When to go to York

The city walls in Spring (www.visityork.org).

By David Cawley, your York expert

I write for Britain Magazine, Heritage .... Read more

The best time to visit York

You’d think with the amount of things to do and see here already, York wouldn’t need to go to any more trouble to attract visitors.

Not a bit of it. The city is busy year round with festivals and events filling the streets and venues to tempt shoppers, foodies, culture vultures and sporting fans. Spring, summer, autumn, winter, whatever the time of year York is open for business, welcoming millions of people throughout the year whatever the weather.

Expect average temperatures of 1C in the depths of winter rising to around 21C in the height of summer but do remember this is northern England and it’s always wise, whatever the season, to pack precautionary umbrellas and waterproofs as rain in this part of the country is an inevitability.

Obviously spring and summer are the most pleasant time to visit, though not surprisingly they coincide with many of York’s events including its annual Race Meetings which begin in May and continue over sporadic weekends until the beginning of October. See below for exact dates when the city’s accommodation stock will be at its hardest to find and most expensive. So too on the run up to Christmas when the streets take on a magical, ‘olde world’ atmosphere filled with stalls, lights and festive cheer attracting shoppers and Yule-time romantics from across Britain to spend the night here.

In comparison to other cities of similar size, staying in York is not cheap. If time is on your side and you have the flexibility to visit during the week, I would recommend booking your accommodation between Sunday and Thursday. Rates then are at their cheapest, the sights and attractions are slightly quieter and this avoids the weekends and many of the festivals and events that draw the crowds to the city and pushes hotel rates skyward. For information on accommodation, visit the York hotels page for my choice of places to stay along with comparative rates and details on booking.

To help plan your trip to York, I’ve listed both the school holidays for the next 12 months and a selection of the big hitting events and festivals that will both mean increased visitor numbers and invariable hikes in accommodation rate.

School holidays

2011
May: May 30-Jun 3
Summer: Jul 25-Aug 31
October: Oct 24-28
Christmas and New Year: Dec19-Jan 3.

2012
February: 11-19
Easter: Mar 31-Apr 13.

Spring - races and music

From the May 11, York Racecourse (www.yorkracecourse.co.uk) begins its horse racing calendar. Sharing the same opening day is the Spring Festival of New Music (www.yorkconcerts.co.uk). Continuing on a musical note, the National Centre for Early Music hosts its Jazz Weekend (www.ncem.co.uk) from May 22. On the last weekend of the month, the imperial ancients return to town for interactive fun and learning during the York Roman Festival (www.yorkromanfestival.co.uk).

Summer - gastro joy and blooming heather

The week long York Early Music Festival (www.ncem.co.uk) opens on July 1; horse racing returns to York Races (www.yorkracecourse.co.uk) from June 11 and the annual Festival of Rivers (www.yorkfestivals.com) takes to the water between July 9-24. On August 1, Castle Howard presents its outdoor Proms Spectacular and the turf takes centre stage again at the York Races - Ebor Festival (www.yorkracecourse.co.uk) from Aug 17. There’s more horse racing from September 4; while from September 16, foodies will find a great deal of gastro joy at the 10-day York Festival of Food and Drink (www.yorkfoodfestival.com). Out of the city, September is also the best time to head for The North Yorkshire Moors when the moorland heather is in its most vibrant bloom.

Autumn - ghosts and light displays

October 7-8 sees the last York Races meeting (www.yorkracecourse.co.uk). From October 26 to October 29, each night between 7pm-10pm the city takes on a magical glow when the nights start to draw in during Illuminating York (www.illuminatingyork.org) when the city’s buildings form the canvas for some cutting-edge creative light displays. There’s seven days of ghoulish fun from October 31 when local boy Guy Fawkes and York’s reputation as the most haunted city in Europe take centre stage during the Halloween & Guy Fawkes Events (www.visityork.org/seeanddo/whats-on).

Winter - festivities and Mystery Plays

For a bygone Christmassy atmosphere, there are few better places to get into the festive spirit. Like the rest of Britain, Christmas comes early here beginning on November 24 with the St Nicholas Fayre, Christmas Markets (www.visityork.org). The National Centre for Early Music returns with its Early Music Christmas Festival (www.ncem.co.uk) between December 1-10.

Opening the 2012 events calendar, the Jorvik Viking Festival (see my [node: 178036] page) in late February is a week-long celebration off all things Norse. The second week of March sees the return of the weekend Spookfest (www.spookfest.co.uk).

Later in the year and celebrating its 800-year anniversary in 2012, the York Mystery Plays return to St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens. Bookings for August are being taken now at www.yorkmysteryplays-2012.com for this very popular month-long biblical drama.

Speciality Markets (Parliament Street)

2011
Made in Yorkshire Crafts May 25-29
Continental Markets Jun 9-12
Made in Yorkshire Crafts Aug 24-28
Continental Markets Oct 13-16
Made in Yorkshire Crafts Oct 26-30
Made in Yorkshire Crafts Nov 24-27 (Guildhall)
Made in Yorkshire Crafts Dec 1- 8.

For more expert advice on York, follow these links: