With 18 days of first-class racing action across nine meetings, a whopping 350,000 racegoers make the pilgrimage to York Racecourse each year.
Beyond cheering on the gee gees and all the betting action, there’s a number of other things you’ll need to consider if you’re going to make the most out of your visit. Where to stay; who does the best bottomless brunch; which side of the course to sit; where to drink afterwards; what to wear; and where to rest your head at the end of the night. And that’s just for starters.
Any truly memorable raceday is about much more than too much fizz and a hammering hangover. We’ve gathered our collective knowledge to give you the ultimate low-down on planning the perfect day at York racecourse, regardless of whether your bets come in or not. Enjoy!
Transport into York can be a bit hectic on race day. Hopping on a train is always a better option than driving, but carriages can sometimes be standing-room-only and extremely lively as the afternoon approaches. Do things at your own pace instead by staying in York the night before the races. After treating yourself to a little lie-in at The Fort, pick up a copy of the Racing Post at our neighbouring newsagent on Stonegate. Peruse the form guide and pretend that you know what you’re doing over a strong cup of coffee on us – our team might even have a tip or two they can share.
With your potential winners circled, thoughts will move to breakfast. Bottomless brunches are becoming a popular choice on racedays. The Grand Hotel & Spa offers sumptuous breakfasts in luxury surroundings for £25 per person and for an extra £10 you can add bottomless Prosecco to kick start the your celebrations. If you’re after something a little lighter, we’re big fans of Mannion & Co, The Pig & Pastry, Partisan and Gulp & Graze. All are en route to the racecourse from the centre of York.
Realistically, your journey to the racecoure is likely to be far more pleasant and memorable than the return leg. It’s a short walk from the train station but ladies in heels will want a change of footwear. You’ll thank us later.
With 20,000+ people all heading in the same direction you might want to sidestep the crowds. A number of alternative routes will also allow you to take in some culture along the way. Bishopthorpe Road is home to a parade of one-of-a-kind shops and eateries and was awarded Great British High Street of the year 2015/16. If you’re getting thirsty, The Ebor Inn remains an old favourite but our personal choice would be The Swan and The Angel on the Green which sit next to one another. Alternatively, you could take a scenic stroll along the river and cross over Millennium Bridge. The whole city is a living art gallery and there’s no better way to explore it than by foot.
Once at the racecourse, the next big decision you’ll be faced with is an important one: cheap side or posh side?
The Clocktower Enclosure is the lowest-cost way to experience the races. It’s also far more relaxed, making it a firm favourite with locals. Tickets start at only £6 and can be purchased on the day. The biggest draw is the ability to bring in your own food and drink. It still has its own food court, bars and bookmakers, but on a sunny day you can’t beat a picnic on the grassy bank close to the winning post. If you are picnicking we thoroughly recommend stocking up at Henshelwoods deli on the corner of York Market and a few take-outs from the bottle shop underneath the new House of Trembling Madness on Lendal.
At the other end of the spectrum are the County Stand, Grandstand and Paddock. The appeal is obvious with a Moët Pavilion, Roof Terrace and Champagne Lawns access. However, it involves a bigger hit to your wallet and you’ll need to swot up on the dress code in advance.
Unless you’re attending a music showcase event (Tom Jones, Boyzone, Paloma Faith and Olly Murs have all played in recent years) you’ll be ushered away from the Knavesmire when the races finish.
The races really do shake-up sleepy old York. The crowds can be energetic but also chaotic. It’s a tale of two cities. Most racegoers flocking to the same pockets of the city, which leads to big queues and long waits to get served. However, you can also go off-piste for a couple of hours to the likes of Fossgate and the Minster Quarter, blending into non-racegoers enjoying a few drinks.
If it’s still light, you’ll want to search out a suntrap terrace or beer garden. We recommend Kennedy’s terrace, The Judge’s Lodging, Lamb & Lion or The Star Inn the City. Whatever you do, stay properly hydrated to make a good day last well into the night.
York boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to restaurants but the best can be hard to find. There’s Levantine street food at Los Moros, top-notch Thai at Kao San Road, the city’s tastiest tapas at Sotano, Born to Lose burgers at Brew York and an electric mix of local traders at Spark:York.
If you’ve won big and find yourself in a celebratory mood, more formal dining options that are unlikely to require an advanced booking include L’uva and the Whippet Inn.
If you’ve followed our advice you’ll still have a couple hours of partying left in you. Late-night revellers will head to one side of the river or the other. Close to The Fort, we have two bars on-site, Kennedy’s and Sotanos open until the very early hours, with live DJs and innovative takes on classic cocktails. Also nearby is Bobo Lobo.
When you’re all danced out, you’re only a few short steps to your bed. The ear plugs are on us.
Venture beyond the guidebooks and you’ll find a wealth of free things to do in York - the UK’s favourite city.
With its reputation as the City of Festivals there’s plenty of reasons to keep coming back time and time again.
Let us take you on a tour of York with our top tips for things to do, see and eat. One night is never enough.