No visit to York is complete without touring The Shambles, a street so quaintly ramshackle that it might as well be made from gingerbread. Its overhanging buildings lean into the centre of the road so much it’s possible to shake hands across the road from opposite attic rooms.
Originally a name that references the number of butcher’s shops lining its crooked cobbles, The Shambles remains at the heart of York’s shopping district. And at this time of year, The Shambles, nearby Parliament Square, and surrounding areas are abuzz with the Dickensian St Nicholas Christmas Market - a festive experience of carol singers, roasting chestnuts and good cheer.
Packed with fairy-lit chalets selling artwork, jewellery, clothes and some of the finest foods, it’s perfect for stocking up before Christmas. If you need to refuel and reheat as you hit the streets there’s Thor’s Tipi - a Viking pop-up bar selling hot chocolate and mulled wine around open fires nearby.
Try to leave some time to explore York’s famous snickleways - the tiny passageways that sneak around the city - too. There are six leading away from The Shambles alone - and you never quite know what hidden gems you might stumble across...
York has been incredibly cosmopolitan over the years given its status as a picture-perfect English market town. Ruled over by Romans and Normans - and at the centre of the English Civil War - the city is a microcosm of British history over the last two millennia. But it is the city’s time under the Viking rule that continues to define York.
The story of that era is told at Jorvik - an exploration of medieval York. Established following an enormous find of Viking houses and artefacts that now lie underneath your feet as you enter the museum, Jorvik take you on a ride through Viking York via state-of-the-art animatronics and interactive displays that guarantee you won’t simply see Vikings - you’ll hear and smell them too.
Not that Jorvik is frivolous; there’s painstaking research behind the faithful recreations of Viking buildings, clothes and artefacts; the museum really was a world-first in bringing archaeology to the masses. It’s a historical recreation that not only allows you meet Sigurd the antler worker and Unni the woodworker, but a rat foraging for scraps in the bowels of the city...
Bicycle with your latte, sir? At Bicis Y Mas cycling and food go hand-in-hand and in Yorkshire - host of Le Grand Depart in 2014 and now its very own Tour De Yorkshire – those are two things the region does extremely well.
If you’ve worked up an appetite - in the saddle or otherwise - you can expect a warm welcome and a variety of tasty vegetarian delicacies. Alongside veggie tapas and breakfasts there are gluten-free and vegan cakes. Bicis Y Mas is one of those eateries where the ethos is as important as the taste: everything at the café is prepared from raw ingredients. During the day it’s a buzzy little café serving soups, lunches and salads with a selection of loose-leaf teas and coffees. At night time the menu changes to offer appetisers and sharing platters.
Should you want to tune up more than your rumbling stomach there are various stages of servicing for your two-wheeled companion. Be rude not to try the cakes while you wait though, eh? The concept of bike cafés is all very Dutch of course, but what about that name? It means Bikes And More in Spanish. In the surroundings of lovely Walmgate - with an artisan paper shop, vintage clothing shop and plenty more attractions nearby - there’s always more to explore.
Should your local park pond not freeze over this Christmas, thereby creating an impromptu Victorian winter wonderland of rosy cheeks and good cheer, it’s always pleasing to know that Meadowhall’s annual ice rink is back throughout December.
With 5,400 square feet of real ice, there’s plenty of space for up to 200 skaters at a time - 200 people mostly falling over and getting back up again anyway. And if you’re one of those people who finds Frozen irresistible - there are special skate-along-to-Frozen sessions every Wednesday.
Housed undercover in a giant igloo decked out with sparkling fairy lights, this festive ice experience can’t be spoilt by the weather - but you’ll be glad of a coat, hat and mittens.
It’s important to book ahead to be absolutely sure you get the slot you want. Mind you, with the largest shopping centre in Yorkshire, dozens of restaurants catering for every taste, an 11-screen cinema and leisure activities nearby, it’s not as if you’ll be stuck for things to do.
When the biggest shows in town head to Sheffield, they usually play the city’s arena - located just 20 minutes’ walk from Meadowhall. And in December there are almost as many highlights on stage as there are Christmas decorations in the neighbouring shopping mecca.
Mrs Brown, and her boys of course, open the month with a series of anarchic shows. A few nights later, bodyslammers of the WWE bring big-time wrestling to the arena with a host of superstars making the trip.
Musical high notes include performances by rockers Status Quo, touring legends Whitesnake and Def Leppard and the world’s most successful violinist, Andre Rieu. How does that lot sound?
The arena is also home to the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team, last season’s Elite League champions. The side have four home fixtures this month, so there are plenty of chances to experience a high impact sport renowned for serving up frenetic action.
Although sushi is the heart of YO! Sushi, you can choose from over 80 Japanese inspired items, including delicious soups, rice or noodle-based dishes, salads, tempura and even hot classics like Chicken Katsu Curry, Salmon Firecracker Rice or Vegetable Yakisoba. Whether you fancy dine in or take away, YO! Sushi is healthy, tasty and fun.
Fully refurbished in 2011, the Museum of Lancashire is about bringing the past to life with hands-on experiences. How so? Well, what about a spot of time travel from a WWI trench to a WW2 bomb shelter and back garden?
The Museum really lets you participate in the story with a number of interactive features, including Lancashire at Play, a retelling of the area’s important role in developing end-of-pier entertainment.
There’s also the building's courthouse heritage, ruled by Thomas Addison - known as the Terror of The Criminal for his forthright attitude to wrongdoers. After that it’s back to school with some Victorian classroom discipline.
The Museum is also home to collections from the Museum of Lancashire infantry and the Silverdale Hoard, one of the most important collections of Viking treasure ever unearthed.
It’s free, a short walk from the station and really is worth a morning or afternoon on a visit to Preston. What’s more there’s a lovely café in the foyer serving all manner of treats from around the county - perfect for a spot of Lancastrian indulgence. No wonder the Museum scooped the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015.
Step outside Preston’s train station and you’re on Fishergate - one of the main areas through the city centre. Branching off from here you’ll discover a treasure trove of independent stores lining the streets - an alternative Preston packed with quirky cafés and an eclectic range of shops.
Cannon Street and the cobbles of Winckley Street boast a wealth of eateries, from Deli-Licious to the Strictly Cupcakes vintage tearoom and the Mystery Tea Room, serving perhaps the widest range of loose-leaf you’ll ever come across. Winckleys offers a range of home-cooked food and have serving platters to die for.
Lune Street is good for jewellers and boutiques. Like all true gems, Life’s Little Larks is hidden away. You’ll find it down Glover’s Court and this family-run, arts and craft business is a great place to pick up a gift or a new addition to the home. Everything in the shop is handmade, so any purchase is guaranteed to be unique.
Head to Church Street to refresh and refuel - plenty of bars and restaurants here, including a Victorian-style gin palace. Nestled between them you’ll find record shops and more. And before you head back to the station, check out the far end of Friargate for second-hand bookshops and eclectic boutiques.
Preston is not a place you might immediately associate with Peru, but over the last decade DukPond has been changing that. With more awards than you can quack at, this South American-themed restaurant and deli is a runaway success story - offering the sort of food you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else in the country. It’s a must-visit on any trip to the city.
Open for lunches and evening meals, DukPond is known for its vegetarian and vegan dishes and cooks locally sourced food to order. But there’s plenty to chew on for carnivores too - a hearty feast of meat, including the specialty Peruvian Stew, billed as not for the faint-hearted. All the meat dishes - among them steak with blueberries and chicken with raspberries - are available in a variety of exotic sauces from South America and beyond.
That’s because owner Andrea Mellon travelled the world learning her trade, and those cosmopolitan influences don’t just show in the food - they’re unmistakable in the way the restaurant looks too. The decor is bold, passionate, rustic - all upcycled furniture and fittings that look as if they’ve come from a shack at the foot of Machu Picchu.
And if you feel yourself growing sad at the prospect of leaving, why not take some chutney, cheese, cured meat or cooking syrups with you? Yes, there’s a deli there too.