WITH its ancient walls surrounding its stunning Gothic cathedral, Roman remains, Viking heritage, maze of medieval streets, great pubs, restaurants and hotels, York is one of the most exquisite cities to visit in Britain, as Iwan Davies discovered last month.

A CITY of truly astonishing cultural and historical splendour, York boasts more world-class sights and attractions per square mile than any other in the United Kingdom, all within easy reach of each other.

It can rival London, Edinburgh and Oxford as one of the country’s most appealing destinations.

It’s not just about the history, however impressive that may be, for it’s also great for shopping and going out.

I was lucky enough to spend three days in York at the end of February, but it was scant time to do it justice, a vibrant place that is buzzing with life and an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places to visit and things to do.

It is an exciting city that can hold its own with most other big-hitters and endlessly charming.

Where to stay

Grand Hotel & Spa (www.thegrandyork.co.uk): There is probably no better place to lay your head than the luxury and multi award-winning Grand Hotel & Spa, just off the city centre in Station Road. It is York’s first five-star hotel and indeed, rather surprisingly, the only five-star rated hotel in the whole of Yorkshire.

Grade II listed and dating from 1906, it was the former North Eastern Railway headquarters, only opening as a hotel seven years ago.

It is one of the city’s most iconic Edwardian buildings and today, many of its 107 architecturally unique bedrooms have been converted from the company’s old offices with the original workplaces’ numbers still above the doors.

You can relax in a luxury spa, set in the atmospheric vaults and there is Hudson’s Restaurant which has three AA Rosettes.

For service from the universally wonderful staff, and just about everything else, this place is the business.

What to do

York Minster (yorkminster.org): No visit would be complete without taking in York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe and one of the world’s most beautiful.

At its heart, you can climb the huge tower’s 275 narrow steps for superb views of the surrounding area. Just make sure you are feeling fit enough and have a real head for heights. Adults £10.

National Railway Museum (nrm.org.uk): This stupendous museum is another top attraction and the home of more than a million fascinating objects dating back 300 years. Don’t miss out on seeing legendary locomotives the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard. Free but donations welcomed.

YorkBoat (www.yorkboat.co.uk): Cruise along the River Ouse on a 45-minute tour, the perfect way to take in the fascinating bridges, buildings and historical sights. Adults £8-9, children £4-5.

York Brewery (www.york-brewery.co.uk): Learn the arts of a master brewer with a guided tour of an independent firm that set up just inside Micklegate Bar in 1996. You can even sup a jar or two of their great award-winning ales in the bar after. Adults £8 (price includes a pint of beer).

Jorvik Viking Centre (jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk): One of the most popular visitor attractions in the UK is reopening on April 7 following its flooding in December 2015.

A series of special exhibitions have been created to continue to showcase the lasting impact of the Vikings in York at three venues in the city. I did witness the splendid Jorvik Viking Festival (jorvik-viking-festival.co.uk) which takes place every February.

Eating and drinking

The justifiably highly regarded The Refectory (www.therefectory.co.uk) restaurant at the Grade II listed Principal Hotel, just across the road from the Grand Hotel & Spa, is one of the finest places to dine in town.

With excellent food, wine and service, you can get two courses for the outstanding value of just £17.

It adjoins the new Chapter House bar, which sports a good selection of wines, spirits, craft ales and cocktails.

Latin American-themed restaurant chain Las Iguanas (www.iguanas.co.uk/locations/york) has not long opened its outpost here which is on Swinegate. It’s a hip place to go in the city centre, offering cracking food and drinks. There is a two for one happy hour on cocktails all day, every day. Now doesn’t that sound good?

York is bursting with brilliant boozers but my favourite is the Blue Bell at 53 Fossgate.

Billed as York’s smallest pub, it’s also its best. You really have to visit this tiny, traditional wood-panelled tavern with original Edwardian decor and open fire, serving cask ales.

Top tips

Check out the fine Visit York website at www.visityork.org or pop into the city’s official visitor information service at 1 Museum Street, York, YO1 7DT. A good idea is to invest in a York Pass which gives you a choice of free entry into over 30 top attractions and tours as well as restaurant and shopping offers. You can buy a one, two or three-day pass making it a great addition to your leisure break. To buy a York Pass, call in at the Visit York centre, telephone them on 01904 550099, email info@yorkpass.com or go to www.yorkpass.com.

You can also book your York cultural adventure with them at www.visityork.org/adventure and check out York the Original City Adventure at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tO8kUfHgqeQ