If you’ve ever visited York, you’ll know it’s an absolute goldmine for cute and quirky independent businesses. You could visit a different indie coffee shop for breakfast every weekend, and in my former years as a student (prior to becoming a wheelchair-user), that’s pretty much what my friends and I strove to do.
Fast forward a few years to the present day, however, and finding a local, wheelchair-accessible spot for a cuppa and a bite to eat when you’re out and about is infinitely more difficult, especially when you’re trying to stay away from chains of Starbucks and Costas and support local businesses and tourist attractions instead.
Sadly, there’s a real lack of accessibility awareness in York City Centre, which may seem all the more surprising given that it’s a well-known touristy spot. However, I’ve found that many organisations are quick to defend themselves with excuses of listed buildings or spaces being too small, rather than liaising with disabled visitors and making a commitment to at least trying to improve their accessibility. And in my eyes, it’s a real shame.
That said, there are still a fair few lovely spots committed to welcoming disabled visitors, and I reckon we should be shouting about how brilliant they are – they’re definitely the ones who’ll be getting all my pennies. So with that in mind, let’s have a moment of appreciation for the following…
[I kindly ask that this list is not republished without seeking my explicit permission, nor republished without credit. Yep, I do see you and I do find out. Shall we just…not?]
1-3 Nessgate, York YO1 9NP
“Drift-In York, is a hub of activity, caffeine-fuelled ideas, and delicious smoothies, with an endearing atmosphere perfect for meeting with friends, colleagues as a well the whole family. Our food selection here is varied, fresh, simple and tasty, with hearty toasted ciabattas, super salads, and grab and go sandwiches along with packed yoghurt granola and fruit pots, and a huge array of cakes and pastries to satisfy even the most specialist pallets.”
The accessible entrance is via FatFace clothes shop next door, which is a gently sloped ramp. Head inside the shop and then turn right, and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the café there.
The Hall, Fossgate, York, YO1 9XD
“Open to all, come and meet friends, family and colleagues for delicious food and drink in the inspiring setting of our medieval guildhall, or relax outside in our beautiful walled garden in fine weather.”
“The Hall is fully accessible with level access from the Fossgate entrance. The main entrance on Piccadilly (opposite the Coppergate Centre) has steps down into the gardens.”
The accessible entrance is about a five-minute detour around the back of the hall and down some side streets, which are slightly cobbly and uneven. Keep the building in your sight and you’ll come to a marked entrance with a path that leads you directly through the gorgeous gardens to the outdoor seating area.
King’s Square, York YO1 7LD
“The perfect destination for chocolate lovers to pick up a deliciously decadent snack, our Chocolate Café is open daily from 10am. We stock a huge range of fabulous handmade brownies and tray bakes. For those looking to share our legendary luxurious Chocolate Fondue for Two or a scrumptious Chocolate Afternoon Tea is the perfect option!”
The whole Chocolate Story experience itself is accessible, with level entry and wide doorways, and the café can be found on the ground floor near the gift shop.
148 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX
“Beautiful corner property overlooking the walls. Specialty coffee, ten craft beer lines, and fresh food.”
I have not visited this venue myself, however according to staff, “Micklegate Social is fully accessible with a flush threshold and a disability loo on the ground floor. The front door’s a bit heavy though, to push open I think. Unfortunately, the downstairs basement room is not wheelchair accessible”. Please note that the Fossgate location, Fossgate Social, is not accessible.
“Serving a unique blend of freshly prepared food and great coffee, our café gives you the perfect start or end to your visit. Our outdoor seating area overlooks the beautiful fountain to the front of the Gallery on Exhibition Square. Glance up to see York Theatre Royal, Petergate and the adjoining City Walls, and, of course, the magnificent York Minster.”
The full venue is accessible with two permanent gently-sloped ramps outside the main entrance. The café is located on the ground floor, with the counters and tables spaciously laid-out and somewhat easy to navigate around.
EDIT MARCH 2022: The one level access table is no longer in operation due to social distancing measures, but have been assured there will be improved options again soon!
7 Church Street, York, YO1 8BG
“Whenever we’d say ‘we’re having pancakes at our house…’ you’d guarantee we’d be feeding a crowd. That’s something we’ve always loved and now everyone’s welcome to come to our house for pancakes! We hope to see you soon.”
Please note this venue is not universally accessible – there is one table next to the door at the entrance, before the flights of stairs, that’s a tight squeeze but accessible. I’ve just managed it in a power-chair a couple of times, and as it’s often busy, there’s no guarantee the table will be available. But I couldn’t resist adding this one to the list for the bonus of their menu being delicious and particularly accommodating of dietary requirements!
St. Leonard’s Place, York, YO1 7HD
“The theatre has a beautifully airy front of house area, with café, bars and various seating areas, suitable for everyone. You can also order brunch, dinner and light bite options, with up to eight daily specials – all home made in our kitchen using the best locally sourced ingredients.”
Level access is available via the main entrance, with automatic doors, and the café is located on the ground floor. Unless crowded due to a show, it’s a particularly open and easy to navigate space.
Rowntree Park Lodge, Richardson Street, York YO23 1JU
“Relax and enjoy Organic, Fairtrade coffee, Suki loose leaf teas, homemade cakes and freshly prepared lunches whilst enjoying a book or today’s paper.”
This one is further out of town along a lovely riverside walk, but it’s one of my absolute faves. The park and surrounding area are made up of flat walkways, and there are sloped paths leading up to the café itself: uphill, but not too steep. Such a lovely indoor and outdoor spot to enjoy a cuppa with a good book!
Ramps/ Assistance Available On Request
6-8 St. Helen’s Square, York YO1 8QP
“In Bettys York we provide a small access ramp at the front door for wheelchair access.”
I’ve only ever visited Betty’s as a non-wheelchair user, but the close layout of the tables and the number of staff walking around with trolleys and trays make me wary of the idea of navigating through the tea rooms. Regardless, staff are always attentive, there’s apparently a functioning lift inside the main tea rooms, and it’s a must-see stop for tourists. When there’s a will there’s a way…right?
Leeman Rd, York, YO26 4XJ
“Indulge your taste buds with one of York’s finest luxury afternoon tea experiences, from the comfort of our beautifully restored rail carriage—the Countess of York.”
Based in the outdoor area of the National Railway Museum, situated near York Train Station, there is a wheelchair-accessible lift up alongside the steps that lead to the iconic rail carriage. There’s obviously a step to get into the carriage, but ramps were visibly ready to go and staff eager to help. I haven’t dined here myself, but I did recently check out the rest of the Railway Museum and found it to be surprisingly accessible. All areas of the museum have step-free access by lifts or ramps, and staff have been commended by other disabled visitors for their attentiveness.
35 Bishopthorpe Road, YO23 1NA
“We serve Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Sandwiches, Salads, Daily Changing Specials, Home Baking, relationship advice, Tripadvisor bribes and more…”
According to the owners, there’s a gentle slope leading into the café suitable for mobility aids: in the past, I’ve managed this with assistance in a transit wheelchair. Although there’s not a great deal of room inside for wheelchair use, and every time I’ve visited it’s been notably busy, staff and local customers are helpful in arranging tables and chairs around in order to assist.
I hope this post goes some way in showing that although we still have far to go when it comes to accessibility for the indie sector of York, there are still options out there. So if you’re a disabled person planning a trip to York and keen to avoid the chain restaurants and cafes, this one is for you. Pay these lovely venues a visit, and have a cuppa on my behalf. Oat milk no sugar for me, please. And pfffff, go on then, I suppose I’ll have a free-from cake or two as well…
Should you visit any of the above yourself, I’d love to hear about your experiences and any feedback. And, of course, if you have any recommendations of your own, please do share!