York on a budget

by ill Hassall

York has a lot to offer, from the Minster to the National Railway Museum. Here is how to eat, sleep and see the city on a budget

Is it possible to visit any city these days without it costing an arm and a leg? Well – yes! With some forward planning, we had four days in York and managed to keep within a sensible budget.

Where to stay

We stayed at the Travelodge York Central. OK, so they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but you know exactly what to expect. And if you’re on a sightseeing break, how much time do you spend in your room anyway? Booking in advance meant a cheap deal. In return we had friendly service, a spotlessly clean room and a comfortable bed. What we also got was a lovely view over the canal and Clifford’s Tower – and a royal fly-past by Canada Geese every morning. To top it off, it was all within a couple of minutes of the main sights.

The hotel is right next door to a Wetherspoons pub where they serve an excellent breakfast at a fraction of the prices in the city itself.

What to see and do

The extremely friendly staff at the Tourist Information Centre at York railway station armed us with maps and enough leaflets to last several weeks. However, time was fairly tight so we started off by simply wandering – the best way to get the feel of a place.

York is ideal for this as the city centre is far smaller than we’d expected and everything was within easy distance. An amble around the city walls which stretch for well over two miles gives a fascinating insight into the history of the city. You feel as if you’ve gone back in time as you pass medieval towers and the impressive gateways (or Bars) into the city. Even more fascinating, perhaps, was the glimpse into the lives of ordinary people who live in the shadow of the walls.

Back down to earth, there was plenty to see in the maze of little streets around the centre. The Shambles is probably the most famous but we found it slightly touristy and some of the other tiny streets were more fascinating. Of course, there were loads of lovely shops but I’m afraid it was window shopping only this time.

We’d been told that the Jorvik Centre in Coppergate was a must but, not knowing what to expect, we felt rather let-down by the theme park approach - although it has to be said that it is very cleverly done (www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk). However, we had saved 75% on admission by using the Tesco Clubcard Deals and had bought a joint ticket to the centre and the Barley Hall.

What a difference. This medieval townhouse, previously hidden behind some modern buildings, is a real jewel in the quaintly named Coffee Yard, off Swinegate. (www.barleyhall.org.uk). We were welcomed by friendly staff who instructed us to touch and sit on anything - not what you’re told at the usual type of museum. We felt like a Lord and Lady as we sat in the Great Hall. A Plague and Pestilence exhibition was absolutely fascinating and we came away thankful that we didn’t live in the times of open sewers and medical superstitions.

No visit to York could be complete without a visit to the Minster (www.yorkminster.org.uk). No supermarket deal to be had here but the admission charge was worth every penny. The sheer majesty of the place was overwhelming and it felt as if we’d stepped into another world. Decide what you want to see before you go as there are several joint tickets, all cheaper than paying individually. We went to the Undercroft – a fascinating look into York’s history.

Another glimpse into York’s history happened by chance when we were lucky enough to see the parade of Merchant Adventurers in all their guild finery walking to church.

One of the best attractions in Britain has to be the National Railway Museum (www.nrm.org.uk) with its free entry!  I was expecting to be bored by “boy’s toys” but absolutely not. There is so much to see there, we spent hours exploring all the exhibits. We were overawed by the sheer size of the engines, especially the Chinese one, and I was fascinated by the Royal trains on show.

Where to eat

There are masses of places to eat in York, all competing for your custom. We were fascinated by the queues outside Bettys Café Tea Rooms. We were even more amazed at the prices. An experience it might be, but expensive. Their Fat Rascals were said to be a local tea-time treat but we found very filling Fat Scamps at a third of the price in the small bakery shops nearby.

We enjoyed a typical English pie and pint at York’s oldest licensed inn – Ye Olde Starre Inne at 40 Stonegate, YO1 8AS. Very reasonable prices with a great atmosphere.

Too tired after all the sight-seeing to find anywhere else, we also ate in the Postern Gate Wetherspoons, right next to the hotel. Like the hotel, we knew what to expect – standard fare at very reasonable prices, but the service was friendly, and full marks for cleanliness!

Top tips

All in all, I can recommend York for plenty to see and do. Yes, we could have spent far more, visiting all the attractions on offer, but we did everything we’d planned and stayed within our budget. It also has to be one of the friendliest places we’ve visited. Everyone, from the tourist office staff to the NHS Direct walk-in centre (unfortunate virus hit me) to the local residents were eager to help and show off their city.