York was founded by the Romans in 71 AD, under the name of Eboracum. It became in turn the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik. In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading centre and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England, a role it has retained.
The Emperors Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantius I all held court in York during their various campaigns. During his stay, the Emperor Severus proclaimed York capital of the province of Britannia Inferior, and it is likely that it was he who granted York the privileges of a colonia or city. Constantius I died in 306 AD during his stay in York, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the troops based in the fortress.
In the centre of York, in St Helen’s Square, there is the York branch of Bettys Café Tea Rooms. Bettys founder, Frederick Belmont, travelled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary in 1936. He was so impressed by the splendour of the ship that he employed the Queen Marys’ designers and craftsmen to turn a dilapidated furniture store in York into an elegant café in St Helen’s Square. A few years after Bettys opened in York war broke out, and the basement ‘Bettys Bar’, became a favourite haunt of the thousands of airmen stationed around York. ‘Bettys Mirror’, on which many of them engraved their signatures with a diamond pen, remains on display today as a tribute to them.
- York Minster. One of the largest Cathedrals of its kind in Northern Europe alongside Cologne Cathedral. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England, and is the cathedral for the Diocese of York. The first recorded church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter.
- The City Walls. Over a million people a year take a walk through 1900 years of history on York's city walls. Built in Roman times, they've been added to and rebuilt over time and now have parts from across the centuries. Originally built as defences, the focus is now on conservation. Along the walls, many old gates or 'bars' remain intact.
- Jorvik Centre. At JORVIK Viking Centre you are standing on the site of one of the most famous and astounding discoveries of modern archaeology. Thirty years ago the archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik, as it stood 1,000 years ago. They removed eights tonnes of rubble and over 40,000 artefacts! York Archaeological Trust then built the JORVIK Viking Centre on the very site where the excavations had taken place, creating a groundbreaking visitor experience that changed the face of museums. Their determination to recreate a Viking city as authentically as possible from the layout of the houses, the working craftsmen, the language of the gossiping neighbours, to the smells of cooking and the cesspit meant it has now been visited by more than 15 million people during its 25 years of opening.
- York Castle/Clifford's Tower. A fortified complex comprising, over the last nine centuries, a sequence of castles, prisons, law courts and other buildings on the south side of the River Foss. The now-ruinous keep of the medieval Norman castle is sometimes referred to as Clifford's Tower. Built originally on the orders of William I to dominate the former Viking city of York, the castle suffered a tumultuous early history before developing into a major fortification with extensive water defences. After a major explosion in 1684 rendered the remaining military defences uninhabitable, York Castle continued to be used as a jail and prison until 1929.
- The Shambles is a narrow medieval street, lined with shops, boutiques and tea rooms. Most of these premises were once butchers' shops, and the hooks from which carcasses were hung and the shelves on which meat was laid out can still be seen outside some of them.