If Bath illustrates a high order of evolved civility, then maybe York will show you a more complete sense of English history, piled layer upon layer from the Vikings up to the busy Victorians. York is in the center of England, two and a half miles from London's King Cross and Euston Stations by train. It is right on the high-speed rail line from London to Edinburgh and offers a perfect stop on the way to or from Scotland. York is a beautiful, historical walled city with the largest gothic church in England (the towering York Minster, which is visible all over town).
The present-day historical markers of York include Jarvick, an authentic Viking site, the 1,900-year-old city walls that were started in Roman times, and more recently the National Rail Museum that tells the story of Britain's early prominence in train travel. York Minster is 184 feet high and boasts the most blinding stained-glass windows in England. You can take the stairs to the roof of the Central Tower (275 steps), or visit the 13th century Chapter House. For more historical perspective, a former 18th century debtor's prision is the site of the Castle Museum, which displays English arms and costumes from centuries past.
Beyond the layers of historical significance, York one of the most charming British cities you could visit. No car is required for a short stay. The train lets you out at the edge of the city walls and those walls (and towering York Minster) serve as a geographic guidelines throughout your tour of the city. You can take a cab in from the station until you set your bearings, or get a map and bear down on the Minster. Just stay inside the city walls and you can't go very far off course. The River Ouse slips through the middle of town and recreation streets like The Shambles lend a vivid impression of what York looked like through the eyes of previous generations.
If your season during your visit provides long days, York can be done as a very active day trip from London, but that's pushing the limits of endurance. Once you arrive you will likely be charmed and want to invest another day or two. Staying inside of this appealing walled city is pretty easy. Middlethorpe Hall is a restored 18th century mansion that gets raves from hotel reviewers, but it's a mile and a half from the city center. My favorite digs are Judge's Lodging, particularly with one of the rooms that provides a view of York Minster (Judge's Lodging has a fairly novice website, with images that are badly pixelated, but don't let that put you off). Dairy Guest House is another nice place within the city walls to rest your head for a night or two. Melton's at 7 Scarcroft Road, Betty's at 6-8 Hellen's Square and 19 Grape Lane (same address) are favorites for something to eat. [cloudtravel]