York has a dual appeal for both visitors and residents
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:18 24 October 2015
Jo Haywood looks at why York is one of the most popular places to live and attracts over 6 million tourists a year
When you nip out at lunchtime to grab a quick sarnie and find yourself shuffling along at the back of a snaking queue of tourists taking endless selfies, it can be difficult to appreciate your home city’s appeal to visitors.
But once you’ve picked up something delicious from the deli (Henshelwoods, Le Langhe or the Hairy Fig perhaps) and bagged a perch in your favourite picnic spot (Museum Gardens, Dean’s Park or a riverside bench with views across the Ouse), you relax and realise that the investment of time, cash and effort that goes into attracting 6.7 million tourists a year actually makes York a pretty cool place to live.
And it’s not just the £573m spent by all those leisure and business visitors that give residents a boost (although it’s a very welcome reward), it’s also the chance to enjoy the varied and continually updated programme of events, festivals and activities put on by York’s main players: the Minster, National Railway Museum, Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and the newly revamped York Art Gallery.
Residents with a YorkCard (£5 annually for adults; free for children) get discounted entry to all manner of attractions, including DiG, Barley Hall, Fairfax House, Jorvik Viking Centre, Merchant Adventurers and the Richard III Experience.
Until recently, the card also gave free admission to the art gallery, Castle Museum and Yorkshire Museum but they are now covered by the separate and somewhat controversial York Museums Trust card, which offers annual entry for £22 (£11 for current YorkCard holders).
But let’s save that argument for another day and concentrate instead on another bonus for local, the annual York Residents’ Festival, which gives them a chance to explore the city as a tourist for the weekend – for free. Organised by Visit York and the council, it’s seen as a chance for the city to say thank you to its residents for providing a warm welcome to visitors all year round by providing free access to all the attractions as well as discounted wining and dining.
While the residents’ festival does what it says on the tin and gives locals its undivided attention, another major event that brings them together with visitors in an interesting way (the former on stage and the latter in the audience) is the Mystery Plays, which return to York Minster in 2016 for a month of spectacular performances.
The 800-year-old gothic cathedral will undergo an amazing transformation next summer to become a monumental auditorium for the already much-anticipated York Minster Mystery Plays 2016. The cycle was last staged in St Peter’s in 2000, when more than 28,000 people attended the sell-out performances created by an ensemble cast of more than 200 local amateurs.
York for tourists and residents
Intriguing carving in York Minster
Clifford's Mount in York
Monks Cross one of York's busiest retail parks
Deans Park close to York Minster
Cruising the River Ouse
The only ginger cat on York's Cat Trail is found in Lower Ousegate
A walk in Rowntree Park
A dovecote in Rowntree Park
Ducks and ducklings follow the Green Cross Code....in Tower Street.
Leading roles for next year’s performance, which runs from May 26th to June 30th, were cast in September but there are still plenty of opportunities for supporting parts and volunteering.
‘York has a wealth of talented community performers who we’re hoping to attract to the production, which promises to be a celebration of the city’s heritage and cultural identity,’ said producer Nicola Corp. ‘The city’s most famous stories will be brought to life in its most iconic buildings.’
In the meantime, there are two new additions to York’s already over-flowing melting pot of attractions aimed at both visitors and residents. All right, perhaps they’re not entirely new but these two old favourites have been given a much-needed makeover to bring them bang up to date.
First, The Bar Convent – England’s oldest working convent – which is now home to a new £1m museum, due to open to the public in October.
The convent has witnessed some turbulent and violent periods in English history. It was founded in 1686 and, in the years since, has been attacked by mobs and bombed by the Luftwaffe. It has a host of fascinating stories to tell, including that of one of the key figures in its formation, Sister Mary Ward, who was a pioneer of girls’ education and put her own life on the line to serve the community around her.
‘The new museum, which we’re calling The Exhibition, will tell these stories and more,’ said Jerry Ibbotson, audience development and educational manager.
‘Meanwhile, our 20-room guest house has recently reopened after a major refurbishment (yes, you can have a sleepover in a working convent) and our conference and meeting facilities are just about to get the same treatment.’
York Army Museum, a former Territorial Army drill hall that became a museum in 1984, has also just reopened after a £1m transformation, offering new displays and themed audio-visual experiences to give fresh insight into key regimental battles and individual stories of conflict.
Among the highlights are the story behind the Waterloo Sword and the earliest surviving British Cavalry Standard, The Dettingden Standard, which dates back to 1720. w
Whether you’re a visitor or resident, why not tell us what your favourite York attraction is by writing to Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 9AG, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting @Yorkshire_Life.
If you can make it there…
Visit York, Science City York and City of York Council’s inward investment, events and festivals teams recently joined forces under the umbrella organisation Make it York, the city’s first destination management organisation.
It aims to tap into opportunities for new income streams by encouraging organisations to relocate to the city, attract both leisure and business visitors, domestically and from overseas, and boost York’s profile as the preferred UK city for study.
‘Alongside all of this work, Make it York will support York’s cultural sector to enable the city and its surroundings to develop as a world class, vibrant, attractive destination to live, study, visit and do business in,’ said managing director Steve Brown.
‘There’s a lot to do and this will all take time, but one thing we’re convinced about is that a joined-up team approach will be a major advantage and ensure that York is able to punch above its weight on the national and international stage long into the future.’