There are few cities more magical than York, and few more magical times to visit than at Christmas. When the tree is up in St Helen’s Square, the Christmas markets take over town, and lights are hung along those famous cobbled streets, a festive weekend getaway looks all the more appealing. Fortunately, the city’s not short on fabulous restaurants either, ensuring you'll be well refreshed during your visit. Here, we take you through the perfect itinerary for a culinary Christmas weekend in York.
Friday EveningYou’ve finished a hard week at work, you’ve hopped on a train and you’ve arrived at the historic York station. The last thing you want now is fuss. Fortunately, there’s a Michelin-recommended hotel mere minutes away. The Grand is a luxury hotel and spa with rooms spread between the opulent former offices of the North Eastern Railway Company and a brighter, more contemporary adjoined building with great city views. All the bedrooms are well-equipped and the basement spa has some impressive facilities. If you’re after a pre-dinner drink, look no further than the extensive whisky list at The 1906 Bar.
Speaking of dinner, you don’t need to leave the hotel for that either. Legacy is The Grand’s flagship restaurant, serving an 8 course tasting menu or a shorter version if you’re not feeling quite so indulgent. The dining room has a bright, contemporary look that nicely complements the building's period features, while the cooking is modern and attractively presented. The well-oiled service team make the experience all the more enjoyable.
Saturday MorningAfter a good night’s sleep, it’s time to explore this historic city. There’s no better way to see York than to walk its walls, so (weather permitting) make your way up the stone steps and start taking in some of the best views in town. There’s an entrance to the City Walls right by The Grand, albeit for a short section before you need to descend and cross the River Ouse; you want to head north-east from here, rejoining the walls at Bootham Bar and following the route right round the city as best you can.
Unfortunately, the walls do not form one complete loop these days; you’ll have to come off and on again at a few points around the city, but this allows for more opportunity to marvel at some of York’s finest landmarks. On your way round, look out for the magnificent York Minster, Museum Gardens and Clifford’s Tower, among others. Eventually, you’ll arrive at Micklegate Bar, where lunch awaits.
Saturday LunchThere’s plenty going on on Micklegate, with pubs, bars, a vinyl café and even a rare book shop – and there are also two great restaurants to choose from for your lunch.
Fish & Forest is, unsurprisingly, a seafood-focused operation where sustainability and fresh produce guide the cooking. The concise blackboard menu is changed daily and features ambitious dishes that demonstrate a good understanding of fish cookery.
Skosh, just up the road, is a mightily popular spot and it’s easy to see why. The recipient of a Bib Gourmand for great value cooking, it’s a lively, excellently run restaurant serving flavour-packed small plates that are perfect for sharing. There’s a good degree of precision in the cooking too, and attractive presentation throughout the dishes. A range of Asian influences are sprinkled across the menu, resulting in dishes such as masala spiced cod or monkfish sashimi.
Saturday AfternoonFeeling suitably refreshed? Good – it’s shopping time. Head down Micklegate towards the city centre, where you’ll find the Christmas markets clustered around Parliament Street. As well as the various handmade gifts on offer here, you’ll also be delighted to find many a foodie delight among the stalls. Much of it can be categorised as either sweet treats (fudge, brownies, chocolate kisses) or boozy ones (mead, ales, sloe gin), although there are the likes of pork pies and Scotch eggs on hand if you’re after a more substantial snack.
Once you’re done here, York has a whole host of other shopping streets well worth exploring in the pursuit of finding that perfect present. The renowned Shambles is one of Britain’s best-looking streets, but also one of it’s busiest – so be prepared for crowds. The adjacent Shambles Market is a more open space and has some Christmas market stalls of its own at this time of year. Stonegate, Low Petergate and Coney Street are among the many other spots to visit during your afternoon’s shopping, while the iconic Betty’s is nearby should you fancy a traditional afternoon tea to keep you going.
When either you or the shops have finally had enough, it’s time to head back to The Grand, drop off your haul and get ready for dinner.
Saturday EveningSaturday night should feel special, and what’s more special than a Michelin-Starred dinner? Roots is York’s only restaurant with this distinction, having impressed the Michelin Inspectors with its tasting menu of balanced, modern dishes with a creative edge. It sits in a pleasingly symmetrical Arts and Crafts style former pub in a quiet area of town, just outside the city walls.
The dishes blend together seamlessly across the menu, highlighting the real craft and understanding of flavour among the chefs. Roots comes from the same stable as The Black Swan in nearby Oldstead, often utilising pickled and preserved produce from their garden. Perhaps most crucially at this time of year, Roots is in easy walking distance of The Grand. We recommend a lovely riverside stroll down Dame Judi Dench walk, as the cut-through via the Museum Gardens closes at 6pm.
Other Michelin-recommended options for dinner include: Bow Room at Grays Court, which is housed in a gorgeous period building and surrounded by a beautiful garden that you may have glimpsed from the walls; Melton’s, a sweet neighbourhood restaurant on the outskirts of the city, offering well-executed cooking and friendly service; and Arras, a bright, airy and notably modern spot in a former coach house on the edge of the city centre.
Sunday MorningNow that your shopping is complete, it’s time for some culture. York has an array of museums and galleries for you to visit, with many of them great for all the family. Here are a few to look out for: The Yorkshire Museum, which can be accompanied by a stroll round the Museum Gardens; York Castle Museum, which features a recreation of a Victorian street; The JORVIK Viking Centre, one of York’s best-known attractions; The National Railway Museum, which is a must for train enthusiasts; and York Chocolate Story, if you want to keep your weekend on a culinary trajectory.
Sunday LunchIs there a better way to cap off your fabulous festive weekend than with a good Sunday lunch? The Star Inn The City is a younger sibling of the Michelin-Starred Star Inn at Harome and boasts one of the best locations in York. It sits on the edge of the Museum Gardens and provides a great view of the River Ouse; even though the terrace might be too chilly at this time of year, you can still catch a glimpse of the water from the dining room thanks to its floor-to-ceiling windows.
The restaurant has a brasserie-style feel and is smoothly run for such a big, busy place. The cooking, for its part, is proudly Yorkshire-centric and features an extensive selection of well-executed dishes, including plenty of hearty fare alongside some more imaginative options. Seeing as you’re here on Sunday, a full roast dinner is available alongside some other dishes – choose from beef, chicken or pork and let your Sunday feel that little bit more satisfying.
All that’s left to do now is to take the short stroll back to The Grand, pick up your bags and head to the station. Hopefully you and York will meet again soon.