Picture Credit: Alison Howland (IFY Community)

The ancient walled city of York is the heart of Yorkshire and can be found in North Yorkshire. It’s located at the meeting point of two rivers: The Ouse and The Foss.

As of 2022, it’s estimated that around 215,000 people live there. Over the years, York became well known for several industries including trains and chocolate.

Nowadays, the city of York is also known for being one of the major tourist destinations in the county. It’s home to many historical landmarks and attractions.

These include the Shambles, Clifford’s Tower, and the Railway Museum. Each of these landmarks and attractions reflect the different points of the city’s past.

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York Minster took centuries to build. Picture credit: Steve Plows (IFY Community)
York Minster took centuries to build. Picture credit: Steve Plows (IFY Community)

York Minster

York Minster was built between 1220 to 1472. It took several generations of builders and stonemasons to complete this impressive structure.

The minster is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It’s also the seat of the Archbishop of York which is the second highest office in the Church of England.

One notable feature of York Minster is its stained glass, more specifically in the Eastern window. This has the largest expanse of mediaeval glass in the world.

Other windows include the Rose window in the south transept. This commemorates the union between the Houses of Lancaster and York.

There is also the five sisters window. It dates back to around 1260 and is classed as one of the most important features of the building.


The central tower makes York Minster 60m high. This can be seen for miles around and dominates the York skyline.

A planning bylaw has been created which ties in with the Minster. It states that no new structure in York can be taller than York Minster.

It’s well known that the building has had a chequered history. This takes into account several parts of York Minster’s past.

One of these includes the looting of its treasures around the time of The Reformation. Another is the destruction of Catholic items during the reign of Elizabeth I.

In both 1829 and 1840, York Minster was set on fire. More recently in 1984, it was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm.

York Walls & Four Bars

York’s ancient walls were originally built to protect the city from invasion. They replaced the old Roman fortifications, which lay underneath them to this day, which were buried by the Vikings.

The mediaeval walls seen today are the oldest and most complete fortifications in the country. Unlike other cities, they were preserved once they had become redundant by the 18th Century.

Between 1250 and 1315, the four bars and surrounding walls were built. The four main entrances are: Micklegate, Bootham, Walmgate, and Monkgate.

These would have been the first port of call for all those who wished to enter the city. Famously, until 1754, severed heads of rebels and traitors were hung above Micklegate Bar.

By this time, the walls had fallen into disrepair. Their use as defences had since become redundant.

They were renovated during the Victorian period for pleasure purposes. Currently, they’re an important part of the York tourist trail and offer fantastic views of the Minster and city centre.

The shambles is a fine example of an old medieval street. Picture credit Maurice
The Shambles is a fine example of an old medieval street. Picture credit Maurice Fletcher (IFY Community)

The Shambles

The Shambles date back to the 14th Century. It’s a famous narrow street which was home to the city’s butchers until the last century.

Many of the street’s original features remain. These include meat hooks, large window sills to display the meat, and a runner where all the waste would be thrown into.

Back in its heyday, the street would be a scene of mess and chaos. This is where the term “a shambles” derives from.

The timber framed properties lean towards each other. This is one of the last few examples of an original mediaeval street in the country.

Halfway down the shambles is a shrine. This is dedicated to Margaret Clitherow who has been called the “Pearl of York”.

Margaret was born in 1556. At the age of fifteen, she married York butcher John Clitherow who she lived with on the famous street.

In 1774, Margaret converted to Catholicism and held secret masses in her home. During this time, it was against the law.

Margaret was caught, arrested, and executed in 1586. The reason being that she was “harbouring catholic priests”.

Her life and martyrdom is commemorated at the shrine. The location of the shrine is near to where she was executed by being crushed to death.

Attractions in York

There are a whole host of tourist attractions based in and around York. There’s plenty to choose from so visitors are able to find something to suit their interests.

These include The York Maze, the Farming Museum, and Bishopthorpe Palace which is the home of the Archbishop. There is also the Yorkshire Air Museum based at nearby Elvington.

Jorvik Viking Museum

The Jorvik (pronounced Your-vik) Viking Museum is the result of a five-year archaeological dig. It was conducted in the Coppergate area of the city between 1975 to 1981.

During this period, an astonishing discovery was uncovered. The remains of an ancient Viking street were found preserved beneath the ground.

Houses, workshops, and over 20,000 other interesting objects were also found. They were collected and turned into a museum which opened in 1984.

Since then, the attraction has been redeveloped. Visitors can find out what it was like to live in Viking York.

The discoveries made during the dig are on display. There is also audio commentary on how the Vikings came to settle in the area, their influence on society, and demise in the 10th Century.

Clifford’s Tower

Overlooking Coppergate is Clifford’s Tower, the keep of the old York Castle. It was built by the Normans to defend the city and keep order over the native population.

The tower was completed in 1272 to update the castle’s defences. Up until 1929, it was also used to keep prisoners.

Clifford’s Tower sits prominently on a mound overlooking the two rivers and the rest of Old York. Visitors can ascend the steps up to the tower and explore the long history of the site.

Castle Museum

In the buildings below Clifford’s Tower is the Castle Museum. This was founded by Dr John Kirk in 1938 and explores life in York throughout the last few centuries.

Its principal feature is a re-created Victorian Street. In 2012, this was further extended to provide its visitors with more information on its history.

A large collection of toys can be seen. There are also displays of period rooms such as a 17th Century dining room plus a Victorian parlour.

More recently, a display has been added to the attraction. This is about life in prison based in the building’s former cells.

Exhibits at the York Railway museum. Picture credit: Chrsi McKenna wikipedia GNU Document licence.
Exhibits at the York Railway museum. Picture credit: Chris McKenna wikipedia GNU Document licence.

The National Railway Museum

The National Railway museum in York is home to one of the largest national collections of trains in the country. It opened in 1975 and charts the history of rail in Yorkshire.

Visitors will find displays containing photographs, artwork, and vehicles. These range from the heyday of train travel in the 19th Century to the present day.

Its main attraction is The Flying Scotsman. This train is being restored by the museum.

It was built in 1923 and became the first locomotive to reach 100mph. The Flying Scotmans reached this speed while travelling from London to Edinburgh.

The attraction features another great engine called “The Mallard”. This also broke the speed record for a train of its kind.

In the National Railway Museum, there are two replicas of other well known trains. These are Stephenson’s rocket, and a Japanese bullet train called “Shinkansen”.

York Museum & Gardens

Nearby is the York Museum and Gardens. It can be found at the side of the River Ouse.

This was originally opened in 1830. It was one of the first purpose built museums in the country.

In 2010, it reopened and is home to five galleries. Each of these explore the history of Yorkshire from ancient times through to the present day.

The museum boasts one of the finest archaeological collections in the country. There are displays of several discoveries that have been found locally.

One of these discoveries include the Anglo-Saxon “York Helmet”. This was found by a builder in 1982 lying under Coppergate.

Another was the “Cawood Sword”. It was discovered in the late 19th Century and is a fine example of a Viking weapon used during their invasion.

The attraction also has an extensive natural history section. This contains 2,000 specimens including the reconstruction of an extinct dinosaur and a flightless bird called the Great Auk.

There’s also a geology display which shows the formation of the Yorkshire landscape. Within the display are examples of rocks and fossils found throughout the area.

In the centre of the museum gardens is the York Observatory. It was built in 1832 and is the oldest working one in Yorkshire.

York Dungeons

In 1986, York Dungeons opened. This was the first one of the chain located outside of London and the tours start every seven minutes.

These are actor-led shows which depict horror-themed events through time. The shows include outbreaks such as the plague, the gunpowder plot, and the Roman invasion.

York Chocolate Story

Just off the Shambles in King’s Square you’ll find one of the city’s newer attractions. This is the York Chocolate Story.

The attraction examines the history of confectionery making in the area. It has interactive displays which introduce the people who owned the chocolate factories that were once a major part of the city’s economy.

Visitors are able to watch demonstrations from the museum’s in-house chocolatiers. There are also plenty of opportunities to sample their products.

Travelling In & Out of York

To help accommodate the large influx of tourists to York, the local council has gotten involved. They developed a unique transport plan.

This is aimed to ease congestion on the narrow mediaeval streets in the city centre. As a result, it will make York into a more pleasant experience for tourists.

In total, the city is served by six park and ride stations. These are located around the edges of the city.

They enable out of town visitors to complete their journey on public transport. Buses leave every ten minutes so visitors don’t have to wait long.

The most popular of the six is York Designer Outlet. This contains big brands such as Michael Kors, Osprey, and Ralph Lauren with up to 60% discount off of products.

York is well connected by road to other Yorkshire cities. It’s easy access allows for many people to travel to the popular Yorkshire city.

The A64 is a dual carriageway which connects York to Leeds and Scarborough. Towards Selby and Middlesbrough is the A19.

There is also the A1079 towards Hull. In 1987, York’s outer ring-road was opened to bypass the city centre.

The University of York is an important learning and research centre. Picture credit:
The University of York is an important learning and research centre. Picture credit:Alexander P Kapp wikipedia creative commons.

Education in York

York is home to two higher education establishments and a thriving student population. The University of York first opened in 1963.

York St John originally started as a teacher training college in the 19th Century. In 2006 it was given university status.

York College also provides a range of higher education courses. These are designed for students post sixteen.

Shopping in York

This Yorkshire city has a diverse range of shops and commercial activities. Visitors and residents will find a multitude of high street names and independent retailers.

There are also gift shops and cafes which are designed more specifically for tourists. One of the most famous is Betty’s tea rooms which was established here in 1937.

Close by to Clifford’s Tower is the Coppergate Shopping Centre. This opened in 1984 and houses shops which include Boots, Marks & Spencer, and Miss Selfridge.

However, outside the city walls is where the major more recent commercial developments have been made. This is all thanks to the arrival of the ring road in the late 80’s.

Three major out of town shopping centres developed as a result. These are Clifton Moor, Monks Cross, and York Designer Outlet – the latter of which opened in 1998.

Newgate Market is also a force to be reckoned with. It’s located between the Shambles and Parliament Street and has over 100 stalls and has been present since mediaeval times.

Entertainment in York

York is noted for its vibrant live music scene from two venues. These are virtually next door to each other.

Fibbers and The Duchess battle to attract some of the top live acts in the country. Other notable night spots include Club Salvation, Flares, and Popworld.

It’s claimed that York has the most number of pubs per ratio of population. Some of these are famous within York and are a must visit.

One of these is The Ye Olde Starre Inn on Stonegate which dates back to 1644. Another is The Golden Fleece which is said to be one of the most haunted pubs in Yorkshire.

Theatres & Entertainment Venues in York

York has also acquired a very rich culture over the years. The city is served by two major theatres.

In 1744, the Theatre Royal opened. It’s situated on the site of the old St Leonard’s mediaeval hospital.

Its program has an emphasis on plays aimed at a variety of audiences. It also has a thriving youth theatre with workshops and classes held throughout the year.

The other theatre is the York Grand Opera House. This opened in 1902 and stages a variety of traditional plays, opera, ballet, and comedy shows.

The York Barbican is also an important live entertainment venue. It was built in 1980 as a swimming pool and then extended in 1989 to include a sports hall and bar facilities.

However, in the early 2000’s the Barbican closed. In 2011, it was bought and reopened.

Now, the venue hosts a range of entertainment. These include concerts, comedy shows, and sporting events including the UK Snooker Championships.

The York Mystery plays have been established in the city since mediaeval times. They were originally performed on wagons in the street to celebrate the festival of Corpus Christi.

After the reformation of the mid 1500’s, this Catholic celebration was abolished by the state. In 1959, the York mystery plays ceased to exist.

The tradition was revised around 400 years later in 1951. It was performed on a fixed stage in the Museum Gardens.

Some of these early productions featured a young amateur actress called Judi Dench. Nowadays, the Mystery plays have returned to their roots.

Street Performers in York

York is unique with its abundance of street performers. This is a tradition which has carried on for decades.

They can often be found on King’s square. Famously, The Clash busked here in 1985 and on nearby Parliament Street.

Festivals in York

This large pedestrianised area of York also has an annual food and drink festival. The popular festival is highly anticipated and is held in September.

In the following month, the whole city centre is lit up by the Illuminating York event. This shows light displays on many of the city’s landmarks.

Every year a Christmas market is held which is said to be one of the best in Yorkshire. Many visitors all over the country visit the market to buy its offerings.

Ghosts in York

The depth of history associated with York means that it’s become synonymous with many ghostly goings on. It’s gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in the world.

Ghost stories are told during nightly ghost walks around the city centre. People can join these and explore the supernatural.

These stories include Roman soldiers and a starving child looking mournfully out of a house during the outbreak of the plague. Another is of a Victorian child who fell to her death in Stonegate.

The Knavesmire at York Races is an important racecourse and once hosted Royal Ascot. Picture credit: Chris Barnes (IFY Community)

The Knavesmire at York Races is an important racecourse and once hosted Royal Ascot. Picture credit: Chris Barnes (IFY Community)

Horse Racing in York

Another well-known feature of York is the award winning Knavesmire racecourse. This dates back to the 18th Century.

It’s situated to the south-west of the city and hosts the Ebor festival. This is an annual event which is held every August.

In 2005, it also held the Royal Ascot. This was while the famous meeting’s usual venue was closed for redevelopment.

Sport in York

York City Football Club is often nicknamed The Minstermen. It’s a historic football club which plays their home games at York Community Stadium Leisure Complex.

In the 1995-1996 League Cup, the team famously beat Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford. To this day, this achievement remains one of the best results in the club’s history.

Rugby League also has a presence in the city. York City Knights are a popular team who currently play at Bootham Crescent.

York is a very historic and beautiful city. It’s enjoyed by its residents and visitors who travel across the world to visit this famous Yorkshire City.

History of York

The first permanent settlers in the York area were the indigenous Brigantes tribe. They ruled large parts of the North.

In 71 AD, the Roman invasion saw the legions sail across the Humber from Lincoln. The group stopped at the confluence of the two rivers.

Eventually, they took over the native population. The Romans set up one of the most important settlements in Britain called Eboracum.

In order to defend this new town, a fort was built. This still exists underneath the current site of York Minster.

York’s prominence in Roman circles increased in 306 AD. Constantine The Great was crowned emperor here.

His crowning happened after the death of his father during a visit to the settlement. This was already one of the principal cities in the Roman Empire.

Par of the original Roman Walls are still in evidence around the city. Picture credit: Kaly99 wikipedia creative commons.
Part of the original Roman Walls are still in evidence around the city. Picture credit: Kaly99 wikipedia creative commons.

In the early 5th Century the Romans left. York became the chief city in the new Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria and renamed Eoforwic.

In 866, the area was invaded again. This time however by the Vikings who established it as a major river port and capital of their Scandinavian empire because of its links to The North Sea.

The city was renamed Jorvik and was occupied up until 954. The Vikings and their ruler Eric Bloodaxe were driven out of the city by King Edred during his attempts to unify the whole of Britain.

The Norman invasion has also had a profound effect on the city. Two years after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror travelled North.

He wanted to quash rebellions against his rule. This resulted in the construction of York Castle to re-enforce his authority.

York Castle has been used for many different purposes over the centuries. These include a prison, place for public executions, and in the Royalist defence during the Civil War.

The ruin of the castle’s keep is called Clifford’s Tower. This still stands on top of its motte and people can wander around to take in its history.

Clifford's Tower, The keep of the old York Castle is still there after many centuries. Picture credit:
Clifford’s Tower – York

Mediaeval times brought more wealth and history to York. Evidence of this can be found with the construction of York Minster.

Work began to build the Minster in 1220. However, it wasn’t until 1472 that the entire building was declared complete.

During the renaissance period, York provided two of the most interesting characters in British History. These are Richard III and Guy Fawkes.

Richard III is alleged to have ordered the murder of two princes at the Tower of London in 1483. He was defeated two years later in The War of the Roses by the Future Henry VII.

In 2012, his body was discovered in a Leicester Car Park. This has since been re-buried in the city’s cathedral despite claims that the body should return home to York.

Guy Fawkes is another famous resident of York. He was part of the group who had created the foiled gunpowder plot.

The main aim was to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I on the 5th of November in 1605. Now, every year on the same day, it’s commemorated throughout the country on bonfire night.

Victorian York saw the growth of the railways. As a result, engineering became a major employer within the city.

Entrepreneur George Hudson first brought trains to York in 1839. This was because of the city’s location.

York is halfway between London and Edinburgh. As a result, the city became a very important stop on Britain’s rail network.

The city was also the home of the North Eastern Railway headquarters. At its height, it employed over 5,500 people.

In 1877, the present railway station was built. At the time it became the largest train station in the world.

The now derelict Terry's factory in York is a symbol of the city's chocolate heritage. Picture credit: wikipedia public domain.
The now derelict Terry’s factory in York is a symbol of the city’s chocolate heritage. Picture credit: wikipedia public domain.

By the turn of the 20th Century, York had a wealth of confectionary factories. These included Rowntrees and Terry’s.

In 1988, Rowntree’s was bought by Nestle. Terry’s, on the other hand, made its last chocolate orange in the city around 2005.

In more recent times, York has dedicated itself to tourism. Thousands of people flood to the city to take in its history and beautiful sights.

As a result, the walls have been restored. These have existed in York since the Mediaeval times.

In the second half of the 20th Century, museums were built. This has further increased the influx of tourists to the city.

York is positioned on two rivers. It’s location has played a very important part in its history.

In 1997, the last commercial boat sailed up the River Foss. The boat was delivering ink for the city’s local paper, The York Press formerly known as The York Evening Press.

The two rivers were widely used until then for carrying freight to the port of Hull. However, now it’s used mainly for leisure.

The Foss is non-navigable outside of the walls. The Ouse was previously a tidal river and is now controlled by a lock at nearby Naburn.

Both of these rivers have been the cause of several floods, most notably in 2000 and in 2015. Large parts of the city were submerged once again during the Boxing Day Floods.

The future of York is a balancing act. Authorities strive to protect its past whilst also attempting to move the city forward with the times.

Evidence of this are new retail and service facilities outside of the town. This includes the more recent community stadium.

These future developments seek to compliment the history located within its walls. It’s important that both visitors and residents remain happy with the new changes happening in York.

York Trivia

There is archaeological evidence to say that Mesolithic people lived in the York region between 8000 and 7000 BC.

York was founded in the year 71 by the Romans following their victory over the Celtic tribe of the Brigantes. They named the city Eboracum and it became the capital of Britannia Inferior, a Roman province.

York became the capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria and Jorvik.

In the middle ages, the city was known as Yerk or Yourke in the 16th Century and Yarke in the 17th Century.

The Roman Emperors Hadrian, Septimus Severus, and Constantius I all held court in York. When Septimus Severus was Emperor he proclaimed York the capital of Britannia Inferior. Constantius I was in the city when he died in 306 AD and his son, Constantine The Great was proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers.

In 866 AD, Viking raiders captured York. Jorvik became a major river port and was an integral part of Viking trade routes throughout Europe. Eric Bloodaxe was the last Viking ruler of Jorvik, he was defeated in 954 by King Edred.

Two years after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the citizens of York rebelled against Norman rule. The rebellion was stopped but York suffered devastation during William’s Harrying of the North campaign.

The first stone Minster was destroyed by fire during the uprising and the Normans decided to build the new Minster on the same site. The building was started by Archbishop Thomas in 1080.

1190 saw the infamous massacre of the Jews. It’s said that up to 500 men, women, and children were slaughtered.

York was a major wool trading centre in the middle ages and became the capital of the ecclesiastical province of the Church of England.

York’s walls are three miles long and this makes them the longest walls in England. The area inside the walls is over 250 acres.

Guido Fawkes (Guy Fawkes) was born and educated in York. He was a member of the infamous Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I. Its aim was to rid the country of Protestant rule. The plot failed of course and Guy Fawkes, along with many of his conspirators, was executed at Westminster. The intention was to Hang, Draw, and Quarter Fawkes but he managed to jump from the gallows and break his neck so avoided the gruesome agonies of Drawing and Quartering.

York Minster is York’s Cathedral and it’s the largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe. It’s famous for its Great East Window which covers over 2,000 square feet and it’s the largest example of mediaeval glass in the world.

The Shambles, once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, is said to be the best preserved mediaeval street in Europe. Butchers displayed their meat on shelves in the street. Now it’s full of souvenir shops, eateries, a bookshop, and a bakery. All of the butcher’s shops have gone but some shops still have meat hooks hanging outside.

York is home to The Castle Museum and the Museum Gardens. There are also many historic features and buildings. The Jorvik museum, The York Art Gallery, and the Richard III museum are all worth a visit.

York is also home to the National Railway Museum where there is a vast collection of locomotives.

Also situated in York and open to the public is a preserved Cold War Bunker. It was previously the headquarters of No 20 Group, Royal Observer Corps.

York’s Theatre Royal, established in 1744, is a world famous theatre. The Grand Opera House and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre are also very popular establishments.

1744 saw the establishment of York racecourse. In August every year it holds the three day Ebor Festival which includes the famous Ebor Handicap race which was established in 1843.

York is twinned with Munster in Germany and Dijon in France.

There are many famous people associated with York. These include Guy Fawkes, Ivar the Boneless (a Viking Chieftain), Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (Chocolatier and reformer), Joseph Rowntree (Chocolatier and Philanthropist).

Many actors and performers come from York, including Judi Dench and Frankie Howerd. Writers from York include W. H. Auden, Lawrence Sterne, and Justin Hill.

Frank Dobson, the famous Labour politician, is from York.

Steve McClaren, the former England Manager, is from York.