It’s no surprise that York is one of the most popular cities in the UK for a weekend break; there’s something for everyone from history lovers to foodies to those who fancy a good drinking session. This is my guide on the best pubs & bars in York’s city centre carefully curated after spending seven years in the city conducting ‘research’.
Most people have probably heard that York is said to have 365 pubs; one for each day of the year. I’m sorry to disappoint but I’m not too sure this is entirely accurate but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good go at experiencing as much as York can throw at us in the way of good bars and good pubs. I lived in York for seven years through my twenties and, as I’m sure you can imagine, a career in law lends itself quite well to a post-work beer or two.
Whether you are in the mood for craft beer, quirky cocktails or a cosy, traditional pub, York’s impressive diversity really does cater for all needs. What’s great is that there are so many options within the city walls that you will be spoilt for choice. If you’re heading to York on a weekend, in my opinion you should perhaps avoid some of the chain bars along the river which are often full to the brim with stag and, mostly, hen parties. Unless that’s what you’re coming for.
Having sampled my fair share of York’s pubs and bars, I thought I’d pull together a list of what I consider to be the best pubs and bars in York’s city centre to hopefully help you plan your trip to the city or even give you inspiration to visit York for a few drinks.
A GUIDE TO THE BEST PUBS & BARS IN YORK’S CITY CENTRE
If I’d written this article a few years ago, I would have no doubt in saying that this was the best pub in York. Maybe going twice a week, every week, meant The Hop’s charm was lost on me but there’s no getting away from the fact that this place is incredible. Situated on Fossgate, which is full of quirky independent restaurants, bars and shops, The Hop does not feel out of place. You are greeted with a Victorian-styled bar area complete with tiled walls and floors; leather chairs and stools. There are a good range of real ales from Ossett Brewery (try the Yorkshire Blonde) as well as at least ten different lagers. It’s not just beer though, The Hop has not only the usual selection of spirits but even prosecco on tap. Once you’ve ordered a drink, make your way towards the back of the pub where the dark bar area opens up into a grand room bathed in light with plenty of tables to sit at. Even if you’re not hungry, you have to order a homemade pizza; freshly cooked to order in the clay oven. They’re delicious.
The acoustic nights were so legendary back in the day, we bumped into Pete Waterman who must have been managing or checking out a local act. Not sure Pete really appreciated a bunch of us shouting ‘PETE, PETE, PETE’ constantly and shaking his hand advising just how much we appreciated the music. I blame the Yorkshire Blonde.
House of Trembling Madness, Lendal
House of Trembling Madness has long been a stalwart of York’s drinking scene; with the original site on Stonegate selling a huge collection of beers and becoming legendary amongst all locals. I’m pleased that House of Trembling Madness has opened a second site on Lendal which is so big you’ll hopefully always be able to grab a table and a few beers. The building is impressive enough to be fair; it’s 170 years old with beautiful Georgian architecture. Downstairs it’s more of a cafe with alcohol vibe but head on upstairs and you’ll feel like you’re in heaven with the quirky interior and huge selection of craft beers on tap. You cannot miss the platters here; I promise you they are that good – only £12 and more than enough for two people. However, you’re here for a good time so order a few different platters and get stuck in!
York’s viking history is brought to the forefront at this small pub just near the Shambles Market. It’s very rustic, helping to keep that Jorvik vibe, and you can even try mead if that takes your fancy. To be fair, the traditional honey mead wasn’t for me but it’s definitely a highlight that it’s on offer here! Valhalla has 8 keg taps and 4 cask hand pulls; two of which features beers produced exclusively for this pub. Try the Valhalla IPA!
The Market Cat
I absolutely love this pub situated in what used to be an old jewellers in the Shambles Market. There are now three floors of heaven with the top floor offering floor to ceiling windows with views of the York Minster and the market below. There’s a great selection of beer and they do pizzas too; I think this might be my favourite place in York. I only wish it was around when I lived just round the corner…
I don’t think any list of the best pubs and bars in York’s city centre could not include Evil Eye. This place is legendary for it’s cocktails. All of your favourites are available but you should really try some of Evil Eye’s own creations; weird but out of this world. I remember, well just about, staying out late on a work night at Evil Eye where the night ended with a 12% beer so there are other choices available if cocktails aren’t for you. One things probably for certain, you’re unlikely to come out of here sober.
In Tower Gardens, in the old Motor House adjoined to Skeldergate Bridge you’ll find the wonderful and lovely Dyls. Dyls opened in 2012 offering alfresco dining and drinking alongside the River Ouse. They offer light bites such as toasties alongside great coffee and plenty of choice if you are after something stronger!
Tucked down a narrow, cobbled lane off Micklegate, The Ackhorne is hidden away from the tourists. With traditional ales and Yorkshire ‘tapas’, this is probably my favourite place for a quiet afternoon pint.
The Black Swan
When I lived in York, this was my local; only a one minute walk from door to door. The pub dates back to the 16th century with a traditional Tudor exterior. The cosy bar at the rear has a huge roaring fire which will certainly keep you warm on a cold winter’s day. There are plenty of rumours about hauntings so keep your eyes peeled after dark. My top tip is to read the various extracts from the guestbook framed in the hallway; maybe life wasn’t so different in years gone by.
This one will be a little tricky to find but is no more than a five minute walk from the centre of York. Starting at the top of Fossgate, keep walking on to Walmgate until you see a slightly industrial looking opening on the left. Don’t be put off by the location, Brew York is a craft brewery/pub in a converted warehouse which has recently seen a huge extension! I’m a big fan of the décor in here with the exposed brick and plain wood tables next to the beer vessels downstairs but now there’s even more room upstairs with a bigger bar and Japanese street food.
Pavement Vaults is York’s finest smokehouse serving up slow-cooked meats alongside a wide range of craft beer. Housed beneath the old White Swan Hotel, Pavement Vaults fits in well with its exposed brickwork, vintage lighting and copper details. It’s a great place to drink whether by the open windows or downstairs where there is a real ‘cellar’ feel. The food here cannot be missed; just order the Beef Short Rib or the Pulled Pork Fries and you’ll soon see why!
Star Inn The City
Whilst technically a restaurant, owned by the Michelin-starred chef Andrew Pern, there is still a small bar area inside which happily accepts customers who aren’t dining. However, the main attraction is the outdoor terrace nestled alongside the River Ouse and next to the historic Lendall Bridge. On a summer’s day, you could sit here for hours watching the world go by. It’s not the cheapest place but it’s not uncommon now to pay over £4 for a beer wherever you are. At least here, you’ll be sat in one of the best locations in York with a top view.
An up-market cocktail bar on York’s historic Stonegate, this is one that you’ll keep coming back to. The Botanist is full of quirky items in keeping with the general theme of ‘gardening’. If you’re into sharing, order a cocktail served in a watering can. If not, don’t miss the Apricot and Peach Smash; an incredible bourbon whisky cocktail served in a plant pot.
Only a stone’s throw from the museum gardens, Judge’s Lodgings serves up great drinks; whether in the historic cellar or upstairs in the Georgian bar. Again, when its warm, try and get a comfy seat on the rear terrace or even in the courtyard and you’ll be set for the day. I love it here.
Duke of York
If you can make your way past the hoards of tourists watching street performers in King’s Square, you deserve a drink. One of two Leeds Brewery pubs in the city, the Duke of York has not only great beer but a good selection of gins. The room to the right of the bar feels extremely cosy, perfect for those cold nights, with a great view across the square towards York Minster.
Lamb & Lion Inn (now called The Fat Badger)
I haven’t mentioned the York Minster much during this post but the Lamb & Lion’s beer garden sits beautifully in its shadow. The view from the beer garden is almost perfect. The Lamb & Lion is quite a ‘cute’ pub nestled right up to the city walls. Inside, the pub has a real homely feel with a number of small rooms which would be great in the winter. However, even if it is cold, head out the back into the beer garden. If you’re lucky the outside bar will be serving drinks and you won’t have to leave your seat for long.
Thanks for reading this article which hopefully will give you some inspiration when planning a visit to York. I could have included so many more pubs and bars but I’ll leave some surprises for you; just wander around York and see what takes your fancy. You’ll hardly ever be disappointed!
If you have a question or need any more information, just let me know by leaving a comment below!