Annually attracting millions of visitors from all over the globe, I’ve often been asked why I’ve never written about England as part of Europe in a Day. The truth is, I’d always wanted to include my home country and had spent a lot of time wondering how best to do it – but every idea I had felt a little like cheating, especially as I live here! After dismissing the idea of day trips to London, Birmingham and Manchester among many others, I finally settled on visiting the ancient city of York for the day. Being far from home and a part of England I’d always wanted to see but never been to, it felt less like cheating!
At a glance:
England / Englaland
Capital: London (Lunden in Old English)
Currency: British Pound (GBP)
Area: 130,279 km2
National Day: April 23rd
National Anthem: officially none, ‘God Save The Queen’ widely used
Highest Point: Scafell Pike – 978 metres (3,208 ft)
Famous for: good manners, cricket, terrible weather
Famous English people:
- William Shakespeare (playwright)
- Jane Austen (author, best known for Pride and Prejudice)
- David Beckham (footballer)
- Isaac Newton (physicist and mathematician)
- Some people think that the names England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom are all interchangeable. However, Great Britain is the island where the country England is located, along with Scotland and Wales. These 3 constituent countries, along with Northern Ireland, form the United Kingdom.
- Circles of standing stones can be found all over England, but Stonehenge is easily the most well-known. Thought to date back as far as 3000 BC, archaeologists believe they know how the 4-metre-high, 25 tonnes stones were assembled, but not why! Theories range from the site being some kind of observatory to being used for religious ceremonies.
- The English tradition of taking afternoon tea was started by the Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s and quickly became popular. The English consume more tea per capita than anyone else in the world and drink an estimated 165 million cups – around 50 million litres – every day!
- Separated from Continental Europe by just 33km at the narrowest point of the English Channel, the sea has always played an important role shaping England’s history and identity. England has a particularly rugged coastline and even the furthest point inland, Church Flatts Farms in Derbyshire, is only 113 km from the coast!
- England is represented at the Eurovision Song Contest as part of the United Kingdom and the majority of the UK’s Eurovision acts have been English. The UK has hosted 8 Eurovisions, more contests than any other country, and 7 of these were in England. London has hosted Eurovision 4 times, (1960, 1963, 1968 and 1977) and the contest was also held in Brighton (1974) Harrogate (1982) and Birmingham (1998).
Although 3 indigenous languages are spoken in England, none of them are legally named as official. English is the de-facto language of everyday use, spoken by 98% of the population, while around 110,000 people speak Welsh and a few hundred speak Cornish. A Germanic language with strong influences from French, English has an estimated 700 million speakers around the world and is recognised as official in 67 countries. Given that an English to English phrasebook would be pointless, here are some phrases in Old English instead! Spoken between the 8th and 11th centuries, Old English is the forerunner to modern English and would have been spoken in York during its medieval heyday as one of England’s most prominent cities.
|Hello||Ƿes þū hāl||wes foo haal|
|Goodbye||Ƿes þū hāl||wes foo haal|
|Please||Iċ bidde þē||itch bid-de fee|
|Thank You||Iċ þancie þē||itch thank-ye fee|
|How much does this cost?||Hū miċel þās is?||hoo mitch-el faas is|
|Do you speak English?||Spricst þū Ænglisċ?||sprik-st foo eng-litch|
|I don’t understand||Iċ nonġiete||itch non-yer-teh|
|I want to buy a brown cow||Iċ ƿille byċġan ānne brūnne cū||itch wi-le bu-tchan aan-ne bruun-ne coo|
Leeds-Bradford airport is roughly 50km west of York, but there are no direct public transport links and even driving can take up to 2 hours thanks to traffic. Although London is 280km to the south, trains can make the journey to York in as little as an hour and 50 minutes. From York station it’s around 20 minutes on foot across the River Ouse and into the city’s historic centre.
What to do:
Snaking almost 3.5km around the old core of the city, the York City Walls are the longest town walls in England. Reaching 4 metres high in places, the fortifications were largely repaired over the course of the 19th century after first being laid out by the Romans. Although you can walk the full length of the wall and get a great vantage point of many of York’s attractions from afar, to get a closer look it’s best to keep to the road. One of the oldest purpose-built museums in England, the columned façade of the Yorkshire Museum first opened its doors in 1830. As well as its galleries on archaeology, geology and paleontology, the museum also has 10 acres of gardens to explore, including lawns, flower beds and an Edible Wood, where crops and plants commonly used in cooking have been growing since 2015. The gardens were once the grounds of the largest and richest Benedictine monastery in northern England and the atmospheric ruins of Saint Mary’s Abbey can still be seen today. Ransacked during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the remaining sections of ornately carved wall date from the late 13th century, while some of the monastery’s saved treasures are on display in the museum.
Heading away from the museum the towers of York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, can easily be spotted at the end of the street. Designed to rival the prestige of Canterbury Cathedral, this stone masterpiece was completed in 1472, though a wooden church existed here as early as 627AD. Marvel at its carved façade or head inside to admire its high vaulted interior and ornate stained-glass windows – in particular, the Great East Window has 311 individual panels and is the largest expanse of medieval stained-glass in England. Those with a head for heights can climb up the 72-metre-tall Central Tower to look out across the city, or you can head into the cathedral’s foundations to look around the Undercroft Museum. Opened in 2012, the museum explores the site’s central role in York’s history with digital displays and artefacts including the Horn of Ulf, carved from an elephant tusk over a millennium ago. Back outside, the lone Roman Column was discovered in the foundations of York Minster in 1969. Dating from the 4th century, it was gifted to the city and erected here to mark its 1900th anniversary.
Strolling across Dean’s Park, the pleasant and leafy space next to York Minster, you’ll come to the neat lawns and stately brick front of Treasurer’s House.Originally the home of the cathedral’s bookkeeper, a local industrialist bought the house in the 1890s and filled it with his large collection of period furniture, ceramics and artwork. As you take a look around the 13 extravagantly decorated rooms, remember that ghostly Roman soldiers have been spotted marching in the basement. Just 5 minutes’ walk away, York’s Shambles is considered one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe and some believe it was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. Lined with tightly packed timber framed buildings, some of which date back to the 1300s, the narrow street was referenced in the Doomsday Book of 1068 and is a fantastic place to get a feel for York’s ancient character. The city’s meat markets and slaughterhouses traded here for over 900 years, but nowadays you’re more likely to find visitors enjoying the ambience and browsing the confectioners, souvenir shops and cafés.
York was conquered by the Vikings in 866AD and the Jorvik Viking Centre has been named one of England’s most popular tourist attractions for vividly bringing this era back to life. Following a major refurbishment in 2001, visitors are now immersed in sights, sounds and smells of 10th century Jórvík with dioramas of life-sized mannequins, while an extensive museum examines Viking life and customs. Leaving the centre behind, it’s only a short walk to the confluence of the River Ouse and River Foss, where you’ll find the circular Clifford’s Tower. Built on a mound by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it’s the only surviving part of the York Castle and has served as a royal mint and a prison. The tower’s interior was decimated by an explosion in 1684, which also turned the stones their trademark pinkish hue. Though the prospect of climbing up may look daunting from the ground, those who brave the summit of the ruined tower will be rewarded with an unrivalled panorama over the city and even as far as the North York Moors.
A distinguished and grand city, York combines a rich heritage with quintessential English charm. Wandering its ancient streets feels like strolling through the ages and you’ll see how every invader and settler left their mark here, shaping the city into a living monument to England’s eventful history. My day trip to York was thoroughly amazing and I’m so happy I finally got to include England in Europe in a Day!
A big thank you to Bogdan Fedeleş for coming with me to York, and also for providing some of the photos after technical issues mean I lost the vast majority of my pictures from that day.
For a more in-depth guide to planning day trips, as well as sightseeing tips and trivia for 30 European countries, Europe in a Day – Day Trips to the Continent is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle and also smartphones, tablets and computers with the free Kindle Reading App.
Want to discover more of Europe? Check out more day trips below!