The City of York has an enormous history, from the Romans, Angles, Vikings, Normans, Georgians, Victorians through to the modern day. This history is reflected in the cities architecture. Let's discover it today!
Clifford's Tower is the remnant of a Norman castle keep. The two castles sat side by side with the River Ouse flowing between, originally constructed in wood.
Around the city you will see fascinating architecture that reflects various eras. The Shambles consists of overhanging timber-framed buildings that cast shade on the butchers stalls below.
York goes beyond cathedrals, towers, walls and cobbled streets. York also features stunning stately homes such as the Treasurer's House, Mansion House, Fairfax House as well as a plethora of grand architecture to explore and admire.
York has been the birthplace of three family confectioners, Rowntree's, Terry's and Craven's. York has also played a major part in the development of the railways too!
The City of York has been the birthplace and home of several historical characters including Dick Turpin the notorious highwayman, Guy Fawkes who failed in his attempt to blow up Parliament and more!
Introduction to the City of York Smartphone Tour
In our City of York Smartphone Tour, you can discover many of York’s top attractions and learn a little more about them. The guides are designed to be concise and you can follow the route using your smartphone.
We begin our tour at one of York’s focal points, the Museum Gardens. The entrance can be found next to Lendal Bridge on Museum Street, close to the City Library (YO1 7FR).
City of York Smartphone Tour
A city park may seem an unusual place to begin a tour of the City of York, but in fact the Museum Gardens consist of many historical structures concentrated in one area. It is home to an abbey, a Roman wall and tower, one of the first purpose built museums, a gatehouse, a timber-framed guest house, a former medieval hospital, a purpose built observatory, as well as an abbots lodging. All these are situated in an historic botanical garden that is popular with visitors and residents. If you arrive at the right time, you may also witness the RSPB featuring some birds of prey too!
The Museum Gardens is an historic botanical garden that is 10 acres in size that meets the River Ouse. The area was originally the grounds of St Mary’s Abbey. The gardens and Yorkshire Museum were created in the 1830’s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. The gardens are a huge green space with vibrant beds as well as a story telling area.
As you walk through the gates to the park you can see what is left of the largest medieval hospital in England, St Leonard’s Hospital. However, it wasn’t what we might imagine a hospital to be. The remnants of the structure (that you can enter) is part of the chapels undercroft. The hospital was so large that it formed part of the Minster’s grounds and covered where the Theatre Royal stands today. Sadly, the hospital was dissolved in the suppression of the monasteries under Henry VIII in 1539.
Immediately next door to St Leonard’s stands what is left of the original Roman wall, although the Roman stoneworks is below the orange band that you see (the smaller stones). We cover this more in the York City Walls Smartphone Tour.
If you follow the path around the tower you will see a path through the wall on the other side. This takes you to the reverse of the tower.
In its heyday the tower was a roomed structure, and sadly this is the only original Roman tower left as the others were demolished by the Vikings. You can see from the ruins the form that the tower would have taken.
You get to receive further views of St Leonard’s Hospital here by walking up to it from the other side. You can also follow the path to the city library to get a view of the wall and window.
The Yorkshire Museum is one of the first purpose built museums in England and opened in 1830 to house the collections of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. Its first owner was the famous geologist who was known as John Phillips. You can see a plaque at the gatehouse we visit shortly. The Yorkshire Museum still contains many collections and exhibitions today and is one of York’s top attractions.
Although a ruin, St Mary’s Abbey is the most predominant structure in the Museum Gardens. It was the largest, the most powerful and richest Benedictine abbeys in England. It began at the time of William the Conqueror (1066) when he wanted to solidify his presence in the north of England. Sadly, the abbey was dissolved in 1539 owing to the suppression of the monasteries when Henry VIII reformed the church. Many of the abbey’s in the country constructed before this time are ruins as they were stripped of their roofs and largely left to decay. It is recommended to walk between the abbey and museum to get an idea on the sheer size of the structure.
Although it has been covered up of late, you may see the grave of William Etty (his statue is found in Exhibition Square) in the churchyard of St Olave’s Church. He was a Victorian painter who painted nudes in historical scenes. He also fought against the Corporation of York to protect the walls from being demolished as it was considered they hampered the flow of traffic.
Returning back to the path that cuts through the middle of the park you and turn right, you will find the gatehouse for the abbey. This is known as St Mary’s Lodge and its the current offices for the York Museum Trust. The walls were added later in 1260 and they came in particularly useful when it came to privacy and protecting the abbey and grounds. The poor were to claim alms at the gatehouse.
Walking through the gateway and turning right you certainly cannot miss St Olave’s Church. It was built by an Earl of Northumbria and was dedicated to St Olaf of Norway. He was the warrior King of Norway who converted Norway to Christianity. As mentioned, the churchyard features the grave of William Etty and the church bells are somewhat historic!