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A last-minute weekend in York

Riverside cafes, Britain's greatest medieval townscape and a thriving art scene – York makes a cracking setting for a short break

St Mary's Abbey, York (Flickr: Mrs Logic)

The capital of northern England, the glorious city of York is as good a place for a weekend break as you could find: a fascinating, historic city with a slew of sights, a fabulously untouched old centre and a hinterland of gorgeous countryside.

The only problem is you’ll want to stay longer.

The city has prospered in recent years: its already top-quality museums have got better, its restaurants are among the county’s best, and quirky and independent boutique shops and hotels are popping up all the time. Add to this the city’s sublime backdrop of medieval streets and the magnificent Minster, and you really have the ultimate UK destination. Best stay here for a week to make the most of it. 

Below we highlight the very best places for a great weekend with a little help from Cool Places; read more at www.coolplaces.co.uk

A place to stay

Best budget bed: The Fort

York’s first boutique hostel, with four-star accommodation at budget prices, in the heart of the city, and rooms individually designed by local youngsters, winners of a competition launched by the hostel’s owner, Karen Waugh.

Boutique Stays: Marmaduke’s Hotel

A few minutes’ walk from the centre of York, Marmaduke’s is the personification of shabby chic, with sitting rooms filled with aged furniture that immediately make you feel right at home. The guest rooms themselves are spacious and comfy, strewn with old-fashioned rugs and pictures and equally creaky furniture. There’s a lovely garden too.

Swank it up: Middlethorpe Hall

This stunning 17th-century house is owned by the National Trust, but it’s a homely old place with elegant antique furniture and 18th-century paintings. The 20 acres of grounds are manicured to perfection, and are good for a stroll after a gastronomic meal in the hotel’s highly regarded restaurant. Definitely York’s push-the-boat-out choice.

Eat and drink

Cheap eats:  De’clare

Lovely city centre deli with mountains of olives, couscous and prepared salads in large bowls, and fab sandwiches that you can order to stay in or to go; the Museum Gardens nearby is a great place to devour your picnic, weather permitting.

Modern bistro: Café No.8

Just outside the city walls, this place’s delectable menus of no-nonsense hearty grub attract a very loyal local following. Dishes might include braised lamb shoulder or a wild mushroom risotto, followed by a slab of their house cheesecake.

There’s a leafy garden out the back, while the restaurant itself is light and airy, with a few small tables and simple paintings – a motif echoed in the restaurant’s stained glass windows.

Big night out: The Blue Bicycle

Despite an earlier incarnation as a brothel, this rustic-chic restaurant is one of York’s best, serving fresh and seasonal dishes that use the best locally produced ingredients. Big on fish, beef and venison, while veggies can tuck into delights such as pan fried bubble and squeak with poached duck egg and brown sauce.

Stuff to do

What a Shambles: Ghost Hunt of York

The Shambles is York’s oldest street, and its sloping cobbles and timbered medieval houses form the heart of York’s most touristed sector – an area that’s at its atmospheric best in the evening, when you can by join one of the hour-long nightly ghost hunts that explore the city’s spookiest corners from here. Gowned guides lead groups through dark, narrow alleyways to eerie ancient houses, all the while recounting spine-chilling tales of murder, mystery, intrigue and scandal. Great fun, for adults and kids alike.

Quirky souvenirs: Vom Fass

The name Vom Fass literally means ‘from the cask’, but it’s not until you step inside this shop that you realise what it sells – namely, oils, spirits and vinegar. The idea is that you choose a bottle, whatever size and shape you fancy, and fill it with the liquid of your choice – apple-flavoured vodka, cassis vinegar or the lovely gold cuvée with edible bits of gold. Once you’ve finished your tipple, go back to the shop for a refill.

Get out of town: Castle Howard

Arguably the most spectacular stately home in England, Castle Howard is 15 miles to the north of York, and is still home to the Howard family, but visitors are let loose inside to admire the sumptuous rooms and the fabulous furniture and paintings amassed by the art-loving earls.

The gardens, with their wonderful curvaceous flowerbeds, grand fountains and walled gardens are a particular highlight, and there’s always good stuff going on in the run-up to Christmas.

Cool PlacesCool Places is a new website devoted to selecting and celebrating the best of UK travel, whether you’re booking a last-minute weekend away or looking for ideas for next year’s holiday. They cover the UK’s best places to stay, from stunningly located campsites to cosy boutique hotels, great gastropubs and restaurants to beachside cafés, and the country’s quirkiest independent shops and markets. Check it out, and add your own local favourites

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