As a major tourist destination, York needs absolutely no introduction. There’s just so much to see and do in York for everyone, be that visiting historical buildings and museums or simply meandering along the cobbled streets, whether you’re visiting in summer or, like us, around Christmas.

It might surprise you to learn that Kay and I are not really ‘townies’ – to us, the best caravan parks are normally well situated for being out and about in the countryside – but we both love York.

I have such fond memories of having had the privilege to sing and play the organ in the magnificent Minster as a teenager (it’s still my favourite cathedral and organ), and one of our sons was Organ Scholar there in the mid-noughties, so we were regular visitors to York during his tenure at all times of the year, as you can imagine. However, for more years than I care to remember now, we’ve had a caravan break in York in December, during the run-up to Christmas, and 2022 was no exception.

In walking distance of York

We checked in at the York Rowntree Park Caravan & Motorhome Club Site, which is convenient for the city centre, and spent the rest of the day relaxing in our Coachman Laser 575 Xtra (and putting up Christmas decorations!).

Caravan with decorations
Getting into the festive spirit at Rowntree Park

All of the city’s main attractions are within walking distance of the campsite. If you’re less able or use a mobility scooter or wheelchair, there are flat routes from the site (my parents were staying there, too, in their small motorhome, and Dad has a small scooter to get around because he’s not quite so agile as he once was).

The following morning, we were greeted with fine, cloudless skies, but temperatures hovering around 0°C.

Despite our countless visits to the city, we had never sought out the reputed grave of the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin, so we decided to address that omission.

Turpin was born in 1705 in Essex and went on to commit numerous crimes (some violent) in Epping Forest and outer London. He later lodged at Brough under the alias John Palmer, where he continued his criminal activities.

He was eventually captured, though, and on 22 March 1739, having been convicted of two charges of horse theft, sentenced to death. He was hanged on 7 April 1739 and his body was buried in the graveyard of St George’s Church, Fishergate.

The old graveyard is on the corner of George Street (a continuation of Fishergate from Fishergate Bar) and Lead Mill Lane. Turpin’s grave is marked by a simple headstone. His story is vividly recounted at The York Dungeon on Clifford Street.

Clifford’s Tower

From there, we made the very short walk to Clifford’s Tower, which has undergone extensive alterations since our last visit, and I must say, the place has benefited greatly from the refurbishment.

Climbing the steep steps up the motte (Clifford’s Tower once being one of two motte-and-bailey castles built by William the Conqueror in York) and then further steps to the new viewing area at the top, you are afforded spectacular views over the city and the Vale of York, as far as the North York Moors.

The original wooden structure was burnt down by invading Danes, and the current stone building was constructed between 1245 and 1272. If you want to learn more about the Viking invasion, the fascinating Jorvik Viking Centre is just around the corner, and well worth a visit.

Between Clifford’s Tower and the Jorvik Viking Centre, on Castlegate, lies Fairfax House, so after stopping for coffee at the Castle Museum (also well worth a visit), that was our next destination.

Fairfax House, originally purchased by Viscount Fairfax of Emley in 1758, is now regarded as one of the finest examples of a Georgian townhouse in the UK today, thanks to being saved from decay by York Civic Trust in the 1980s. It’s now part of the Historic Houses chain.

Fairfax House
Fine Georgian interiors at Fairfax House (spot any of the Town Mice?)

As we showed our Historic Houses membership cards at the entrance, we were asked to count the number of ‘Town Mice’, part of the Christmas decorations, as we wandered through the interiors.

Exploring the city centre

We did try, although there seemed to be hundreds of the little things – some hiding, others flat on their backs (maybe after a little too much of the port and cheese that had been left out?). However, seeing the tasteful decorations in Fairfax House, we knew that for us, Christmas had begun.

From Fairfax House, we wandered into the centre of York and around the splendid Christmas market, aka St Nicholas Fair.

St Nicholas Fair
York’s popular Christmas Market, also known as St Nicholas Fair

Our route back to the caravan took us past the Minster and the Mansion House. We spent much of the afternoon enjoying the warmth of the van, Christmas carols on the radio, and a glass (or three!) of mulled wine. We slept very well that night.

Drinking mulled wine in caravan
Getting into the festive Cheers! Enjoying a glass (or three) of mulled wine

Next morning, we discovered that there had been a sharp frost overnight, which rendered most of the campsite’s taps temporarily frozen. But from our point of view, it was the beginning of another splendid day of exploring.

Kay wanted to do some shopping in the centre of York, while I decided to take a walk around the city’s ancient walls – only to find that the gates remained firmly shut, owing to the slippery conditions.

So instead, I called Kay and we met up for coffee and a favourite of mine – a bacon, mushroom and balsamic tomato sandwich – at Lucky Days café on Low Petergate. Like everything these days, the prices there have gone up, but the food remains as enjoyable as ever. Later, I left Kay strolling around the shops while I reacquainted myself with the peace and quiet of Dean’s Park, behind the Minster, and took advantage of some of the many photo-opportunities to be found in this charming little 19th-century haven.

It was still sub-zero when we arrived back at the caravan, and again we spent a restful hour or two in our comfortable home-from-home, knowing we would soon be having excellent fish and chips from the Fisherman’s Wife restaurant.

As always, they were first rate, and (at the time of writing) if you show your CAMC membership card when ordering, they are offering a small discount.

Fountains Abbey

We’ve learnt from experience that unless you must, going into the centre of York at the weekend in the run-up to Christmas is not wise, as it’s so busy, and I mean busy.

Instead, we’ve made a bit of a habit of going for a good lunch (on this occasion to The Galphay Inn, in the village of the same name near Ripon) before visiting spectacular Fountains Abbey, and this is usually the only time during our stay that the car turns a wheel.

If you go in December, the Abbey’s ruins (the result of Henry VIII’s intervention, of course) are illuminated by coloured lights, producing a stunning scene as the daylight fades, while piped Christmas carols add to the magical atmosphere. You can only imagine what this glorious place must have been like before it fell in the dissolution of the monasteries back in 1539.

The following morning was yet again very cold, but bright and sunny, and I’d decided to revisit the National Railway Museum. Talking of trains, during our previous stays in York at this time of year, we have been fortunate enough to see chartered steam train ‘specials’ drawing into York station, always a great spectacle. Sadly, this time none had been scheduled.

Entry to the museum is free, although donations are gratefully accepted. My first stop was the café on one of the platforms.

National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum displays many iconic locomotives

I then spent the next couple of hours meandering among the locomotives – from a working replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, to ‘Mallard’, still holder of the world speed record for steam locomotives, to a Japanese bullet train, and everything in between.

One of our little grandsons is Thomas the Tank Engine mad, so Gramps stopped to buy him a T-shirt in the well-stocked shop before heading back to the caravan.

That evening, we attended Evensong at the Minster, which brought back many good memories. The organ has recently been rebuilt, at tremendous expense, but now sounds incredible (not that it was ever bad), and with the choir singing one of my favourite settings to the Canticles (Stanford in A), the trek outdoors in the perishing weather was well worth it.

Prestigious property

Although the weather was dull and grey next day, it was still very cold as we made our way to the Treasurer’s House (behind the Minster and right next door to the flat where our son lived for a couple of years).

The Treasurer’s House, one of the most prestigious properties in York (there’s a record of James I visiting in 1617), is built on an old Roman road. If you like ghost stories, there’s more than one here, and there’s a whole industry in York doing ghost trails. The house (which was at the time divided into several apartments) was bought by wealthy industrialist Frank Green in 1897 and transformed into what we see today, in time for the visit of Edward VII in 1900. Green donated the property to the National Trust in 1930.

At the time of our visit, the house had been tastefully decorated for Christmas, as it would have been in Green’s day.

Leaving the Treasurer’s House, we made our way along delightfully named streets such as Ogleforth, the Shambles (which is one of the best known streets in York) and Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate (the city’s shortest street, with the longest name) towards the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, accessed from Fossgate. Our first stop there was the café, for a bite to eat.

Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
Merchant Adventurers’ Hall was built by York citizens as a centre for charity, worship and business

The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is an ancient timber-framed building that was constructed by York citizens to provide a base for charity, worship and business in the centre of the city.

There are three main parts – the Great Hall (where medieval merchants gathered to conduct their business), the Undercroft (used as an almshouse to help the poor and the sick) and the Chapel. As with the other properties we visited during our stay, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall had been very appropriately decorated for Christmas.

French cuisine

As is always the case, the final day of our visit arrived far too quickly and we felt there was still a great deal to see and do. But rather than trying to cram in too much, we decided some things would have to wait until our next trip to York.

Instead, we retraced our steps and went back to the Christmas market and some of the charming streets around it, enjoying a general mooch and another visit to Lucky Days, before returning to the caravan for the final afternoon of our trip.

That evening, we decided to visit one of our favourite restaurants in York, the traditionally French ‘Rustique’, which is almost opposite Fairfax House. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been fortunate enough to eat there, but we’ve yet to have a bad experience, despite the extremely reasonable prices.

After enjoying a lovely meal, we decided to take a walk around the city centre for one last time and, thanks to the Christmas lights and the decorations, the place was quite simply transformed.

The area around the Christmas market stalls, and many of the other places in the vicinity, were adding to the wonderfully Christmassy atmosphere.

Making our way back to the cosy caravan on such a cold evening, we reflected on yet another fabulous December stay in York. With festive decorations adorning the van and watching one of our favourite Christmas films, the holiday period had definitely begun, even if our city break was drawing to a close. There hadn’t been a single “Bah, humbug!” from yours truly, either.

Oh, in case you have been wondering, yes, we will be back again next year!

After some ideas for where to stay to explore another major city? Then check out our round up of the best caravan parks in London, to get the most from your trip to the capital.

Touring essentials from our Christmas trip to York

Where we stayed

Rowntree Park CAMC Site

  • Address: York YO23 1JQ
  • Open: All year
  • Pitches: 98
  • Price (pitch+2+hook-up): From £37.40

All pitches are hardstanding at this full-facility site, which caters for the less able in terms of access. As a city centre site, this is probably not the most tranquil place you’ll stay at,
but there are pleasant walks away from the bustle by the River Ouse. Non-members are welcome, but they pay a premium (£15 per night). The USP is definitely the site’s handy  location for visiting York.

Way to go

Leave the A64 at A19 junction and head for York. In about two miles at Mecca Bingo, keep left and cross the bridge. In about 180m, turn left at The Swan and follow signs for Rowntree Park.

Our outfit

Land Rover Discovery towing a 2023 Coachman Laser 575 Xtra

Find out more

Lead image: Alamy

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