For a snapshot of English history, head straight for the city of York.
The famous words of King George VI, who stated that 'the history of York is the history of England', still hold true today. Ask any of the city's modern day inhabitants and they will proudly tell you that if you 'walk a hundred yards in York and you don't look where you're going . you could miss a thousand years'.
York was originally constructed as a fortress by the Romans, in 71 AD, and named Eboracum. This stronghold later became a city and was renamed Jorvik or Yorwik by the Vikings. But it was not until the Normans made their mark upon the city that York became one of Europe's most important centres of commerce, government, religion and communication. By the eighteenth century, the city of York was also recognised as a stylish resort, frequented by the well-heeled and genteel.
York, however, is not all about history. It is also one of the most exciting, forward looking cities in Britain. Of courses it oozes historic interest, wherever you happen to be in the city, from its famous landmarks to the myriad mediaeval streets (many named after ancient trades), with half-timbered overhanging houses and well-preserved Georgian architecture. Reminders of the past are everywhere. But this is history with a twist; this is not the yawn-inducing type of history so coveted by culture vultures. York, like no other city in Britain, has somehow managed to make history come alive with a fascinating blend of old and new that attracts visitors in their droves from around the world. Even shopaholics cannot escape the grim realities of York's notorious past, for that bastion of British lifestyle, Marks & Spencer, now stands on the spot where public executions once took place!
If you only have time for a whistle-top tour of York, make sure that you visit York Minster, first. The largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, York Minster is also the largest mediaeval edifice in Britain. It took over 250 years to build and was finally completed in 1475. Stained glass enthusiasts will have a feast day, as the Minster has the largest area of mediaeval stained glass, in the world. A visit to the Central Tower is a must, if only to get your bearings. This is not an easy climb, but the panoramic views of the city, from the top, make it well worth the effort.
Other must-see-and-dos in York:
Jorvik Viking Centre (Coppergate): Step back in history, to a reconstruction of life in Viking times. Experience the unforgettable sights, sounds (and smells!) of a typical alley way in York, under Viking rule. The reconstruction is based on archaeological findings unearthed at Coppergate, the current site of the Jorvik Viking Centre.
National Railway Museum (Leeman Road): The largest collection of railway exhibits in the world, the National Railway Museum covers everything from Stephenson's famous 'Rocket' to modern day Eurostar.
York Castle Museum (The Eye of York): Housed within the city's former prison (graffiti still extant!), York Castle Museum is one of the best museums depicting everyday life in Britain, throughout the ages.
York City Walls: Although fragments of the original Roman walls and ramparts still exist, the three-mile length of carefully preserved walls date back to mediaeval times. The walls encompass the city, with access via the famous 'Bars' or gateways.
Clifford's Tower (Tower Street): Originally a wooden structure erected by William the Conqueror, Clifford's Tower was rebuilt during the reign of Henry III, in the thirteenth century, as a keep for York Castle. The original wooden tower was destroyed in 1190 when Jews who sought refuge in the city were burnt alive in a mass suicide pact, having refused to be baptised.
York Dungeon (Clifford Street): Not for the faint-hearted, York Dungeon recaptures the grim realities of torture and punishment, including drowning, boiling, branding, and beheading, in centuries gone by - scarily realistic!
The Shambles - Visit one of the oldest shopping streets in Europe.
Finally, if sightseeing just seems like too much effort, why not hit the many specialist shops or relax in the attractive cafés, tea rooms, pubs and restaurants which York boasts in abundance. Tempting?