The Principal York Hotel
Once a stopover for Queen Victoria en-route to Balmoral Castle, The Principal York Hotel – formally the Royal York Hotel – is one of the city’s most impressive and eye-wateringly glorious places to lay your head and fill your bellies – as we discovered recently.
The grand and gorgeous five-storey hotel, which bumps bottoms with York station, just outside the ancient walls that surround the city, opened in 2016 following a multi-million pound makeover. And the guests have been flooding in ever since.
The revamp has seen it transform into a grand, uber-elegant venue – somewhere where historic, architectural design and modern, New York-style character effortlessly combine for a slice of hotel heaven.
Walking in, your eyes are immediately drawn to a three-tier glass chandelier, sparkling like nothing else, and the sweeping grand staircase, which takes centre stage in the main lobby and boasts lovingly-restored cantilevered ironwork – definitely worth a photo or two.
Then over to the Garden Room, offering views out across manicured lawns to York Minster’s gothic towers. This is probably our favourite spot – and where we spent a good amount of time relaxing before and after days spent shopping and sightseeing on the cobbles.
It’s an opulent space indeed; twinkling copper chandeliers, gorgeously high ceilings held up by Victorian-style pillars, huge sash windows that let the sun stream in, plenty of plush mink chairs and sofas, perfectly aligned to as not to overcrowd the room, antique paintings and mirrors, and a soft colour palette of milky pistachio and cream.
Solitude can be found here; many of our fellow guests happily took time to just sit by the windows and stare out, with the sun on their face, a paper on their lap and a frothy coffee in hand.
Either that, or enjoying a spot of the hotel’s famed Afternoon Tea – there’s nowhere better for it. In fact, we surrendered to scones soon after checking in (a streamlined and fuss-free affair by the way) — and can report that the kitchen gang here put on a mean spread – truly fabulous finger food.
Freshly-baked, fist-sized scones, studded with currants and topped with glossy raspberry jam and dollops of thick clotted cream, plus a final tier of dainty cakes and pastries, from macarons and eclairs to mini fruit tarts.
Tea is sourced from the Rare Tea Company, which supply the world’s best brews direct from farmers and their tea gardens, and handpicked especially for the hotel by an actual ‘tea consultant’ – who knew?
Accommodation-wise, you’re spoilt with a range of modern, mauve-painted boudoirs, decked out with polished marble bathrooms, oodles of wardrobe space and beds made up with the finest Egyptian cotton.
We took a spotless double room, though you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a swanky suite. Not much of a view, but interiors-wise it was dreamy.
The large his-n-hers bathroom stole the show, with its walk-in, wet room-like shower, (others are kitted out with Victorian roll-top baths by Villeroy & Boch), white metro-style tiling for that minimalistic vibe championed by the likes of Pinterest and Instagram, and warm (quite literally) chestnut wood flooring. Tearing ourselves away for our evening meal – and brekkie the next morning – was a hard task, though the food we discovered during each
visit to the hotel restaurant, The Refectory Kitchen & Terrace, made it worthwhile.
We loved this place – really loved it. It’s a conservatory-style dining room, which means it’s bright and airy in the morning, but dark and atmospheric come nightfall, lit up only by tea lights encased in hanging beer bottles.
Filled with chocolate leather seats and mahogany table-for-twos, it holds an impressive amount of diners, making for an intimate dining experience – great for date nights or special, celebratory occasions. It’s also open to the public.
The chefs here proudly use regional ingredients, such as Whitby crab and Harrogate blue cheese, to create classic British dishes and local favourites – things like Yorkshire lamb, Yorkshire cheese, Yorkshire Parkin and even Yorkshire ale cottage pie.
The menu has had a bit of a switch-up since our visit, but we can vouch for the superb sea bass ceviche for starters (£9). Think melt-in-the-mouth flesh, wonderfully zingy and silky, spiked with chilli, red onion and tomato. The Refectory burger (£16.95) is a stand-out, too, showcasing butchers beef, charred and juicy, sweet and crispy treacle-cured bacon and oozy Swaledale cheddar encased in a pretzel bun.
We finished things off with a selection of strong and creamy Yorkshire cheese (£12.50), plummy chutney and crackers and a glass of the best ruby-red Port that gave a heady caramel twang. A timeless combo done really well – would definitely recommend. G&Ts were had over in the lively Chapter House Bar.
Breakfast was nothing short of exceptional; never before have we spent so much time digging into a continental buffet – and with such glee. Forget soggy bacon, watery scrambled eggs and scorched flat cap tomatoes; here you’re given personal pots of thick bircher muesli, made with fresh grated apple and berries (we had two each), bowls of wholesome, homemade granola (make that one each) and fresh Greek yogurt with syrupy, Earl Grey-steeped prunes. Straight-from-the-oven pastries and croissants, too, all fluffy and golden.
And if you’re in the mood for something hot (we were), the chefs can whip you up something in the kitchen – from fancy fry-ups to wedges of toasted sourdough topped with all sorts. The smashed avo, flaky smoked haddock and runny free-range eggs ticked all our boxes.
Departing the next morning was bittersweet; bitter because we could’ve happily stayed for another week, never mind a night, but sweet because we’d saved the goodies from our complimentary Tuck Box (every guest will find one in their room on arrival) for scoffing on the train home. Reception staff also gave us free bottles of water and fresh fruit post-check out to keep us going. What a thoughtful, hospitable bunch. We can’t wait to return.
If fine dining is your thing, try Melton’s – it has a glowing reputation both online and among locals. It serves up classic British food, with a twist. It’s real posh nosh here; venison tartare, quails egg salad, caviar and guinea fowl and rare breed meat.
The same goes for OXO’s Restaurant, where head chef Russell Johnson rustles up hearty Blighty-inspired grub, locally-sourced and made with real gusto. Try the braised ox cheeks and the coffee creme brûlée.
The Star Inn’s Brasserie-style bites deserve a mention, too. We love its ‘market menus’, filled to the brim with fresh and sophisticated fish dishes and marvellous meats – most of which are sourced from nearby.
Health nuts in search of brunchy goodness should stop by trendy Filmore & Union. The coconut milk pancakes, tofu quinoa cakes, loaded superfood salads and ‘earth bowls’ are all popular – and delicious.
Goji Cafe is also worth a visit, especially if you’re a hungry veggie (or vegan) on-the-go. Great Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean platters.
Rafi’s Spice Box is a treasure trove of intoxicating powders; a rainbow of freshly-ground spices and rubs you can sample and pick up to make authentic curries at home.
Planning a visit during the festive period? Käthe Wohlfahrt is a must-visit for all your Christmassy nick-nacks and decorations – it’s home to the world’s largest selection of traditional German Christmas ornaments.
Hotfoot it to Low Petergate for big brands and, of course, Browns department store for designer beauty buys.
A trip to York wouldn’t be complete without a rummage at Shambles Market either, whether you’re on the hunt for vintage gifts and trinkets, or even a just slab or two of artisan chocolate.
Stop by York’s Chocolate Story to see a tasty new exhibition telling the story of one of history’s most-loved confectioners – Terry’s. Discover how the brand – makers of Terry’s Chocolate Orange – transformed from humble beginnings in York’s sweet city centre to a
Just outside of the city centre you’ll find Castle Howard. Go here to roam the gardens, visit the adventure playground, browse the shops, cafes or get your fix of festive fun this Christmas!