With one of the largest pedestrianised zones in Europe, York’s city centre is a web of ‘footstreets’ which expand outwards from the shambles. Many are fully pedestrianised: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and others have designated hours e.g., 10.30 – 5.30. So, it goes without saying then, that York is a brilliant city to explore on foot. Visitors arriving by train are greeted by the spectacular City Walls in all their glory as they head in the direction of the historic hub – the shambles.
While mooching around the small shops in the shambles area, keep your eyes peeled for statues of cats which adorn some of the buildings and form part of an official ‘Cat Trail’ developed by the independent outlet Yorkshire Glass. The trail is not only a bit of fun for cat lovers or children, but also directs visitors past a couple of key landmarks including the Yorkshire Museum Gardens and York Minster – further information and maps can be found online.
There aren’t many museum’s that boast botanical gardens on site, but the Yorkshire Museum provides just that. The gardens are perfect for a leisurely stroll or picnic – with more than 40 species of birds to look out for along with glorious plants and flowers.
Taking approximately two hours, the circular City Walls trail is unmissable providing spectacular views around the city with opportunities to stop or get off at any of the ‘checkpoints’ to explore some of the must see spots.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite there are endless great food offerings. Wander around the maze of stacked shipping containers-come-eateries at hipster spot SPARK: York which brings a slice of Shoreditch up North. Alternatively, head for a drink at The House of Trembling Madness (what a name!) or for something slightly fancier like a selection of small plates at Skosh.
Over the River Ouse in the Coppergate area is the JORVIK Viking Centre, (a school-trip stalwart for kids in the vicinity) with the York Castle Museum a mere five-minute walk away it makes perfect sense to combine the two.
No trip to York would be complete without stopping by the iconic Betty’s Tea Room which has been serving afternoon tea in its sophisticated surroundings since 1919. The York branch is hailed as one of its finest and has classy, elegant décor. If you are in your walking gear though, or time precious, Betty’s Tea Room now offers a delivery service so you can still enjoy their famous tea and cake from the comfort of your cosy Airbnb or hotel room.
Whether you are new to the city, here for a weekend or a day, there are tons of cultural highlights to be enjoyed. And as our Walks in York guide demonstrates, this is one very walkable city.
Here are our picks
York City Walls / Wall Trail, Unamed Street, York, Yorkshire, YO1 7LJ - Visit now
The spectacularly imposing medieval York City Walls greet visitors as they head out from the train station and down into York city centre. A walk around the walls is a must for any visit and the circular route provides stunning views and can be joined at any of the checkpoints – some of which have handy information posters outlining notable historical facts (and maps) for the history buffs. Open daily and free, walking the walls in their entirety takes roughly two hours and, in that time, you will cover 2.6 miles. Just as you can join the walls at any point, you’re also free to exit any point too. Doing so at ‘Bootham Bar’ is very convenient for stopping by York Minster.
It’s worth noting that there is also a ‘ground trail’ for visitors with mobility issues, families with pushchairs, (which are unfortunately not allowed up on the walls) and/or people less enamoured by heights. The walls close to visitors at dusk (which varies throughout the year) so be sure to plan your trip accordingly.
Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens, York, Yorkshire, YO1 7FR - Visit now
Established by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 1830, the Yorkshire Museum is housed in an impressive Greek Revival building set in picturesque botanical gardens which are, of course, perfect for a run around, picnic or leisurely amble. Home to a vast botanical collection and more than 40 bird species, a visit in spring or summer allows you to take in the stunning surroundings in full bloom. Check out the museum gardens website for seasonal interactive family activities which recently included a Squirrel Trail Quiz.
The ‘Ice Cream Rescue’ stall is on hand to provide frozen delights and some days, ‘Sketch by Origin’ provides a takeaway drink and snacks service from the garden’s pavilion. Combining a visit to the Yorkshire Museum with a meander around the beautiful botanical gardens makes for an exceptional way to spend a few hours in this city.
York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York, Yorkshire, YO1 7EH - Visit now
Whether you head from the Yorkshire Museum to York Art Gallery or opt to do it the other way around, they are a stone’s throw away from each other – taking a mere three minutes to walk via exhibition square they are equally unmissable.
What’s more, York Art Gallery is an excellent way to get a substantial number of steps in since the average visit takes between one and a half to two hours. This grade II listed building is expansive housing seven galleries within a breathtaking glass roofed building. Be sure to stop off at the gift shop for a mosey at the prints, cards, and stationery. There’s also a highly regarded onsite café where visitors can take a break and rest their legs to sup a cuppa and enjoy a bite to eat.
House of the Trembling Madness, 14 Lendal, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 8AA - Visit now
With all that walking along the city walls, you’ll likely have worked up an appetite and fortunately, there are several great eating and drinking establishments to stop off at while trekking the circular route. Exiting at the medieval gatehouse Bootham Bar (said to be the oldest of the city’s four bastions) the not-to-be-missed House of Trembling Madness is a five-minute hop skip and jump away.
This glass fronted miniature pub is housed in a Norman structure dating to the 1180s, and the menu boasts simple high-quality pub food: think burgers, soups, stews, and cheese boards. Explore other places of interest nearby which include York’s Theatre Royal, housed in the remains of a convent, and the stunning medieval town house Barley Hall.
We think a visit to House of the Trembling Madness is a worthy detour from your stroll along the walls.
Skosh, 98 Micklegate, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 6JX - Visit now
Skosh, a small plates-based eatery is centrally located – a two-minute walk from the 12th century gateway Micklegate Bar and close to the train station. The bright yellow logo and punchy menu sets the tone for the vibrancy of the food and drink on offer here. Chef-owner Neil Bentinck opened Skosh – his first restaurant – in 2016 and it takes up residence in a stunning Grade II listed building.
It should be on your itinerary for the excellent food quality and is a great spot to refuel with a small plate (or two) and/or a glass of wine before re-joining the circular City Walls route. If you fancy a break from the walls then crossing over the River Ouse leads to the heart of many must see spots including the Minster, Yorkshire Museum and York Art Gallery to name a few.
All in all, Skosh is an extraordinary choice to replenish your stores as you weave through the streets of this historic city.
Art of Protest Gallery, 11 Walmgate, York, Yorkshire, YO1 9TX - Visit now
For a city steeped in Medieval history, you might be surprised to learn that York also has a thriving modern arts scene and trendy streets to boot. We recommend heading to the Art of Protest Gallery (AOP) on Walmgate which showcases contemporary pieces – street art, advertising collateral, and tattoo work from UK based creators whose works are mostly exhibited internationally and therefore hard to come by in the flesh.
To continue exploring the trendier parts of York, pootle across to Spark: York for a bite to eat. Spark, a maze of shipping containers that have been repurposed as vessels for street food-jaunts, event spaces, and independent shops is full of hipster vibes – you would be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled across Manchester’s Hatch and therefore, it’s a topnotch place to stop for a well-earned pint.
Lotte Inch Gallery, 14 Bootham, York, Yorkshire, YO30 7BL - Visit now
Following a successful series of popup iterations, the Lotte Inch Gallery has been a permanent resident of York for several years now. The owner, who was previously a National Trust worker carefully curates a beautiful gallery space with exhibitions that change regularly. There’s also a wisely sourced range of collectable ceramics, design items, jewellery and gifts to complement the exhibitions which visitors can purchase as keepsakes.
The gallery is central to pretty much everything – with York Minster a mere five-minute walk away, and the main Art Gallery even closer than that. Given the National Trust connection it would be remiss not to highlight the lovely Deans Park which sits on the northside of York Minster and can be accessed on foot from the gallery passing by Bootham Bar. Dean’s park park is home to the striking Cathedral Library and provides spectacular views of the Minster. In the summer, it’s a prime picnic spot and keen photographers appreciate the unique framing and series of remnant stone archways thought to be late 12th century.
York Castle Museum, Tower St,, York, Yorkshire, YO1 9RY - Visit now
York Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and the museum itself was launched in 1938 and is based in the prison buildings which were built on the site in the 18th century. Here visitors get to experience life in a real 18th-century lockup! Other highlights include a Victorian street where visitors experience life as it was – in incredibly accurate depiction. It’s also home to a vast collection of costumes and artifacts and the museum grounds and lawn area are perfect for a run around with the little ones.
From here it is only a five-minute stroll to the JORVIK Viking Centre and if you take the route down Castlegate, you’ll pass by the imposing English Heritage owned Clifford’s Tower which is a destination in itself – providing panoramic views (once you’ve scaled the steps) and tours. Jorvik Viking Centre is one of York’s most notable museums and a heaven for Horrible Histories fans. Once inside, visitors are transported back to the dark ages in exhibitions featuring costumes, models, lights sounds and realistic smells. A mooch between the Castle Museum and JORVIK Viking Centre is a great way to pack in plenty of history – befitting of a Medieval city like this.