"Perhaps the best place to start is at the Yorkshire Museum, which reopened on 1 August after a nine-month, £2 million "
Widely recognised as a destination that offers culture and history in droves, York has long been associated with cobbled streets, Viking tales and quaint olde-worlde charm. While it still proudly acknowledges all of these, there is a new, shiny side to the city - one of modern dining, refreshed attractions, arty uprisings and its first aspiring five-star hotel. This is 'new' York, but there are no long haul flights involved...
Perhaps the best place to start is at the Yorkshire Museum, which reopened on 1 August after a nine-month, £2 million refurbishment. Safeguarding some of the region's most heralded treasures, including the striking Middleham Jewel (a gold and sapphire pendant from around 1460) and the York Helmet (an Anglo-Saxon helmet dating from the late 8th century, one of only three in existence), the museum will now showcase much more besides.
On screen now...
As well as displaying its wares - everything from natural history to Roman, Viking and Anglo-Saxon finds - the museum now boasts its own 300-seat auditorium, complete with cinema screen. Here, you can watch a colourful 10-minute introduction to the city's bountiful history. The redesign also makes much more of the building's unique features. It was built around remnants of St Mary's Abbey, parts of which can now be seen within the museum gardens and the lower ground floor of the museum itself.
If you're planning on hitting many of the county's tourist attractions during your stay, it may be worth grabbing a new Yorkshire Pass - a flat-rate smart card that allows you to visit up to 75 of the region's attractions for a flat one, two, three or six-day rate.
As with its museum, York's art scene has received a welcome boost, thanks to the opening of the Bar Lane Studios on the corner of Micklegate. This community art space combines gallery, café, and workspaces for local and professional artists. A social enterprise project (a non-profit organisation), it has already hosted an exhibition of Matisse lithographs, as well as the York Open Exhibition, and presents the perfect opportunity for local amateur artists to take up wall space recently vacated by one of modern art's most legendary figures. Once there, you'll find arty courses for all abilities in a range of disciplines (from screen printing to digital design and more) and the gallery and café alone are well worth a visit.
If all this culture is making you hungry, you'll be pleased to know that York isn't short of tasty eateries, from cafés and bars to popular restaurants. However, if you fancy something a little different, pop into J Baker's on Fossgate. Billing itself as a bistro moderne, the restaurant is unassuming enough at first glance, with a menu that is intriguing, if a little vague. However, leave yourself in capable hands with the mystery 'grazing' menu (a steal at £12 for three lunchtime courses) and you'll enjoy a feast of quirky modern adaptations on local produce. Whitby crab comes with tomato jelly, cucumber sorbet and a tomato tea sauce, while potato ravioli is served with shellfish essence and rosemary oil. For dessert, there is a veritable array of chocolate dishes, thanks to a side project on the restaurant's first floor specialising in the stuff, but don't miss the chilled rice pudding with tonka beans, stone fruits and fruit sherbet. It's a playful culinary masterpiece that will please even non-dessert lovers.
In a city as stunning as York, your bed and board should be equally opulent. There is certainly a time and a place for the homely B&B, but with the opening of the Cedar Court Grand - York's first aspiring five-star hotel - that time is not now. Its 'aspiring' status is only due to its spring 2010 opening (hotels are rated only after being open for long enough for a full assessment to take place) but there is little doubt that it will achieve its coveted status.
From the sumptuous interiors of the Grade II-listed building - once the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company - to perfectly attentive staff and a beautiful spa and sauna, this is the place to stay for unlimited luxury. The hotel restaurant, HQ, maintains the same high quality, with wonderful dishes served in view of the famous Minster. From poached duck egg on seasonal asparagus with aged Parmesan and black truffle to venison with girolle mushrooms and warm blackberries, this is first-class cuisine.
As you would expect with an aspiring five star hotel, the staff are also experts within their fields: from head chef David Sharp, who once cooked a private dinner for Tony Blair and the Clintons, to head butler Anthony Seddon-Holland (yes, the hotel's 13 suites all offer 24-hour butler service). All in all, it's an experience not to be missed.
Then, if you still have the energy, there are the city's best-known assets to take in, from the majestic Minster to the Castle Museum and the city walls. One thing is for sure: for all of its historic legacies, York is well and truly moving with the times.
Taking the kids? Don't miss these family favourites...
Jorvik Viking Centre
Discover the truth about Viking life in York! See the remains of Coppergate, discovered in the 1970s, then jump on a ride that will show you what life was like in the city of Jorvik in 866 - from meeting the locals and hearing the Norse dialect, to seeing inside their homes and even discovering their toilet habits!
National Railway Museum
There's something for everyone at the National Railway Museum - from nearly 300 locomotives and vehicles to traditional railway posters, art, films and collectibles. Discover the complexities of running the railways, see an explosive science show and take a ride on the 7¼" miniature gauge train.
With four excavation pits to choose from, take the kids to discover archaeology for themselves - by getting their hands dirty and digging in! From Romans and Vikings to Medieval and Victorian times, history is well and truly brought to life as you dig together to unearth the past.