Walks around York reveal a lively cathedral city full of Roman and medieval history, superb architecture and scenic beauty. Built at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, York was Northern England’s principal settlement for many centuries and this status is still evident today in its many grand buildings and structures. From its city walls to its impressive cathedral, the city is an open book for historians.
York’s ancient snickleways (narrow alleyways) and cobbled streets cram in quaint boutiques, cosy tea rooms and traditional pubs, perfect for breaking up a long walk. The River Ouse’s ings, a Norse term for water meadows and marshes, are a sublime place to amble alongside the region’s most vibrant wildlife.
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Roman around the city
Many of the best walking routes around York explore sites that reveal the city’s rich history. Founded in 71 AD as Eboracum, it was the capital of the Roman province Britannia Inferior, which stretched from the Midlands up to Hadrian’s Wall. It retained this status as the chief settlement of the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria and Jórvík respectively.
Unsurprisingly, York is full of architectural wonder and plenty of fascinating objectives to visit on strolls around the centre. The city is dominated by its cathedral, York Minster, a Gothic masterpiece and one of the largest such buildings in Northern Europe.
Just to the north of where the River Foss empties into the Ouse stands York Castle. Commonly referred to as Clifford’s Tower, the castle has witnessed a tumultuous history, including use as a prison. Today it is a Grade I-listed building under the stewardship of English Heritage and is open to the public.
Go for a bar crawl on the city’s walls
The city’s medieval walls, which date back to the Roman era, make for some of the most glorious walks around York. The fortifications are full of interest and historical sights, such as the grand bars (gatehouses) of Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar. These elaborate structures were built to extract tolls, restrict traffic and act as defensive strongholds, and each has its own unique character.
For some of the most quirky walks around York, venture into the centre and you can discover the city’s ancient snickleways, narrow alleys that put one in mind of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. These characterful streets, many medieval in origin, have equally characterful names, such as Mad Alice Lane and Nether Hornpot Lane. After getting thoroughly lost in this labyrinthe of ancient alleys, you can always duck into a traditional pub.
An excuse to let loose on the Ouse
For watery hikes around York, you can follow one of its rivers. Both the Ouse and the Foss feature riverside paths that can take you from the city centre and out to more tranquil environments, such as the 30-acre Rowntree Park or the Fulford Cross Nature Reserve. Almost a tenth of the United Kingdom’s flower-rich ancient flood meadows are found in the city, while both the city’s rivers are inhabited by otters and water voles.
Explore more of England: Browse the best Hikes in other regions.