If you’re stuck for things to do on a rainy day or fancy topping up your historical knowledge, York isn’t short of museums and galleries. But while Yorkshire Museum and Clifford’s Tower may be your go to for a cultural day out, York boasts many more smaller and unusual exhibitions without even having to leave the city centre. You might be surprised at some of the things you uncover…
Barley Hall is tucked away behind the bustling streets of Stonegate and Swinegate so you’d be forgiven for not noticing its entrance. However a stroll down one of these unassuming alleys reveals a charismatic medieval town house which was once home to Lord Mayor of York and the Priors of Nostell.
Its oldest parts date back to 1360 but its history was nearly lost until the medieval structures were rediscovered in the 1980s. York Archaeological Trust saved the hall in 1987 and excavated the property to uncover its multifarious past. Follow the story of the hall’s reconstruction and admire the impressive grandeur of the former home of York’s most intriguing individuals during the medieval period.
For a spellbinding afternoon, dive into the world of witches and wizardry at their latest exhibition, ‘Magic and Mystery.’ Through real archaeological findings, discover the myths and truths of alchemy, charms and potions in the Middle Ages.
Included in the ticket cost is free admission for a year which is priced at £6.50 for adults, £3.50 for children or £5 for concessions with family tickets also available. Its nearest carpark can be found on Marygate which is a ten minute walk away or take any bus to the city centre and Barley Hall will be a five to ten minute walk away.
Beside the River Foss lies one of England’s greatest former entrepreneurial centres, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. It also happens to be the UK’s largest timber framed building with 660 years of history and a wealth of fascinating artefacts. Initially set up by citizens of York as a base for charity, business and worship, the hall still acts as a meeting point for current members of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York. Beautifully preserved, this museum and Grade 1 listed building presents some of York’s finest architecture and most treasured collections within the city walls.
All admission prices include an audio tour to guide you round the site while you explore the splendour of the Great Hall, Undercroft and Chapel. If you’re short of time and feeling peckish, pop into the Merchants’ Coffee House (no ticket necessary) and take in the stunning medieval guildhall surroundings.
Whether you’ve visited the Jorvik Viking Centre or not, we all know about York’s famous Norse past: But did you know that York has its own Cold War Bunker a couple of miles from the city centre?
Used from the 1960s to the 1990s, this English Heritage site lets visitors delve into York’s secret Cold War history, including a visit to the bunker’s spookily named, decontamination chamber. Learn how the bunker monitored fallout in case of a nuclear attack in the semi-subterranean control rooms and watch a chilling ten minute documentary on the arms wars that created the need for these bunkers in the first place.
To add to the mystery of it all, access is by an hour long guided tour only. Tours run on the hour every hour between 10am and 5pm (last tour finishes at 6pm). If you don’t have English Heritage membership, entry is priced at £8.30 for adults, £5 for children or £7.50 for concessions with family tickets also available.
Easily accessible from York’s centre via bus routes 1, Arriva 412, Eddie Brown 142 and 413 that drop off a five minute walk away from the Bunker. If you’re driving, it is advisable to park for free on Acomb Road (2 minutes’ walk away) as there is very limited parking on site.
If you have spare time after your visit, Holgate Windmill is only a ten minute walk round the corner. Yorkshire’s oldest working windmill is a real hidden gem with countryside character and charm. You can even take home some of their traditional stone-ground wholemeal flour. Check their website to find out about their ad hoc open days for a look inside with volunteers on hand or appreciate from outside.
York’s intricate and rich history is a huge part of what makes this city so unique. Every street is steeped in history so it’s easy to overlook more well concealed places but here there is always plenty more to uncover!