My guide to indulging in one of my favourite British traditions in one of Britain's oldest, most beautiful and most visited cities. A summary of the best places in York to stop for a cuppa!
No matter what the reason for a visit to York, you can't go home without stopping off for a cup of tea and a homemade cake! In my opinion, it just wouldn't be right. It is often said that, quite simply, one cannot 'do' York without a visit to Bettys tea room in St Helen's Square (Bettys, 6-8 St Helen's Square, York; 01904 659 142; www.bettys.co.uk). The iconic glass window, the traditional uniforms, quaint surroundings and undeniably delicious food are enough to persuade tourists in their masses to descend on St Helen's square and queue indefinitely! Having spent three years at university in York, I fail to remember ever managing to get a table without at least twenty minutes of queueing and, in that three years, I managed to secure one of the highly sought after window tables just once. The big question would be: is it worth it? And my honest answer would be probably not! York has plenty of equally good establishments serving afternoon tea and most will not demand an hour's queue, even on the busiest of shopping days!
My personal favourite will always be Mulberry Hall (Mulberry Hall, Stonegate, York, YO1 8ZW; 01904 620736; www.mulberryhall.co.uk ). The Mulberry Hall Coffee Shop, as it is officially known, is situated on the first floor of a beautiful shop selling glassware, gifts and fine china. Housed in a beautiful fifteenth-century building on busy Stonegate, it offers the same quaint atmosphere of Bettys, without the proliferation of noisy tourists and the 'goldfish bowl' effect of the St Helens Square window. Enter Mulberry Hall at ground level and wander through the delightful array of gifts and homewares until you find the stairs. At the top of the staircase, you will be met by a waitress in traditional uniform who will show you to your table and take care of you for the duration of your visit. The Yorkshire Cream Tea is £4.95 and provides a pot of Yorkshire tea, one small fruited scone, one small plain scone, a pot of jam and a tub of clotted cream. It's great value for money. There is also a wide selection of other items on the menu including breakfast items, hot dishes, sandwiches and cakes. The menu is available online.
For the chocolate lovers amongst us, Bullivant of York might be a better option. (Bullivant of York, 15 Blake Street, York, YO1 8QJ; 01904 671 311). They provide a chocolate lover's cream tea, comprising of a large hot chocolate, large chocolate chip scone, chocolate spread and clotted cream. This one is not for the faint-hearted but a superb treat for a select few. Bullivants also offers an extensive menu, including a more traditional cream tea. It isn't as palatial as Bettys or Mulberry Hall but the chintzy decor and selection of novelty teapots for sale does provide it with some quirky charm! Personally, this serves as a great everyday choice and is usually free of other tourists.
The best tea room for those on a budget is the Little Shambles Tea Room (1 Little Shambles, York, YO1 7LY; 01904 627 871). Situated just off the busy Shambles street, this tea room is tiny! There are just three small tables downstairs and a handful found at the top of a very narrow staircase. The lovely little building is an attraction in itself and the prices cannot be beaten.
Café Concerto is another must-visit for those in search of a cup of tea and something sweet. (21 High Petergate York YO1 7EN; 01904 610478; www.cafeconcerto.biz). While it doesn't offer a conventional cream tea, the selection of homemade cakes and desserts make it worthy of a mention. It's also a great place for lunch, dinner or anytime really! The café attracts a regular clientele of locals due to the wonderful atmosphere. I could happily spend the day there with a good book, a few cups of tea and the occasional snack. Equally, it's the ideal spot for an informal lunch with friends and transforms itself wonderfully into a restaurant in the evening. The location, decor and menu really do make this place one of a kind.
If after all of these options your heart is still set on Bettys, wrap up warm and be prepared to wait! It is worth remembering that it is often easier to get a table downstairs and, of course, that weekdays and late afternoon/early evening are less busy than weekends, lunchtimes and afternoon tea time! Little Bettys on Stonegate provides an alternative but if you're going to 'do' Bettys, you might as well do it properly! (Little Bettys, 46 Stonegate, York, YO1 8AS; 01904 622 865; www.bettys.co.uk).