Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect one day in York. It’s a lucky traveler who gets to spend at least one day in York, England. Old York is a fascinating historical city with a plethora of entertaining attractions. But one York landmark rises, greater and more legendary than the rest. That landmark, my Internet Strangers, is York Minster Cathedral.
No traveler to York can possibly afford to miss this grand and evocative building. But we will not spend our entire one day in York at York Minster! There will also be time travel, gourmet meals…and a murder on train! Are you intrigued? Then my master plan is all coming together!
One Day in York
Where to Stay?
I visited York as part of a terribly expensive trip around Northern Europe. Ireland has gotten expensive. The United Kingdom is expensive. And Scandinavia is insanely expensive. So I needed to stick to a budget when I could.
That’s why I chose to stay at the hostel YHA York for my One Day in York. It’s a pleasant stroll down the river to York Minster. My room was comfortable and big because I opted to pay more and get a private room with my own bathroom. But you can really save your pennies and share a room with some strange ladies. This is York, so probably they’ll be Vikings or witches. But that will just add to the charm!
If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you want to explore great deals on over 800 other hotels in York, click here!
One Day in York
What to Pack?
The United Kingdom, as you may have heard, is on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of the UK. I hear they’re strong enough to carry a nanny up into the sky like a kite, but that could just be a rumor.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to tea without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. UK electrical outlets don’t work with either American or European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in York
Morning: Jorvik Viking Centre
In our previous One Day in York, we learned about York’s medieval and Roman history. But today we shall learn of its past as a major Viking metropolis! The Jorvik Viking Centre is an amazing place at which to learn all about York in the age of Vikings. (The name Jorvik was the Viking name for the city.)
But for the love of all that is holy, please prebook your ticket online. You can get your tickets at the door, but you will have to waste about an hour or more waiting. I learned this lesson the hard way, which I’m pretty sure was the only way the Vikings taught any lessons. So at least it was historically accurate.
Once you successfully enter the Jorvik Viking Centre, you will ride in a boat and see intricate animatronic recreations of life in Viking York (or Vork, as I like to call it). Photos are not permitted during the boat ride, but they are allowed in the Viking Museum at the end of the tour. So I’ll be able to provide some photos and share with you…
three fun facts about Vikings
1) Who’s King Canute?
Many people know that a good portion of the English royal family today has German ancestry. At certain points in history, the ruling family of Britain was, at least in part, Scottish, French, and Spanish. But did you know that England was once ruled by a Scandinavian? King Canute of Denmark managed to also conquer both England and Norway back in the 11th century. I guess this made him a Viking Emperor! I imagine he was able to intimidate a lot of people with that title. Most people don’t want to mess with either Vikings or Emperors.
Like any good Emperor, Canute put his picture all over England’s money. You know, to show them who was boss. He remained King of England for the rest of his life, but his descendants weren’t so competent at the whole Viking Emperor thing. Eventually the Anglo-Saxons, led by Edward the Confessor, smushed the Vikings. Of course the Anglo-Saxon rule didn’t last that long either, thanks to Frenchie William the Conqueror. But that’s another story…
2) Where’s my sock?
The Jorvik Viking Centre made it clear that Viking York was no mere colonial backwater. It was a thriving city with many artisans, merchants, immigrants from different communities. One thing I liked about the tour is that you can hear the creepy animatronic Viking puppets speaking in a variety of languages. It was just like being back home in Queens!
Of course, many of the artisanal goods from Vork have not survived to this day. So I was astonished to find this Viking sock on display at the museum. That’s a quality sock if it can last for 1000 years! Clearly I need to study Viking sockmaking technology because all of mine have holes in them. I wonder what the Vikings would say if they knew that future people would pay money to look at their socks? Probably something along the lines of “Bork, Bork, Bork!” (I don’t speak Viking.)
3) Um, what is that?
The most famous artifact on display at the Jorvik Viking Centre is this fossilized Viking poop pictured above. (I put it in closeup for your viewing pleasure.) Though Vork was a sophisticated city, they did not have indoor plumbing. So the Vikings would have done all of their business in the great outdoors.
Viking scientists don’t examine poop only because it’s funny and gross. The feces can actually tell us a great deal about the diet of the people of Vork. Apparently, as it was a well-off city, they ate reasonably healthy foods like meat, fish, grains, and vegetables. I hope that Future Scientists don’t examine my poop to see if 21st century New Yorkers had a healthy diet. They’ll mostly just find wine, cheese, and chocolate.
One Day in York
Afternoon: York Minster
Here we have it! The real enchilada! The big McGillicuddy! The creme de la creme of minsters! Some of you may be thinking that I somehow misspelled the word minister. Or perhaps you are wondering what a minster is. Well, York Minister is really a Cathedral in the Church of England. A Cathedral, in both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, is a church that is also the seat of a bishop. York Minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who is the Number Three Man in the Church of England.
It’s hard for me to explain exactly what minster means, as I am a mere American and unversed in the highly English ways of the minster. But from what I gather, it is an Old English word for an important Anglo-Saxon church. (Westminster in London is also a minster.) We’ll learn more about the Minster and its ways very shortly. But first, lunch!
24 Hour Treat: Ate O’Clock
Ate O’Clock has the cutest decor theme of any restaurant I have ever seen. The walls of the place are covered with a variety of quirky clocks. Of course all the clocks in the place are set to eight o’clock, no matter what the actual time is. This is completely adorable, but bring your own timepiece to the restaurant or you’re going to be very confused. We don’t want to spend our entire One Day in York in here because we couldn’t tell time.
I feasted on a pulled pork belly sandwich with a side of chips. Now, I was skeptical that the pulled pork would be any good because my family comes from the great state of Georgia and pulled pork is kind of Our Thing. But both the meat and bun were soft and satisfying. However the real star of the meal were these amazing chips. Look how potatoey they are! You can still see the skins on them. It’s obviously these babies were each cut by a human hand.
Well, feed the belly and then feed the mind, as my grandmother always used to say. It’s time to head back to York Minster for some…
three fun facts: York Minster
1) Who’s That Guy?
The site where York Minster is located has been an important place for English Christianity before the Cathedral was even a minster in someone’s eye. York started as a Roman city named Eboracum. The Emperor Constantine was crowned Emperor of Rome while he was stationed in York. Back then, Constantine was not Christian, though he did convert to Christianity during his reign because of a dream he had in which he was told that he would conquer by the sign of the cross. (The words “By this sign you will conquer” are written on the base of the statue of Constantine above.)
After Constantine’s conversion, Christianity eventually came to York. Tradition has it that there has been a church on the site of York Minster since the 600s, though the Minster we see today wasn’t finished until the Middle Ages.
2) Who’s that Ulf?
Of course the main reason to visit York Minster is to see the spectacular views of York from the heights of its towers. Don’t worry! We will definitely get there, Internet Stranger. But don’t miss the museum of Roman and Medieval artifacts in the undercroft. York Minster brags that it has the only Cathedral Museum in the entire country. It’s hard for me to tell how impressive that is because I don’t know how many cathedrals England has. But it sounds pretty cool.
My favorite artifact in the Undercroft is this Horn of Ulf pictured above. It is made from an elephant’s tusk. This surprised me because I didn’t think elephants were native to York. But apparently Ulf got it through trade. Anyway, Ulf was a Viking who converted to Christianity and gave this spectacular elephant tusk/wine horn to the church as a symbol of his affection. I know killing elephants is very bad, but sometimes I wish I could drink wine out of a great old elephant tusk. It would make me feel like a superhero commanding my legions of minions.
3) Who’s That Arsonist?
It’s important to remember how lucky we are to have York Minster with us to this day. The Minster was put to the trial by fire several times in its life. (It survives, which I supposed it proof that it’s not a witch.) Perhaps the most famous York Minster fire was started by a man named Jonathan Martin.
To say that Mr. Martin did not have a happy life might be the understatement of the century. He became disturbed after watching his sister get murdered at a young age. It seems that he felt at one point that the only cure for his anguish would be…to burn down the entire York Minster. His fire did a decent amount of damage, but thankfully the Minster was spared. (Martin was found to be legally insane and committed to a mental hospital instead of jail. He died in the mental hospital, capping off one of the sadder life stories I have ever heard.)
24 Hour Treasure: Views from York Minster
If you do only one thing at York Minster, please walk up the Central Tower. It’s 275 steps high, and it’s taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it’s worth it for the amazing views. I went with a friend and we kept track of our steps on her Fit Bit so we’d know exactly how many beers at the closest haunted pub we had earned with our walking.
One Day in York
Late Afternoon: National Railway Museum
Normally I don’t recommend a museum for the late afternoon, but I’m making an exception for our One Day in York. The National Railway Museum is located in a former locomotive depot, which is the perfect place to peruse passenger trains from the past and present.
British train travel has historically been one of the country’s glories. Even if many say that train travel in the UK isn’t what it was, thanks to the privatization of the British rail in the 1990s, to me English train travel will always remain a romantic way to see the country. I traveled all around the United Kingdom from London to Cornwall to Cardiff to York to Edinburgh, enjoying the bucolic countryside and ever-shifting accents. It was amazing, and I highly recommend you follow in my footsteps.
24 Hour Treasure: Murder Train
The National Railway Museum had the perfect way to showcase their collection of trains from the interwar period. They had set up a fictional murder mystery, and you needed to solve it by peeking in the train cars and looking for clues. (The mystery is quite complicated and I solved half of it, which made me disappointed in myself as I am an Agatha Christie fiend.)
This was a great idea to encourage museum guests to take a closer look at the exhibit. I know I should have been thinking about murder most foul when I was examining this dining car, but mostly all I was thinking about was how I wish trains still used those fancy little toast cozies in the dining car.
Royals fanatics might be more interested in seeing the train car of Queen Victoria’s family. It had its own bath car with a private bathtub. Ugh, now it’s a fantasy of mine to be able to take a bubble bath while riding on a train. It’s good to be the queen!
One Day in York
Evening: Dinner at Le Cochon Aveugle
If there’s one thing I hope the readers of this blog can count on me for, it’s fine dining recommendations. I love tasting menu restaurants the way that some girls love diamonds. But I think having a taste for fancy restaurants is more practical than a taste for jewelry because you can’t eat gemstones. That’s just science.
For a sophisticated dining experience on our one day in York, I strongly recommend Le Cochon Aveugle. The name translates to “Blind Pig”, and indeed at Le Cochon Aveugle, it is the diner who is the blind piggie. There’s no menu, so you just sit down and eat whatever Cookie feels like serving that evening. There’s no greater pleasure/challenge for the adventurous eater. So without further ado, I present…
approximately top 5: cochon aveugle
The meal began with one of the world’s most famous amuse bouches. It’s the Arpege Egg, which was originally created by Alain Passard, a legendary French chef who has been featured on Chef’s Table. The Arpege Egg is an egg that has been cooked and served with cold creme fraiche, vinegar, maple syrup, and sea salt inside an egg shell. It sounds bizarre, but it isn’t. You get hot and cold and basically every different type of taste sensation in one spectacular dish.
This was a smoked Native oyster with a vin jaune and an apple granita. I was tempted to ask what the oyster was native to. I assume the United Kingdom? (Vin jaune is a French yellow wine with a strong flavor that can stand up to the oyster.) Like most of the beginning courses of a tasting menu, this is a simple one-bite treat. The bigger dishes are yet to come.
The theme here was “Desserts That Are Not Desserts”. We have a tomato pate de fruits, a kale beignet, and a boudin noir macaron. I’m a fan of the “using savory ingredients in dessert” trend because I like anything quirky and surprising. The boudin noir macaron was probably my favorite because of the intensity of the sausage flavor. I could practically taste the animal blood melt in my mouth!
Now that our bouches have been amused, we find ourselves with the appetizer. This is veal tartare with tuna sauce, truffle, and bonito flakes. Usually veal with tuna sauce is a much heavier dish, so I liked the idea of using a smaller portion of veal tartare instead of the whole piece of cooked veal.
Bonito flakes are Japanese fermented and dried pieces of skipjack tuna. They add a pungent saltiness that intensifies the tuna sauce. (I hope you’re not weirded out by eating raw baby cow and fermented fish in the same dish, Internet Stranger! I promised this meal would be adventurous!)
In most tasting menu restaurants, you’ll be presented with at least three main courses. Normally they would progress from a vegetable to a seafood to a poultry to a meat, in order of increasing heaviness. The green treat above is our vegetable main course. It is nasturtium ice cream with pickled courgette flowers and a mixed green vegetable soup. (For my fellow Americans out there, courgette is English for zucchini. Actually it’s French for zucchini, but the English use it too.)
This was like slurping an English summer garden in a bowl of soup. More restaurants should put flowers in ice cream. The English have a tradition of using roses as a culinary ingredient, so perhaps they are ahead of the rest of us in this respect.
Up next is the promised seafood course. This is a cured mackerel with macerated cucumber, avocado puree, and tomato water. It almost looks like the mackerel is swimming away on the tomato water! But it can’t really swim anywhere because it is dead and I am going to eat it. The flavor of the cured mackerel is so strong, so I appreciated that only light vegetable flavors were used to complement the fish. That way the mackerel could really be the star of the show.
As I ate the dish, I flashed back to my morning in the Jorvik Viking Centre. 1000 years ago, the Vikings would have eaten cured fish so it didn’t spoil during the harsh winters. Nowadays we just eat it because it’s delicious!
There was no poultry course on this tasting menu, so we’re going straight to the meat. This beauty is a slow-cooked, aged Suffolk lamb with peas, salsa maro, and sauce Navarin. The aged lamb was so moist and fatty, I could practically taste the tears of the baby sheep as it dissolved in my mouth. Salsa maro is a pesto made with fava beans and mint. This was a creative twist on the traditional lamb and mint pairing.
The one choice you get at Le Cochon Aveugle is whether or not to have the cheese course. If you ever see me say no to cheese, just assume that I’ve been brainwashed by space aliens. Of course England has wonderful local cheeses, but at Le Cochon Aveugle, all the wines and cheese comes from France.
Lord Horatio Nelson would be so disappointed! Did he die fighting Napoleon just for this? But you won’t hear me complain because this cheese plate included, among other delectables, Comte cheese. This cheese is unpasteurized, so we’re not allowed to eat it in the United States. When I’m in Europe, I gobble up as much as I can.
The dessert was that summer specialty, the stone fruit. This was English plum with Brillat-Saverin cheese and buckwheat. Brillat-Saverin is an obesely fatty cheese from Burgundy. To eat it is to throw caution and calories to the wind like any proper Frenchman. (I can hear Lord Nelson weeping silently in the corner over this display of francophilia in England.) I always associate English plums with plum pudding, so it was a treat to have them fresh in this summery dessert.
We ended the meal with a Sauternes egg, which was a sweet version of the savory Arpege egg. So the meal came completely full circle, WHICH IS ROUND JUST LIKE AN EGG! And also the eyes of a blind pig! I see what you did there, Le Cochon Aveugle.
It is also at this point that I need to give a shoutout to the kind and solicitous service at Le Cochon Aveugle. My waiter asked me what book I was reading and I said that it was about World War II. “Ah well! Hope we win!” he murmured in his charming English accent. Spoiler alert: we did! It was a perfect end to the One Day in York.
That’s a Perfect One Day in York!
What would you do on a one day in York? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in York? Did I adequately explain what a Minster is? And which is rounder, an egg or the eyes of a blind pig? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in York. If you have another One Day in York, try this itinerary!