City Life: Vicars and Vikings, tourists and tic-tac men
Ancient capital of what Yorkshiremen refer to as 'God's own county', the city of York is one of England's finest and most atmospheric mediaeval centres.
It may have once been second only to London in terms of size and prestige, but it's now a surprisingly intimate place, in which all its major sights are easily within walking distance of each other. That's not to say it's easily navigable - the town planning is straight out of the Middle Ages, and crooked lanes, labyrinthine backstreets and higgledy-piggedly houses bent double with age seem designed to confuse and frustrate the tourists turning maps this way and that in the Shambles or outside the Minster. At the heart of almost every seminal period of English social and political life - the Viking invasion, the Wars of the Roses, the Reformation - York oozes history like AJP Taylor on a particularly hot day, but that's not to say it's backward-looking. There's shopping, restaurants and cultural life that would put many larger cities to shame.
From the South, take the M1 right up to its end, and join the A1(M). Come off onto the A59 and follow signs into central York. From the North, the A1(M) leads you from Edinburgh to within a few miles of York. You won't need to hire a car in York itself - everything's very walkable and public transport is excellent - but if you want to get out to the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, then wheels are essential.
Leeds Bradford International Airport (www.lbia.co.uk) is around an hour away from York, and carries flights from a wide variety of airports in the UK and Europe. It also offers direct flights to and from New York and Miami. There are good rail connections from the airport into York.
The National Express East Coast train (www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com) from London King's Cross to York takes a little over two hours. Edinburgh is two and a half hours from York by train. Northern Rail Lines (www.northernrail.org) can take you from York into the North Yorkshire Moors or into the Yorkshire Dales.
UK country code: +44; York: 01904.
Kate Atkinson's wonderful Behind the Scenes at the Museum is set in 1950s and 1960s York. The entertaining children's book Dick Turpin: Legends and Lies by Terry Deary revolves around five strangers watching the infamous highwayman's execution in York in 1739, while James Sharpe's Dick Turpin: the Myth of the English Highwayman is a more scholarly treatment of the robber's last days in the city dungeon. Yorkshire poet Tony Harrison's The Mysteries, a contemporary adaptation of the mediaeval York Mystery Plays, is well worth checking out.
Do go / Don't Go
Other than 1 August, when Yorkshire Day celebrates all things white rose, avoid coming to York in summer, when tourists from all over the world throng its narrow streets. Go in autumn, when dark evenings lend themselves to guided ghost walks amid the bowed houses and crooked alleys - and atmospheric pubs are particularly inviting.
The only thing that gourmands and Yorkshire folk have in common is that they would both drop the 'h' when pronouncing 'haute cuisine'. This is meat and two veg country, where owt fancy is eyed with suspicion - and simplicity and freshness is rightly revered. Yorkshire pudding features heavily - try it in its plate-sized version, filled with North Yorkshire pork sausages and thick onion gravy. Keep an eye out for Wensleydale cheese, brought into the city from the Dales, and dense slabs of ginger parkin - traditionally eaten around 5 November to commemorate the grisly death of former York resident Guy Fawkes. And don't leave without trying a bag of Seabrooks crisps, made in nearby Bradford, which, as every Yorkshireman and woman will tell you, are simply the best crisps in the world.
There are taxi ranks all over the city centre - with the largest one on St Saviourgate. Call Ace Taxis (01904 638888) or Yorcabs (01904 646424) if you want to book a cab.
Service is not generally included, so tip on the generous side of 10 per cent in cafés and restaurants. Some of the smaller establishments only accept cash.
Pound sterling (£).
Bring comfortable shoes. There are a lot of cobbles in York.
As one of the world's most important religious sites, York Minster doesn't skimp on the magnificence. It contains around half of England's stained glass, and its 15th-century East Window, with depictions of Judgement Day, is simply stunning. The Yorkshire Museum (01904 687687) details the city's astonishing history from the Romans to the present day, while York Art Gallery (01904 687687) houses a fine selection of paintings from the 14th to the 20th centuries.
Though it's unlikely you'd come to York for the shopping, the city does have its fair share of designer outlets in the streets around St Helen's Square. There's a Mulberry (01904 611055) and Jigsaw (01904 641083), and Sarah Coggles (01904 611001) stocks pieces by Vivienne Westwood, 7 For All Mankind and Lulu Guinness. Make sure you visit the Shambles - a narrow, flagstoned street that's relatively unchanged since mediaeval times. It's full of curios.
Take a deep breath and climb the 275 steps up to the top of York Minster's Central Tower. From here, you'll see the walled city, with all of its beautiful ecclesiastical architecture and winding Middle Ages street patterns, laid out before you.
Bring out your inner geek at the National Railway Museum (www.nrm.org.uk) - entrance is free. Its Great Hall houses around 50 restored locomotives from the early 19th century onwards, including the famous blue Mallard, the world's fastest steam engine. It's heaven. Trust us.
May The world comes to white rose country for the York Carnival, a celebration of world music and global arts. July It's baroque around the clock as the York Early Music Festival brings everything from chamber music to minstrelry to venues around the city, including the Minster itself. August Thundering hooves provide the soundtrack to the Ebor festival down at York racecourse. Get yourself a new hat. December The Yuletide season sees atmospheric Christmas markets set up in the city's mediaeval centre, as well as soaring seasonal song in the Minster.