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Weekend in York and Manchester

Hey all,

Just a quick trip report from the North of England. Found some Ryanair flights too good to pass up - 34 euros return, departing Stuttgart mid-day Thursday and returning afternoon Sunday. Of course we couldn't get by without cabin baggage per their new policy (the only free bag is one that can fit under the seat) so that added 18 per person. We didn't opt to reserve seats on the way over, so they placed us separately and in the middle seat. It was unpleasant enough that we paid an extra 7 euros each on the way back to sit together. (That flight was half-empty but flight attendants still chastised a woman who moved to sit with her partner once boarding was complete, forcing her to sit in her assigned seat.) So the "real" total was 59 return, which is still a pretty great price.

More Ryanair notes: Our flight to Manchester was delayed by about an hour, but it had snowed heavily that morning and they had to de-ice the plane on the runway, so I don't blame Ryanair for that. Our flight back departed on time and got in about 15 minutes early. Service was fine. Ryanair now lets you use their app to show boarding passes, but since we were non-EU residents we had to print ours out so they could be written on at the gate. I don't know why this is, and it was hardly presented in big flashing lights, so as always - the budget air carriers are fine as long as you read the fine print and know what's expected of you!

I'd pre-booked our train to York on the Transpennine Express because it saved us a lot of money than buying day of and we got reserved seats included. I'd given us 2 hours from our expected landing time to get to the train, but with the delay that meant we only had about 8 minutes. The tickets were non-refundable. It was a risk I was willing to take, but I'd almost booked us on a train 30 minutes earlier, so keep that in mind in general when you decide to pre-book specific trains for cheaper prices after a flight! You have to be prepared to potentially eat that cost.

The train ride to York was surprisingly picturesque, especially when we skirted just north of the Peak District National Park. More places to visit in England! The train had decent WiFi once we could get it working, no cafe car but 2/3rds through the trip a snack and beverage cart did come through (alas we'd been running for the train so we didn't have any pounds on us). We were starving when we arrived so we decided to go to our old standby, the surprisingly good train station pub, the York Tap. Excellent craft beer selection, but unfortunately this time they only had cold snacks, and let me tell you, a cold pork pie isn't nearly as good as a hot one. We then grabbed the bus to our hotel, the Tower Guest House, just north of the hospital.

On our first trip to York we'd stayed in a wonderful room at the Staymor Guest House, but the entire place was booked. I ended up liking the Tower more, because it was slightly cheaper but the room was even nicer, with incredibly thoughtful details AND a great full English breakfast to boot. I'd still heartily recommend either hotel, though. Both are about equidistant from the center (20 minute walk or so) but the Tower has the benefit of being on a major bus line if you don't feel like walking at night in January. (Or you can do as we did and be lazy and use Uber. We usually only paid a pound or two more than a bus ticket would have cost for both of us anyway).

Another benefit of the Tower is that there is a 3-times daily shuttle to the city center, which we made use of after getting settled in our room. So we departed at 19:00 to wander the city a bit (i.e. visit pubs) before our dinner reservation.

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I should add that this was a birthday trip for my husband, so we splurged a bit on hotels as we're normally kind of cheap about them (hate to pay more than 80 euros/night, but the Tower was a little over 100) and I booked us a nice birthday dinner.

I should note that this was our second trip up north. The first was a week in October 2016, where we explored the market town of Pickering, the charming seaside resort of Whitby, before 2 nights in York. We really fell in love with the scenery, the friendliness of the people, and the food and beer scene in the north in general and York in particular, and we didn't have nearly enough time to explore, hence the reason for the return trip. Even if you're not a history nerd like me, (or a beer nerd, or a haunted places nerd), York is simply one of the most atmospheric cities I've visited in Europe and I don't understand why it doesn't seem to get as much international travel as you'd expect (most tourists seem to be Brits).

But first, pubs! Our wonderful host dropped us off at Bootham Bar gate/the minster and we headed straight for the 3-Legged Mare for a half-pint. York famous has more pubs per capita than anywhere else in the UK, and many of these pubs focus on craft beer. We learned last time that ordering half-pints enable us to try more beers without falling down and enable us to visit more places. I faithfully recorded every beer and pub in the app Untapped and won't recount them here because I seriously doubt anyone reading this shares my passion for the diversity of British pubs, but we managed to hit a few more on this chilly evening as we made our way through the old city to our 21:00 dinner reservation at Skosch.

Likewise, this isn't a food blog, so I won't recount in detail what we ate, but to say that if you want a nice but not stuffy dinner with some of the most exciting and interesting dishes you can imagine, you have to book a table at Skosch. It's a sort of fusion-y small plates place, and even the least interesting dishes were delicious, whereas some of them were simply revelatory, particularly the vegetarian "Hen's Egg", the pumpkin chwanmushi, and the best beef tartare in the world. We splurged and our bill was only 70 pounds, a meal that would have cost at least double in New York or San Francisco. (Another thing I love about the north of England is that it's such a bargain for eating and drinking!)

We finished out the evening playing Super Mario Bros. in the local BrewDog outlet down the street. How perfect is that for a couple of Gen X kids?

The next day, after our delightful English breakfast, we focused on some sights we'd missed on our previous trip, which had been centered around the excellent Rail Museum and the Minster. The Holy Trinity Church at Goodramgate was a free delight, a hidden-away ancient church with unique "box pews", original stained glass, and helpful docents. We continued our wander, checking out the now 3 (!!!) Harry Potter shops on the Shambles for a couple gifts for some of my nerdy friends and relatives and looked at the street food options at the York Market, which were tempting but eating outside in winter temperatures was not. We also paid a visit to the Merchant's Adventurer's Hall, which is well-worth a visit (crazy that it's still owned by the guild who created it over 600 years ago) which has a dry but useful audioguide included in the price. We visited the Traveling Man comic and games store, again, a bit of a niche interest but my husband is a board game enthusiast and I'd never seen such a selection. For my part, I hit a GAP. Sadly those damn Ryanair weight restrictions means we didn't do much more than window shop, but York does have a lot of interesting and fun independent stores worth visiting if travel and shopping is your thing.

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Lunch was the traditional, Tudor-Era Red Lion Inn, which had a (gas) fireplace and lots of creaky charm. This was no craft beer pub (the couple they advertised were out) but we made do with a typical pale ale and giant platters of fish and chips - because it was Friday, they were only 5 each and came with a mountain of potato wedges. This is obviously very much a locals' place but as always the service was friendly and helpful and while it wasn't a gourmet experience, it hit the spot.

We popped into the St. Crux church on our route back through town on our way to visit the Yorkshire Museum. We'd hemmed and hawed a bit about going to this or the Army museum, but we're glad we did. It's not huge, and the exhibits are far from dry and dusty. The current exhibition about Jurrasic York was fun, and a highlight was being invited to take off my shoes and walk across a real Roman mosaic floor from York. We also were able to view the ruins of the St. Mary's Abbey on the museum grounds during a breathtaking sunset with parts from the original monastery recreated inside the museum.

We headed through the gardens to the fancy-schmacy Principal Hotel to do "Twilight Tea" in the Garden Room. We didn't book in advance, but if I was visiting any other time than January it would be a good idea to do so. This tea differs from afternoon tea in that they leave out a couple of the starters, and instead of tea, you get a cocktail - a Blackberry Bramble, to be precise. We hadn't anticipated how much food it was - easily could have substituted for a lunch. It was a really fun, posh experience and at 22 pounds each not really a bad deal given the quality of the substantial "nibbles" and the cocktail. Just don't make my husband's mistake and tip extra - the 10% service charge was already included, but he forgot when paying. (He's still very American and has a hard time adjusting to British tipping customs - not that the servers mind!)

We walked back across town (within the city center it just makes sense to expect to walk a lot, since buses tend to stay on the periphery) to meet Mackenzie of "Shadows of York" for a private "Haunted York" tour.

Now, as someone who may or may not be a tour guide herself, I can say I'm glad I don't work in York due to competition. There are dozens of different tour operators, and more than 10 specifically for haunted tours. The good news for the consumer is that prices are super low. Public tours seem to average around 5 pounds (and there are free tours as well) and a 75 minute private tour was only 28 pounds. That's crazy low - 2 to 4 times less than your comparable private tour in most other places. So we splurged for this tour over some others I was looking at. I'm glad we did! Mackenzie is a dramatic and fantastic storyteller, but far less gimmicky than the 3 other tours that we passed that evening. She relies on both ghostly lore and the real macabre history to make her stories come to life, as opposed to costumed guys jumping out at you. I really can't recommend her enough.

I'd had dinner reservations after the tour at a hip Indian street food joint, but we were still too full from "tea" so we hit a series of pubs instead. We had a rollicking time with brand new friends at the Old White Swan Inn, talking politics, Brexit, Richard Nixon, and 80s British TV shows, and the correct pronunciation of "Maryland". It is hard to go to a pub in Yorkshire and not find yourself in conversation with hilarious strangers.

We then went to Five Guys and don't you dare judge me, I live in a country that is incapable of making a decent burger, so as an expat it is my right to seek out good American food when traveling. It was heaven.

We finished out the evening at the classic Blue Bell Inn, one of the smallest and most charming pubs in York. I was just sad that the dancing dog I'd met on my previous visit wasn't there that evening.

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After a good night's sleep and a half-English (we'd struggled to finish our breakfast the morning before and used the hotel's app to order what we wanted individually on our plate - and also to control our room's temperature remotely, what a cool idea!) we took an Uber to the train station for our ride back to Manchester.

Our Manchester visit isn't as much interest to the tourist as it was focused around attending the Manchester Beer and Cider festival and meeting up with an old friend who'd attended university in Stuttgart. But I'll give you some impressions:

Manchester is not nearly as dreary as it's reputation, although on the surface there doesn't seem to be much to interest the tourist aside from niche museums, like the Football Museum or the Imperial War Museum North. We'd planned on visiting the latter, but upon arrival and exploring, we opted to have an excellent lunch at Hunan Restaurant in Chinatown and explore the center instead of heading out to the docklands for the museum, and I'm glad we did. Since the super-cheap flights exist, we told ourselves we'd come back soon to visit the museum and see more.

Manchester was very vibrant and modern with an interesting food scene and is VERY much a party city, which was quite obvious on this rainy evening as girls wearing next to nothing (no coats on a night out!) dodged puddles on their way to the next club or bar. The majority of our drinking was done in in the late afternoon at CAMRA's amazing beer festival (I have got to get myself to Tiny Rebel Brewing Company's brewery in Malton, their Peaches & Cream IPA was AH MAY ZING) but we did have a loud but extremely tasty dinner of reminagined Indian street food at Bundobust (with another fantastic craft beer selection) and had fun catching up at the cozy and slightly divey bar, The Peer Hat which ALSO had great craft beer.

(Are you getting a theme here? We drank a lot of amazing beer on this trip.)

Earlier in the day we ran into an anti-Brexit protest which I wanted to participate in more but my husband gave me The Look, but I did get some good video and some "Bollocks to Brexit" stickers. We left wanting to experience Manchester more fully.

The one down note is we had a terrible time getting to the airport on Sunday morning. When booking train tickets I'd found out the train we'd been planning to take was cancelled, but the one we booked for ended up being 35 minutes late, and after one stop announced it wouldn't be calling at the airport . We then had to change trains for another late train that was absolutely mobbed with desperate travelers, leading to the proletariat storming first class, which meant we got nice seats, at least. Between that and ridiculous UK airport security I'm glad we gave ourselves 3 hours before boarding for the supposedly simple 25 minute transit to the airport, as it was we only had 20 minutes at the gate before boarding.

One more note: Our hotel-apartment, a "mini-studio" at Whitworth Locke, was astounding. Larger than most European hotel rooms and normally goes for a quite fair price, despite having a tiny but full kitchen (with an oven!). It's right at the edge of the Gay Village and is beautifully hip without being snobby. When there's not a soccer game/beer festival in town, rates are as low as 80 pounds, which is a bargain. I'd stay here again in a heartbeat.

So there you go, a short but memorable trip north, and now I'm just sad I'm not in England anymore!

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129 posts

Sarah, thanks for all the "insider" information on York. Very interesting and I think useful. We plan to visit in June and I will keep your post bookmarked for reference.

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382 posts

I thought uber had lost its license to operate in york? When was you trip? Just curious if uber is operating in york now?

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5183 posts

Advances on TPE from Manchester Airport are not just valid on the train booked for in the circumstance of late arrival:

with an Airport Advance you can catch the next available TransPennine Express train up to 3 hours after the departure time stated on the ticket.

Don't forget to endorse your ticket at the Manchester Airport station ticket office before you board the train.

The Harry Potterfication of The Shambles is something the local council is trying to halt, but so far the premises have not had to secure change of use.

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I have got to get myself to Tiny Rebel Brewing Company's brewery in Malton, their Peaches & Cream IPA was AH MAY ZING

Ah, Tiny Rebel, a favourite of mine. I particularly enjoy their Pango (peach and mango IPA) which is only available through the beer site Unfortunately for you they only deliver within the UK!

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6113 posts

Manchester is certainly worth a visit as there are some great museums, galleries and an active music scene.

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674 posts

Really enjoyed your York portion as we’re considering visiting it sometime. Thanks for sharing!

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Thanks for the feedback everyone!

@derek - We were there 24-27 January (i.e. last weekend). Uber everywhere. We don't have Uber in Stuttgart so I tend to forget about it, but saw them driving around and downloaded the app. We were generally returning too late to catch a bus and it was very cold, especially Thursday night, so while I'm not really a fan of Uber's business practices I was a hypocrite and went for it. Similarly with a train to catch and luggage we opted to take an Uber as opposed to a bus to get from our guesthouse to the train station.

Marco - Good point. Our flight was late enough that we could have gotten our ticket validated for a later train. I'd noted that beforehand and forgot when writing up my trip. However, if our flight had been say, 25 minutes late and we had checked luggage, we very well may have missed our train AND had to pay full price for a new ticket. I relied on the advice of friends who'd recently flown into Manchester when timing my train. Once you exit the terminal we were in (3 I believe?) it was a good 10 minutes walk to the station. Luckily being non-EU residents our line for passport control was very short. The line for EU passholders was huge and would have easily added 30-45 minutes.

Marco - It was really crazy that there are 3 shops all right next to/across from each other. I could be wrong but I don't remember them from 2016. I can see why they're popular with tourist fans of HP but it seems a tad excessive. But despite York's picturesque center, it's actually far less "touristy" than many similar preserved cities throughout Europe. I hope it stays that way.

JC - What's crazy is that in 2016 we were in Malton, it's where we left the train to change to a bus for Pickering, and we had a couple hours to kill and had a great gastropub lunch and a wander. I don't know how new Tiny Rebel is, but if it was around in '16 I'm sad I missed it! It was clearly one of the favorites of the beer festival, they ran out of the Peaches and Cream IPA for about half an hour and when it returned it had the longest queue of any booth at the fest!

If anyone is interested in a more specific pub rundown, I'm going to try to compile a list with my impressions on my blog which I'll link to in an update. Thanks for reading!

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1883 posts

Great report and yes the North is wonderful. If there was no Brexit and I won the lottery, I'd buy a flat inside the York walls. I stayed in a flat there near Holy Trinity and fell in love with the city and I visited Holy Trinity Goodramgate every day for some peace and quiet. And yes the people and staff up there are friendlier. I've never been called pet, luv, or duck more in my life! I think the reason more foreigners don't visit the city is because when one thinks of England, they think of London, Bath and Oxbridge. There haven't been too many popular, non-dreary British TV/movies set up there with the exception of Downton Abbey.

I had a roommate in college who studied abroad in Sheffield back in the 90s and it's amazing the transformation that has taken place as well as being the new BBC headquarters. Even Doctor Who is in Sheffield now!

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Sarah - I sent you a private message, did you get it?