A Trio of York, England Guided Tours

Our “Free” York City Tour

In our half-dozen trips to Europe, we’ve taken perhaps a half-dozen guided tours; three of them occurred within a twenty-four hour period in the town of York, England this past week.

It isn’t necessarily because we’ve had a sudden change of heart on guided tours (we actually have nothing against them, we just don’t normally seek them out), it just sort of worked out that way. The day we arrived in York, it was pouring down rain and we found the station and city a madhouse owing to a series of horse races going on. We spent the afternoon safely, quietly, and comfortably out of the rain and away from the crowds at the railway museum, but once in town, taking the free guided tour described in a brochure in our room seemed a good idea. At least if it wasn’t raining the next morning.

With the sun shining, we showed up at the appointed time and location for York’s number one attraction according to TripAdvisor.com (apparently we aren’t the only people who like the idea of a free tour). This was a great three-hour tour full of York history, interesting stories, and Chuck continually humming the theme from Gilligan’s Island. Our tour was led by a history author who sidelines as a comedian. You can probably tell where that might lead, so suffice it to say it was a well-spent three hours.

Like us and the other half-dozen people on our tour, you might ask how this tour is offered for free, especially if I tell you that it wasn’t run by the Tourism Council of York. Well, there’s three ways a guided tour can make money: they charge you a fee to walk with them, they can receive commissions for bringing their tour-goers to businesses along the way, or they can ask for a donation. Our tour was the latter, suggesting that we pay whatever we think the tour is worth. We had no problem paying up.

York’s “Original” Ghost Walk

Also in our room was a stack of ghost walk brochures. We had no idea how popular ghost tours were in York, but having chatted with our free tour guide about them, we were convinced to give one a try, and to do so that night if it wasn’t raining. We–and forty or so other walkers–took the “original” ghost walk, about a ninety-minute walk that started at 8pm. It was led by a native Yorksman dressed all in black and carrying a cane. He was interesting, engaging, and, at times, funny. His tour was less scary and creepy, more historical and anecdotal, which was right up our alley. Our ghost tour was a reminder that story-telling is itself a great form of entertainment.

Guided Tour At York Minster Cathedral

The final tour in our trio of tours in York was the guided tour included with our admission to the York Minster Cathedral (which you’ll see plenty of in coming blogs). Admission to the York Minster is £10 per person and includes a guided tour (should you wish to join one) and admission to the undercroft (a museum where a cathedral might typically have a crypt). A tour started a few minutes after our arrival so we joined in. For an hour, a well-prepared guide took us through the cathedral and pointed out interesting tidbits from the tomb of the Minster’s first archbishop to damage from a fire in 1984 that destroyed the roof of the south transept.

It was a bit of serendipity that we took all these tours, but it was also an opportunity to remind us that guided tours–including ghost walks, if you pick the right one–are a great way to see a destination or attraction. If it hadn’t been for our free city tour, we might still be wondering how to get to the city’s walls and we might not have seen the street where Guy Fawkes was borne. If it wasn’t for our ghost walk, we might not have heard the stories of some of York’s more infamous characters. If it wasn’t for our minster tour, we might not have learned about the fires that have ravaged the cathedral and we might not have understood how close to collapse the cathedral came in the 1960’s.

In the future, we might actually seek out guided tours a bit more frequently.

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