Be charmed by York
Date Posted: 21/12/2011
Rob Yandell took a trip to York and fell in love with a city that will make for a memorable group visit.
A visit to York has been on my hit list for years, so I decided to forgo a short break abroad and finally experience this ancient city for myself. Having built the trip up in my mind, I'm pleased to say that despite my high expectations, I wasn’t disappointed and I'm confident it will make a memorable group visit.
The city offers the quaint and the grand in equal measure. You'll find cobbled streets offering cosy pubs nestled in-between tempting shops. The Shambles is one of the more well-known shopping lanes and been voted the most picturesque street in Britain on more the one occasion, so well worth seeing, although somewhat narrow. What you will find is that you can easily lose an afternoon in York as the hours slip away; even before you start thinking about visiting some of the city’s top tourist attractions.
There are plenty of hotels in York for your group break but staying within the city walls means you're in the very heart of the action - and even people who may be less mobile will be able to take a stroll straight from the front door.
The city tourist board offers group travel organisers its Visit York Groups Desk. Billed as your one-stop-shop for finding accommodation, itinerary suggestions, local tour guides, coach parking and more, this is how you’ll be able to organise a stay that’s right for your group. Plus, for all new bookings of two nights or more for a minimum of 30 people, the Visit York Groups Desk is offering GTOs a free one hour guided walking tour of the city.
The centre is very walkable but be aware it does get very busy, especially at weekends. But there is no doubting York’s charm and I think I timed my trip to perfection, with Christmas lights and decorations adding to an almost Dickensian feel; although it's somewhere to be enjoyed whatever the season.
Take a stroll along the city walls, which are narrow but offer an overview of your surroundings, before visiting the magnificent York Minster which is right in the centre.
Although a living place of worship, the Minster is a tourist hot spot and groups are well catered for with a variety of tours on offer for groups of ten or more - but you need to book at least 28 days in advance. Earlier this year, York Minster launched its new Hidden Minster Tours, which include: The West End and Bell Towers, The Chapter House Roof & Masons’ Loft, and Early Minster. Tours are also available of the Bedern Chapel Glass Conservation Studio to the public on Wednesdays and Fridays. All other days (for Bedern) and tours of the Stoneyard and the East Front are exclusively for pre-booked groups.
I also took a look at York Minster Revealed, where new interactive galleries uncover the secrets behind the Great East Window, hailed by some as the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of England. Unprecedented in its time and still the largest stained-glass window in Europe, it told the epic story of the ‘beginning and end of all things’. You can also book a tour to meet the local people who work at York Minster, keeping alive ancient traditions and welcoming thousands of people who visit and worship.
York will be celebrating in a big way in 2012. It will be 800 years since the city was granted a Royal Charter by King John in 1212, allowing York to take charge of its own affairs by electing a council, creating the post of mayor, and giving a voice to its people. York Minster is just one of the city’s attractions celebrating York 800 through a series of events, talks and tours but more on that later.
Staying with the history theme, groups often include the popular Jorvik Viking Centre attraction as part of their stay. Group deals are available and you can also buy combination tickets to enjoy other heritage sites in the city, such as the Barley Hall and Micklegate Bar. Jorvik is the name of the Viking-Age city of York and at the centre you can discover the findings of a ground-breaking excavation that has revealed 1,000 year-old houses, workshops and objects from the deep past. Groups can opt for a guided personal or audio tour.
One of the biggest additions for tourist groups is a brand new visitor attraction that reflects on the fascinating story of York’s trading manufacturing past, bringing the sweet and chocolate history of the city up to date. Chocolate – York’s Sweet Story is due to open in the spring so keep your eyes peeled to our News pages for more information.
And if food's your thing, pop by the tea rooms made famous by Betty for a warming brew and a slice of cake. Part of the Bettys chain, you might get a big queue so time your visit and jump to it if you pass by St Helen's Square and it's quiet.
Events to look out for
York’s new Chocolate Festival will take place between the 6th and 9th April and will be four days celebrating the many chocolate products that have been created in the city, such as Chocolate Orange, Smarties, Aero, and Kit Kat. A Chocolate Market will showcase the fine quality creations from local chocolate makers, whilst venues and attractions throughout the city will tell of their own part in York’s chocolate story.
Groups will be able to get up-close to record-breaking locomotives, ride on trains big and small, climb inside drivers’ cabs and stand on footplates during Railfest 2012, taking place from 2nd to 10th June. A paid admission event, Railfest is taking place at the National Rail Museum, which will continue to offer free admission to the rest of the museum throughout the nine-day event.
Celebrating York’s 800th anniversary as an independent city able to elect its own council and Lord Mayor and govern itself, York 800 bring together the very best of the city's past, present and future. A full year of events and festivals will all mark this significant birthday and the Charter Weekend itself on the 7th to 9th July will see city-wide festivities.
The medieval cycle of the York Mystery Plays has been told by the people of York for hundreds of years and in the summer of 2012 this bold new production sees the plays return to York Museum Gardens for the first time since 1988. Dates are the 2nd to 27th August and tickets are £15 to £42, with group discounts and concessions available.
Best of the rest
See the sights from the river with York Boat’s sightseeing cruises. Day and evening cruises are available, as are packages that include lunch or dinner. You can also get tickets to combine a cruise with the York CitySightseeing open top bus tour, which is always a nice introduction for visitors.
York Maze is Europe’s largest maize maze and was named as Visit York Large Visitor Attraction of the year in 2010. It will open for the summer season from mid July until early September. Each year the maze pathways are cut into notable shapes and previous designs have included an Astronaut, The Flying Scotsman and a Spitfire. There is also a large children’s play areas, farm animals and tractor rides.
Part of the group that brings you the London and Edinburgh attractions, you can delve into the horrible history of the city at the York Dungeon. Live actors and special effects deliver a fun experience but those of a nervous disposition should perhaps stay clear.
And it might be a good idea to let your group know about the York Pass, especially if any of them want to go off and do their own thing. It offers a choice of entry into a host of York attractions, plus a variety of special offers. You can buy a one, two or three-day pass which can be purchased from the York Visitor Information Centre.
York will also be embracing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Torch Relay - more information about these angles and further ideas for group travel organisers, can be found by visiting the Visit York group travel website or by speaking to one of its travel team.
I was thinking about it for too long, so if you haven’t been to York I recommend you don’t delay it any longer - your group will love you for it.