5 places where you can see Roman remains in York (3 are free)

York is a city famous for its rich history. However, York’s Roman past can be hard to find on your first trip to the city, as most of the historic buildings are younger. Here is a list of five places where you can see some real Roman remains in York (three of them are free) and a little bit of York’s Roman history!

The Roman city of York was founded in 71AD as an outpost fort and later a city called Eboracum. The Roman Empire was quite late to Britain. Rome had colonised Spain in 206BC, the Greeks in 146BC and France in the 1st century BC, yet they didn’t manage to take Britain until 43AD. Only Germany was conquered later- a defeat that ultimately led to the downfall of the Roman Empire, but that’s a topic for another time.

The Romans extensively colonised the south of England, but their presence in the north was less established, because of the perpetual threat from the Picts in what is now Scotland. Additionally, the cost of over-extending the Roman Republic was starting to take its toll on Rome’s ability to defend itself in every direction, due both to money and manpower.

When the Roman Empire went into decline and withdrew between 405 and 420AD, York remained populated, and ultimately grew into the city you see today.

It is estimated that only two per-cent of ancient Eboracum has been excavated. This is because the city expanded enormously during the medieval period and a lot of this was built over the remains of the older, Roman city.

I love discovering aspects of a city’s past, especially somewhere like York where there’s so much of it. Here are five places with Roman remains that you can find yourself (three are free) on your York adventure, plus a sixth bonus statue that isn’t Roman, but it’s of a Roman Emperor.

Roman Baths

The Roman baths are, funnily enough, situated beneath the floor of the pub Roman Bath. What you will see here are the excavated remains (you can’t take a bath here). You will spot them immediately on entering the pub.

If you’re wondering, the type of bath here was most likely a balneae, a small public or private bath, not a grand Imperial thermae. This bath was used by the Roman army which occupied York, and was probably built by them. The remains of other Roman baths have been found around the city, but the ones at Roman Bath pub are the only ones that you can go and see. If you visit, remember this is a pub and a business. You don’t need to pay entry, but you can support the bath by buying a drink.

Roman Column

An 8m tall column sits outside the Minster. It was one of many which supported the Basilica–a huge Roman building. The Roman Column was discovered in 1969, during excavations around York Minster. It was raised and left on display near where it was found. It was donated to the city by the Dean and Chapter. Unfortunately, the builders made a terrible mistake and it is, in fact, upside-down.

To find it, head to the main entrance of York minster. From the entrance, locate the black metal gates that can be used to close the road. The column is on the right of the railings, near the school. Free access 24/7.

The Basilica

More of the Basilica can be seen in the Undercroft of York Minster, where the foundations have been excavated. The Basilica was built in 100AD, only 29 years after Eboracum was founded. It was a huge civic building intended for use as a courthouse and other public functions. Usually, basilicas were sited next to a forum, but none has been discovered in York, yet (also missing: York’s Colosseum).

You can visit the Undercroft by going inside the Minster and buying a ticket. There are three different areas of the Minster with separate tickets; be sure to get a ticket specifically for the Undercroft to see the Roman remains of York’s basilica.

The Roman wall

The Romans built walls around many of their settlements. Most archaeologists will tell you walls are there to keep invaders out, but Bar-Yosef put forward an alternative idea in 1986 which deserves more attention; walls can be used as a flood defence and to prevent mud flows damaging the city. Walls also keep people in. It is much easier to control a population when they can’t simply get up and leave, and it’s also easier to find criminals and to accurately collect taxes inside a walled city.

Most of the Roman wall actually lies beneath the Medieval wall you can walk on. The Roman remains are tucked within the embankment that holds up the Medieval walls. But in a little green area, beside a car park on Museum Street, there’s an exposed area of the original Roman walls. From the art gallery, walk to the gate of King’s Manor and don’t go inside. Instead, go left along the pavement toward the theatre (don’t cross the road).

The Roman wall is immediately on your right.

The Yorkshire Museum

Of course, you’re going to find a lot more of York’s Roman artefacts if you visit a museum. The Yorkshire Museum holds quite a collection of small finds, including the reconstructed Coppergate helmet (which the reconstructors got wrong, I believe the museum now goes into detail on this). There are also Roman sarcophagi and other large items like a mosaic floor and a wall fresco. I think a better way to present the past is to do what they do in Athens and leave it in-situ but put protective glass over it, so the past becomes part of today’s buildings, retaining the context of where they were found. However, this is why I don’t work in a museum.

So there you have it. Five places you can see York’s Roman past.

And the sixth (not quite Roman)…

As a bonus, check out the statue of Constantine outside the Minster. This isn’t a Roman find, but was created later to memorialise the Emperor due to his ties with the city. His father Emperor Constantius is one of two Roman emperors who died in the City of York (the other is the African-Roman who became Emperor of Rome, Septimus Severus). Constantine the Great (pictured below) was the first Christian Emperor of Rome, legitimising the religion in 312AD and paving the way for its widespread acceptance in Europe.

CC Zero

5 Best Pubs inside York’s Walls

With so many pubs to visit in York, how do you know which ones to prioritize? You can’t really go wrong with any pub in York, they’re all fantastic (there’s so much competition, they have to be), but these are the very best pubs that you should really go and see:

Roman Bath

Sounds like… a bath? Nope. This is a pub. They are also a live music venue. Built on top of an original Roman bath. The columns are still visible and there’s a glass floor where you can see the remains. Incredible. And often busy. But still an essential visit on any York trip.

House of the Trembling Madness (Stonegate)

This is a traditional medieval building where you can go and drink. If it’s a quiet day, you can also get a seat and eat a meal here. Don’t want to pay to look around the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall? Go here instead and buy a drink. Absolutely incredible setting. They are open all day and late into the night. Famously, they don’t take reservations and if you go at peak times, you will probably need to drink standing up. But the sheer amount of people who do this is testament to the fact it’s worth it. There is a second House of the Trembling Madness on Lendal, now. I haven’t been there so don’t know what they’ve done with the place but the original is top notch.

The Golden Fleece

This pub has quite a decent capacity compared to some of the others inside the walls. This place is dripping with history (and a ghost…) but it’s still retained its character as a normal pub where you can hang out with your friends or family. It’s also highly rated as York’s most haunted pub, although I’ve been in there about a dozen times and I’ve never seen anything spooky. In fact, I suspect a lot of the bad reviews for this place are people who think ghosts are there to perform for them on cue (weird). Still, well worth a gander.

The Duke of York

This oak-beamed medieval pub is on the end of the Shambles in King’s Square, so if you go on a Monday around 7:30pm it’s the absolute best place to have a pint and catch a glimpse of the Ebor Morris, who dance traditional English folk dance in the square once a week. You can’t find much better than that for entertainment. It’s a Leeds Brewery pub, so you’ll be supporting local Yorkshire brewing when you visit, too.

The Black Swan

This one dates back to the 15th Century, and it’s a pub with rooms. They serve a range of real ale and have food available, too. Situated inside the walls on Stonebow, it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the most historic parts of York and they often have live music from local bands. What I really like about The Black Swan is you get to eat and drink like a local, as very few tourists make the short walk over to this part of the city, so you can soak up the real Yorkshire ambience in this true hidden gem.

Of course, with the number of pubs in York, I’m sure lots of people will be wondering why Pub X or Pub Y didn’t make this list. It’s true that you can’t really go wrong with any pub in York, but if you’re here as a visitor with limited time, these are the five pubs you really need to experience.