northern England

York: A Stroll Through the Middle Ages

Nicholas Sterling

One of the best preserved medieval British cities.

The historic city of York, located in Yorkshire County in northern England—and just two hours by train from London—was founded by the Romans in the year 71 A.D. on the banks of the Ouse River to provide shelter for the VI and IX Roman Legions. Later, Constantine the Great, who became famous for introducing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, was crowned at York as emperor of Rome.

York Cathedral.

In 855, the city was conquered by the Vikings, who changed its name to Jorvik. Under Viking rule, it became a major fluvial port and an important commercial center. Much is known about this city during this period thanks to the extensive archaeological excavations conducted in the 1970s. Many well-preserved remains are displayed at the
Jorvik Viking Centre, located in Coppergate. It is one of the most visited museums in the United Kingdom showing what life was like in York at the time of the Vikings.

Almost the capital of England

During the Middle Ages, the city grew in importance, as
King Richard II wanted York to be the capital of England. The city center, or old town, dates from those days and is considered one of the most beautiful in England for its excellent preservation and architectural relevance. Among its many landmarks is the Gothic cathedral, whose construction lasted over 250 years, exactly from 1220 to 1472. With its stunning stained glass windows and imposing facade, it is the emblem of York. If you visit, do not forget to climb the 275 steps of the central tower to admire its extraordinary medieval pinnacles and gargoyles.

York city walls light up at night.

Walls and castles

A good way to get to know York is to stroll around the Norman walls—five kilometers (3 miles) of walls built in the Middle Ages, which still look almost intact many centuries later.

Walk along Shambles, the city’s oldest street, where once stood the butcher’s guild. Today, it is a vestige of what life was like more than 500 years ago. The wooden houses of the period are an unforgettable sight.

The city walls in Springtime.

View of York Minster and Treasurers House

Clifford’s Tower.

Rose window at York Cathedral

Romanesque architecture in York.

Stonegate is another of York’s charming streets. In the past, it hosted goldsmiths and glass manufacturers. Today, it is a place where the tourists buy crafts and enjoy the lovely ambiance of its cafes.

Stonegate Street.

The streets of York maintain their Medieval charm.

Another sight not to be missed is the ruins of the castle of
William the Conqueror, built in 1068 shortly after the Norman conquest. Set on a hilltop, this medieval castle had served as a prison and the Royal Mint House. From this lookout, you can enjoy excellent views of the city.


Every year, the city of York hosts several cultural events, such as the Viking Festival, the Roman Festival, the Jazz Fest, and the Ancient Music Festival, among others.

And if you wish to bring home a delicious souvenir from York, you should know that the town is known as the “Chocolate City” because while neighboring cities acquired their wealth from wool, cotton, and steel, York enriched its coffers with chocolate, featuring big chocolate moguls like
Joseph Rowntree, Georges Cadbury, and Joseph Storrs Fry, who settled in this beautiful city in northern England.

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© | 2019