't help but imagine Roman guards marching the walls and surprise Viking attacks in the middle of the night...until I enter and see not only incredible medieval streets and Georgian architecture, but sophisticated designer shops and cafes as well. York somehow manages to be stylishly modern, while maintaining the integrity of its ancient past.
We only have two days to explore the city (nowhere near enough). We begin this historical experience on a steam train, and after a nostalgic hour chugging down the track, we end up at the
National Railway Museum, a fantastic collection of trains through the ages (including the
Hogwarts Express!), where we could have easily spent the entire day. But alas, there's not time.
Onwards to the
York Minster, a religious icon and masterpeice of stained-glass and stone. We are enveloped by an immediate sense of peace upon entering, and when the haunting sound of the choir practicing echoes around us as we descend into the crypt, the spiritual sensation is awe-inspiring.
No less so,
The Shambles, said to be one of the most picturesque and visited streets in Europe, takes us back to
medieval times with its cobblestones and fifteenth century buildings leaning so far into the street, they almost touch in the middle. Our daughter is fascinated by all the hooks hanging outside the shops - a reminder of how many of them were butchers in Victorian times.
Time for something more kid-friendly, so we head to
The Sweet Story, a chocolate museum! Here, we learn how cocoa arrived in England and was transformed into the first chocolate by
York's famous confectioners, Terry and Rowntree. We also learn that there are four million Kitkats produced in York every day!
Our bellies full of sweetness from the little treats all the way around, we are ready to brave Dig, a hands-on archeological museum on the site of the
Coppergate excavations which unearthed, among other fascinating artefacts, Roman and Viking remains. Here, we are all furnished with a plastic trowel and we go off to see what we can discover in each of four different digs representing four different periods in York's history. Our enthusiastic and thoroughly entertaining guide helps us sort some remnants, including an ox skull, and a bit of Viking poo (which the kids find highly amusing!).
The final museum we have time for is the
York Castle museum, an incredible glimpse of everyday life spanning over 100 years. Its crowning glory is the recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate, depicting middle-class life, but also the contrasting life in the slums. We wander here for at least an hour, checking out what was being sold in the shops, sitting in the school room, buying sugar mice in the sweet shop, all the time hearing the authentic sounds of the streets around us.
A visit to the
old prison afterwards gives us some insight into the lives of the
unfortunate souls who found themselves housed in this grossly overcrowded, harsh environment. We even hear some of the inmate's stories through amazingly realistic holographic images.
We are exhausted, but exhilirated after our two days in York, and we have seen only a fraction of it. There's no way around it, we are going to have to go back - maybe this time at night so we can take in one of the many spooky ghost walks - a city this steeped in history and bloodshed should have some fascinating ghosts!
Jane Hastelow is a former high school English teacher and curriculum coach currently enjoying a year of family travel and education with her husband and three children. She has a BA in English and a Masters in Communications. Jane loves to combine her passion for writing with family travel. You can also follow her adventures at