Take a walk around the lovely city centre of York, England, with this guide for art and design lovers.
York is one of the most charming cities in Europe. It has many historic points of interest, all sorts of myths and legends, old cobbled streets, and an impressive Gothic Cathedral.
I’ve been to York twice. The first time, I got to learn a lot about its history through some guided tours with locals. I also loved its scenic views, especially along the river.
On my second visit to York, I wanted to explore something else that York is known for, and that’s indie shops.
Independent businesses are very popular in York. While you’ll definitely see many of the familiar high street chains that you can find everywhere in the UK, the indie shops are everywhere you look in York.
I must say there’s something life affirming about seeing so many independent businesses, family-run shops, and small galleries; it’s certainly unusual these days.
I made an easy to follow self-guided tour, with a focus on indie shops and galleries for art and design lovers.
You can take this tour in one day and you’ll see some of the city’s famous landmarks along the way.
I recommend you also take a history tour in York, because it will help you put things in context.
York indie design shops and art galleries
The tour starts at York railway station. Exit the station and walk towards Micklegate Bar. It’s not a pub 😉 It’s one of York’s most important historic landmarks, a medieval gateway which was the southern entrance to the city.
Right next to it, there’s a sweet design shop and art gallery called Blossom Street Gallery, featuring work by local and regional artists and designers. It has a range of items from ceramics to framed pictures.
From there, walk along the Micklegate, a pleasant street with many local indie businesses.
If you want to stop for a coffee, Micklegate has some great options. Try Partisan, a cafe with outdoor seating, or Fortyfive Vynil Cafe, a coffee shop and record store.
Cross the river on Ouse Bridge and take a right. You’ll find Dog & Bone Vintage on Castlegate Street. It has 2 floors packed with vintage clothing.
Right across the street from Dog & Bone, you’ll see Coppergate Gallery, an art gallery featuring popular local and international artists.
Next, visit Fairfax House to get a taste of what life was like in 18th-century York. It’s a Georgian historic townhouse with the architecture and decorative detail of the era. Admission is included in the York City Pass.
Famous indie shop hubs in York: Fossgate and The Shambles
A few minutes away from there, you’ll reach Fossgate. It’s one of York’s independent business hubs and certainly nothing like your typical UK high street.
Walk down Fossgate to enjoy its unique vibes.
If you want to stop for food or a coffee you’ll have plenty of choice and some super cute cafes.
Remedy Coffee Shop on 24 Fossgate is 100% plant-based and eco-friendly.
The Hairy Fig is a photogenic cafe and deli on 39 Fossgate.
It’s right next to the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, an impressive medieval guild hall. You can go inside to appreciate the beautiful architecture and to learn about the history of the building. Admission is included in the York City Pass.
After exploring Fossgate, walk back, cross the road and visit the exceptionally stylish Avorium stationery shop.
Our next street to explore is the famous Shambles.
It’s a preserved medieval cobbled street. Considered one of York’s most iconic spots, this narrow street is full of people visiting the unique selection of shops.
When I say unique, I mean you’re going to find a Christmas Shop (any time of year), a Harry Potter shop (it’s one of the streets rumoured to have inspired Diagon Alley), and a ghost shop (I never went inside; I felt a bit haunted just seeing the queue outside…).
Art and design near York Minster
From the Shambles exit onto King’s Court and from there head to York Fine Arts, a family-run art gallery with 3 floors of artworks in many different styles.
The Braithwaite Gallery is a very short walk from there. It’s another family business, founded by a painter, featuring art prints from international and local artists.
At this point, you’re just around the corner from York Minster, York’s famous cathedral.
The sun came out just as I reached it, and I really enjoyed taking pictures of the building.
It’s even more beautiful on the inside. Admission is included in the York City Pass and you can join one of their guided tours.
The elegant National Trust Gift Shop is very close to York Minster and worth a visit. It has Yorkshire souvenirs and local crafts.
Architecture lovers will easily spot our next stop right next door. It’s St William’s College, a beautiful timber medieval building with blue doors and windows.
From there you can go back to York Minster and walk into High Petergate. You’ll pass by the Little Apple Bookshop, an independent bookshop with a cheerful shop window.
York Art Gallery and even more design shops
Walk through the Bootham Bar, another ancient gate, and you’ll see the York Art Gallery right in front of you.
Don’t miss out on the York Art Gallery. It’s spacious and inviting, with an excellent collection and some very interesting temporary exhibitions. I also enjoyed the colourful gift shop.
Around the corner from the York Art Gallery, there’s a lovely ceramic painting studio called Rainbow Ceramics.
From there walk into Gillygate Street for some more local shops: the elegant Gillygate Framing and the super chic Snowhome.
Head back to the York Art Gallery and continue to the Yorkshire Museum. It’s not an art museum, but one dedicated to history, archaeology, and science.
Right outside the museum, you can see the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey in the York Museum Gardens.
These beautiful, idyllic gardens are the perfect place to get some rest, and this is where our tour ends.
Guided tours in York
There are some highly-rated private tours in York:
- York Walls Private Walking Tour
- Exclusive York – Private Personally-Designed Walking Tour
- Private Walking Tour: York City Highlights and York Minster
You can also join a group walking tour or a cruise: