A medieval walled city, packed with genuinely unique sights within a compact area – it’s no wonder York is one of the UK’s most popular city breaks. My own love affair with it began on my first visit two decades ago. Since then, I’ve been back many times for short breaks and as a base for longer jaunts into the dales or moors. I’ve stayed everywhere from self-catered flats to romantic historic hotels. What have I learned? That most places skew towards dusty chintz or business-hotel blandness. Here are 10 of the more stylish places to stay.
Best for opulence: Grays Court York
The oldest continuously inhabited house in England, dating back to 1091, this tranquil boutique hotel is a few steps from York Minster, right in the heart of the city. Grays Court somehow manages to combine opulent, expensive decor with a homely atmosphere. Silk wallpapers, reproduction Louis XIV furnishings and crystal chandeliers wouldn’t naturally make you think “child and dog-friendly”, yet both are welcome. As you flop on your four-poster or pad along the medieval hallways, you’re unlikely to encounter staff – this isn’t a five-star hotel, even if it looks like one – which leaves you free to poke around the various nooks, crannies and lounge areas of this Grade I listed building. Add to this the peerless views of the minster, a beautifully manicured garden, and the only private access to York’s city walls, and you may not want to leave.
Doubles from £140, B&B
Best location: The Judge’s Lodging
The huge beer garden and the cellar bar with vaulted ceilings and Roman foundations lures you in for a drink, while the rooms upstairs in this Georgian townhouse-turned-inn invite you to stay over. Matching the grace of its 18th-century exterior, rooms are smartly elegant, dressed in greige with statement wallpapers. Original fireplaces and svelte restored plasterwork hark back to the time when travelling judges would stay here as they stopped off for a few days to preside over criminal courts. Here for more frivolous pursuits? It’s midway between York Minster and The Shambles medieval shopping street, each five minutes away.
Doubles from £100, B&B
Best for long weekends: The Parisi
Not far from the end of buzzy Fossgate – a street filled with vintage shops and cafes selling craft beer and coffee – this small pretty hotel is a charmer. A revamped 19th-century rectory overlooking the medieval church it once belonged to, past the stern red-brick exterior is a tiled Victorian hallway with vases of flowers, freshly cut from the small garden. To the right is a book-filled blue-grey living room with plush lime green sofas; to the left, a small breakfast room with glazed white brick walls. Bedrooms are simply furnished, though with high quality bedding and splashes of colour to give them a lift. Rates are competitive all the time, but it’s an absolute steal if you’re staying three nights or more.
Doubles from £99, or £79 a night for three-night stays, B&B
Best for a flutter: Hotel du Vin
Chain hotels don’t have to be horrid; the York outpost of the lush Hotel du Vin chain sits outside the city walls between Micklegate Bar and York Racecourse. The cheapest rooms are business functional, with oak wardrobes and rose-hued wallpapers. But from just £10 more a night for a Mezzanine – or more for suites – the bedrooms take on a decidedly romantic vibe, with roll-top freestanding bathtubs, wallpapers with bold floral prints, sleigh beds and black-tiled showers. Downstairs, the cocktail bar is one of the sexiest in the city – with, as you’d expect given the hotel name, an excellent wine list – while the bistro bustles at all hours, serving up French fare to a mix of racing fans, families and business people.
Doubles from £94, room only
Best for charm: The Bloomsbury Guesthouse
In Clifton, about 20 minutes’ walk from the minster, this floral-themed guesthouse feels cosy and homely, but with a dash of flair. Antiques, crystal chandeliers and a grey marble fireplace in the dining room nod to this terraced house’s Victorian past. Bedrooms are each named and styled after a flower, from wisteria to petunia; while they’re not huge, they’re warmly inviting, with lustrous burr walnut wardrobes, cast iron bedframes and floral motifs on walls and curtains.
Doubles from £85, B&B
Best to impress: The Principal York
Steps from the platform at York railway station and around the corner from the National Railway Museum, this hotel gleams with grand Victorian splendour. Given a major facelift in 2016, it has won a raft of design awards. The soaring, light-filled central atrium leads to a long colonnaded drawing room with leather sofas, ornate cornicing and pale wood floors. With its red leather chairs and green velvet curtains, the Chapter House bar recalls an old gin palace, while the pale grey rooms are subtly sumptuous, with tactile suede, velvet and linen soft furnishings. Bonus: many rooms have views up to York Minster.
Doubles from £96, room only
Best for beer lovers: House of the Trembling Madness
After a few pints at the House of the Trembling Madness pub, you won’t feel like walking far, and with the two psychedelic apartments which sit above it, you won’t have to. Set in a 650-year-old Tudor house, these two self-catering flats each have a very different feel. The one-bedroomed Haunted Chamber claims a ghost and uses dark woods and rich hues to evoke the feeling of an old Tudor home, while the two-bedroomed Old Gallery wows with psychedelic decor and a 1970s time warp look.
Flats from £110, room only, minimum two-night stay
Best for design: The Churchill Hotel
A stately Georgian mansion built in 1827, this house was owned by the War Department for a century – hence the Churchill reference. The impressively designed rooms are among the most beautiful in the city, with even the smallest winning on the style stakes with murals of a relaxed Churchill and black-tiled bathrooms. Refreshingly bold splashes of hot pink and turquoise give a fresh, modern feel throughout, from rooms to the wood-floored restaurant and bar.
Doubles from £74, room only
Best B&B: The Tower House
Named best B&B in 2017 by Visit York, it’s easy to see why when you’ve checked into one of the Tower House’s eight spacious bedrooms. Each has an entirely different look – one all white rococo frilliness, another four-poster romance, while my favourite has a Japanese aesthetic with sliding paper doors and black lacquer furnishings. And the hearty, well-made breakfasts – eggs benedict, full English or scrambled with mozzarella and basil – set you up for the 10-minute stroll to the minster.
Doubles from £112, B&B
Best for old-world glamour: Middlethorpe Hall & Spa
It’s a walkable two miles to the city centre from here, but this feels like a tranquil country retreat, located on a huge swatch of parkland near the far end of York Racecourse. A National Trust property, it exudes stately home glamour, from the huge four-poster bedrooms to the immaculate landscaped gardens. Built in the style of Hampton Court – but on a much smaller scale – the three-storey red brick mansion and adjacent courtyard wing contain 29 rooms, a comfortable drawing room and one of the city’s best fine dining restaurants. Walk across the front lawn to an annexe, and you’ll find a small spa with swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool and steam room.
Doubles from £205, B&B
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This article was first published in February 2018