York has long been a popular destination for a staycation, and wondering the Shambles during freezing temperatures one weekend, I understood why. If a city could be this vibrant and full of charm in the heart of January, it really must be special.
Where To Stay
Voted one of the ‘Hottest Hotels in the World’ last year by Tripadvisor, Roomzzz, from £109 a night, is a fantastic option for both short and long stays in York.
A gorgeous, modern aparthotel situated right on the river, Roomzzz have thought of everything to make the most of a stay here.
I checked in to a one bedroom loft suite, which meant I had my own living area, balcony, and kitchenette alongside the usual bedroom and bathroom.
This was the perfect place to relax and enjoy breakfast before heading out in the mornings, or quickly check emails (very very quickly of course – it was supposed to be a holiday!).
The design was stunning – deep blue walls and sleek grey finishes in the bathroom and kitchen. Everything I needed was there – flat screen TVs, a dishwasher, hairdryer and ironing board. Bathrooms were filled with The White Company products, and the balcony enjoyed river views.
There was even a free laundry room available for guests to use (not, I admit, that I was staying long enough to need to visit it – but handy to know it was there).
Breakfast was available each morning from a grab and go area, and was ample for my needs – fresh fruit, pastries, yoghurt, porridge, juice and coffee. Those looking for a bit more also have the option to buy food from the deli, but I never felt the need.
Staff at the 24hr reception were very friendly and happy to call taxis or make recommendations.
Where To Eat
You are spoiled for choice in York, with an array of independent restaurants and cafes to try.
My first stop was The Cut and Craft, a flat iron steak and craft beer restaurant. Richly designed inside with leather banquettes and a show stopping bar, the food was decadent – my partner enjoyed a gold steak (yes, a steak wrapped in gold leaf), while I tucked in to a perfectly cooked fish skewer. We ended the meal with a lemon tart which was the perfect mix of sweet and sharp. I have to give a special mention to the cocktails, which really were original and delicious – the Citrus Dream was almost a dessert in itself, while the Moët Spritzer was a refreshing, party-starter of a drink.
Another fun hotspot is Lucia, whose neon lights and pretty pink decor make it an Instagram-able dream. It is so popular even the outside heated terrace was full when we visited for lunch, and thankfully the food was just as good as the design – I enjoyed a tagliatelle gamberoni (prawns and courgette in a lush tomato and cream sauce), while my other half tucked in to a classic seafood spaghetti. We washed down the pasta with copious glasses of champagne, and coupled with the sunny service, it really felt like we could be on holiday in Italy.
Our final dinner was enjoyed at The Orchid, an Asian restaurant offering something truly unique – the whole menu is vegan. This makes a change from most other restaurants who usually only have one vegan item on offer – it was a great feeling for me, a non-meat eater, to know I’d have plenty to choose from. We enjoyed steamed gyoza salt & pepper tofu and salt & pepper ‘king prawn’ to start, and were both blown away by how like real prawns the third plate was. This continued with the mains – we shared the house special (tofu, vegan prawn and vegan chicken in Szechuan sauce) and General Tso’s Tofu. If you like Asian food, don’t miss The Orchid, whether you are vegan or not, as it really is mouth-watering.
York is of course famous for its tea rooms, and none more so than Bettys. I’ve ordered many a tempting treat online but this was my first time visiting the famous Bettys York. While you can queue (and people do, whatever the weather), I’d recommend booking, not least because then you will be seated in the Belmont Room, with interiors inspired by the Queen Mary ocean liner, and an excellent painist setting the mood as you indulge. Trays of dainty sandwiches, light and fluffy scones and rich cakes are washed down with an array of teas – all of which you can try if you wish, including Bettys own blend. It was a romantic way to while away the afternoon, watching the bustling streets below.
You can also order items from the shop to your table, avoiding the crowds – everything is good but I wouldn’t go home without a Fat Rascal and a box of Florentines.
If you want the indulgence in a less formal setting, don’t miss Cocoa Joe’s. As the name suggests, chocolate drinks are their speciality. Friendly and knowledgeable staff will chat you through the options, finding out what kind of chocolate you like best (creamy and rich? super sweet? bitter?), and making suggestions for flavour add ons. I tried a classic creamy milk chocolate with hazlenut praline made with oat milk, while my partner went for white chocolate with cinnamon – of course both topped off with whipped cream and marshmallows for the perfect winter treat.
What To Do
If you can tear yourself away from the fantastic restaurants, there is plenty to fill your weekend with in York. Make sure you get a York City Pass to make the most of everything on offer at the best prices.
Top of the list for me was York Minster, the 800 year-old cathedral with breathtaking stained glass windows. Timed entry slots meant it didn’t feel too rushed or busy inside, and we could really look around and learn about the building’s history, as well as the heroic efforts to conserve it for the next generation.
York Art Gallery is small but perfectly formed, and is currently showing a Young Gainsborough exhibition (until 13 February) and houses an interesting collection of pottery and Japanese Ukiyo-E prints. I loved the prints in particular – some so fragile they can only be shown for six months every few years, so you can visit time and again and see something different.
Finally, don’t miss York’s Chocolate Story, a fun, interactive look into the history of Rowntrees (makers of Kit Kat and Smarties, among others), Terry’s and Craven’s (known for their sweets). Our guide, Louis, kept the tour interesting and upbeat, and we even got to make our own chocolate lollies at the end to take home – what could be better?! A great afternoon out for both adults and children.