One of the best things about living in the UK is how easily we can travel to new places and experience cities outside our own. As someone who loves doing just that, I hopped on a 1 hour 20 minute train from Manchester to spend 29 hours in York, a city famous for its rich history, stunning Victorian buildings and amazing local food and shops.
While I was there, I planned to stay at the Moxy York, a vibrant and modern hotel that's slap bang in the middle of town. Perfect for an overpacker like me so I don’t have to lug my bags very far from the station.
Stepping onto the train in a rather gloomy Manchester, the fresh winter air of York felt like an immediate cleanse. The run-up to Christmas makes the city even more picturesque, as everyone is wrapped up warm with a twinkling of festive spirit.
The first stop on my staycay was Helston Street, a beautiful independent shop that sells trinkets, homeware and dried flowers. Owner Lucy runs the business with her mum who, she told me as I was buying one, hand-makes all their tote bags. Nestled just outside of the main city area, Helston Street is a gifting oasis, perfect for grabbing a little something to remind you of your trip.
A short walk across town will bring you to Spark, an outdoor community space comprising stacks of shipping containers. Each container houses a new and exciting business, from food and drinks to arts, shopping and salon spaces. My first port of call was food and Dog’s Nose Taco, a 100% plant-based Mexican restaurant, won the vote. We went for habanero tofu tacos and nachos stacked with guac, cheese and jalapeños – they did not disappoint! If you are a lover of Mexican flavours then Dog’s Nose isn’t one to pass up.
If you fancy something else, Spark’s huge variety of foodie options include plant-based burgers, Greek street food and pizza, so there’s no danger of going hungry.
Food finished and it was over to Ossie, a beauty and wellness business run by Alice Lindsay. Stepping into the salon you forget that you’re in the middle of a stack of shipping containers – the space is full of plants and decorated in calming neutral colours.
Alice worked as a hair and makeup artist before deciding to pursue her dream of opening her own place. Offering gel nails, lashes and even barre and Pilates classes in the event space above Spark, it’s a total sanctuary and there isn’t much you can’t have done here.
I opted for a wash and blow-dry to set me up for the evening and I’m happy to report that Alice is as good with hair as she is at creating a warm and welcoming space for her clients.
Hair bouncy and fresh, it was off to check in to the Moxy York. Less than 10 minutes’ walk from the iconic Shambles shopping street, there really isn’t a better hotel to stay in if you are visiting York. I am a seasoned Moxy guest and always appreciate how much attention goes into the communal spaces of their hotels. Don’t get me wrong, the rooms are lovely, but seeing as most of the time in your room is spent sleeping, the focus on the hotel bar, games and working areas really stands out. With pool, table football, a cocktail menu to rival the best bars in town and even giant Jenga, you could have a blast of a weekend without leaving the hotel.
To my surprise my room had been 'flamingoed', which is exactly what it says on the tin: a huge inflatable flamingo was on my bed when I arrived, surrounded by smaller flamingo pals and frozen daiquiris in bags. It’s touches like this that make Moxy hotels so unique – I can’t say I've mounted a giant flamingo in any other hotel room.
At this point my friend had joined me to get in on the fun so after cocktails in the bar area to start the evening off we headed to Enoteca by L'UVA for dinner, a small, independent Italian restaurant that specialises in wine, pasta and pizza.
For starters we had bruschetta with burrata, followed by duck pasta and butternut squash gnocchi for mains, all washed down with a bottle of rosé. Something about L’UVA transports you from the hustle of the city streets to a corner of Italy. From the decor to the wine choices, this is as authentic as it gets.
Suitably stuffed, we headed back over the bridge to sample the cocktails at Evil Eye. When the cocktail menu is a five-page booklet you know you’re going to find one you love (there’s even a game of shots snakes and ladders on the first page). It happened to be open mic night, presented by a larger than life character who pumped up the crowd between rounds and geared up each act for their solo performance.
Evil Eye is an otherworldly bar – a dark, Tardis-like space that looks like a tiny Victorian house from the outside but goes further back than you might think, even boasting a large outdoor decking for daytime cocktails.
After a few cocktails too many, we made our way back to the Moxy for a sound night's sleep, ready to explore again tomorrow.
I can’t say for sure what they put in hotel beds that makes them so impossible to get out of but this morning was no exception. We said goodbye to our flamingo haven at 10.30am, eagerly awaiting brunch at the highly recommended Partisan.
As soon as we walked through the doors I could tell we had arrived at the place hailed ‘The Best Brunch In York’. From people being turned away at the door to the fact we were told it would be a good idea to reserve cakes while we ate our mains before they sold out.
I settled upon avocado with feta and poached egg – the feta was baked into the bread and the egg perfectly poached on top – while my friend went for Persian eggs. Both were impeccable. It’s not just the attention to detail that so obviously goes into making every meal taste so good; the place itself is a haven for foodies and interior lovers alike. Partisan doubles up as an antique shop, with all the paintings and much of the furniture available to buy. The owner, Flo, was attentive and proud – as she should be. Her selection of cakes and treats was unrivalled by any other bakery we saw on our visit.
Our final stop of the trip involved some vintage shopping at Chinese Laundry, a rustic Victorian tavern-like building with high ceilings draped in every kind of vintage T-shirt and jacket you could imagine. I tried on several (very reasonably priced) vintage leather jackets but am still to find ‘the one’. As well as having a plethora of vintage goodies, Chinese Laundry has its own clothing range, with its logo branded onto T-shirts, jumpers and hoodies across the store.
And with that my time in York was up. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to stay longer. We touched upon some of the city's most iconic food and shopping spots but there is still so much more to see and do. If you are looking for a city break that still feels like an escape from city life, York should be at the top of your list.