York's Old Town (Self Guided), York

Start your tour of York’s Old Town at the Museum Gardens. Walk along Shambles, a medieval street and see its narrow houses, pavements and its famous Snickelways. Climb the spiral staircase of Clifford's Tower for a great view of the town. Take this tour to experience the history of this very old city.
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York's Old Town Map

Guide Name: York's Old Town
Guide Location: England » York (See other walking tours in York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: val
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • York Museum Gardens
  • St Mary's Abbey
  • The Hospitium
  • St. Leonard's Hospital
  • Bedern Hall
  • The Shambles
  • Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate
  • Clifford's Tower
  • Baile Hill
York Museum Gardens

1) York Museum Gardens (must see)

The York Museum Gardens are botanic gardens in the centre 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 by landscape architect Sir John Murray Naysmith, and contain a variety of species of plants, trees and birds. Admission is free. A variety of events take place in the gardens, such as open-air theatre performances and festival activities.

There are several historic buildings in the gardens. They contain the remains of the west corner of the Roman fort of Eboracum, including the Multangular Tower and parts of the Roman walls. In the same area, there is also the Anglian Tower, which was probably built into the remains of a late Roman period fortress. During the Middle Ages, the 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 museum houses four permanent collections, covering biology, geology, archaeology and astronomy.

Why You Should Visit:
Very calm area with plenty of places to sit and appreciate the ancient architecture – stunning surroundings and a great way to disconnect from the noise of the city.
Perfect for photo ops due to the stone columns and the Roman remnants. Good for a pleasant stroll or a relaxing picnic and fantastic for feeding the very, very friendly squirrels!

See these beautiful gardens in late afternoon sun, as the long shadows coming through the trees are just magical.
If you go right to the bottom of the gardens there are various gates to the riverside where you can just sit and watch the world go by.

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)
Christmas Eve & New Year’s Eve: 7:30am–4pm. Closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day.

Free Guided Tours:
Sunday: 1-2pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
St Mary's Abbey

2) St Mary's Abbey (must see)

Once the richest abbey in the north of England, St Mary's lies in what are now the York Museum Gardens, on a steeply-sloping site to the west of York Minster.

The abbey dates back to 1086 and over time became the wealthiest monastery in northern England before it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. Over the next 200 years, it fell into disrepair and was largely dismantled for its stone. Stones from the abbey can be seen lining paths throughout the York Museum Gardens, but the major ruins of the church are on the west side.

All that remains today of St Mary's are the north and west walls, plus a few other remnants: the half-timbered Pilgrims' Hospitium, the West Gate and the 14th-century timber-framed Abbot's House (now called the King's Manor). The remains of the Abbey were described by Edwin Ridsdale Tate in a 1929 publication in which he asserted that: "Nowhere in England is there another spot so full of charm as York and where in York is there a more charming spot than the Gardens of the Philosophical Society, in which stand the beautiful fragments of that once powerful and noble monastery of St. Mary's. Here we must leave the venerable pile in the evening of its glory."

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful, tranquil, and so close to the centre that you can fit it into whatever else you are doing on your trip to York.

Go into the Yorkshire Museum, itself a good place to go, and you get to go below to see even more of the Abbey which would be underground if not there. Excavated finds and architectural features, particularly relating to the warming house and late 12th-century chapter house as well. Mesmerizing.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Hospitium

3) The Hospitium (must see)

Located between the ruins of St Mary's Abbey and the Ouse River, the Hospitium is thought to have originally been a guest house for visitors to the abbey of low social rank, or possibly a barn. It was part of a group of buildings on the abbey grounds that included a brewhouse, stables, mill and a small boarding school. The oldest parts of the ground floor were built around 1300 and the upper floor has been extensively restored in modern times. The ruined gateway on the side dates back to the 15th century.

Why You Should Visit:
The grounds for this facility are really good. They have a lot of land to relax in on a nice day and there always seems to be an ice cream van.

Unfortunately, the venue itself is private and therefore not open to the public to view inside.
Sight description based on wikipedia
St. Leonard's Hospital

4) St. Leonard's Hospital

The remains of St. Leonard's Hospital chapel and undercroft are on the east side of the York Museum Gardens. This was the largest hospital in England during the Middle Ages and was run by a community of the Augustinian Order. St. Leonard's Hospital was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries, when it was surrendered to Henry VIII by Thomas Magnus. The undercroft and chapel were part of the infirmary, built between 1225 and 1250. The undercroft interior, accessible from the gardens, has a vaulted rib ceiling and houses a collection of Roman and medieval stonework.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Bedern Hall

5) Bedern Hall

Bedern Hall is a fine 13th century meeting-hall in York, hidden away barely 100 metres from the east front of York Minster.

Bedern Hall was built for the “College of Vicars Choral” (est. c.1250), whose members were the priests who deputised for the Minster canons when they were away.

The northernmost building was a huge timber-framed dormitory, at least 50 metres long and 12 metres wide. The first floor was shared by the vicars, each of whom used the space of one bay against one or other wall. Clearly the original aim was for a communal establishment perhaps similar to that at Fountains Abbey.

However, pecking-orders soon developed, and by the 1330s the dormitory had been divide into relatively large individual rooms.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Shambles

6) The Shambles (must see)

The Shambles is an old street lined with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat. As recently as 1872 twenty-five butchers' shops were located along the street, but now none remain.

Although the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat was displayed. The shops currently include a mix of restaurants and shops as well as a bookshop and a bakery. Five snickelways lead off the Shambles. Shambles Market operates daily on Silver Street, just to the west of the Shambles itself.

Why You Should Visit:
Can be packed in busy season, but very worth the while. An amazing part of history, and it not only has unique shops but some amazing food with the new & improved market place just next door.

Make sure you google bars and pubs in the Shambles before you go because they are easy to miss – some buildings just look like little shops but there are bars at the back or upstairs.
Sight description based on wikipedia

7) Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is one of the smallest streets in York, if not the smallest. It is between Colliergate and Fossgate and intersects The Pavement and The Stonebow in York city centre. It is currently a length of raised pavement between St Crux church hall and a road junction.

The origin of the name is unclear. A plaque erected in the street states that it derives from a phrase Whitnourwhatnourgate meaning "What a street!", but most modern sources translate the phrase as "Neither one thing nor the other". The city's whipping post and stocks were here in the middle ages, which may have influenced the change to the modern spelling and has certainly provided an alternative folk etymology.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Clifford's Tower

8) Clifford's Tower (must see)

The original York Castle, a wooden construction facing the Ouse River, was built in 1086 by William the Conqueror on the top of a high conical hill. Henry III rebuilt the castle in stone in the middle of the 13th century, creating a keep with a unique quatrefoil design, supported by an outer bailey wall and a substantial gatehouse.

During the Scottish wars between 1298 and 1338, York Castle was frequently used as the centre of royal administration across England, as well as an important military base of operations. This tower is all that remains of the legendary York Castle. It was named in 1322 after Roger de Clifford was held captive in York and put to death by Edward II for high treason. In 1890 Commissioners agreed to declare Clifford's Tower a national monument and to conserve it as a historic location.

Why You Should Visit:
Not a whole lot to see inside after you've walked up almost 60 steps, but because it's so old, preserved instead of rebuilt and not crowded, it gives insight into what it would have looked like a long, long time ago and provides some of the better shots of the city.

Check out this tower at least from the base. Especially beautiful in spring with the bulbs blooming all along the hill.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Apr-Sep); 10am-5pm (Oct); 10am-4pm (Nov-Mar)
Sight description based on wikipedia
Baile Hill

9) Baile Hill

Baile Hill, a man-made earth mound, is the only remaining feature of what was known as the Old Baile. Its origins date back to 1068. Having seized York that year, William the Conqueror built a castle on the south side of the city close to the Ouse River. Then, as a response to a rebellion the following year, a second castle was built on the opposite side of the river. There is no clear evidence which of these castles was built first, but it is generally thought to be the one which stood on the site of the later York Castle on the east side of the river. Today, Baile Hill stands at the junction of Baile Hill Terrace and Cromwell Road. The only other visible evidence of the former castle are two slight dips in the city wall rampart, one next to Baile Hill and the other close to the Victoria Bar, indicating the location of the former defensive ditch.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in York, England

Create Your Own Walk in York

Create Your Own Walk in York

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.
York City Wall Tour

York City Wall Tour

York’s city wall has remained intact since the Roman occupation. The city was named Eboracum by the Romans and referred to as Eoforvic by the Angles. To the Vikings, it was Jorvik and the Normans gave it the name York. Take this tour to discover the attractions along York's ancient city wall.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
York's Historical Architecture

York's Historical Architecture

With stunning architectural sites such as the Crown Court, the Merchant Adventurers' Hall, Thomas Atkinson's House, St. William's College, the Treasurer's House and the King's Manor, this city has much to offer. Take the following tour to discover York’s vast array of medieval and neoclassical buildings.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Pubs of York

Pubs of York

York Brewery has produced award-winning beers. In 2002, Centurion's Ghost Ale was the winner of the Brewing Industry International Awards. Its other year round beers are Yorkshire Terrier, Guzler, Constantine, as well as several marvelous seasonal beers. Take this tour to discover York’s finest pubs, where you can enjoy any one of these beers.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
York Introduction Walking Tour

York Introduction Walking Tour

Established by the Romans as early as the 1st century AD, the walled city of York breathes history. York Minster, the 13th-century Gothic cathedral, Jórvík Viking Centre, and the National Railway Museum carry much legacy of the city's turbulent past, while the Stonegate street reveals York the way it is today. Follow this orientation walk to explore York in its variety.

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.8 Km or 3 Miles
York's Medieval Churches

York's Medieval Churches

By 1330 there had been around 45 parish churches in York. Twenty of them survive, in whole or in part, and they are amazing. Today, twelve of the surviving churches hold services. Take this tour to become acquainted with these magnificent sacred places.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
York's Haunted Houses Tour

York's Haunted Houses Tour

Undoubtedly, York is the most haunted city in the UK. Meet phantoms of Roman soldiers at the Treasurer’s House. Drop in at the York Arms to see the nun's ghost looking for her baby. Solve the mystery of the vanishing ballet slippers at Thomas's Hotel. At Yorkshire Terrier, discover the ghost of the old gentleman who is watching for burglars. And finally, enjoy the art of intimidation...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles