We are visiting York by car in September. Any shopping tips for unique items? Also, restaurants or pubs? Anyone visited Alnwick Castle? What are some favorite sites you enjoyed? Our "group": history buffs, a hubby that has been to York, my first time and love photography. How close is Whitby? Thank you for your ideas!
York is full of good restaurants/pubs in the central area, and enough sights for a couple of days: the Minster, Yorkshire Museum, wandering around the Shambles area, walking the wall, the Railroad Museum if you're into that. Alnwick is quite a ways north, too far for a day trip and not worth an overnight imo. We found the castle interesting enough for a several-hour stop on the way from Durham to Edinburgh, but I wouldn't have picked it as a destination. We missed the gardens, to our regret. Can't help you with Whitby, but it's a lot closer than Alnwick.
For someone who loves history and photography, I can highly recommend Rievaulx Abbey, a Cistercian abbey ruin about an hour drive north of York. The number of pictures I took there, from panaromas of the entire complex to extreme close ups of the details on the buildings, were definitely the most I took on my trip last year. I just had my point and shoot Canon, but there was someone else there doing much more professional level shots who told me it was his favorite location for photos in the country. If you go, make sure you get the audio tour; I did not and wished I had afterwards, when I was reading through the English Heritage guidebook of the site that I bought on our way out to the parking lot, when I realized that I could have understood a lot more about what I was looking at.
Right then, 2 1/2 days in York is... Well... Not enough time in York. But here goes - one day must be spent in York. Start your day with free walking tour put on by the Association of Volunteer Guides - better than any of the paid walking tours. You need to spend several hours in York Minster with a camera in your hands. While you are there don't miss the newly redesigned under croft tour, it's really great. If you have a good day walk the wall, it's a terrific way to understand the ancient heart of the city. As for pubs - I suggest the Inn of The Trembling Madness and possibly the Black Swan. That leaves you with one day out. Consider Helmsley with a short dash to Revaulx Abbey, or a little longer drive to Ripon with Fountains Abbey near by, or a drive to the coast to see Whitby or possibly Robinhoods Bay. I guarantee you will run out of time before you run out of things to photograph. For the half day - I'd spend it once again in York. It really is a wonderful city with plenty to see and do. If you are looking for a quiet place to eat lunch, try the basement of the Treasurer's House by York Minster. The National Trust runs a small clean cafeteria full of good food and plenty of locals. Good luck and enjoy York. This year marked our seventh trip there and we will be going there again next year. I just know it.