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Few cities in England put their history on display as well as York. With the immaculate York Minster at its core, this fortified medieval city has loads for history buffs to absorb. You can walk atop York’s ancient city walls, but some amazing battlefields, castles, coastal scenery and nature preserves await in the countryside beyond, so it’s certainly worth having a rental car to explore the pretty Yorkshire Dales. York occupies its own little corner of northern England, creating some of the most pleasant driving in the kingdom.
Who to Book With
Several of the major international car hire companies are available in York, including Avis, Hertz and Europcar. Their offices are located at the railway station and on the edges of the city centre. The airport at Leeds is the closest to York, offering another great option for car hire, which should be booked online in advance of your arrival.
Best Time to Go
The ‘City of Festivals’ has several busy periods during the year when car hire rates jump. York is busiest during the summer, when hire rates might rise, but this is a well-populated centre that has a year-round buzz. Hotel rates during the winter might be cheaper, however.
Need to Know Essentials
When you pick up your car hire, you need to show the following documents:
- Your UK driving license or an International Driving Permit
- A second form of photo ID
- The credit card used for the reservation
- A print-out of the rental agreement made online
Most of York’s medieval walled city is pedestrianised between 08:00 and 16:00, so driving in the downtown area is near impossible. When the city centre opens to traffic at 16:00, it quickly jams up with delivery trucks and other vehicles. Parking is also tricky in the downtown area, and rates are high in the city lots. The best option for drivers who want to go downtown is to use the Park and Ride facilities located right off the motorways on each side of the city. They are well-signposted, colour-coded and free. A fixed-rate shuttle runs from the lots into the city centre every 15 minutes between 07:00 and 19:00, Monday to Saturday.
It’s best to use your feet to explore the walled old city of York, which can be walked from end to end in 20 minutes. Public buses provide the only city transport here, supported by taxis and minicabs. York is also one of the most bike-friendly cities in England for visitors who prefer the freedom of two-wheel transportation.
York is one of the UK’s main rail hubs, with services from four different companies covering much of the country. National Rail stops at York on its East Coast Main Line between London’s King’s Cross and Edinburgh’s Waverly stations. It takes just under two hours to travel by train from London to York. There are also many direct trains to regional cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham on Arriva Cross Country, First Transpennine Express and Grand Central Rail. York’s train station is a beautiful piece of architecture, but there is no inner-city train service here.
There are a number of taxi and minicab companies operating in York, including Streamline Taxis and York Cars. There is even a fun pedicab company called The Green Cab which uses human-powered tricycles for a one or two-person hour-long tour around the historic city centre.
York’s public bus system connects all of the city’s main points of interest, with a single-fare costing around £1.20. There is a range of different ticket options, including a useful full-day fare for just £3.70. Tickets can be bought directly from the bus driver, and most routes operate from early morning until well after dark.
York enjoys a private location in the Vale of York, with all kinds of driving excursions available. Coastal Victorian towns like Scarborough and Whitby are just an hour to the east, while miles of hiking trails can be found north in the North York Moors National Park. If an urban outing is preferred, simply head west on the A64 to Leeds and onwards to Manchester and Liverpool.
Castle Howard - This is one of the UK’s most impressive historic estates, set just off the A64 for an easy day drive that can also include the lovely Kirkham Priory. It dates from the early 18th Century and was famously used for the filming of Brideshead Revisited. It is open the public year-round and isn’t too crowded, despite being rated one of the world’s top 10 Greatest Mansions by Lonely Planet.
The Coastal Victorian Loop - This has several quaint historic seaside towns to stop at, such as Scarborough and Bridlington, along the A64 and A166. This is a lesser-visited but pretty part of the UK coastline, and a detour to Dalby Forest is recommended for walkers and bikers.
The North York Moors - This is a stunning national park, set just north of York and reached by rural roads that pass through and around the moors to coastal villages like Whitby. While you’re out and about, meander through the famed Yorkshire Dales and stop off in the posh spa town of Harrogate on your way home.