The pretty cathedral city of York is well-known for its black and white wooden buildings and confectionary, such as local fudge; but it’s also a haven for bookworms and tea drinkers with its thriving independent coffeeshop scene and an abundance of indie bookshops. As the city is compact, it’s easy to fit in the major sights and buy a stack of books in just a day. So, here’s our book editor’s 12 hours of tea drinking and book shopping in York.
As big fans of old architecture, we stayed at the Ibis Hotel, a townhouse built in 1832 that was presumably someone’s residence. We had an enormous room that took up half of the first floor, with floor-to-ceiling sash windows and original cornices. It’s a shame the hotel didn’t have more info on its former uses and residents, but I imagined ladies drinking tea in their drawing room and watching guests arrive on horses and in carriages.
There are plenty of choices for breakfast, and we opted for Partisan—a cafe that can only be described as a Tardis. From the front of the old townhouse, it looks like a tiny bakery, but it stretches back into oblivion and a big marquee extends its seating area. We had exquisite French toast with unusual toppings, served in a sizzling pan. If you like Instagramming your food, this is the spot.
You can’t visit York without checking out the intricate yet imposing York Minster cathedral. If it’s your cup of tea, you can go inside and peruse the grounds, or simply enjoy the sun and the architecture from a perching spot outside. There are also libraries and memorials to stroll around if you’re so inclined.
Just across the road from York Minster is Little Apple Books. With its cute logo and window display, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a children’s bookshop. And it does stock children’s books—but also adult books and bookish knick-knacks. This indie shop is pretty adorable inside, decorated in a bright, crisp green, and the staff are also friendly and helpful.
In the shadow of the cathedral is Minster Gate Books, probably one of the most picturesque bookshops you can come across. They sell a mix of new and second-hand books, which is quite unusual. Spread across four (or was it five?) floors going up in a spiral staircase scattered with books, and with several little rooms on each floor, it feels a bit like a magical rabbit warren. The staff are wonderful in offering book recommendations, too. A must-visit for bookworms.
Just up the road from Minster Gate Books is Forest, a cafe you won’t miss as it’s covered with moss and leaves on the outside. The inside follows suit, with leaves jutting from every surface, including the ceiling. It has a rustic feel and offers a spectacular popping candy hot chocolate, since York is the home of Rowntree’s, and a Yorkshire pudding tasting board.
One of York’s most popular attractions is The Shambles, reportedly the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter, and it’s easy to see why. This narrow street of overhanging timber buildings dates back to the 13th Century and still feels like being transported back in time. Nowadays, it’s full of Harry Potter shops and independent retailers, including a cute glass animal shop. It’s rammed full of tourists most of the time—so good luck getting a decent photograph!
No visit to York is complete without a trip to Betty’s Tea Rooms, opened in 1919, though you can expect to queue for just as long. Doors close at 5pm, so head there after the lunch rush; if you’re going for afternoon tea, you can book ahead. Betty’s is famous for its “fat rascals” (not to be confused with “fat b*stards”, which my aunt once accidentally asked for)—fruit buns served warm with butter. Upstairs is a light, airy dining room and downstairs is a cosy wood-panelled tea room. There’s also a shop if you want to take some rascals for the drive home.
If you’re staying on the Micklegate side of town, Lucius Books is well worth a visit (if you’re staying on the other side of town, check out Grimoire Books instead). Lucius is a brightly lit, double-fronted building that stocks a range of rare second-hand books in excellent condition, with many in plastic cases for protection. It feels like somewhere special and dedicated to the preservation of old books.
The former Odeon cinema on Blossom Street first opened in 1937—outside the city walls as requested by the city council, since the Odeon cinema style wouldn’t match the city’s historical aesthetic. Thankfully, this stunning Grade II Art Deco building survived and was refurbed to its original glory by Everyman in 2017. If you’re not up for a film, check out the beautiful foyer.
If you’re vegan or veggie, a trip to The Orchid won’t go amiss. This pretty Chinese restaurant has a lovely atmosphere and the staff are extremely welcoming. There’s no meat or dairy allowed on the premises, but you wouldn’t know it because the mock meat is so realistic! The sweet and sour vegan prawns were a particular favourite.
Planning on going to York or been there already? Let us know and tag us in your bookish photos on Instagram!
Sign up to our newsletter below to get writing and publising tips and tricks.