It’s been nearly a year since I moved to England. What a year it’s been! But those who know me will know that I’ve already lived in England before, for a year during my study abroad in Nottingham.
Somehow, I happened to pick two cities that couldn’t be more different if they tried. So in a bit of a different post, I wanted to reflect on my time in each city, and share a bit of what life is like in each!
Nottingham is located in the East Midlands, in the county of Nottinghamshire. The population of the city itself is listed as roughly 321,000, but with the suburbs, the population of the entire urban area is almost 1 million people. It is 128 miles away from London, a journey that takes just under 2 hours by train.
In contrast, York is located in the north of England in (surprise) Yorkshire, specifically North Yorkshire. The population is about 208,000. York is roughly 200 miles away from London, which takes 2 hours by train.
The differences go far beyond basic statistics. Here’s what living in the city is actually like!
Nottingham: I lived about 3 miles from the city center, in a flat shared with 11 other people. It was a quiet residential neighborhood and not in the university neighborhood. There was an area between the flat and town that was a bit sketchy, so it wasn’t possible to walk to/from town at night. We had a few kebab shops nearby. There was a pub (the Nag’s Head) down the street, but I think I only went once in a year.
York: I live just outside of the city walls, meaning that my rent is much cheaper but I’m well within walking distance of the city center. My neighborhood isn’t far from the university campus, so there are some other students that live around. I have a local kebab shop and the owner always gives me a free can of pop. There’s three decent pubs within a 5-minute walk from my front door, which I love—my local is the Rose & Crown!
Winner? York. Hands down. It is so nice to live so close to town, and to be able to walk to the city center easily. I have walked home by myself at night too, since York tends to be quite safe. Free stuff from your kebab guy doesn’t hurt, either.
Food and Restaurants
Nottingham: It’s a huge city, so there were loads of places to eat, everywhere, anytime. Most big chains had a location or two in Notts—including my beloved Taco Bell!! (Which yes, I did go to on opening day and land up in the newspaper.) There were some exceptional international restaurants (including a plethora of Indian restaurants) that showed off Nottingham’s diversity. There were also loads of cafes, coffee shops, and more.
York: There are a lot of independent restaurants, which is where York excels on the food scene. One street has three of my favorite restaurants all within a minute of each other—Thai, Italian, and Polish! York is also home to Betty’s, a fancy cafe/tea room that only has locations in Yorkshire. There are some of the popular chains, and several excellent cafes and coffee shops.
Winner? Nottingham. The city is so much bigger, and there’s simply more options. Also, they have a Taco Bell, so I guess it wasn’t too much of a close call…
Nottingham: There is definitely more of a bar/club vibe in Notts, and it’s a huge party city. I was lame for going out “only” 3 nights in a week. Regardless of the day of the week, there will be people out and something going on. The city will always be hoppin’. There are lots of clubs, and it’s easy to find somewhere to dance the night away—including at Ocean, forever my favorite.
York: The pub game is strong in York. While there are bars (both fancy and trashy) and a few clubs for dancing, the focus is definitely more on traditional pubs. There are supposedly 365+ pubs in York, one for every day of the year! I love the pubs here, especially some of the old, historic ones.
Winner? Both. Notts was a great place for more of a clubbing/dancing night out, while York is great for a bit more relaxed (but still raucous) pub session.
Nottingham: There are two big shopping centers in Nottingham, Victoria Center, and the smaller Broadmarsh Center (with plans to revamp it in the works). Every big brand had a location in Notts, either in one of the malls or just in town. The Hockley area in the city center was also excellent for thrift stores (charity shops), vintage, and more. The Primark was also massive, which I used to my advantage throughout my year there.
York: York’s big shopping center, Monk’s Cross, is located outside the city center. There’s another shopping center at Clifton Moor. The Shambles is one of the most famous streets in York, but to be honest a lot of the shops are mainly just for tourists. There are a lot of smaller, independent retailers in York, as well as most big brands having a location.
Winner? Nottingham. It was so easy to go shopping and get things in Nottingham, and there was a lot more choice. While York does have good shopping, it’s just not quite on par with that of a big city. York’s Primark only opened in December (!), and doesn’t have as great a selection as other big locations do. It’s just not as convenient.
Nottingham: The city was settled about 600 AD, and Nottingham Castle was originally built in 1068. Most of the city’s history centers around Robin Hood, who (as the legend goes) lived in nearby Sherwood Forest. The city became a center for textiles (particularly lace-making) during the Industrial Revolution.
York: York was founded by the Romans in 71 AD as Eboracum. York’s history is obvious from its city walls to the magnificent Minster overlooking the city. There is a plethora of Roman, Viking, medieval, and Georgian history in the town. Much of the city center is a maze of pedestrianized, cobblestone streets, giving it a lot of charm.
Winner? York. There is so much history in every corner of the city. Nottingham has an interesting story as a city (it was important medieval city, then an industrial city, then a modern city)—but York’s narrative is simply fascinating.
Nottingham: The city flies under the radar for most tourists (with the exception of Sherwood Forest and the Robin Hood saga), while it certainly delivers to the tourists who do chose to visit. Boasting supposedly England’s oldest pub (Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, dating to 1198), there’s Nottingham Castle, the City of Caves, and Wollaton Hall (Batman’s house) just outside the city.
York: York is one of England’s most visited cities after London, and is a hub of tourism in the north. There is simply so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming despite the fact that York is fairly small. From the beautiful York Minster (one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe), to the Museum Gardens to the City Walls, tourists will find plenty to do here. York is also home to Jorvik Viking Center, the premier Viking attraction in the country.
Winner? York. Probably no other city in the country (besides London) could beat out York in this category. It’s very easy for me to convince people to come visit, as there is just so many different things in York—whatever your interests, York will have something for you! The city is also a perfect stopover when traveling from London to Edinburgh or vice versa.
Nottingham: The public transportation system in Nottingham was absolutely stellar. There is a tram system running through the city, as well as having one of the best city bus systems in the country. It is really easy to get around the city on public transport. From Notts, it’s easy and affordable to get to London by train (less than 2 hours) or coach bus (2.5-3.5 hours). It also has an airport, East Midlands airport, which is easily connected to the city by the Skylink bus. Plenty of budget airlines (Ryanair, Jet2, etc.) operate out of East Midlands Airport. It was also easy to get to most major London airports by coach bus as well.
York: There is a city bus system in York, but with much of the city center pedestrianized, it doesn’t have as far of a reach. York is best explored on foot. While it’s only a 2-hour journey from York to London, it is quite difficult to travel to the capital because train tickets are so expensive. York is one of the major stops on the London-Edinburgh train line, which is run by Virgin Trains—the company has a monopoly and prices can sometimes be ludicrous, even booking in advance. York doesn’t have good connections with the National Express coach system. The nearest airport is Leeds Bradford Airport, which (unless you’re driving or taking a taxi) involves getting a train to Leeds, and then a bus from Leeds city center to the airport. Unless you have your own vehicle, it is difficult to see a lot of the surrounding area.
Winner? Nottingham. I didn’t realize just how lucky I had been in Notts until I didn’t live there anymore. The city is ridiculously well-connected. York is much farther north, and as a smaller city just doesn’t have the infrastructure in place that Nottingham does.
Nottingham: There are plenty of things to do around Nottingham—Sherwood Forest, Newstead Abbey, and other towns like Derby, Chesterfield, Southwell, and Newark. Nottingham also isn’t far from the Peak District National Park, which I wish I had been able to explore more of during my time in Notts!
York: Located in the heart of Yorkshire, York really has the best of both worlds. It’s less than an hour to either the North Yorkshire Moors National Park (for Thornton-le-Dale) or the Yorkshire Dales National Park (including Malham). There are so many attractions and towns to explore in the area, like Whitby, Knaresborough, Beverley, and Ripon. York is also within 2 hours to the Peak District National Park, and only a 3-hour drive from the Lake District National Park. It’s also easy to get to nearby big cities like Leeds.
Winner? York. I am turning into a Yorkshire girl, slowly but surely. The area truly has something for everyone—from national parks, to quaint villages, to vibrant big cities. I love living in this part of the country. While Notts has a lot to offer in the area, it just isn’t as much as York.
Overall, Nottingham and York are two very different cities, with very different vibes. Where Nottingham is big, York is small; where Nottingham is modern, York is historic; where Nottingham has a smattering of nearby attractions, York has all of Yorkshire. While they are just shy of 100 miles away from each other, they are truly different places. I couldn’t have picked two different places to live!
My experience living in Nottingham was unique. Like any study abroad experience, it’s not necessarily a “normal” life. But I wouldn’t give up those 9 months for anything in the world! I’m happy to have a completely different experience living abroad in York.
What type of city do you live in? Have you lived anywhere else that was similar or very different? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!