24 hours in York at Christmas
Looking for a festive treat just an hour by train from Newcastle? York has great food, fun things to do and a super festive atmosphere.
With cobbled streets, great shopping and a huge variety of cute cafes and restaurant options – York is a great destination to get you into the festive spirit.
Our editor Laura took her mum for 24 hours – here’s how we spend 24-hours in York, HLN style…
The easiest option at this time of year is to go by rail, with very frequent trains throughout the day from Newcastle. Parking and traffic in York can be difficult all year round, whereas York station is just a 15-minute walk from the city centre.
Journey time: 1 hour
Average cost: Standard from £20.00 / First Class from £34.00 (cheaper if booked in advance)
WHERE TO STAY
The Grand Hotel, York
One of the UK’s top 5-star hotels, The Grand Hotel in York offers a level of service and luxury that you’ll struggle to find in many other hotels outside of London. It’s located less than a 10-minute walk from the train station, en route to the city centre, so ideal for dropping your bags off when you arrive. All guests can also access the spa facilities for two hours each day of the stay, housed in the atmospheric former vaults of the building, but be sure to book your slot in advance of arrival.
Average price for a Classic Room in December: from £212 per night
The Principal is located right at the station and has impressive lounge areas, however, the rooms can be hit-and-miss (be careful with this when paying more for Minster-view rooms). Malmaison is a solid option, also en route to the City Centre and it has a great rooftop bar overlooking the city.
WHAT TO DO
After dropping off your bags, head into the city via the bridge on Museum Street and take a right onto Lendal. You’ll shortly reach St Helen’s Square, home to the famous Bettys – a traditional tea room which has existed since 1936, with interiors inspired by the Queen Mary ocean liner. Fancy something different? The Ivy just a few doors down does milk, mint or white hot chocolates which are delicious.
Make your way down Coney Street where there are some great high street stores – the Zara, H&M and Mango are large and have great selections, and there’s a cute and cosy Waterstones to stock up on new reads.
Take a loop around High Ouseburn and Coppergate, popping into some great independent stores, and you’ll arrive at St Mary’s Church which is currently home to the immersive Van Gogh exhibition. This is worth a visit, open 10am – 6pm every day (closed on Tuesday).
You start by taking a comfy seat inside the main church, while the exhibition is projected onto the floors and walls around you. It’s incredibly relaxing and you can join at any time during the 40-minute loop. Next, there are some fun activities if you want to do them, and a small gift shop.
For a real festive treat, we recommend heading to the sanctuary of Cafe 21 York inside Fenwick, which is just across the road from St Mary’s Church.
Over Christmas, they do a festive version of their impressive afternoon tea from 2pm. Think delicious finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and a range of festive patisserie (our favourite is the reindeer macaron). Treat yourself to a glass of Champagne for a real treat (it is Christmas after all).
Refuelled, walk through the Christmas market on your way to The Shambles – one of York’s most famous landmarks and one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe. With its cobbled streets and overhanging buildings, it’s believed to have been the inspiration behind Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and at Christmas, is filled with lights.
There are loads of unique independent stores on this street. Our favourite is The York Ghost Merchants. This traditional store was built in 1780 and still retains the same feel. They’re the only ghost merchants still trading in the 21st Century and the buying experience of these small, hand-carved wooden ghosts is worth the visit.
By now, it will likely be dark, so head back to the hotel via York Cathedral where you can see it lit up in all its glory.
We took advantage of the hotel spa facilities at this point, but you could take the opportunity to pop into the Sora Sky Bar on the top floor of the Malmaison hotel to enjoy a cocktail whilst looking across the Christmas lights of the city.
TIME FOR DINNER
We’ve got a few recommendations.
The Rise at The Grand, York – This is a lovely restaurant inside The Grand Hotel, offering a modern British menu with a Yorkshire twist. There’s an open kitchen, cocktail bar and a terrace which has a cosy pod to keep you warm.
Legacy at The Grand, York – The ultimate treat, Legacy is the newly opened fine dining restaurant at The Grand, offering an eight-course tasting menu with an exceptional wine list. Book in advance to avoid disappointment if you want to check this out.
The Star Inn the City – Hidden away in the old Lendal Engine House, The Star Inn the City sits on the riverside and was opened in 2013 when Andrew Pern of the Michelin-starred Star Inn at Harome joined the building owners in their mission to establish a food-led celebration destination in one of York’s unique locations. The food is mid-priced (check out a sample menu here) and it’s a lovely place to spend all evening in a cosy setting. It also serves a great breakfast if you want to check it out in the morning).