When we were in York recently, we knew we had to visit York Minster in York city centre. One of the most famous places in York and such an iconic building across the country, if not the world, it was top of our list to visit.
What is York Minster?
York Minster dominates the skyline and is a an excellent example of early English Gothic architecture. A place of worship has existed on the site since 637 AD, ranging from a wooden structure to small stone buildings. Each of these was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times through the years until a new Gothic structure to rival Canterbury Cathedral was ordered to be built on the site.
Construction of the current York Minster began in 1220 but took many years to complete. This included a new central tower that collapsed in 1407 and the two distinctive western towers. The cathedral was finally declared complete and consecrated in 1472. Now, York Minster is the second largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe and is a site well worth taking the time out to visit.
Visiting York Minster
We arrived and bought tickets on the door, but you can reserve online with a timeslot. The ticket will also give you unlimited free entry for 12 months, so great value for money and you can pay a little extra to be included on an access tour of the Central Tower, if you think you can manage the 275 steps to climb to the top of the tower and admire the views.
As York Minster is a place of worship, we were respectful of this and made sure our children weren’t the ones making noise. They enjoyed the various information boards dotted around the Nave and learned about the history of the building with close up pictures of the ceilings, statues and magnificent stained glass windows.
We followed the map around the Minster, taking in the North Transept and the Five Sisters Window, which is the only memorial in the country to Women of the British Empire who were lost in the First World War. The original window was removed during the war to protect it and replaced with the memorial in 1925.
We also went to Chapter House and took in its vaulted ceiling, which is used for support instead of a central column and is believed to be the earliest example of this new engineering technique. Parts of the floor had also been recently restored by a local company, having been worn away and damaged through the years. Using original techniques, the newer pieces look exactly like the original ones still in place, it really is hard to see the difference!
After walking through the Quire where most of the sung services take place, we were able to admire the East End window, which was recently restored in 2018. At the size of a tennis court, it is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the country and depicts the beginning and end of all things from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, known in the Middle Ages as the Apocalypse. There are several boards around with close ups of the glass and the meanings behind the images. The children loved trying to find the pane of glass they were looking for in the actual window.
The York Minster Crypt
Our journey through the Minster also took us underneath, into the Crypt, which contains a rich array of Norman artefacts. We were drawn to the ominously titled Doomstone’ A survivor from the Norman Age, it illustrates the Mouth of Hell, showing lost souls being boiled alive by demons. Carved from limestone, detailing such as money purses toads are very clear and lets your imagination run wild. When we attended, the Undercroft and Treasury were unfortunately closed.
The York Minster Tower Challenge
Having already conquered St Peters Basilica in the Vatican City and St Paul’s Cathedral in London, we felt we owed it to the Minster to climb the 275 steps up the central tower. When climbing York Minster you need to book a time to attend an accompanied tower trips tour when you first get to the Minster and these are generally every hour from 10am, and are led by volunteers.
The staff are really hot on health and safety with the climb, repeating that only really able people can climb and only children over the age of 8. The narrow spiral staircases can be off-putting, but they all hand handrails and windows at regular intervals.
When we were climbing, we noticed that the step numbers were etched into each one, so we knew how far we had gone and how far we had to go! With a welcome break just after 100 steps, we found ourselves outside crossing towards the central tower with a birds eye view of Minster Yard and St Michael Le Belfrey.
We then went back inside, this time in the main central tower to finish the 72 meter ascent to the top. It took about 10-15 minutes and when we got there we were greeted by a friendly member of staff and had time to wander and enjoy the view at our own pace.
Having braved the 275 steps, we were not disappointed with the magnificent panoramic views of York that the vantage point afforded us. The Central Tower is the highest point in York and we could see literally for miles in every direction, it was a beautifully clear day.
There were information boards on each aspect of the view, pointing out places of interest to find. The children loved finding places we had already visited on our holiday such as the historic City Walls, Clifford’s Tower and the National Railway Museum.
We could have spent ages up there admiring it all, but the cold eventually got the better of us and we decided to make our way down after about 20 minutes having soaked up as much of the view as we could. The descent was the same route down as up, which is why the tours are accompanied so no-one gets stuck en route, making it a one way system.
York Minster was a great morning out and you are welcome to spend as much time as you like there. We found that 2-3 hours was good for the main building and if you are planning on doing the Central Tower climb, allow 45 minutes to an hour for this. You won’t be disappointed if you decide to visit this historical landmark when you’re next in York.
You can find out more about York Minster, check opening times and book tickets over on their website. For reference, the address is: Deangate, York YO1 7HH
Here’s a little Reel we made of our visit: