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York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

Visit York and North Yorkshire through Video

The video below is pertaining to the York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks where we follow the medieval walls from Bootham Bar to the Multangular Tower in Museum Gardens. Let’s makes some steps through history!

Watch York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

York in Focus Episode

There are two individual episodes for York City Walls. The York in Focus episode contains more historical information in the form of a guided tour. The Best North Yorkshire Walks version contains brief information about the city walls from a walkers point of view.

York Walls Places to Visit in North Yorkshire

Best North Yorkshire Walks Version

Contains brief information about the city walls from a walkers point of view.

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

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Introduction to York City Walls

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

In this episode we will be taking a relatively easy but feature packed circular walk around North Yorkshire’s most historic city. Not only will we be burning calories today, but we will also be viewing some of York’s points of interest at city wall level.

York is the principle city in North Yorkshire populated with many historic structures including the largest gothic cathedral in Europe, the remnants of a Norman castle, Victorian and Georgian town houses as well as some unique structures such as the medieval walls we are going to walk upon today.

It is fitting to start at Bootham Bar, not only because of the stepped access at the wall end, but also because of the statue of William Etty. Etty was a Victorian painter and his work was somewhat risqué because he painted nude historical scenes. However, he was a notable figure in preventing the Victorians from demolishing the city walls as he campaigned to have them preserved. The council at the time considered them to hinder traffic, and also created arches for trains to pass through which Etty also campaigned about.

You might mistake another wall opposite as part of the medieval city walls. However, in actual fact these walls belonged to St Mary’s Abbey making it the largest walled abbey in England.

Bootham Bar

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

However, we are going to start our walk at the most northerly gateway, Bootham Bar. You can say hi to the three figures on the top, an architect holding a model of the bar, a defender of the city as well as a former Lord Mayor of York.

The steps up to the wall are not original steps. Obviously, steps would defeat the object of a defensive wall. These are in fact a Victorian addition. In any case, we use them to mount the medieval walls and discover something of particular interest as soon as we start.

As you enter the structure you will see the large wooden mesh gate that was lowered to keep out the unwanted. It’s proper name is a portcullis and the gateway would have also had a barbican in its day and we come to a fine example of one of these later at Walmgate.

So we are now going to take a relatively short walk from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar via Robin Hood Tower. Dog’s are not permitted on the wall, and during the Coronavirus pandemic, the walls are closed as it is impossible to social distance.

You will discover passing places however, small towers, where you can look over the wall and see Gillygate below. It is important to remember that gate means street and bar means barrier. This is why the city walls are sometimes referred to York Bar Walls, or barrier walls.

Another point of note that the bar walls walk is not suitable for everyone. Although it is achievable for the able bodied person, it is not recommended for those with mobility issues and they might benefit more at street level.

Views of the Minster

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

You will soon notice some views of the minster past the overhanging trees. You will more than likely get to see the huge central tower which originally was to have a spire adding another 100ft amazingly. The spire was never constructed because the central tower would have collapsed under its weight. In the nearest front tower, or west tower, is the large 10.8 ton bell known as Great Peter. This is the bell that not only gives you a headache, but gongs the hour. If you want to take a recording of it on your phone, I recommend standing in Dean Park next to the tower.

In summer, this section of the wall is not always the best place to see the minster when the trees are adorned with leaves. The best views of the minster in my opinion are at the opposite end of this walk, but more on this later!

Robin Hood’s Tower

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

On the right angle in the wall structure is a tower known as Robin Hood’s tower. You might wonder what connection does Robin Hood have with York? Well, in brief, this particular tower is not of medieval origin, it was constructed by the Victorians. It was the Victorian’s that named the tower, and built it on how they imagined a tower would look.

In my own opinion, I think the Victorian’s tampered somewhat with the walls which is more than likely why William Etty campaigned a great deal, even helping to establish the York Footpath’s Association at the time. We see further evidence of tampering as we walk further.

The tower forms a great seating area to view the cathedral and gardens and you will also see St John’s College from here as well as Lord Mayor’s Walk too.

As you walk further, you will notice a sort of turret with a cross in it to fire an arrow. In fact, this turret was also of Victorian origin and design contains their own leaning on how one would look! See what I mean about tampering?

One important point about this section of wall is that it follows the original path of the Roman walls that fortified a fortress that once existed here. At the end of this walk, I will show you the Multangular Tower which contains part of the original Roman walls.

You will see Monk Bar approaching in the distance with one of York’s five star hotels on the right hand side of you close to the Minster. There is actually an old Roman street on the right hand side too.

You also get to see some of the expanse of stained glass including the Great East Window at the rear of York Minster. Don’t forget to look down from time to time as there are markers embed in the wall. On this occasion, you will see the original position of the original Roman gateway, way before Monk Bar was built.

Monk Bar Gateway

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

As you approach the tallest Gateway at 63ft, you will notice that Monk Bar has 4 storeys which were each able to defend itself separately.

You walk through an arch were you will see the entrance for the Richard III Experience who was once the Duke of Gloucester who last his life at the Battle of Bosworth. We walk down the narrow but lit stairwell to street level where we can have a look at the gateway.

As you go underneath the pedestrian arch, you will notice a model shop that has been around since the early 1960’s, so it is somewhat of an historical feature in itself. The best part of course is seeing the model trains, planes, boats and other vehicles in the window display!

Monk Bar has some very menacing looking figures on top known as the ‘Wild Men of York’. These were to come alive and hurl down stones at invaders, which of course was a myth to prevent invasion.

The steps back up to the wall are logically on the opposite side of the road, so take care when crossing! You will notice in the wall are some square loops for muskets which came in useful during the civil war. You also get to see the opposite east side of the huge gateway too.

More less immediately afterwards, you will see a fine medieval guildhall on the right known as the Merchant Taylor’s Hall. The original Great Hall dates back to 1415 and is made of red brick.

You will discover a further tower or too where you can look over the wall. It is around this point that we leave the the path of the original Roman walls. When the Danes invaded, much of the Roman walls were in poor repair and the Vikings rebuilt them but in wood. The walls we see today were rebuilt in stone during medieval times, with or course some Victorian tampering.

You’ll notice an engraving for “Jewbury” because a large Jewish burial ground was discovered when a new Sainsbury and accompanying multi-storey car park was being constructed.

This is a good place to see the wall from the outside owing to it being pretty curvaceous at this point.

Yes, some may conclude that part of the walls are missing at this point but this is not the case. The River Foss was damned up by William the Conqueror in order to create a kings fish pool which met the end of the wall were originally a tower would have stood.

When crossing the roads here, please be extremely careful and use the dedicated crossings for safety. To get back on to the walls, we simply follow the River Foss until we come to the Red Tower, the only red brick structure on the city walls.

Layerthorpe Break

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

As you walk on the left hand side of the River Foss, you will see a small iron footbridge known as Monk Bridge. The Foss is York’s second river and also the smallest. It merges with the Ouse a little further on our travels. The river is quite scenic here and attracts waterfowl such as Canada geese, ducks and moorhen. You may even be gifted with a swan or two or perhaps some other lesser spotted bird.

Monk Bridge dates back to 1931 and sadly not open to the public as it links to the current DEFRA site. It was constructed to improve communications between the power station and cooling tower in its day. Of course, these don’t exist any more.

One structure that certainly won’t get missed is the enormous grade II listed chimney that served the former waste destructor here, sometimes referred to as Morrison’s Chimney.

Red or Dead

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

The Red Tower is where we mount the city walls again. This is the only red brick structure on the city walls. It caused a great deal of dispute during its construction because the stone mason’s sabotaged the tilers work on the structure, even to the point of murdering one of the tilers. This is because the stone mason’s wanted to construct the tower. The tower has recently been restored and even won the York Design Award.

The way back onto the walls is around the back of the tower, again using some steps to achieve wall level.

This reasonably short section takes us to Walmgate Bar, and this gateway contains enormous interest. Watch this space! The wall takes you by a retail centre on your left as well as a social housing development on the right.

Walmgate Bar

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

I mention that the city walls are closed during a global pandemic, but they are also closed in severe weather such as when it is icy. They generally open around 7-8am, and close before dark.

The first sign of Walmgate Bar you will more than likely see is the white Elizabethan extension to the rear of it. Walmgate Bar has a cafe currently known as Gatehouse Coffee. It is somewhat unique because this cafe offers seating around the barbican. The barbican is an external structure outside the front gate that would trap invaders between the gate of the barbican and the gate of the gateway.

Although a cycle way, you can walk through the 15th century solid oak doors into the barbican area. If you do, please be careful of cycles entering through the arch of the barbican. What makes this gateway fantastic is that it is the most intact in the country. It still has its portcullis, or gate to you and I, as well as the barbican to trap invaders where defenders of the city would run along the wall tops and fire down on the invaders below. These days they just drink coffee and eat a bun on the wall tops which is far less fatal. If you should visit the cafe, I’m afraid you’re not allowed to hurl rock cakes at the cyclists unless you’re one of the wild men of York.

Unfortunately, when filming for Best North Yorkshire Walks, not everything goes to plan all the time.

Hit a Wall

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

Yes, you could say that our filming this morning has literally hit a wall. In any case, the show much go on! For the benefit of those who have mobility issues, we are going walk beside the wall at street level, at least until we reach Fishergate Postern Tower not far away.

Carefully crossing the road, you can get a full view of the most complete medieval gateway in the country. Motorised traffic in recent times is diverted around it to preserve the structure. All four main gateways will have looked like this with a barbican at the front.

However, we are going to continue our walk by following the wall towards Kent Street and admire the vibrant hanging baskets en route.

In a way, I favour this blunder because it has given us opportunity to see the walls from the outside. In medieval times, cattle grazed along the banks and was taken to The Shambles where they would be slaughtered and sold on shelves beneath the shade of the overhanging buildings. However, Walmgate Bar was not the gateway used to usher in the grazing cattle.

On the left hand side of the road you will discover York Barbican which is renown for hosting the UK Snooker Championships. However, it also serves as a venue for all manner of live entertainment too.

Fishergate Bar

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

The earliest references to Fishergate Bar date back to the 14th century but the red stone reveals 1487 as the date. After a peasant revolt, the gateway was bricked up for a time until the bricks were removed to allow better access to the cattle market.

The problem here of course is these two Chinese tourists cannot understand why the gate is locked to access the walls. I cannot understand their language to explain to them they can access the walls at Walmgate Bar. However, they should be thankful that they are facing locked gates and not the wild men of York who undoubtedly would be throwing rocks upon them if the stories were true!

Richard Turpin or John Palmer?

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

The famous highway man Dick Turpin who’s real name was John Palmer was caught just east of York by shooting a cockerel that woke him up. Not only did he shoot the cockerel but he also shot himself in the foot. In any case, you can see his gravestone which is found just through Fishergate Bar in a graveyard. The graveyard has only one upright gravestone which belongs to him.

Fishergate Postern Tower

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

Just a view footsteps away is the stunning Fishergate Postern Tower. Again some may conclude that there is a gap in the wall, which in fairness there is. However, remember that the Foss was damned up by William the Conqueror, again forming the King’s fish pool. The artificial lake was very marshy so it was difficult for invaders to cross. The fish obviously came from the River Foss which is on the opposite side of the road. The tower incidentally has also been restored and is open several times a year to the public.

The Castle

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

One of the Norman castles was located on the opposite side of the River Foss where the Castle Museum resides. You can still see some of the castle walls today. Much of what is left of the castle is Clifford’s Tower the castle keep. However, the original castle was constructed in wood and upgraded to stone. Where the Castle Museum is situated was part of a moated castle complex which was linked to Cliffords Tower. In fact, it was not the only castle as another castle existed nearby with the River Ouse flowing between them.

It is at St George’s Field where York’s two rivers merge and a huge chain was lowered and raised between the two castles to prevent ships entering and also leaving without paying their taxes.

We on the other hand cross Skeldergate Bridge and getting a view of the tour boats heading towards Ouse Bridge which is almost at the site of York’s oldest bridge in Viking times.

After crossing the Ouse, you will see a small tower to re-access the city walls at Baile Hill. As you have probably noticed by now, the walls are not wheelchair friendly as there are a number of steps around the circuit.

Baile Hill

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

I think this has to be one of my favourite sections but then I enjoy it all. It is always a great idea to lean over every now and then to get an external glance as you are going along. I always try to encourage not rushing on a North Yorkshire walk because you can miss way too much if you are not careful.

At times you will notice that there isn’t a railing on the opposite side of the wall leaving a slight drop. The height is not usually that significant but please take care and try not to get too close to the edge.

Bitchdaughter Tower

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

Your opinion of me is bound to change when I tell you that the approaching tower is known as Bitchdaughter Tower. Although it sounds as if I am being impertinent this is actually its real name and it is unknown why owing to a lack of records. In any case, it is what it is and to be fair, it does have a familiar medieval sound to it.

At this point the wall follows Nunnery Lane towards Micklegate Bar, the last of our four major gateways on the city walls. However, before we reach there, we discover a little more Victorian tampering. The wall alongside Nunnery Lane is very straight and if you lean out you can see straight along either direction.

I’m trying not to associate this large green spikey conker with coronavirus. Still, it looks very much like something the wild men of York would use on any would be invaders.

I think this section is more scenic to me owing to the fact you get to see lots of green trees as well as the grassy earth banks.

Victoria Bar

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

Victoria Bar is our next piece of Victorian tampering as it was the Victorians who created the addition arch into the city. It was intended to give access to houses on Nunnery Lane. The disgraced George Hudson typically named the Railway King opened the arch. He was disgraced because he promised railway investors lots of dividends which never came about. You may have noticed the George Leeman statue on Station Rise which originally was supposed to be George Hudson. However, they replaced his head with that of George Leeman, kind of like a statue version of Worzel Gummidge.

In any case, the walk continues onwards towards more than likely the most important gateway on the city walls owing to its south facing position. You see Micklegate Bar was the royal entrance to the city and a monarch would have to ask the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter.

Before we arrive there however, you get to see some interesting landscaped gardens in a variety of different tastes.

I am not sure if this is a garden or the scene of a car accident, still it looks impressive nonetheless.

In summer the walls are very popular with tourists from all over the world and very much the UK too. In fact, even residents enjoy a stroll around the walls in nice weather.

Micklegate Bar

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

Like Monk Bar and Richard III, Micklegate Bar hosts the Henry VII Experience. I find this fitting because as they are adversaries it stands to reason that they should be separated at either end of the city.

You can alight the walls here or just walk straight through. However, I would encourage going down the steps and having a look at the bar at street level. On a different level altogether, this bar has a gory story to tell as traitors heads would be boiled in tar and hung on the gateway as a warning. The grand old Duke of York was one of these unfortunate examples.

Sadly, this is the last gateway on our walk around the city walls but for me it is one of the most intriguing owing to its history. If you want to take photos, I advise crossing the road carefully onto Blossom Street to get a complete view. You may even want to shoot upwards to emphasise its height.

One of the things I like about this particular gateway is that it looks equally impressive on the inside. In fact, you can see that it was considered to be the most important gateway into the city by how impressive it looks.

There are steps back up to the wall on both sides of Micklegate, and we now consider the railway themed section of the walls.

It’s All About the Railway

York City Walls Best North Yorkshire Walks

The majority of us know that after York was a simple market settlement, it became renown for chocolate production as well as a huge railway centre. This section of the wall is a reminder of this fact.

Where the walls right angle, you can see the width of York’s current railway station which was the largest in the world at the time of its completion. It was also an engineering marvel owing to it being constructed in a long curve. However, it superseded an earlier terminus station inside the city walls. These arches allowed trains through and William Etty was very much against their construction. This is another example of Victorian tampering!

The first station was a simple wooden construction on Queen Street however. A far cry from the railway station we see today. You’ll also see the large Victorian hotel which was formerly the Royal York Hotel. There is irony in this name because not one single member of the Royal family has ever stayed here. Today it is known as The Principal Hotel.

A new hotel is being constructed inside the city walls as you can see here, and being overshadowed by the city walls will probably make it the most fortified hotel in the world. In any case, this engraving reveals York’s railway history and marks the spot of its early years.

You might remember me mentioning earlier that the Minster can be seen more or less in its fullest here. There is a bylaw that prohibits any construction being taller than the minster in order to preserve its views. In fact, the construction can be seen from many miles around the Vale of York. However, the sight of the Minster helps use to accept more fully that we are nearly at the end of our walk today.

The large brick building you see in front of the minster in shot was once a Victorian gentleman’s club. Today it stands as a pizza restaurant, and I am not sure that many Victorian gentleman would go in there!

At this point it is a good idea to look back and admire the wall you have just scaled without the use of any climbing equipment. In fact, the large archway in which the road runs through is also an example of Victorian tampering as they were created to access the new station!

You may have noticed a large Great War Memorial which looks extremely impressive. However, this is only the railway war memorial and not the city memorial. It resides here because the railway offices once existed in the location until recent times.

The path now ends at Museum Street, but if you remember there is one last exhibit I want to show you and although related to the city walls it is actually located in Museum Gardens.

During the summer in particular, the city is very floral. One of the most exciting times to do this walk is in February and March when the daffodils lace the earth banks beside you.

Crossing over Lendal Bridge which replaced a ferry crossing at this location, you will see the Scarborough railway bridge with a pedestrian section. However, you will notice two stone towers at either side of Lendal Bridge.

The tower you see ahead of you is Lendal Tower which is currently a holiday let. However, like at Skeldergate Bridge, a huge chain stretched across the river to prevent ships entering as well as leaving without paying their taxes.

At the other end of the chain is the almost cone shaped Barker Tower which is currently an eatery. This also once was the ferryman’s cottage when a ferry service to the original terminus station existed.

In Museum Gardens on the right hand side of entry, you will see the Multangular Tower. This tower is one of the original towers belonging to defensive wall protecting the Roman fortress. On the information stone, it mentions 300 A.D. but its thought an earlier tower existed before this time. You will notice that the stones at the top are larger and the stones below the red band are much smaller. The smaller stones are the original Roman work constructed by Roman soldiers. The larger stones above were added in medieval times in the interest of repairs.

Around the left of a tower is an access path to view the rear, and it is not obvious that the path is there to use.

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