After having been to York many many times over the last couple of years and always being disappointed that the iconic Clifford’s Tower of York Castle has been covered in scaffolding… today it finally re-opened after it’s radical £5m transformation to protect the interiors and improve the experience for visitors. We must admit that the changes are quite significant… having a new wooden roof deck about 10m above the base level which allows visitors to move safely while enjoying the panoramic views and some of the most iconic structures of York!
Throughout history, York Castle and Clifford’s tower have played a crucial role, witnessing dramatic and sometimes tragic events. The tower was the site of a massacre in the 12th century and was damaged by an explosion and fire in 1684… you can still see the red colour on the stones inside the tower that was caused by the fire!
So here is how our visit unfolded….
We wanted to be one of the first visitors inside to check out the renovations, so we headed to York early on opening day, keen to see the new developments of the historic 800 year old tower.
We’re some of the first to arrive in the car park and it’s a beautiful sunny morning, perfect to capture some photos of the tower with the Spring daffodils swaying in the breeze.
The tower looks great from all angles… each side gives a different profile against the backdrop of the sun, daffodils, and staircase going up to the entrance, but the doors don’t open until 10am, so we have enough time to head into town and grab some breakfast (and gifts) from The Shambles Market.
When we get back to the tower after having a delicious (but far too heavy) breakfast, the crowds are already flooding through the doors, so we join the queue and follow everyone up the staircase and through the huge wooden door.
We had pre-booked our visit with English heritage. You can easily book a visit to the Clifford’s tower in advance and save money on – https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/cliffords-tower-york/ So, after showing our English Heritage membership card, we enter the tower and are welcomed by a vast and impressive staircase and network of platforms leading up to a huge hole in the roof… a great blend of modern architecture set against the ancient stone walls.
A big information sign is positioned inside the door explaining the floor plan and how we can explore the tower, which you can also scan a QR code to listen to as an audio guide or link to a webpage to read on your phone as you wander around the cavernous room.
After exploring all of the doorways and alcoves, we take the new staircase up to the mezzanine level and view the tower from a different vantage point, looking down on the arriving visitors below, and glimpsing other famous sights of York through the narrow windows.
This new raised level has opened up access to Royal rooms previously inaccessible for over 300 years, including King Henry III’s toilet!
Taking the patched up stone spiral staircases inside the tower walls takes us up another level to a new roof terrace wooden deck, with amazing 360 views of York, including the beautiful York Cathedral on the other side of the city. From the top of Clifford’s Tower, you can also locate the City Walls at a distance, St Mary Bishophill Junior-A parish church which is the oldest surviving building in York today (built in 1066 at the time of Norman Conquest), York centre and the aerial view of the city museum right at the front also looks quite cool!
The large hole in the roof has been left to allow the elements into the tower, and allows us to lean over and see the inside from a different viewpoint again. And on the decking there are amphitheatre style seats… with the sun shining like it is, it’s just a shame there isn’t a bar up here to get some beers!
After reading the information signs all around the top which tell different parts of the tower’s and York’s history, we relax for a while admiring the stunning views, before starting our descent back to the exit and the car park.
We’d never been inside the tower before it closes for renovations so we can’t quite compare… but the new additions are amazing, giving access to the previously hidden rooms and opening up those stunning views for miles around!
When was Clifford’s Tower built ?
The original mound of Clifford’s Tower, was once a site of timber keep constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068 as a statement of his power over the region. The stone tower that stands today was built in the mid 13th century
Where to park while visiting Clifford’s Tower?
The Castle Car Park York-YO1 9WY is right next to the Clifford’s Tower and in front of the City Museum. It is a bit expensive though! (approx £11 for 4 hours!)
What happened at Clifford’s Tower?
1. In 1190, York Castle witnessed one of the most infamous events in English History, the massacre and suicide of York’s Jewish Community. The royal officers sheltered about 150 Jewish people inside ‘the king’s tower’- almost certainly the site of Clifford’s Tower.
2. Back in 1537, a brutal and public execution took place at Clifford’s tower. Robert Aske, a Yorkshire lawyer and rebel leader against King Henry VIII, was hanged in chains from the tower.