York contains such a charming hodgepodge of history and culture that it’s easy to remain captive to its sights. But look beyond the medieval walls, and you’ll find this northern city is an ideal springboard for adventures through the wildly scenic Yorkshire countryside.
Nicknamed "God’s Own County," this is where golden-crested stately homes and crumbling castles rub along with eclectic mill and market towns. In Victorian times, York’s busy railway works sat at the heart of England’s network. Today, its infrastructure means car-free trips are straightforward and numerous. Where the train tracks don’t stretch, it's often possible to catch a bus or a private tour.
Whether you’re looking to extend a romantic mini break or want a family-friendly outing, here are some of the best days trips within easy distance of York.
Visit Castle Howard, one of England's great houses, for family fun
When Sir John Vanburgh set about designing the original wing at Castle Howard in the early 1700s, he wasn’t a trained architect but a playwright. What resulted is arguably the most theatrical stately home in England. Its ravishing looks have earned it starring roles in the classic 1980s TV series Brideshead Revisited and, more recently, as the home of the Duke of Hastings in Netflix’s lavish Bridgerton.
A centuries-old beacon for daytrippers, Castle Howard has multi-generational appeal. The extensive grounds – littered with lakes, woodlands and temples – provide the perfect stage for a family walk and picnic. Skelf Island is a labyrinthine adventure playground reached via a giddy charge over a swooping wooden bridge.
Even though the house is still occupied by the Howard family, it’s possible to snoop around much of the sumptuous Baroque and Palladian interiors at your own pace. Although this may delight grownups the most, tip-toeing down dimly lit corridors filled with Roman antiquities will fire up young imaginations, too.
How to get to Castle Howard from York: Castle Howard is a half an hour drive north from York, off the A64, through the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The CastleLine bus service departs York four times a day, Monday to Saturday, and takes one hour to reach Castle Howard’s gates. Alternatively, ask at York’s tourist information office for details of private bus tours.
Hang out in Hebden Bridge with its LGBTQI+ friendly community
In the 1960s and '70s, Hebden Bridge was in the post-industrial doldrums – that is until an influx of hippies and artists revived the fortunes of this picturesque mill town. Generations later, Hebden Bridge’s bohemian spirit remains palpable, with shops and restaurants championing local makers and producers. Pride flags decorate the traditional stone-built houses, declaring a town with engrained inclusive values.
Check Happy Valley Pride’s calendar of queer arts events before you go, keeping an eye out for special screenings at the velvet-clad 1920s cinema. The town also works as a base for two literary pilgrimages: past the cheerful flock of narrowboats on the Rochdale Canal over to Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of writer Ted Hughes, or up the steep hill to see the grave of American poet and author Sylvia Plath in pretty Heptonstall. Return for a locally brewed beer and a burger in Vocation & Co or a pot of tea at a cafe with a waterwheel.
How to get to Hebden Bridge from York: Direct trains run every day of the week between York and Hebden Bridge. The average journey time is one hour and 20 minutes. Driving from York takes roughly the same time. Paid parking is available around town.
Malton is full of treats for foodies
With delicious wafts exuding from nearly every doorway around the Georgian market square, it’s clear why Malton is renowned as Yorkshire’s food capital. Time your trip with the food market on the second Saturday of every month (except January and February) to taste regionally sourced produce under the watch of a 15th-century church tower. Stroll to Talbot Yard to gorge on award-winning macarons, fresh gelato, ethically sourced coffee and spicy pastries. You can also craft a bespoke bottle of booze at Rare Bird Distillery’s Gin School or refine your gastronomic skills at The Cook's Place.
Other distractions are on hand while you’re waiting for your appetite to return. The Shambles, similarly to its larger namesake in York, is jammed with shops selling curios and collectables. The three-screen art deco Palace Cinema makes a sumptuous rain shelter.
How to get to Malton from York: Transpennine Express and Northern run an hourly train service to Malton from York, with a journey time of 25 minutes. Driving takes about 30 minutes. Free and paid parking options can be found around town.
Head to Scarborough for a car-free day at England’s oldest seaside resort
Sure, the coastal haunts of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay are so beguiling you wouldn’t begrudge them your entire camera roll. But for an easy journey from York and bucketfuls of old-fashioned seaside charm, Scarborough is hard to beat. This Victorian resort town, where grand buildings cling to the cliffs below an imposing medieval castle, is also worth a photo or two.
If you’re only in Scarborough for a day, choose between exploring north or south of the castle headland. Families flock to South Bay Beach, with its sheltered waters, noisy arcades and handsome cliff railway. People in deckchairs nod along to orchestra performances at Scarborough Spa during the summer season. At blue-flag North Bay, on the other hand, you can rent a rainbow beach hut or brave a surf lesson. Time a trip to pretty Peasholm Park to witness miniature man-powered warships battling it out on the boating lake.
Before you leave, fish and chips at Lifeboat Fish Bar in the Old Town is a wise choice, followed by an ice cream at 1950s parlor The Harbour Bar.
How to get to Scarborough from York: The train journey from York takes 50 minutes, with services running around once an hour. The drive is just over an hour along the A64. Stop off in Malton for tasty snacks.
Wander Knaresborough, a warren-like town with picture-postcard views
Knaresborough’s medieval streets are well worth taking a few wrong turns in. Stumbling across the Wednesday market makes a fortunate accident, as does tottering into Blind Jack’s Pub for a hand-pulled cask beer. Eventually, though, by following the snaking steps down the wooded cliffs from Knaresborough Castle, you should emerge at the promenade running along the River Nidd.
From mid-March to October, rent a rowboat from Marigold Cafe. Floating along the gorge affords views of thatched-roofed and checkerboard buildings, framed by the soaring arches of the handsome Victorian viaduct. On the opposite bank sits Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Petrifying Well, one of England’s oldest and arguably quirkiest tourist attractions. Make sure you still have plenty of time before your train: Grade II-listed Knaresborough station is undergoing a revival, with a retro cafe, art and antique shop, and snug micropub all on Platform 2.
How to get to Knaresborough from York: The train is fastest: it takes 24 minutes between York and Knaresborough and runs once or twice an hour. Alternatively, driving the 17 miles should take 30 minutes along the A59. Knaresborough has plenty of pay and display parking lots.
Sutton Bank has cycling and walking trails among natural splendor
Yorkshire vet and author James Herriot proclaimed the view from the bluff of Sutton Bank as England’s finest. Although other viewpoints may quibble, this dramatic chunk of the North York Moors National Park certainly makes a beautiful, heather-strewn escape, especially for adventure seekers.
Families ramble or cycle the gentle circular routes while experienced mountain bikers career around challenging 27km (17-mile) tracks. If you don’t have your own, Sutton Bank Bikes offers bike rental, as well as cycling courses and guided tours. Heart-in-mouth thrills can be grasped by soaring off the ridge under the stewardship of The Yorkshire Gliding Club, allowing aerial views of the enormous turf-cut Kilburn White Horse.
For a real sense of perspective, wait until night falls. Sutton Bank National Park Centre has been designated a Dark Night Discovery Site and a venue for the park’s winter Dark Skies Festival. At the new star and nature hub, lie back and watch the sky twinkle.
How to get to Sutton Bank from York: It’s easiest to drive. York to Sutton Bank takes around 40 minutes by car, and there’s a paid parking lot by the visitor center. A further 10-minute drive will bring you to tranquil Rievaulx Abbey. The private tours offered by Mountain Goat and Bob Holidays let you explore North York Moors National Park and also take in the wonderful coastal town of Whitby.
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