The ancient city of York is famous for its medieval streets, but once you start discovering what’s at the end of York’s alleyways, you will truly discover the city’s secrets.
York started off as the Roman city of Eboracum, was the Viking settlement of Jorvik and became renowned for its chocolate. Today you can explore its rich history with a fantastic weekend away. Here are my recommendations of the best historical things to do in York.
Best Historical Things To Do In York
York Minster dominates York’s skyline and a visit to York would not be complete without a visit. It is the largest medieval cathedral in Northern Europe. The East Window is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the UK and it’s 600 years old!
York Museum Gardens
The land the Museum Gardens is built on was originally acquired by Yorkshire Philosophical Society to build a museum on the land. After the nearby museum was built, they used this piece of land to create a botanical garden for people of the city to enjoy. The Museum Gardens are full of Roman and Norman ruins for you to explore.
York City Walls
There is nothing more Game of Thrones than the medieval walls that surround York city. The walls date from the 13th century. At various points along the walls you will be greeted by various ‘bars’. These are not your typical drinking bars, but they were entrance and exit points to the city. You can walk all the way around the York city walls in about an hour.
York City Walls Coffee Stop: Check out Gatehouse Coffee which is located within Walmgate Bar itself. It’s a great way to see a historical site whilst fuelling up for the next!
This popular(and very instagramable) street known as Shambles was built around 1400 and has largely remained unchanged. It was mentioned in the Domesday book by William the Conqueror and originally full of the Butchers of York. The street’s name derived from the word ‘Shamel’ which means stalls where meat was displayed. You can still see some of these today as you walk down the street.
York Castle Museum
Despite this attraction’s name, this is not actually a museum for York Castle. Instead the museum focuses on Victorian York and uses recreations of houses, buildings and streets from the period to bring historical stories to life. Allow two hours for visiting.
Sitting neatly on top of a grass mound, Clifford’s Tower is a well known local symbol of York. In the early hours of the morning you can often see revellers rolling down the hill. The tower previously served as a prison and royal mint and today you can see views of the city from the tower.
Holy Trinity Church
Tucked in between two shops at 70 Goodramgate, Holy Trinity Church can often go unnoticed in between the hustle and bustle of the local shoppers. Take a few moments to walk down the barely there alleyway and you begin to get a sense of what hidden sites York keeps to themselves. The church mainly dates from the 15th century and contains historical box pews, which are rare to see in modern churches today. The stained glass east window has remained in place since 1470.
Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall was built around 1400 by citizens of York to act as a place for worship and business. Inside there is a cafe, a chapel and the great hall itself. The cafe is open to all but there is an admission charge for seeing the hall.
York Mansion House
This eighteenth century house has been the official residence of the Lord Mayor of York since 1732. You can book a visit to the house to discover its secrets and stories. If you are a resident of York then entry is free. Allow an hour for your visit.
As you walk along Stonegate, opposite the Evil Eye bar there is a narrow alley called Coffee Yard. Down this alleyway you can find Barely Hall. It’s a former priory and previously acted as home to the Mayor of York (before the building of Mansion House). Today you can visit this medieval building and explore what it would have been like to live during the 1600’s.
Fairfax House is a Georgian townhouse that is a fantastic recreation of what it was like to live in eighteenth century York. The house is extremely well preserved and the guides are well known for being entertaining and knowledgeable. There is an admission charge and it is recommended you book online in advance.
This National Trust property is nested behind York Minster and you will be shocked at the scale of this house and how you nearly missed it. Wander around 13 period rooms and discover the history of the house through the eyes of its former owner Frank Green.
Map – Website
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the best historical things to do in York! A full run down on how to have the most awesome weekend visit is coming soon!