Port Townsend: A Victorian Town in the Puget Sound

On the Olympic peninsula of Washington state there is a small town called Port Townsend. This small seaside community is a preserved historical area where old banks and saloons  have been restored and turned into inns/restaurants for visitors in the warm seasons.

Port Townsend was first settled in 1851, although it had been established as a harbor as early as 1792. There were big plans for the new town. It was thought that Port Townsend would become the largest port on the west coast of the U.S. and it was thus named the “City of Dreams.” Unfortunately, these dreams would never come to fruition. The failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad to connect the city via railway to the city of Tacoma coupled with the economic depression of the mid 1890s caused the once thriving boom town to go bust. The town managed to survive through fishing, the port, canning, a nearby military fort and of course the illegal activities of the day such as shanghaiing. In spite of the passing years, all the beautiful Victorian buildings that the heyday of the 1800s had left behind were preserved. So much so that in the 1980s, Port Townsend was included on the U.S National Register of Historic Places.

I grew up on Whidbey Island which is  across the sound from Port Townsend. I remember catching the ferry boat with my friends to get a large milkshake or root beer float at the over-priced 1950s style diner in Port Townsend and then peruse the European style book shop on Water street. Years later, I returned to get married in the old red-brick courthouse with the clock tower that oversees the entire town. While living in Tacoma for the last two years, Port Townsend has been a constant stop for me whenever I make my way home to Whidbey Island to visit my parents. Stopping in Port Townsend to wait for the ferry is always a welcome break from the road. I stop and get a quick slice from Waterfront Pizza where you can find many of the locals picking up a pie on their way home from work. If I make it there earlier, I’ll stop for a latte at Better Living Through Coffee and make my way over to the William James bookstore (the same one from my youth) and finger through the cluttered stacks of used paperbacks.

Today, tourism is a thriving part of Port Townsends economy. The number of gourmet bistros, historic buildings, and incredible views of the Olympic mountains as well as the Puget Sound make it the perfect weekend getaway.

Photo Credit: All photos belong to me with the exception of the photo of Jefferson County Courthouse (the building with the clock tower). This photo belongs to Joe Mabel or Jmabel and was posted to wikimedia commons with permission to share. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Port_Townsend_-_Jefferson_County_Courthouse_01.jpgr

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Before New York — there was Old York

Whenever friends go to visit England, I always encourage them to try and get out of London. Don’t get me wrong, I love London! But, often visitors seem to think if they go to London then they have seen all there is to see in England and that is a travesty! There are some truly amazing and worthwhile places to visit outside of England’s capital. The city of York is simply one of many.

A little bit about York

York is located in Yorkshire, a district in northern England. It’s a historically rich city that has one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in all of Europe; York Minster. The vikings had settlements here and it was a significant city during the Roman Empire. If you need a little bit of name dropping — Constantine was crowned Emperor here and William the Conqueror made his merry little way up to York to quash a brewing rebellion against him in 1068.

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Statue of Constantine, outside of York Minster

A true walking city

York can be an incredibly cheap city to tour for one big reason — you can literally walk everywhere. The historic part of the city is only a ten-minute stroll from the train station. Then once you arrive in the city you can walk for free on top of the city walls.

In its long history, York has been under siege numerous times and seen a lot of important battles. Therefore sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries connecting walls were built around the city to completely enclose it. These walls still stand today and create a unique way to tour the city because visitors can walk along them and look down on the city below. Due to the fact that most of York’s major attractions are the structures themselves, the walls allow you a free way to view everything.

The massive Gothic cathedral at the center of it all

York Minster is a beautiful and gigantic structure that stands at the center of the city. Construction on the current cathedral began in 1210 and there have been numerous renovations in the centuries since. However, there are records of churches on the site as far back as 627 AD. I have only been into the foyer of York Minster as you have to pay to see the rest of the cathedral (I was a poor student both times I visited). But, even in the entryway you can see several tombs and alters as well as the ornate stained glass windows at the front entrance.

The most haunted city in Europe — or the world (depending on who you ask)

Paranormal enthusiasts named York the most haunted city in the world back in 2004. Whether you believe in ghosts or you just like a great ghost story — I highly recommend going on one of York’s many ghost tours. The  tours themselves are inexpensive and laid back. The different tours are generally led by one person who have a schtick (I went with the Ghost Detective) and are near the city market on the weekends waiting to take visitors around the city by foot. The tours are entertaining and a great way to walk around the city while learning more about the local lore. Be prepared to have cash on hand if you do these tours as the guides don’t tend to take credit cards.

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The Ghost Detective

Stopping for a pint in an ancient pub

After you have finished with your ghost walk, drop into the ‘most haunted pub’ in York — The Golden Fleece. Ghost stuff aside, the Golden Fleece has been in existence since 1503 and offers a great atmosphere with plenty of Real Ales (microbrews) on tap. If you are interested in staying the weekend, the Golden Fleece is also an Inn that has several rooms above the pub.

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The courtyard behind the Golden Fleece

Anything else you need to know

On a social note, Northern England offers a similar type of hospitality the southern U.S. is famed for. People tend to be very welcoming and happy to answer any questions or concerns you have.

Another thing about northern England — you MUST have cream tea. Cream tea is a pot of tea and fresh-baked scones with clotted cream (a sweet cream) and homemade strawberry jam.

Overall, you can’t go wrong with visiting York!

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On the city wall

Originally visited: October 2007 and November 2011