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7 Magical Hidden Gems in York You Have to Know About

A view of the Cathedral from York Walls, one of the hidden gems in York

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If you’re planning a trip to England, the idyllic city of York simply has to be on your travel itinerary. While it’s easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in England, it’s also a must-visit destination for Harry Potter fans in particular (more on that later). To make sure you don’t miss out on anything during your visit, I’ve put together a list of hidden gems in York so that you don’t need to play the guessing game.

Despite being a tourist-friendly city with easy access to most attractions, it is easy to miss some of these hidden gems. York has its fair share of winding medieval streets and cobblestone alleyways that can lead you to some of the best things to do in York for couples and families alike.

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1. Step back in time in the medieval Barley Hall

The medieval Barley Hall and Barley Hall Coffee Shop in York - two of the best hidden gems in York, UK

One of the most impressive things about York is its historic architecture. There’s a blend of Victorian, Tudor, and Georgian architecture all around the city and this medieval, magical vibe is what makes the city so unique. If you want a deeper understanding of this city’s culture and heritage, Barley Hall is one of the hidden gems in York that you have to see.

This medieval townhouse dates back to the 15th Century and today it’s open to tourists as a museum where you can see how the original occupants would have lived centuries ago. For anyone interested in the history of York, Barley Hall is your time machine back to medieval times; you’ll find that every room inside has been carefully designed to give visitors an accurate representation of the living conditions during this time, including the impressive Great Hall.

And if you’re interested in things to do with kids in York, Barley House might be a good place to start. Guides also wear costumes in order to make the experience more memorable for visitors and children in particular will love this immersive history lesson.


2 Coffee Yard, York YO1 8AR

🔸Hotel with Best Reviews in York: The Grand (9.1) “Breakfast was excellent. Olde world luxury. Staff lovely. Room very comfortable and spacious. Definitely want to return.”

🔸Apartment with Best Reviews in York: Emperors Wharf with River Views (9.3) “The perfect setting in a fantastic location, everything you would want it to be with an outstanding balcony.”

2. Fatten up and cozy up in The Fat Badger

A view of York Minster from The Fat Badger in York at night

If you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy some quintessential British pub grub, traditional English ale, and a classy beer garden for the summer, make sure you visit The Fat Badger. Hidden gems in York like this one are a treat to come back to time and time again and it’s easily one of my favorite pubs in York that isn’t on most people’s radar.

Located on High Petergate, this is one of the coziest pubs you could hope to visit on a cold rainy day in York. The Fat badger also has a very typical Victorian exterior that continues inside; the decor includes classic dark wood furnishings and a crackling log fireplace that you can enjoy your lunch next to as the rain outside trickles down the window next to you.

And if you want somewhere that you can eat well this is absolutely one of the city’s best hidden treasures. You’ll be happy to hear that York has plenty of nice places to eat but if you’re interested in traditional dishes like Sunday roasts, fish and chips, and delicious pies, The Fat Badger is my top recommendation.


2-4 High Petergate, York YO1 7EH 

🔸They also offer cozy accommodation: The Fat Badger (8.1) “Perfect location, friendly staff, comfortable setting, will definitely visit again.”

3. Discover York’s magic in the shop that must not be named

The outside of The Shop that Must Not Be Named in York, one of the best Harry Potter shops in England

First of all, there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding York as a shooting location for Harry Potter. While it is widely speculated that the Shambles street was the inspiration behind Diagon Alley, it wasn’t actually where they filmed this popular franchise.  Nevertheless, York has long been associated with Harry Potter and that could have something to do with The Shop That Must Not Be Named, another one of the city’s hidden gems.

Inside you can find officially licensed Harry Potter merchandise that ranges from your favorite wizards and witches’ wands to different Hogwarts uniforms. One of the best free things to do in York is organizing a trip to The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Although bear in mind that it may cost you five minutes to get inside as queues can be common around holidays and certain weekends.

There is in fact another Harry Potter store in York, The Hole in the Wand, where you can play Harry Potter themed crazy golf while sipping your preferred choice of magical cocktail or “potion” and I would also recommend it as another hidden gem in York. However, bear in mind that The Shop That Must Not Be Named is the “official” Harry Potter store you should be looking for as it’s located on the iconic Shambles street. And if that’s not enough magic for you, right across the street you’ve got yet another one of the best hidden gems in York.


30 Shambles, York YO1 7LZ 

🪄 Recommended activity: Book Harry Potter Guided Walking Tour in York

4. Join the society of alchemists and find unique hidden gems in York

The Society of Alchemists shop in York, one of Yorks hidden gems in the Shambles

Once you’ve finished shopping for a new wand, you need only cross the street before you’re inside yet another one of the many magical hidden gems York has to offer. Society of Alchemists is a seriously quirky store that’s also been designed and furnished with Potterheads and lovers of the weird and wonderful in mind. This store is arguably even more impressive inside than The Shop That Must Not Be Named thanks to some magical creatures that greet you upon entry. It also has a very impressive interior with certain elements that might remind you of some of the later films in the Harry Potter series.

If you want fun things to do in York for adults, make sure Society of Alchemists is on your York travel itinerary as it’s also a great place to buy unique gifts for family and friends or even a souvenir for yourself. They have everything from dragon glass candles and bathing crystals to music boxes and eye-catching stationery.


18 Shambles, York YO1 7LZ 

🧙‍♀️ Recommended activity: Book Witches and History Old Town Walking Tour in York

5. Bask in the sunshine with tea and cake on College Green

Image of College Street in College Green, York, England, one of the best free places to visit in York

Just next to York Minster, arguably York’s most popular attraction, you can find College Green. On College Street pictured above there are two or three great cafes all battling for tourists’ attention and they’re all very good (and right next to one another). Take your pick and settle down for a cup of tea and a slice of cake when you want to take a break. Don’t know where to go in York when the sun’s out? The grassy plot of land on the other side of the road is a picturesque place to chill out and listen to some music while you read or chat with friends. This is know as College Green. 

As the neighboring and larger Dean’s Park attracts most tourists and locals, College Green often slips under the radar. However, it remains one of the best hidden gems in York if you’re looking for a nice spot to relax after shopping or exploring the city. Local buskers also often play around the area if you want to find some good local musicians.


College Street, York YO1 

💡 Recommended article: Hidden Gems in Seville  

6. Explore York’s glorious Museum Gardens

The outside of the Hospitium Venue in Museum Gardens in York on a sunny day

And if College Green doesn’t have enough space to roam around for you then the Museum Gardens would be my pick. These botanical gardens are home to a few more hidden gems in York that include stunning plant and wildlife. Here you can also enjoy a picnic in the summer and explore beautiful architectural sites like The Yorkshire Museum, St. Mary’s Abbey, and The Hospitium Venue, which is pictured above.

Again if you’re interested in finding the best free things to do in York, these pristine botanical gardens won’t cost you a penny to visit either. When you’re done exploring the gardens you can head down to the Dame Judi Dench Walk, a stretch of path that runs adjacent to the gardens and the River Ouse. As the Museum Gardens are so central, you won’t have trouble finding somewhere nearby to enjoy a delicious York lunch with friends and family.


Museum St, York YO1 7FR 

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7. Enjoy the views from York City Walls and brush up on your history

A view of York Minster from York City Walls during the day with trees and greenery surrounding it

York City Walls also makes the cut for my list of hidden gems in York. While the walls aren’t exactly “hidden,” first-time visitors might not realize that an excursion across the walls is in fact a great way to snap some impressive pictures while brushing up on the city’s history and heritage. As you walk around you’ll find various information points that tell you more about the significance of the walls and the history behind the city. York City Walls date back as far as the Roman period and today they’re renowned as the longest standing walls in England.

How to get there

York City Walls also stretch further than any other similar foundation in England and it takes about two hours to complete the full trail. There are numerous points of entry around the city too. For example, you could start at Bootham Bar where some popular walking tours begin. Or if you wanted to visit two hidden treasures in York in one day, start from the Fat Badger on High Petergate where you can find some stairs to the walls just outside.


York is a truly beautiful city that offers a lot more than first meets the eye. And if you want to find your own hidden gems in York, don’t be afraid to get lost down the cobblestone streets. You never know what you might stumble across here but if you’re looking for the best things to do in York that aren’t on everyone else’s travel itineraries, take my advice and hit up some of the spots on this list.

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