Gray stone walls and narrow streets define York, a city that has played a pivotal role in England’s history for more than two millennia. This half-day walking tour with a private guide will illuminate the city’s antecedents, including the gatehouses, walls, and medieval churches, as well as tiny alleyways shaded by canted houses.
Your walking tour begins at Bootham Bar, once the most-used gatehouse of the city because it protected the northern road that led straight to Scotland. The bar (gatehouse) is topped by three stone figures — a soldier, a townsperson and a civic person — which hints at the prevalence and importance of York’s guilds, which represented each trade and regulated its practice and apprenticeship, as well as the quality and price of its goods.
Continue along the ancient city walls if you wish; the best section is between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar. The steps are fairly narrow and uneven, but the ascent rewards you with sweeping views across the rooftops.
York’s walls are the longest of any city in England and stretch for two and a half miles, although there's a short break where the local government in the early 1800s began to dismantle them for their stone. This demolition was halted to preserve the city’s heritage, and the remainder of the walls still encircle the oldest part of York.
You’re well placed now to explore the York Minster area of the city. The street to the east of the minster contains some beautiful early buildings, including the old Church Court, which is a popular filming location for TV shows and movies.
The minster itself, formally known as the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, is the cathedral of York. Highlights include the intricate Gothic nave, the circular Rose Window and the stained-glass West Window, which is known as the Heart of Yorkshire thanks to the motif of its traceries.
From the minster, you progress through streets and snickelways (a term specific to York, meaning tiny alleyways) to the Holy Trinity Church of Goodramgate, whose simplicity contrasts well with the grandeur of York Minster. The church contains a rare example of intact Georgian family pews, and its uneven flagstone floor is the result of the foundations shifting over time.
The tour ends with an exploration of the Shambles, the narrowest street in the city whose medieval overhanging houses lean precariously toward each other.