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Secret Things to See and Do in the City of York

View of York Minster from one of the city's many secret snickets

View of York Minster from one of the city's many secret snickets

Growing up in the City of York

The historic City of York, England, UK, must be one of the top tourist destinations in Britain and you will find plenty of information about the many fantastic places to see and things to do on your vacation or visit, but I wanted to share with you a few of the gems that only locals know about. It is always nice to discover something a little bit different.

I was brought up in this beautiful, historic city and spent my childhood and youth roaming around the town centre, so I knew it pretty well - then. As teenagers we found so many things to while away our week-ends. We would go rowing on the River Ouse, try hats on in the main department store Leek and Thorpes, visit York Minster or hang out in the Museum Gardens. We had coffee in all the best places, spent time in quaint city-centre pubs, walked on the walls and looked into the back gardens of the houses nearby. Of course we window-shopped in all the best places and knew all the little short-cuts and 'snickets', those tiny alley ways that linked one street with another.

We shopped in the fabulous market. I would make fish pies from cod cheeks that I bought at the market fish stalls. At that time I used to make many of my own clothes and the market was a super place to find unusual odds and ends of material. Another great place to buy interesting material cheaply was Boyes Store. Then it was situated on Bridge Street overlooking the river and the whole of the top floor was devoted to end-of-run rolls of all kinds of fabulous fabrics.

However, times do change. Boyes has moved to 35 Goodramgate and no longer sell the range of fabrics, Leek and Thorpes have gone and you have to pay to get into York Minster, but there are still so many interesting things to see and do that are not on the mainstream Tourist list and these are some of the best.

Visiting York can be an expensive business; here's how to cut your costs for a budget holiday The City of York - Tips for a Vacation on a Budget

Discover the ghostly truth about York here: Holidays in Haunted York

Take a York tour and discover York's secrets

Snickets and Snickleways of York

Secret passages that take you back in time

York is riddled with a warren of tiny alleys and passageways that we used to call 'snickets' when we were children. Find these and you step right back in time to the gas-lit days of Victorian England, however they are well used today as for those in the know they provide handy short-cuts through the centre of York. You can catch a guided tour of the 'Snickel Ways' (an amalgamation of the terms snickets, ginnels, alleys and footways) (see the Chocolate Walk below) take in a bit of history and discover a few hidden gems on the way.

If you want to do-it-yourself you'll need to buy a guide book. It was Mark Jones who first wrote about the 'secret' passageways in York, and he devised a route through York taking in all the snickets. You can buy his original book, which includes a map, 'A Walk Around the Snickelways of York' on-line from the Tourist Information Office in York or from Amazon.UK for £5.99 or less. (I've just noticed that is selling them for $52 or such like, so give that one a miss!).

To the right are some photos guiding you through the first snicket at Bootham Bar. You pass under the bar into High Petergate and to your left you will see the Hole in the Wall Pub. On the left of the pub is an opening leading to a passage and a court. Turn right into the court and make your way down the narrow 'street' and enjoy one of the best, but least discovered, views of the magnificent York Minster.


Look at Duttons for Buttons

For something delightful and enthralling, and possibly unique, have a look at 'Duttons for Buttons'. This is a tiny shop devoted to selling buttons. This is a rare sight and I can't recall ever seeing a shop like it.

You will find it opposite the corner of Marks and Spencers in a charming, old-world building. The walls of this tiny shop are covered in buttons and the shop has over 12,000 button designs.They also stock ribbons, zips and a range of haberdashery goods.


32 Coppergate YORK YO1 1NR. Tel: 01904 632 042. Shop opening hours 9.00 am to 5.30 pm. Monday to Saturday ...

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There are also branches in Harogate and Ilkley

Observe the York Observatory

My brother and I were brought up in York and yet we were surprised to find a little gem right in the middle of the museum gardens (much haunted in our youth). Many times we must have walked past the York Observatory. How could this be? I discovered the answer today, 25th September 2010. It had been a rather neglected building in the past but just three years ago it was renovated and refurbished.

The York Observatory, situated in Museum Gardens, along with the Yorksire Museum, in the centre of York, is a fully-operational astronomical observatory with history of astronomy and astronomers of York and Yorkshire. The octagonal stone observatory was built between 1832 - 1833 and may have been designed by J Smeaton who designed the Eddystone Lighthouse. The 4.5 telescope was originally built by Thomas Cooke of York in 1850.

For those of us who don't know anything about astronmy, the charming building contains all sorts of lovely bits and pieces. I must go back and find out more - I encourage you to do the same!


Open to the public 11.30am - 2.30pm, but also open for special events and by appointment.

Entry Free

Museum Gardens Museum St, York, North Yorkshire YO1 7DR - 01904 629 745

York College, Bishopthorpe

York College, Bishopthorpe

Beauty at York College

Have a full beauty treatment for a fraction of the price

York College is situated just outside the pretty village of Bishopthorpe, better known for its river access to the Arch Bishop's Palace. The college has a salon that looks and feels just like the real thing. Students of the Salon Hair and Beauty Spa will put their newly acquired skills at your disposal, but there is always an experienced and fully qualified member of staff to oversee the work and to give any finishing touches necessary and you pay just a fraction of the normal price. This is my first choice for hair dressing and every time I go on holiday to Bishopthorpe, I make sure I get my hair cut here.

Exciting Hairdressing, Beauty & Natural Holistic Therapies

Relax and enjoy the range of hair, beauty and natural holistic therapies. Our modern facilities include: a spa which houses a UV solarium, sauna, steam capsule and hydrotherapy bath and we only use professional products.

Our facilities are run as a realistic working environment to facilitate learning. Our workshops are supervised by highly trained/experienced staff. If you have any concerns regarding suitability of treatments, please enquire prior to scheduling your appointment.

Beauty Salon Membership is just £25 from Jan - June, receive 20% off all the beauty treatments.

Please call 01904 770254 for information or to make an appointment.

For a full price list see the web site, link below, but here is just a taster of the services and prices:

Body Treatments Dermalogical Electro-therapy Facial £10.50, Make-up £3. Eye Treatments Brow Shape £4.00, * Lash Perm £6.00. Face Electrical Facial £10.50. Depilatory Wax/Bleach Lip/chin wax/bleach £3.00, Half leg wax £7.00 30 mins, Body Therapy Body exfoliating scrub £5.00, Sauna and Steam £3.00, A 4 week electrical body treatment course £15.00. Hands & Feet Manicure £6.00, Paraffin Wax Pedicure £7.00. Holistic Therapies Back Massage £5.00, Full Body Massage £7.00, Aromatherapy £8.00. Spa Sauna, steam, spa pool £15.00. Hairdressing Wet cut (excluding bow dry) £3.50 2.50, Cut and blow-dry £7.00 £4.50, Blow-dry £5.00 £2.00, ColouringHighlights (cap), Full Head (short/med) from £15.00, Semi-permanent colour/Quazi £9.50 £6.50. Perming Permanent wave £10.00 £6.50

After your beauty treatment, why not indulge in a meal at Ashfields on-site training restaurant?


01904 770 200 ‎

Salon Hair and Beauty Spa

York College
Sim Balk Lane
York YO23 2BB
United Kingdom

The refectory is spacious and relaxed.

The refectory is spacious and relaxed.

Eat at Kings Manor, York

Eat like a King

Or rather, try King's Manor for lunch - it won't cost you a King's ransom!

Part of the University of York King's Manor was originally built to house the abbots of St Mary's Abbey, York, and probably occupied the site since the eleventh century, but the earliest remains date from the fifteenth century. It is well located in the city centre next to the City Art Gallery and opposite the Theatre Royal. There are lawns in front of the building and an information plaque at the door. You then pass through the gate house and into a pretty courtyard with a statue of a calf by the famous York artist Sally Arnup. The entrance to the cafe is up a short flight of stone steps to your left, but there is also wheelchair access.

I like to eat in King's Manor because it is cheap, (that goes without saying), but it is also restful. Often relatively quiet, (York is a busy place), and there's plenty of space for bags, push chairs and the like. I love it's informal atmosphere and feel that if I want to get out a novel and have a leisurely read and a rest without being hassled I can - rare in the centre of York.


Prices: Various beverages ranging from a large mug of tea for £1.00 to Mocha for £1.90. Cakes and pastries £1.05, sandwiches from £2.05, filled baked potatoes fro; £2.30 and home-made soup of the day for £2.00.

Open to students and public Monday - Friday 9.30am - 3.30pm. Hours may vary during university vacations.

Exhibition Square
York, North Yorkshire YO1 7EP
01904 433 995

Holy Trinty Church York

Chill out in Church

You can glimpse the tiny church of the Holy Trinity from a snicket in Petergate, or you can enter from Goodramgate through a wrought iron gate, but either way you have to have your eyes peeled to spot it. My Great Auntie Jenny used to take us here when we were young. It's great as a quiet stop-off point during a busy and tiring day trailing around the many sites and shops in the city centre. Here you'll find a little oasis of tranquility and peace. The building dates from the 15th century but the foundations date from the 12th century. Inside you can see some magnificent 15th century stained glass, but best of all you can see box pews. Outside you can enjoy a shady seat in the lovely gardens.


The Holy Trinity, 70 Goodramgate, York YO1 7LF

Open Tuesday - Sunday 10am - 4pm. Closed Monday

Betty's Tearooms - not exactly secret!

Betty's Tearooms - not exactly secret!

York and Chocolate

Follow the sweetie and chocolate trail

Who doesn't remember Terry's Chocolate Oranges? York, home of Bettys, Terry's, Rowntrees, Cravens and Thornton's, York is famous for its chocolate so why not catch the Chocolate Walk and enjoy a guided tour (with samples) by one of Yorkwalk's excellent guides. You'll follow a trail that will take you to existing chocolate shops and shops gone by to learn more about the chocolate industry in York. You'll compare present day sites with pictures of how York used to look, view commemorative plaques and church windows with a chocolate link and even visit Lush, the cosmetics and soaps shop that uses cocoa butter as one of its main ingredients. At each stop the staff of the various shops and establishments will give short talks about the business of chocolate. Finally you'll be taken to the most divine fudge kitchen and shop, watch the fudge being made and then be given a taste of the best fudge ever. Best of all, don't worry about the calories. Chocolate is now officially good for you, and all that walking will definitely compensate for negative effects.

'York Walks' run a number of different tours including a Snickleways, Inaccessible and Hidden Walk, seasonal tours and an Historic Toilet tour (who could resist?)


Prices: Adults £5.50, children under 5 free, 5 - 15 £3.50 plus various specials, see site below.


3 Fairway, Clifton, York YO30 5QA

Tel 01904 622303

You can also book through York Tourist Office however booking is not necessary.

Prefer the DIY approach?

If you want to discover York's chocolate history and present interest in chocolate for yourself, have a look at York, City of Chocolate - the Story of Cravens, Rowntrees and Terrys in the Chocolate Industry UK

St Crux York

The Crux of the matter

The distinctive Italianate tower of St Crux Church was described In 1736 by Francis Drake as 'a handsome new steeple of brick coined with stone.' but unfortunately, having became unsafe, the church was finally demolished in 1887. The original church dated from the Domesday Book of 1085-1086 but all that's left now is the little church hall at the bottom of the Shambles. These days it's used as a cafe where you can take a seat, a drink and a snack at a very reasonable price and at the same time you can view various interesting monuments from the original church.

Almost directly opposite the St Crux is the grocery shop bought by the chocolate merchants Rowntrees, and behind the church you will find one of York's Snickets running from Whip-ma-Whop-ma-Gate to the Shambles.

There is so much more to see and do

So many things to do in York, so much to discover you will need to set aside a great deal of time if you really want to do it justice. Why not book into Bentham Lodge and meet one of York's most colourful landladies or stay in a country mansion guest house with fishing pond and ample parking not far from Bishopthorpe, Blackwood Hall B&B.

Bishops Palace, Bishopthorpe

Bishops Palace, Bishopthorpe

New Earswick

New Earswick

Visit York's Villages

York city centre is spectacular, but there are also some interesting things to see and do around York. Have a look at some of the market towns and villages.

Bishopthorpe and New Earswick are two of the best. Who knows, if you're really lucky, you might see the ghost of the lady who haunts the village.

  • Bishopthorpe and Bishops Palace
  • New Earswick, the model village built by Joseph Rowntree
Chocolate Heaven, York

Chocolate Heaven, York

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Revenge is sweet! If you want a flavour of the real York, read this book by York writer Kate Atkinson. A cracking story set in the city centre, but one of the reasons that I love it so much is that she writes about a much-hated teacher at Queen Anne Grammar School, wreaking a just revenge on behalf of generations of school girls. Well done Kate.

Find These Secret Places in York

© 2010 Les Trois Chenes

Do you know any of York's secret places?

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on June 28, 2018:

Hi Mary. Thank you for leaving this message. I should add attending a service in the Minster - and attending myself. What a lovely idea.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 27, 2018:

We were in York in March of this year and enjoyed in particular attending the service in the Minster. We had been in York before but did not get a chance to do this. This time, we stayed right in front of the Minster so it was easy to do this.

John Dove on December 21, 2017:

You are most welcome! Your reminder of pleasant visits to North Yorkshire and York bring back pleasant memories.

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on December 21, 2017:

Thanks for your message John. I agree, all these years later, still so much to find out about York.

John Dove on December 16, 2017:

Oh my! York. I love the history, the layers of built environment, the city's architecture.

And Betty's! A visit to Betty's is a memory to savor forever.

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on September 16, 2017:

So true. I took my son on a ghost walk recently and that opened a whole new narrative for me. Same with the Chocolate walk. I must book myself in for more York walks and lectures asap. Thanks for leaving a comment, Alexis.

Alexis on September 01, 2017:

This is a great list of some hidden gems. One of the things that I love about New York is that there is always something new around the corner or something that's been there forever that you never knew existed!

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on July 02, 2017:

Thank you for leaving a essage, Glenis. Do come back and let me know what you think of the sights. I'm still discovering new things about York, even after all these years.

Glen Rix from UK on June 18, 2017:

I've visited York several times, as it's a short train journey from my home but I haven't seen some of the places you mention here. Time for a return trip.

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on August 10, 2016:

Thank you for your comments, Alan. Your books look fascinating and I'm sure you have much deeper knowledge than I. I'll have to have a look at the Constantine statue and find out about Tostig Godwinson too. Look forward to hearing from you again.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on August 03, 2016:

Another grand ramble you've led us on, LTC. As I've said elsewhere (the City of Sweets and Chocolate page), I'm at home here. Last time I stayed at the Lighthorseman on the Fulford road, just outside the walls.

My visits tend to be a bit specialised. Last time I took pictures of the Constantine statue and the church of St Mary Bishophill Junior where Tostig Godwinson is said to have been interred, as well as a few other sites not normally on the tourist trail. I was booked in for a few nights to go to this year's JORVIK FESTIVAL in February to commemorate Knut's kingship in AD 1016 - I was looking forward to it - but had to cancel for cash-flow reasons.

In the words of Arnie, I shall be back

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on June 04, 2011:

Hi Ruth, thank you so much for this contribution. It is so nice for other expert Yorkers to add their expertise. Next time I'm in York I'll definitely be going to the choc workshops. I'm going to do the river walk as well. Now, to take a peek at your article.

Ruth on June 04, 2011:

This is a really good list! I would also add a walk along the river, to Rowntree Park & beyond to Terry's chocolate factory and through the vibrant South Bank area of the City...the Scarcroft allotments are a hidden gem too on a summers day.

See our article on York's chocolate history here -

I would highly recommend booking on one of Little Pretty Things chocolate making workshops in the Mansion House. A brilliant way to do something fun set in a historic and beautiful building.

ClaireHaley from UK on May 23, 2011:

Great hub. You have inspired me to visit York. Love the button shop! We have an observatory in the city i live in and you have made me think i shold take a look.

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on September 28, 2010:

Wordcustard. It is a great place to visit with countless major sites as well as plenty of quirky little things to see and do. Forgot about the University Campus and last weekend I discovered new archaeological digs near Stonebow. Ever-changing and a great place to grow up in. Many thanks for your comments.

WordCustard from Scotland on September 28, 2010:

I need no convincing to visit York, it is a beautiful city set in lovely countryside. However, you have certainly given me some new ideas of things to see and do there. Thanks for sharing some of York's secrets!

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on September 28, 2010:

Let me know, James, when you do and I'll put a link from my articles. Many thanks for the comment.

James Mark from York, England on September 27, 2010:

Well done! I've been meaning to write a hub on York for ages, but have been too busy with other work. If I do get round to it, I'll have to work hard to get it to this standard. We are relative newcomers to the city but really enjoy living here.

Les Trois Chenes (author) from Videix, Limousin, South West France on September 26, 2010:

Many thanks for your comments. In my teenage years we would 'hang out' at the University and go to concerts and parties there. Used to like the stepping stones; it is a very beautiful campus.

Polly C from UK on September 25, 2010:

A great hub on York, one of my favourite cities in England. I used to visit sometimes when my sister was a student at York University (where I loved the weeping willow trees) . I haven't been back for a long time, but it's a place I always think of with fondness. And I recall having tea and cakes in Betty's Tearooms, too! I love the idea of the Snickets, and imagining the lives of the Victorians. York has definitely got a lot of offer, both on and off the beaten track.

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