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Nine things you must do when visiting the city of York

York’s finest: the sunny view of the Knavesmire track
1 of 1

First published on Sunday, August 19, 2012


1 Treat yourself to a bottle of champagne Whether you’ve backed a winner or not – what do you mean, you haven’t backed a winner – York is the place to splash out on a bottle of fizz. Had your fingers burnt by bar prices at Royal Ascot or Glorious Goodwood? Of course you have, but never fear, the champagne at York is the cheapest at any festival meeting, so don’t be shy about getting your round in – no-one knows quite how they manage to serve decent bubbly at such an accessible price but no-one cares as long as it keeps coming.

2 Tea for two (or more) Let them eat cake, said Marie Antoinette, and the place she had in mind was Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms. There’s a Bettys on atmospheric Stonegate and a much grander affair in St Helen’s Square, the place to see and be seen sipping the cup that cheers while gently extending your little finger. It’s probably not afternoon tea you’ll be after – there’s a race meeting on, don’t forget – but if you don’t drop in on the way to the Knavesmire for a pot of tea and something divinely sweet and sticky from the cake trolley, you haven’t lived.

3 It’s not cold, it’s bracing If you’re the intrepid pioneer type then make the pilgrimage across the North York Moors to the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. It’s not quite the pub at the end of the world but there are few to match it for isolation – there’s only one road in and when the weather comes down hard it can be awe-inspiringly bleak up there. When it snows you can count on a couple of days’ enforced but pleasant detention, but on a summer evening the view across the moonscape of the moors is unimpeachable and the air is refreshingly sweet and clean.

On ice: racegoers enjoy a bottle of champagne before racing
4 Get out of bed early Don’t spend all morning lying in bed reading the Racing Post – York is an ancient city and you must make time to go back in time. Roam the medieval city walls, explore the narrow and winding streets, drop in to the Jorvik Centre to acquaint yourself with the city’s Viking heritage, and if you want something older still then go and have a look at the Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens; the lower portions are 1,700 years old.

5 Get out of bed even earlier Providing you haven’t embraced the bustling nightlife too enthusiastically, it’s always worth hauling yourself up and out and up the A1(M) to watch the morning gallops at Middleham. York to Middleham is roughly an hour’s drive, and although you might be a bit bleary at the beginning of the journey the brisk breezes of the Low Moor and the proximity of some of Yorkshire’s finest and fastest thoroughbreds will perk you up no end. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time to get back to York in time for the first race.

A view of Middleham Castle from the Low Moor
6 Minster, son York Minster is enough to give even the most committed atheist second thoughts. The cathedral towers above the city, a jaw-dropping sight from the outside and an equally exhilarating experience on the inside. It’s very easy to spend an hour or two immersing yourself in the glory of this vast place of worship, gasping at the stained glass, carvings and sculpture and hopefully emerging a more relaxed and contemplative individual. Pray for a winner, if you must, for the Lord moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

7 Starre turn Don’t fill up too enthusiastically on attractively priced champagne at the track, because you should leave a little boozing room for later at the achingly old Old Starre Inne on Stonegate. This pub, in the shadow of the Minster, is the ideal spot to unwind after a long and enjoyable afternoon at the races, a central base from which to explore other alehouses and restaurants or simply somewhere to put down roots and while away the evening. Have a pint of Black Sheep. Have another; you’re not going anywhere.

York Minister: a must-see for any visitor to the city
8 Shamble round the Shambles This picturesque and central street is well worth a visit; let Mrs Racing Post-Reader loose among the shops with the previous day’s winnings while Mr Racing Post-Reader sits at a window seat in one of the cafes to mull over the cards and form. Multi-tasking, it’s called.

9 Walk it With the thrill of the Olympics still fizzing through your veins, you don’t want to spend time and money being ferried around by taxi, you want to do it all on foot. The distance from the Knavesmire to the town centre is easily walkable – head up Bishopthorpe Road and keep going until you get there – and on a warm summer evening there are few things finer than a post-race perambulation. It also means you don’t have to worry about breathalysers or parking, or anything at all, really.


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Whether you’ve backed a winner or not – what do you mean, you haven’t backed a winner – York is the place to splash out on a bottle of fizz

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