What You Need to Know About the York Walls Walk

York’s medieval city walls are the most intact in England, and to walk around them is to journey through time. 

Constructed during the Middle Ages to defend the city against attack, York's fortifications were built upon Roman foundations and have been repeatedly restored down the centuries. Take a couple of hours to stroll their circular, elevated length and see a fascinating pageant of local history unfold. 

Practicalities of the York Walls walk

The Romans founded York on the River Ouse around 71 AD, naming their fledgling city Eboracum and encircling it with defence walls. Fast-forward 700 years and the Vikings invaded England, renaming Eboracum as Jorvik and constructing the walls we see now on top of the earlier earthworks. To this day you can still see some of the original Roman wall, although much of it is now buried under the medieval ramparts. 

Here’s how to make the most of your walls walk – get ready for unique views of famous York attractions like the Minster and Clifford’s Tower on your ramble, as well as secret glimpses into leafy gardens and parks.

Can you walk the walls for free?

Yes, the walls are free to walk. Daily opening time (except 25 December) is 8am and they close at dusk, so that varies from 3:30pm in January to 9pm in June and July. In icy weather conditions, heavy rain or strong winds, they may remain closed all day. If you are in any doubt, check the City Walls website.

How long does it take?

The York city walls walk is roughly two miles (3.4 km) in distance. Plan to take about two hours to stroll the circular route, which occasionally descends back to street level. The route is clearly denoted by small brass plaques depicting a turreted castle in the pavement, and it can easily be broken down into small chunks. 

What are the challenges of the walk?

Although you don't need any special gear (apart from a pair of comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate clothing), the walls walk is very narrow in places, and while there is always a parapet wall on the outer side, there are places with unfenced drops of between five feet (1.5 m) and 10 feet (3 m) on the inside, so keep young children closely supervised. The section between Monk Bar and Bootham Bar is completely fenced, making it ideal for families. 

Regrettably the walls are not suitable for wheelchairs or prams, as there are steep steps to negotiate at every entrance point (Micklegate, Victoria, Fishergate, Walmgate, Monk and Bootham, originally medieval gates to the city; they’re called “bars” in local parlance). Dogs are not permitted either; however, you can follow the path of the outer walls at street level. 

When and how should I do the walk?

While the walk is fascinating any time of year as it reveals so much of York’s 2,000-year heritage, in spring the lower slopes of the walls are covered with Insta-worthy canary-yellow daffodils. 

Download a map to wander the walls at will, follow the QR codes on information boards at strategic points along the route for more historical facts and figures, or join a guided walk from Micklegate Bar. 

Where do I start walking the York walls?

Any of the mighty medieval city gates like Micklegate Bar are the best places to start your walls walk as they offer an impressive introduction. As the route is circular, it doesn’t matter where you begin or finish your adventure or which direction you choose to follow. There are handy paid car parks near several of the main entrance points. 

Visiting York’s big attractions from the walk

Assuming you start walking the York walls at Micklegate Bar on the south side of the city and head anti-clockwise, the landmarks will hove up on the horizon in the following order. 

City Walls Experience at Micklegate Bar

The medieval entrance into York from the south, majestic, turreted Micklegate Bar spans the road in three mighty arches. Once a prison from which the heads of traitors were displayed, today it houses an interactive museum showcasing important moments in the history of the walls – and from here you can join twice-daily guided walks around the ramparts.

Micklegate Bar, York YO1 6JU. Open 11 Feb–29 Oct daily 10am–4pm. Admission from £3.50. Tours 10.30am and 2pm daily. Tickets from £5.

York Castle Museum

Steps away from Clifford’s Tower and wonderfully family-friendly, the museum provides a colourful romp through York’s more recent history. Don’t miss the recreated Victorian street complete with shop assistants in period costumes, the interactive look at the horrors of life in World War I trenches for Yorkshire soldiers, and a fascinating insight into local life during the Swinging Sixties. 

Tower Street, York YO1 9RY. Best accessed from Fishergate Bar. Open Mon 11am–5pm, Tue–Sun 10am–5pm. Admission from £14.50.

Clifford’s Tower

Circular and stone-built on the remains of a timber castle from the time of William the Conqueror, this landmark tower squats on a grassy mound. In its time it served as the royal mint, a fort and garrison; now you can climb up to the roof terrace for fantastic panoramas over central York’s medieval rooftops to the Minster.

Tower Street, York YO1 9SA. Best accessed from Fishergate Bar. Open daily 10am–6pm. Admission from £8.50. 

York Museum Gardens

Forming an integral part of the walls walk, the Museum Gardens sprawl along the River Ouse, a haven for residents and visitors alike, with beautifully planted walkways, shady woodland and a scattering of Roman ruins. Wander through the gardens and you’ll come across the almost sculptural remains of Benedictine St Mary’s Abbey, a time capsule of York history built in Norman times and subsequently destroyed by Henry VIII in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Museum Street, York YO1 7FR. Open daily 9am–6pm. Admission free.

River Trips

A float down the River Ouse – the waterway that brought the Romans to York two millennia ago – is a bucket-list activity if you’re with the kids, as you get a humorous potted history of York along with your sightseeing cruise. Sights taken in include the Minster, Clifford’s Tower and the medieval Guildhall – and if you’re looking for a romantic interlude, why not take an evening dining cruise to see the city lit up at night? 

York YO1 7DP. Best accessed from Museum Gardens. Tours depart near Lendal Bridge. Tickets start at £13.

York Minster

After 250 years of work, England’s largest Gothic cathedral was finally completed in 1472, and it’s a breathtaking blend of stained-glass windows and flying buttresses with intricate vaulted roofs in its soaring, triple-naved interior. The iconic Rose Window commemorates the union of the houses of York and Lancaster, ending the Wars of the Roses in 1487, while the spectacular organ has 5,400 decorative pipes and accompanies the choir at daily services. Take a free guided tour of 800 years of history, or traipse 275 steps to the top of the tower for views over the ancient city.

Deangate, York YO1 7HH. Best accessed from Bootham Bar. Minster open Mon–Sat 9.30am–4pm, Sun 12.45pm–3.15pm; guided tours Mon–Sat 10am–3pm. Admission from £16.

What else can I see and do on the walk?

Roman remains

Spot on-going excavations of the original Roman wall near Walmgate Bar, with more relics near Monk Bar and in leafy Museum Gardens.

Where to get the best Minster views

Almost everywhere you stay in York, the views of the Minster are superb, but on the walls walk perhaps the best view is between Monk Bar and Bootham Bar, as you get to see the little-photographed north side of the cathedral and the gabled Treasurer’s House, as well as the gardens of the delightful Georgian-era Deanery and Dean’s Park – a great spot for a picnic.

Where to stop along the way

Part of the pleasure of walking the length of York City Walls is the sheer number of pubs, cafés and restaurants where you can stop off for a pint and a bite. Firm favourites include Star Inn the City, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Andrew Pern, family-centric The Fat Badger (you can see the pub garden from the wall near Bootham Bar), and funky addition to York’s dining scene YUZU Street Food (think bao buns and ramen).

A handy hint – if you’re staying at the family-friendly Novotel York Centre overlooking the River Foss, it’s an easy hop to Fishergate Bar. Climb up the steps and start walking anti-clockwise. You’re on your way!

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