York is a shopper’s dream. Small enough to walk around but substantial enough to boast big brands, designer labels and a thriving independent scene, the city’s ancient cobbled streets are a magnet for serious retail hounds from all over the world. From Coney Street’s high-street names and Low Petergate’s chic boutiques to the labyrinth of streets around Swinegate and antiques stores on Stonegate, York caters for just about every consumer demand.
The city’s most famous street of all is The Shambles, an ancient passageway mentioned in the Domesday Book, with overhanging timber-framed houses whose upper floors are so close they practically touch those of the buildings opposite. Once known for its butchers stalls, it’s now home to charming old curiosity shops.
York Cocoa House
The city’s long tradition of chocolate-making is lovingly upheld in this charming shop, run by enthusiast and self-taught chocolatier, Sophie Jewett. Indulge your inner Willy Wonka by making a chocolate lollipop at one of the daily drop-in workshops, then pick up all the ingredients needed to recreate it at home. Or simply stock up on their luxurious handmade goodies like Ginger Parkin Chocolate Truffles or indulgent Cocoa House Hot Chocolate, which you can make with hot water, milk or even red wine. Don’t forget to sample the real thing in the café before you leave.
Rafi’s Spice Box
You’ll never order a Friday night takeaway again after a visit to this fragrant, family-run shop. Indian cookery expert Rafi Fernandez opened her first Asian deli back in 1989, and her clever curry kits were born out of customers asking for tips. Now her sons, Kevin and Lee, keep her passion for good food alive by selling a dazzling array of recipes, which include everything you need to make authentic dishes with minimal effort. Choose from classics like the bestselling jalfrezi to the less mainstream Malay-Keralan Ma’s paretal. The friendly, enthusiastic staff will even tailor the heat to your taste buds.
The Little Apple Bookshop
Helping customers pick the perfect read is the guiding mission of the knowledgeable team at this highly regarded independent bookshop nestled in the shadow of York Minster. They sure do know their stuff, and the staff even includes author Fiona Mozley, whose debut novel, Elmet, was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize 2017. Along with mainstream fiction and an extensive children’s section, the store’s jampacked shelves house a treasure trove of limited editions and signed copies, along with book-related gifts. Just tell them what you last enjoyed reading and they will do the rest.
Contact: 01904 676103; facebook.com/littleapplebookshop
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm; Sat, 9am-6pm; Sun, 11am-5pm
This Yorkshire brand has long been the go-to jewellery designer for fans of a contemporary but classic look. It specialises in sterling silver, gold vermeil, pearls and precious stones, with something for every budget. But no matter how much you spend, your purchase will be beautifully presented. There’s a wide range of bridal pieces and if you want a unique memento of your trip, check out the Heart of Yorkshire range of silver necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings, all inspired by the famous stained glass window at York Minster.
The Antiques Centre in York
Hidden behind a modest little shop front is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, from ancient Rome to Art Deco, sourced from more than a hundred antique dealers around the country. There’s everything from jewellery and coins to pottery and toys, all of which have a story to tell. It’s easy to lose a few hours exploring the three floors of this listed Georgian townhouse, which has a resident ghost called Flossy for good measure. If your energy levels slump, stop at Molly’s Tearooms on the first floor for a fortifying Yorkshire tea and a bacon sandwich.
Off the beaten track, tucked away in a tiny courtyard, is one of York’s most well-regarded vintage clothes shops, which specialises in early 20th-century pieces. Exploring the rails is a real treat for any fashion fiend, with everything from exquisitely detailed 1920s dresses rubbing shoulders with pristine military jackets. There’s also a fabulous range of costume jewellery from across the decades and beautiful leather handbags, along with lots of heritage designer items from D&G, Prada and Moschino. You’ve got to do a bit a digging about to find your gem but be patient – it will pay off.
Carefully curated, beautifully made goods are the USP of this uber cool design store, which has quietly cultivated a niche for itself by nurturing emerging talent. It stocks an eclectic range of home accessories, furniture, lighting and gifts, with a number of its wares sourced through exclusive collaborations with exciting new designers. You don’t need to break the bank to get your hands on something stylish however. Their Yorkshire tea towels featuring local words and phrases in bold typography are a bestseller at £9.95, while bike enthusiasts will love one their bespoke hand-painted cyclist figurines (£24).
Duttons for Buttons
Stocking a range of more than 12,000 designs, this renowned haberdasher has been ensuring Yorkshiremen and women keep buttoned up for 60 years and counting. Whether you’re after a vintage mother-of-pearl or a novelty dinosaur number, the staff have it hidden away on the shelves, along with thimbles, ribbons and lace trims. Even Hollywood seeks out Duttons’ treasures – actor Johnny Depp sported their wares on his coat while playing swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. And even if you’re not the crafty kind, the characterful medieval shop, which dates back to 1422, is still worth a look.
Precious things for little people can be found at this independent baby and children’s shop, located on York’s feted Bishy Road. Specialising in items made from organic cotton and natural fibres, it stocks adorable Donsje leather baby shoes, soft Aden + Anais swaddles and cool Organic Zoo sweaters, while the Ollie Ella Luggy shopping baskets for toddlers to tote around their favourite things come in a range of colours. If you love a bit of Scandi style or want a beautiful baby gift that will be treasured, this is the place to go.
Contact: 07788 245169; facebook.com/bareyork
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm (closes at 1pm on Weds)
This old-school department store is a York institution which prides itself on remaining family-run – and on the friendly, dedicated service that comes with it. You could easily lose a day exploring the fashion departments, beauty hall and furniture section, stopping off for a manicure in the nail bar and a spot of lunch at Rhodes restaurant. The latter was named after the store's founder, Henry Rhodes Brown, who opened the doors back when Queen Victoria was on the throne, and whose photo you can see on the main staircase. There’s an unparalleled bra fitting service, too.
York’s only distillery, York Gin is a small independent distiller of some of the world’s finest gins. Founded by a group of like-minded friends in 2018, the company has launched six medal-winning gins, all made using a centuries-old method of vapour infusion in a copper still and botanicals available during the ‘Gin Craze’ of the 18th century. The distillery is powered by 100 per cent green energy, while the very best botanicals come from around the world: juniper berries from Macedonia, peppercorns from Sri Lanka, grains of paradise from Ghana.