This locals’ guide to York city walls features several hot spots that make this English city so special. Plus: I include some insider tips about the off-wall places you shouldn’t miss.
You could walk the 3.4km around York city walls in an hour or so. But, take in sights and the occasional pub en-route, and that hour could easily stretch into a day – and night.
Start with a good breakfast
If you’re going to be on your feet all day, give yourself a good dose of fuel to start with. Begin your York city walls walk with breakfast at the Brew and Brownie on Museum Street. Their all-day pancakes are to die for. Get there at opening time though, as tables are in demand. The visitor information centre is a couple of doors down.
Start your York city walls tour at Bootham Bar
A “Bar”, in York city walls terminology, is not somewhere to buy a lovely glass of wine or a fancy cocktail. Oh no. It’s the ancient term for a Gatehouse. In the case of York, the gatehouses are stone structures or towers the size of several houses. They were used as tollhouses or defensive positions to guard what was once England’s second city.
There are four large and two small Bars around the walls, and they’re all pretty photogenic. Start your York walls walk at Bootham Bar, which is next to the De Grey Rooms.
If you were hoping a bar was secret code for “pub”, more of those later!
Go clockwise to York Minster
You’ll soon look over the beer garden of the rather fine Lamb and Lion pub; overshadowed by the Gothic splendour of York Minster looming before you.
The Minster’s current exterior dates from the 13th century. There’s a fee to get in for non-residents, but the views from York’s walls are free.
Continuing, you’ll overlook gardens and fancy houses galore. York St John University (on your left), the Treasurers House and the Quilt Museum (on your right), before arriving at Monk Bar. The tiny Richard III Experience is located inside this Bar (joint ticket with the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar).
Sadly, the walls aren’t continuous (boo, hiss), so – about 10 minutes after Monk Bar – you’ll need to get off them at a particularly unattractive road junction opposite a carpet store. Walk with the waterway on your right and the entirely unglamorous retail units of Office Outlet and Halfords on your left, before rejoining at Red Tower.
After rejoining the walls at Red Tower, you’ll reach recently-restored Walmgate Bar after only a few minutes. If you fancy a restorative cuppa you’re in luck, as it’s home to the rather fine Gatehouse Coffee.
Clifford’s Tower and the Castle Museum
Moving on from Walmgate Bar, you’ll pass the Barbican – a venue for concerts and the occasional snooker championship – on your left, before arriving at York’s former castle, just past the Travelodge. Clifford’s Tower is the old Castle Keep. It’s run by English Heritage and offers fine views of York from the top.
From here you can also detour to the fascinating Army Museum (one of several York attractions focusing on military history), and to a York favourite, the Castle Museum (all have entry fees, though there’s a discount at the Castle Museum for local residents with a York Card).
In the Castle Museum you can get locked up in the old city jail, and wander the streets of a very plausible Victorian York. It’s the kind of place you can have fun for hours. It also makes for a brilliant stop if the weather isn’t kind to you.
From the Castle, cross the river over Skeldergate Bridge, where you can rejoin the walls or keep going straight ahead for a minute or two for a little off-piste detour.
You’re in locals’ territory here. This is Bishy Road – Great British High Street of the Year and a slightly gentrified but very lovely little row of shops, mostly of the independent variety. It’s also round the corner from my home; so I admit I’m rather biased in loving it!
For a bite to eat, I can highly recommend Sicilian bistro and gelateria Trinacria, the bustling Pig & Pastry or the fabulous Robinsons. If you’re after something stronger, The Swan pub is a good bet.
Rejoining the walls at the end of Skeldergate Bridge, continue to Micklegate Bar, which houses the Henry VII Experience.
If you didn’t have a Bishy Road lunch stop, another option here is Your Bike Shed Café, just below the Bar. Brigantes, slightly further down the hill into town on your left, is a fine pub/bistro option; or you could mix it up with a tasting and/or tour at York Brewery.
Keeping on the walls, you’ll soon see York’s magnificent railway station on your left. You can detour here – it’s a ten-minute walk (signed through the station) to the free and fun National Railway Museum. Like the Castle Museum, there’s entertainment to be had for kids and big kids alike.
Finish your tour of the walls with a beautiful vista of York Minster straight ahead with you. At Museum Gardens grab yourself an ice-cream, and sit in the sun (optimistic here, this is England, after all!) under the remnants of St Mary’s Abbey to enjoy it. Bliss!
Best time to visit York city walls
March, without a doubt. Spring is in the air and the daffodils are in full bloom. There’s no finer sight.
York city walls tips and practicalities
- They’re free! You don’t need a ticket – just find the nearest entry point and enjoy.
- They’re busy, especially during weekends and school holidays. A great time to do the walk is just before dusk (the walls close at dusk) – you’ll have them pretty much to yourself.
- Many stretches of the walls have sheer drops to one side; not to be tippled over when tipsy. There are also steps galore.
- York is half way between London and Edinburgh. If you arrive by train, Micklegate Bar is to your right as you exit the train station at its main entrance.