Having lived in York for over a year now, I feel like I’m finally starting to get to know this city and learn my way around. York may be a small city geographically, but it is absolutely full of things to see and do. So much of York’s charm is getting lost and wandering the cobblestone streets just for the sake of doing so. And whenever you choose to get lost, you’ll undoubtedly stumble upon a few things you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
I’ve already written about my top 5 things you must do in York! Here are 10 of my favorite secret places dotted around York—churches, cafes, pubs, museums, and more. These truly are York’s hidden gems!
1) Gatehouse Coffee
Having a prime location built into the actual city walls, Gatehouse Coffee is probably my favorite coffee shop in the city. Not only can you walk out along the barbican of the gate to the city, but you can also enjoy your drinks on the rooftop terrace with views towards the Minster, or cozy up in the indoor rooms. Their chai tea latte is the only hot beverage I’ll buy (and for someone who doesn’t drink coffee or tea, that says a lot).
2) Coffee Yard to Stonegate
One of my favorite snickleways (small, narrow, hidden streets and passageways) in a city that’s famous for them, is the passageway from Coffee Yard to Stonegate. The street takes you through Barley Hall, the medieval house museum, and you can even take a peek inside the hall! Look for the entrance under the Thai tapas restaurant.
3) Museum Gardens
York Museum Gardens is my favorite place in the city. I always bring friends and guests here to show them around, simply because it’s a wonderful place (especially on a sunny day!). The gardens are tucked away between the train station and the Minster on Museum Street. Not only are the gardens home to the Yorkshire Museum and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, but you can see the Roman Multangular Tower, the Hospitium, an herb garden, and nice views of the river. My favorite time to visit is in spring, when the flowers are blooming.
4) St. Olave’s Church
Just outside the Museum Gardens is St. Olave’s Church, home to my favorite door in York! This pretty little church was first mentioned in 1055, rebuilt in the 1400s, and underwent substantial repairs in the early 1700s. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Norway, St. Olaf—and this church was the first known church dedication to the saint anywhere in the world.
5) Merchant Adventurer’s Hall
I walk past this place nearly every single day, and it never ceases to amaze me. Tucked in between the busy streets of Fossgate and Piccadilly is the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, a guildhall built between 1357 and 1361 that today is a tourist attraction and museum. My favorite part of the building is near the chapel, where they keep track of the flood levels on the wall. The River Foss runs nearby and the gardens are lovely!
6) The culvert in the Undercroft of York Minster
While York Minster is one of the most popular places to visit in the North of England and hardly a hidden gem, delve underground and you might find something more surprising. Not only can you see the remains of Roman barracks, but there is even a culvert (a drain carrying water) that still has water flowing through it today that dates back to the Romans! And while you’re at it, make sure to visit the Chapter House in York Minster for some pretty hilarious stone carvings 😉
7) Bar Convent
I couldn’t make a list of secret places in York without mentioning Bar Convent, a Roman Catholic convent that is still operational today! Located just outside of Micklegate in an unassuming brick building, Bar Convent is home to England’s oldest living convent, founded in 1686 by Mary Ward. There was great religious turbulence when the convent was founded, with the sisters concealing their identity. The icing on the cake of all of this is the hidden chapel, built in 1769. There are 8 separate exits to allow quick escape in case it was raided by the authorities! There is also a fantastic exhibition in the convent as well.
8) The Lamb and Lion’s beer garden
While the Lamb and Lion pub is a nice enough pub, it is one of my favorites in the city for its giant beer garden. The views from the back over to York Minster are incredible! You can also see the City Walls. The pub is sandwiched in between the Minster and the walls at Bootham Bar! Stay for a pint or two—you won’t regret it (unless it’s raining).
9) Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate
One of my favorite finds since living in York would definitely be this church on Goodramgate. Hidden away off of a very busy street, entering the gardens is like walking into a peaceful oasis. The church itself dates from the 12th century, although most of its features are from the 15th century. It’s open Wednesday-Sunday from 11:00am-3:00pm.
10) Roman Baths
What could be more York-like than having the remains of a Roman bathhouse underneath a pub?! The Roman Baths is a pub on the busy St. Sampson’s Square, but underground are the remains of the bathhouse where Roman soldiers went to blow off some steam. While the museum is quite small, there’s lots of information about the life of Roman soldiers living in Eboracum (as York was known). Reward yourself from a pint at the bar after taking in all the history!
York is full of secret places, mysterious snickleways, and hidden gems. Although it’s a very tourist-centered town, there’s plenty to do and see in the city beyond the main attractions!
Have you ever been to York? What hidden gems have you discovered?!