There are many great ‘pub cities’ in Britain, but few can compete with York for the best ‘traditional pub city’. The history and heritage throughout York are famous and unparalleled, and this city’s preservation of the past is evident in many of its pubs. 

They are housed in wonderful ancient buildings and reveal real stories of evolving communities, all whilst continuing to serve the modern pub-goer with the cosy comfort and character that only a traditional pub can deliver. Here is a selection of the best of them to visit around York.

The Golden Ball

An important role of the traditional pub has always been to serve the local community. Some feel that this has gradually diminished over the years, which makes The Golden Ball even more valuable. This community cooperative pub in the heart of Bishophill is in a Grade II listed building and dates back to the 18th century. In 2012 it was taken over by the people, and the friendly welcome and fine ale confirm it is a traditional pub very much for the people.

The Phoenix Inn

This little 18th century pub by the walls of York is immediately full of charm and character, outside and in. Unspoilt and independent, the atmosphere is timeless thanks to the happy absence of technology. There are no games, televisions or jukeboxes, creating a rare haven of peace to unwind in with a real ale. And for some organic entertainment, the rear bar regularly hosts great live jazz.

Ye Olde Starre Inn

Believed to be the oldest pub in York, Ye Olde Starre Inn retains its history with classic traditional pub traits. Flock wallpaper, wooden boards, fire, cask ales and comfort food adorn the inn. Now run by Greene King, far from homogenising the place, they are showcasing the historic beauty of this 16th century Grade II listed building.

The Fox

This standalone building on Holgate Road is a handsome sight that is difficult to walk on by. Revived by Ossett Brewery in the last decade, who have sympathetically restored The Fox to its origins. The ale is unsurprisingly excellent and the traditional approach is emphasised by real ciders. As well as the relaxed interior there is an expansive beer garden. A proper pub.

The Whippet Inn

A terrific example of a place which is embracing tradition and elevating it to the modern customer, The Whippet Inn is a treat of a visit. It’s plush and elegant whilst being friendly and homely, as comfortable with a fine wine as with a real ale. The food here is exceptional, and their Sunday roasts and steaks exemplify the ethos of traditional joy for the 21st century.

The Hole in the Wall

The Hole in the Wall ticks off everything that a pub should be: inviting atmosphere, a range of drinks, quiz night, live music, cosy seating, classic food. With a history of being haunted too, there is something for everyone to enjoy at this central 18th century pub.

The Plough Inn

Situated in the suburb of Fulford is a former 18th century coaching inn which has been impressively revived. Now also a boutique hotel, The Plough Inn has brought out its traditions to attract visitors whilst keeping the pub cosy and comforting for locals too.


The Golden Fleece

Dating back to the 16th century, The Golden Fleece steps back in time to create an equally spooky and smiley visit. It claims to be the most haunted pub in York and is happy to tell its past tales, yet evokes an easy comfort for the modern day visitor wanting a beer, gin or Sunday roast.

The Three Tuns

Cask ale and home cooked food in an 18th century building, sometimes it’s simple what to do to keep a good traditional pub. The Three Tuns also make the atmosphere both cosy and social, with the decor and quiz nights, for a visit that’s all about the comfort.

House of the Trembling Madness

Perhaps a curveball, an unexpected outlier in this list, House of the Trembling Madness has been at the forefront of York’s cool bar scene, but rightly earns its place as a traditional pub for many reasons. Firstly, the original Stonegate building dates back to 1180AD, and is celebrated in all its nooks and crannies. The welcoming atmosphere, Yorkshire grub and incredible array of drinks confirm it as very much a traditional pub. The Lendal site continues the ethos with unique rooms to kick back or get social in. Like all the best pubs, these traditional stories are constantly evolving into modern York.

Images: The Plough Inn, The Phoenix Inn, The Golden Ball, The Fox, The Three Tuns