York Introduction Walking Tour, York

York Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), York

Established by the ancient Romans in 71 AD, the city of York breathes history. It first appeared as a walled settlement when the Ninth Legion of Rome conquered the local tribe known as the Brigantes. The town became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria and Jórvík, emerging as a major river port and part of the extensive trading routes throughout northern Europe.

The word York is derived from the Brittonic name Eburākon, which is a combination of eburos "yew-tree" and a suffix -āko[n] meaning "belonging to-, place of-". When the Danish army, led by Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan, conquered the city in 866, its name became Jórvík, which gradually reduced to York in the centuries following the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in the 1060s.

In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading center and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England, a role it has retained. In the 19th century, the city became a major hub of the railway network and a confectionery manufacturing center, a status it maintained well into the 20th century. During the Second World War, York was bombed as part of the Baedeker Blitz. Although less affected by bombing than other northern cities, several historic buildings were gutted and restoration efforts continued into the 1960s.

With the emergence of tourism, the historic core of York became one of the city's major assets, and in 1968 it was designated a conservation area. Among other attractions, the latter includes the huge (second-largest in northern Europe) 13th-century Gothic cathedral – York Minster – with medieval stained glass and two functioning bell towers; the City Walls on both sides of the River Ouse with four main gates, known as "bars", housing an exhibition tracing the life of 15th-century Plantagenet King Richard III; the Stonegate street, described as the most attractive in the city and one of its busiest; and more.

The above were supplemented by the establishment of the Jorvik Viking Centre in 1984, revealing a Viking settlement with numerous 1,000-year-old artifacts; and the York Dungeon in 1986, featuring a live-action horror show based on factual events from the city's history.

If you wish to learn more about York's turbulent past and discover the way it is today, follow this introductory walk and explore York in its variety.
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York Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: York Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » York (See other walking tours in York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: val
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Clifford's Tower
  • York Castle Museum
  • York Dungeon
  • JORVIK Viking Centre
  • Merchant Adventurers' Hall
  • The Shambles
  • York City Walls
  • Treasurer's House
  • York Minster
  • Stonegate
  • Yorkshire Museum
  • Yorkshire Museum Gardens
1
Clifford's Tower

1) Clifford's Tower (must see)

Clifford's Tower is an excellent first stop when visiting York. The panoramic views from the top of the tower give visitors a spectacular overview of Old Minister, York, and the North York Views.

The tower is situated on a tall hill, perfect for providing defense to York. Clifford's Tower represents the most significant portion of the remains of York Castle.

William the Conqueror originally built a castle here between 1068 and 1069. From Clifford's Tower, visitors can also see the mound of the second castle William the Conqueror built.

This original tower was the site of a horrific massacre in 1190. A group of about 150 Jews sought protection in the tower. Unfortunately, trust broke down, and the Jews committed suicide and set the tower on fire rather than be slaughtered by Christians.

The tower was rebuilt almost immediately. Construction on the current stone tower was completed by the late 13th century.

Visitors can tour the tower and climb to the top. At the top of the tower, you can walk the open-air wall walk. Tower guards used to patrol the wall walk while watching out for enemy intruders. In addition to fabulous views of the city and countryside, the vantage point provides a look at the rest of the castle's layout. Visitors can also see the "Eye of York" buildings. These include the Female Prison, Debtor's Prison, and the Assize Courts.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Apr-Sep); 10am-5pm (Oct); 10am-4pm (Nov-Mar)
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
2
York Castle Museum

2) York Castle Museum (must see)

York Castle Museum was built on the site of York Castle. York Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068. However, York Castle fell into ruins, and two prisons were built using stone from the ruined castle.

The York Castle Museum is located in the two former prisons, which are now connected by a gallery. The Debtor's Prison is a three-story building completed in 1705. The Female Prison was completed in 1783. Dick Turpin, an infamous highwayman, was captured and imprisoned in The Debtor's Prison.

The Raindale Mill was moved to the museum grounds in the 1960s. This reconstructed 19th-century flour mill was used to grind grain into flour.

The museum was founded in 1938 by John L. Kirk. Kirk had a large collection of Social History items he wished to display, and the City of York decided to collaborate with him. Kirk recreated a Victorian street to display his various Victorian items. The Toy Stories exhibition focuses on the history of children's toys. The Sixties exhibition tells the stories of that radical decade. The Cells tells stories of life in The Debtor's Prison and The Female Prison. 1914: When the World Changed Forever commemorates World War I. Finally, Shaping the Body: Food, Fashion & Life focuses on the fashion industry.

Why You Should Visit

The York Castle invites visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in Victorian History. Instead of seeing objects in glass cases, visitors can see historic items set amongst a shopping street.

Tip:
Try to time your visit with the half-hour guided tour through Kirkgate (very interesting and informative) and take some 20p coins to have a go on the machines from the old days.

Opening Hours: daily: 9:30am-5pm
3
York Dungeon

3) York Dungeon (must see)

The York Dungeon depicts local horrible history using actor led shows, special effects and displays of models and objects. Opened in 1986, it was the second Dungeon attraction created, the first being the London Dungeon in 1974. Like the London Dungeon, it was designed as a live-action interactive horror show loosely based on factual events throughout history.

The dungeon operates on the basis of tours which start every 7 minutes and last between 1 and 1.5 hours. In these tours, visitors are led around a sequence of shows and exhibitions which are loosely based on historical events and practices.

The Great Plague show is set in 1551 in a recreation of a plague doctor's surgery, led by one of the recently-deceased plague doctor's assistants. There is also a recreation of a York pub, The Golden Fleece Inn where visitors are told ghost stories. Other shows include the Judgement of Sinners where visitors are accused of various crimes and the Torture Chamber where visitors are shown demonstrations of torture devices. During the tour actors playing plague doctors' assistants, innkeepers, night watches, torturers, judges, executioners, stagecoach guards and witch-burners tell visitors gruesome stories.

Why You Should Visit:
Atmospheric and realistic. The actors are very good and the stories are entertaining. Some surprises and audience participation used well.
At the very least, you get an insight into some of the poor living and health conditions that folks had to put up with along with the barbarity of those in power.

Tip:
Pre-book online so you can turn up at your time and just go straight in; otherwise, risk being turned away or waiting in a lengthy queue.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
4
JORVIK Viking Centre

4) JORVIK Viking Centre (must see)

The Vikings captured York in 866 AD and settled the area until William the Conqueror invaded in 1066. In 1972, an excavation revealed evidence of the Viking settlement. The dig showed up to nine meters (29 feet) of layers. The layers protected delicate historical items such as clothing, timber, leather shoes, seeds, and insects. The dig continued, and over the next five years, archeologists found over 40,000 items.

The dig found Roman and medieval roof tiles re-used by Vikings, the timber used for buildings, metal slag, and pottery. The discoveries enabled scientists to envision how the Vikings lived, the layouts of buildings, what the Jorvik people ate, and how they spent their time.

To show visitors what life in Jorvik was like, the center has created an immersive experience. Visitors travel through the re-created Viking city in a time capsule ride. As visitors travel 1,000 years in the past, they will meet different animatronic Vikings, traders, Anglo-Saxons, and settlers from Ireland.

Visitors can then leave the ride and see 1,000-year-old artifacts up close. For example, visitors can admire ancient earrings, padlocks, and socks.

Tip:
It is worth booking in advance – for a little extra you jump the queue. Tickets are also valid for a year's worth of visits.
Once inside, ask the staff about what to look out for and they will point out some interesting things about the place you would never have realized.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm (Apr–Oct); 10am-4pm (Nov–Mar)
5
Merchant Adventurers' Hall

5) Merchant Adventurers' Hall

This guildhall in the city of York was one of the most important buildings in the medieval city. The majority of the Hall was built in 1357 by a group of influential men and women who came together to form a religious fraternity called the Guild of Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The main part of the building consists of the Great Hall, the Undercroft and the Chapel.

The Great Hall is where is where the medieval merchants first gathered to conduct their business and to socialize. It is the largest timber-framed building in the UK still standing and used for its original purpose. The roof of the hall is of two spans supported by a row of large central timber posts. It includes complex crown posts and is held together by wooden pegs.

The Undercroft was was originally a hospital or almshouse for poor people of York. Like the Great Hall, the Undercroft is divided in two by its supporting row of timber posts. The undercroft also provides access to an attached chapel.

The Chapel was build for the spiritual use of the ill and poor in the hospital as well as the members of the the Merchant Adventurers' Guild. It is still used for worship today.

Merchant Adventurers' Hall is one of the best preserved medieval guildhalls in the world and is well worth being included on your York itinerary.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Fri: 10am–4:30pm; Sat: 10am–1:30pm
Last admission 30 mins before the Hall closes
6
The Shambles

6) The Shambles (must see)

The Shambles is a historic street. Shambles refers to a meat market, and several streets with butcher shops are named The Shambles. Butcher stalls in this area were named in the 1086 Doomsday Book. The oldest buildings that line The Shambles today were built in the 14th century, and most were built by 1475. By 1426 the street was known as the Great Flesh Shambles, and later the street name was shortened to The Shambles.

Slaughterhouses were set up at the back of the butcher shops. The pavements were raised on the cobblestone street to allow easier cleaning of blood.

This narrow street features overhanging buildings, and some areas are so skinny that visitors can touch both sides of the street at once. The overhanging buildings would have sheltered the walls below and protected the display meat from the sun.

Visitors will find a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow on this street. Known as the "Pearl of York," she was martyred in 1586 for refusing to enter a plea to the charge of harboring Catholic priests. Saint Margaret Clitherow was married to a butcher and lived on The Shambles.

Butchers no longer line The Shambles, but several buildings still display meat hooks and meat shelves on display. Today's shops include restaurants, a bakery, and a bookshop.

Shambles Market runs daily between The Shambles and Parliament Street.

Why You Should Visit

The Shambles is known as one of the best-preserved medieval streets in England. While fans believe it may have been the inspiration for Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, author J.K Rowling has denied these rumors. Regardless, the charming narrow street will transport visitors back in time.

Tips

Visitors will also love exploring the five snickelways that lead off The Shambles. These snickelways are narrow alleys that connect to other streets.
7
York City Walls

7) York City Walls (must see)

York has, since Roman times, been defended by walls of one form or another. To this day, substantial portions of the walls remain, and York has more miles of intact wall than any other city in England. They are known variously as York City Walls, the Bar Walls and the Roman walls (though this last is a misnomer as very little of the extant stonework is of Roman origin, and the course of the wall has been substantially altered since Roman times). The walls are generally 13 feet (4m) high and 6 feet (1.8m) wide.

The original walls were built in wood around 71 AD, when the Romans erected a fort occupying about 50 acres or 21.5 hectares near the banks of the River Ouse. The rectangle of walls was built as part of the fort's defense.

The Roman-built walls were not up to the job of defending the city against the Vikings invasion. A new wall was built in the 12-14th century. The new wall built on top of the foundations about of the old Roman walls and expanded southwards up to and on the opposite sides of the Rivers Ouse and Foss to encircle the city.

The only entrances to the city are via the four main gates, also known as "bars" - these are Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar. The gates restricted traffic in medieval times, and were used to extract tolls, as well as being defensive positions in times of war.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
8
Treasurer's House

8) Treasurer's House (must see)

In the care of the National Trust since 1930 (it was one of its first major properties), and tucked away behind the Minster, the Treasurer's House has both a lovely garden and fascinating collection of art and antiques.

The name derives from it being on the site of the medieval house of the Minster's Treasurer, a post abolished at the Reformation. The present building dates from the 17th century, but had been added to with various accretions and was actually three separate houses when in 1897 it was bought by Frank Green (1861-1954).

Green was a wealthy local industrialist and used his considerable wealth and educated taste to restore the house to what he thought it should look like in its heyday, albeit with a central great hall which was entirely of his own imagination.

He was an early collector of antiques, and his aim to deliver a home as a showcase for his collection of furniture, paintings and other treasures, with great attention to paid to the detail of their presentation. Each room was designed in the style of a different period as a setting for his period furniture collection.

He was famously fastidious – not to say fussy – and the house abounds with notices telling the staff what to do and how to behave, and metal floor studs to indicate the exact position of the furniture. It is said he even wandered around to check on things at night! A bachelor, he gave the house to the Trust in 1930, while he moved on to Ashwick House in Somerset.

Visitors can wander on their own, and there is an audio guide available on request, as well as braille and large print guides. In each room, there is a separate guide to the paintings on display. Afterwards, the gardens make a great place to escape the touristy bustle of the city.

Tip:
To reach the cellar and attic you need to go on an accompanied tour: the cellar tour is mainly of interest to ghost enthusiasts (there are still people who claim to see them!), while the attic tour gives a great insight into the servants' lives. You can also have a wander round the very pleasant, photogenic garden and go down in the basement to find a reasonably priced tearoom, toilets, and maybe a ghost or two.

Opening Hours: 11am–4:30pm daily
9
York Minster

9) York Minster (must see)

The York Minister is an impressive cathedral with a long and storied history. The Romans settled here and named the area Eboracum in 71 AD. King Edwin was baptized in a small wooden church here in 625. A stone church was built, and King Edwin was buried in the stone church in 633. In 1088, a new Minister was built. The Minister was expanded between 1154 and 1225. In 1328, the York Minister hosted a royal wedding between King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.

Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, was accused of treason by Henry IV and beheaded in 1405. His tomb lies in the Minister.

The Minister as it stands today was completed in 1471. It is the second-largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. The name "minister" harkens to Anglo-Saxon missionary churches. The cathedral's official name is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York.

The Minister features majestic architecture, including a Gothic nave and a Perpendicular Gothic quire. The 1408 Great East Window is the largest expanse of stained glass in the world. Each lancet in the magnificent Five Sisters Window is 53 feet tall. A gorgeous rose window graces the south transept. The design of the west window is known as The Heart of Yorkshire.

The transepts feature wooden roofs. The nave was completed in 1350 and is England's widest Gothic nave. The central tower is 235 feet tall (72 meters). The choir is 102 feet tall (31 meters). The octagonal Chapter House was built in 1280 and features wonderful stone carvings.

Visitors can view the remains of the Roman fort in the cathedral's museum.

Why You Should Visit

The York Minister is one of the most impressive churches in Northern Europe. It was one of the few Catholic churches not destroyed by Henry VIII, as he wanted to convert it to an Anglican church. The soaring nave, impressive towers, storied history, and Gothic architecture are the highlight of any York visit.

Tips

Go for an evensong service, usually held in the evenings at 5:15 pm, and experience the acoustic wonders of the choir and organ.

The 35 church bells ring at 10:00 am on Sundays.

Opening Hours:
[General Visiting] Mon-Sat: 9am–4:30pm; Sun: 12:30–3pm
[Undercroft Museum] Mon-Sat: 10am–4:30pm; Sun: 1–3:15pm
[Shop] Mon-Sat: 10am–5:30pm; Sun: 12:30–5:30pm
[Worship] Daily: 7:30am–6pm
10
Stonegate

10) Stonegate

Stonegate is a street in the city center of York, in England, one of the streets most visited by tourists. Most of the buildings along the street are listed, meaning they are of national importance due to their architecture or history.

The street roughly follows the line of an old Roman road, which ran between what are now St Helen's Square and York Minster.

The street appears to have lost importance in the Anglian and Jorvik period. When York Minster was rebuilt in the 11th century, and stone for it was brought up the road, from a quay behind what is now York Guildhall. This appears to have brought the street back to prominence. Many of the buildings sit on the land belonged to the York Minster and the whole area soon becoming built up, mostly with tenements.

The street was known as "Stonegate" by 1119, probably named for stone paving, which would have been unique in the city at the time, although an alternative theory links the name to the stone hauled up to the Minster. Glass painters and goldsmiths became prominent along the road, while from the 1500s, it became known for printers and bookshops.

Because of the location of the street, it has historically been used for civic processions, from the York Guildhall to York Minster. It was also the site where three of the historic York Mystery Plays were performed. In 1570, Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes for his involvement in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, was born at a house on the street.

The British art historian Sr. Nikolaus Pevsner described the street as "perhaps the most attractive [street in the city], and one of the busiest. Narrow, quite long, and with a variety of good things". Due to its popularity with tourists, the street is pedestrianized. It was repaved in York stone in 2020.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
11
Yorkshire Museum

11) Yorkshire Museum

The Yorkshire Museum opened in 1830 and is one of the oldest museums in England. The museum invites visitors to explore thousands of years of York history, permanent collections, and traveling exhibitions. The museum has many displays that kids will be fascinated by, as well. Garden enthusiasts will love exploring the extensive Yorkshire Gardens.

The permanent biology collection features flora, fauna, and insects. Two Great Auk specimens are on display. These flightless birds are extinct but were similar to modern-day penguins. Other extinct animals on display include the moa, passenger pigeon, and Dodo. Alan the Dinosaur is very popular with kids.

The geology collection includes fossils, minerals, and rocks. The astronomy collection is housed in the observatory located in the museum gardens. The archeology collection has almost one million objects dating from 500,000 BC to the 20th century. Items are from York and Yorkshire and represent the Roman, Anglo Scandinavian, and Medieval eras.

The Roman collection includes a statue of the god Mars, inscriptions from the Roman Ninth Legion, and an interactive display showing daily Roman life. There are also several hoards of various ancient Roman coins. A Medieval shrine of Saint William of York, the Middleham Jewel, and the Cawood sword are all found in the Medieval collection.

The Starr Carr Headdresses are a fascinating attraction. These headdresses are 11,000 years old, and the exhibition sheds light on the lives of York settlers of old. The exhibit also includes the Starr Carr pendant, the oldest Mesolithic piece of art in Britain.

The museum has a monthly lecture series and a popular yearly Eboracum Roman Festival.

Tip:
Be sure to see the amazing Middleham Jewel (a most amazing medieval goldwork) and the beautiful old library with first editions of well-known and historically significant books.

Opening Hours: daily: 10am–5pm
12
Yorkshire Museum Gardens

12) Yorkshire Museum Gardens (must see)

The Yorkshire Museum Gardens are botanic gardens in the center of York, beside the River Ouse. They cover an area of 10 acres (4 ha) of the former grounds of St Mary's Abbey and were created in the 1830s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society along with the Yorkshire Museum which they contain.

They were designed in a gardenesque style and contain a variety of species of plants and trees. There are several historic buildings in the gardens. They include the remains of the west corner of the Roman fort of Eboracum which contains the Multangular Tower and parts of the Roman walls. In the same area, there is also the Anglian Tower, which was probably built on the remains of a late Roman period fortress. During the Middle Ages, the Anglian Tower was expanded and the Roman walls were incorporated into York's city walls.

Most of the other buildings dating from the Middle Ages are associated with St Mary's Abbey, including the ruins of the abbey church, the Hospitium, the lodge and part of the surviving precinct wall. The remains of St. Leonard's Hospital chapel and undercroft are on the east side of the gardens.

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society constructed several buildings in the gardens during the 19th and early 20th century, including the Yorkshire Museum and its octagonal observatory.

The gardens are a very calm area with plenty of places to sit and appreciate the ancient architecture. The beautiful surroundings and Roman remnants offer plenty of photo ops. A variety of events take place in the gardens throughout the year, such as open-air theatre performances and festival activities. Best of all, the admission is free.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am–7pm (Mar 25–Apr 30); 7:30am–8pm (May–Aug); 7:30am–7pm (Sep); 7:30am–6pm (Oct–late March)

Free Guided Tours:
Sunday: 1-2pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in York, England

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Creating your own self-guided walk in York is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
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