Angela Youngman


“The Vikings are coming.” Such words would once have been incredibly terrifying – now they herald an amazing experience as, each February, the city of York returns to its Viking roots when it was known as Jorvik. Many streets still bear evidence of that Viking heritage with names like Stonegate, Coppergate. At the Jorvik Viking Centre, the original excavations of Viking buildings can still be seen, along with countless artefacts ranging from shoes to jewellery, tools to coins.


Hordes of Vikings take over the city every February as part of the Jorvik Festival, celebrating Viking life in the area. Wherever you walk, you can find yourself suddenly encountering a Viking lady, merchant, or even a Viking child. Stories of merchants like Thorbjarndottir who was the most widely travelled European of the early eleventh century, having been born in Iceland, married in Greenland, gave birth in North America and visited Norway and Rome are woven into the various events. There are Viking banquets, a Viking encampment in the heart of the city and numerous sports and activities. Just how long can a Viking warrior hold his axe at arms length? Who is the best wrestler? Anyone can join in the Best Beard competition as long as you have a beard. Women often take part wearing knitted beards, or children with handmade versions. Dogs take part too – Marcel le corgi has become a Viking celebrity complete with his own beard! The festival ends with a lively parade of over 200 Vikings from York Minister to the Eye of York where skirmishes develop into a major battle. It’s dramatic, atmospheric and you can expect lots of pyrotechnics as well. 


But York is not just about the Vikings. This is a city steeped in history as its origins date back over two thousand years. For the Romans this was a major legionary fort and administrative centre, and there are many tales of ghostly Roman soldiers encountered in the area. The Eboracum Roman Festival held each summer is very popular, while visitors to the Roman Bath Public House in St Sampson’s Square can visit the remains of the Roman Baths as well as joining locals enjoying great food, drink and entertainment in the pub above. 


Back in medieval times, York was often referred to as the northern capital of England, one of the most powerful cities in the country. Nowadays it is very much a major tourism destination, attracting visitors from all over the world. Transport connections are excellent as it is around three hours by fast train from London, or via flights to Leeds Manchester airport followed by a short drive or local train journey.

Spectacular high Gothic architecture along with beautiful Rose Windows characterise York Minister while the adjacent close packed cobbled streets of the Shambles and Snickleways offer a fantastic way to explore the city’s medieval past. Spare a look upwards and see if you can find the 22 metal cat statues scattered on rooftops and chimneys all around the city.

Take a 3.4 km walk around the medieval city walls – the longest such town walls in England. Stop off at the Monk Bar gateway and discover the story behind one of the most controversial Kings of medieval England. Multimedia presentations of the Wars of the Roses and Richard III’s role culminate in a difficult question – did Richard III murder his nephews in his bid to become king? Who do you believe? Not far away at Mickelgate Bar is the opportunity to discover more about Henry VII who eventually replaced him during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry VII’s son proved to be just as controversial since Henry VIII brought about yet more major changes, rebellion in York and a dramatic list of brides, two of whom were sent to the execution block. 


According to legend, Dick Turpin was a dashing eighteenth century highwayman who rode on his horse Black Bess, from London to York in 24 hours. Head over to the York Castle Museum and discover the reality behind the Castle’s most notorious prisoner. Eventually executed at the York Tyburn, his grave can be seen near Walmgate Bar. Some say that a ghostly figure on horseback has been seen nearby – who knows? Join one of York’s many ghost walks and discover yet more of the ghostly presences that haunt this city.   


Entrepreneurial Quaker families made York one of the biggest centres of chocolate in the country, creating well-known brands like Kit Kat, Smarties, Terry’s Chocolate Orange. The Chocolate Experience takes you through that journey, discovering why chocolate and York become synonymous, the secrets of making chocolate, learning to taste chocolate like an expert and just why these brands have proved so long lasting. Naturally, there is also the opportunity to make some hand made chocolates and watch experts at work.

Relax with afternoon tea at Bettys Café Tea Rooms. Incredibly atmospheric and surrounded by décor inspired by the Queen Mary and other ocean liners, it has become THE place to enjoy a delicate selection of hand made sandwiches, cakes and treats including local variations like Yorkshire Fat Rascal scones and Yorkshire Tea. 

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