York, brilliant – but avoid Friday-Saturday!

Historic York is still one of England’s gems, but not for the first time it’s being invaded. Gone are the Romans and Vikings, as they have made way for marauding hordes of stag and hen parties. Enjoy it, but not at weekends…

York is undoubtedly one of Britain’s top destination cities. It’s got the lot; stunning Minster, the river, museums and galleries aplenty, a castle, medieval streets, visitor attractions, amazing restaurants, quaint pubs and a growing number of craft beer and gin bars. What’s not to like!

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Contrary to some of its bigger contemporaries, the city of York is contained, manageable, comfortably walked from corner to corner, and easily accessible (by car, but especially train). Perhaps that’s also its downfall. There’s no hiding place. From north, south, east and west they come – huge groups of lads on the lash and princesses on the prosecco.

Boring, grumpy old man

Perhaps I’m getting old. I’m booked on a four-day stag do in July, but that’s in Portugal at a destination that seems to have evolved because of the drunken tourist pound. York, however, isn’t quite geared up for huge parties. Some of the bars are ample enough, but they sit beside taverns that resemble someone’s front room. Pipe and a pint, slippers and a nap by the roaring fire kinda establishments. Wonderful. They shouldn’t be disturbed.

What has happened in recent years is representative of a shifting night time economy across the country. The national and international brands have muscled in. Often disguised, brash exteriors toned down to blend in with York’s serene exterior, they nevertheless pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap. The drinks!

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Why wouldn’t you want to wander the narrow streets of a beautiful city, forced to stagger just a few feet from bar to bar, food outlet to food outlet. It’s perfect. The bigger groups effectively take over the more compact venues, giving their numbers a free run at the bar, every seat, table and stool, and, goodness help the staff, the microphone if one happens to be lying around.

I’m no kill joy, honest. However, now slowly advancing into the second half-century of my life, the learner plate on the hen’s back is no longer amusing, grown (hairy) men wearing skimpy knickers isn’t particularly funny, and as for the seemingly obligatory inflatable penis… no thanks.

Don’t let the rowdies stop you visiting York

Enough of the moaning. My error was booking Friday-Sunday. As we were readying to catch the train home, a friend arrived on the Sunday afternoon. His plan was spot on. Sunday-Thursday, a glorious five days, midweek, during school term time, and just as the weather shows signs of turning – for the better.

Thankfully, we just had chance to meet for a half-hour catch up at the delightful York Tap that adds beery delights to the breath-taking architecture of the train station. Stunning, and packed – with a departing stag party!


Still, despite bumping into several raucous rabbles during our stay, we still soaked up plenty of the good stuff. There were a few real finds alongside several hours in galleries, the castle museum and a stroll down the riverside. I even convinced my non-trainspotting partner to appreciate some of the magnificent beasts housed in the National Railway Museum, an attraction that, in my book, should really be located in Crewe – but that’s another story, and moan!

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Instead, a delightful distraction was The 45 Vinyl Café on Micklegate. It grabs custom with a laid back vibe and “coffee – vinyl – grilled cheese – live music” as its core USPs. Perhaps deliberately, they don’t seem to plug the fact that they serve wine and a selection of well-sourced craft beers (in cans). I chose the Brew York Tonkoko Milk Stout and a half-hour flicking through vinyl (all for sale) and watching life rush by on the bustling street outside.

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Foodie heaven in a basement

Partisan grabbed our attention shortly after our arrival. A French-themed café/restaurant also on Micklegate, so popular it was on the Friday evening they couldn’t seat us – and NO, I was not carrying an inflatable penis!

Instead, we returned early for breakfast on the Saturday. Wow. And by that I mean both food, service and shabby-chic décor down in the basement. I make no apology for reproducing the menu items we enjoyed. I’m a veggie, so the smashed avocado and melted goats cheese sounded spot on. It was. Oh, it was on sourdough with smoked almonds and chilli oil. Spectacular.

My partner picked the French Toast; eggy brioche slices with seasonal compote, warm fresh fruit, local honey, mascarpone & basil sugar. Thankfully, the ample spread beat her and I enjoyed a few mouthfuls of scrumptious stickiness.

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That’s just two of hundreds of outstanding independent shops, bars and cafés that make York, still, rather unique. No business willingly turns away cash, but what is noticeable is a desire by some of the artisan entrepreneurs to stay under the radar. There are no flashing lights, doorways are cluttered to slow progress, and guests are not thrust into window seats to drum up custom. That’s left to the bossy pub and restaurant chains leading the charge.

York’s lovely. It deserves a few days, maybe a week of your time. Just book your stay either side of the weekend mayhem. Unless, that is, you too have an inflatable penis under your arm. Then you’ll fit right in…

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