Time 1–3 hours
Surface All sealed tarmac
Flat? Yes (max gradient 5%)
Car-free? 60% (8.1km) cycleways; 40% (5.1km) quiet roads
Accessible? Whole route fine for trikes, recumbents etc, but some gates may be tricky – details below
Child-friendly? Some sections – details below
The York Orbital cycle route is a well-signed circular ‘ring road’ around the city centre, created in 2012. It’s intended to be functional rather than touristic, so you won’t see any grand historic sights, but it’s actually a fairly pleasant ride in its own right.
It provides convenient access to all areas of York by linking radial routes (right). The historic centre, for instance, is under a kilometre away from the Millennium Bridge, which is a focal point of the Orbital.
The route is waymarked with 26 steel plaques, numbered clockwise.
This web page is a guide to the Orbital, with each stage illustrated and described. We give you brief notes on parks, cafes, ice-cream opportunities, pubs, supermarkets, bike shops and so on, all of them right on the route and clearly visible from it. (Locations mentioned in brackets and in italics, like this, are a short distance off the route.)
In the text below, ‘Path’ means ‘shared use path’, ie a car-free path at the side of the road shared with pedestrians. ‘Cycleway’ means car-free path away from the road shared with pedestrians. ‘Road’ means on-road.
You can download a very useful PDF map (thumbnail, right) from iTravel York’s website at https://www.itravelyork.info/uploads/York_Cycle_Map.pdf
You can also see our route map in detail (illustrated and linked at the top of this page) at https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31393735. From that link, you can download the GPX file of the route.
🚲 🚲 🚲 01 🚲 🚲 🚲
01 Millennium Bridge West 0.0km cycleway/road
Links to: NCN65 riverside route north to city centre and railway station (1.5km), and south to Selby
FACILITIES park • bench • (toilets • picnic tables • cafe 100m)
Start on the pedestrian/cycle Millennium Bridge, a transport and social landmark that’s always pleasantly busy on a fine day. In good weather, a boat sells excellent ice-cream on the eastern bank; we recommend the Lemon Curd. Head west.
To your right is large, popular Rowntree Park. (By its pond is a good cafe that’s also a library. There are also free toilets, two table tennis tables, a big child’s play area, and plenty of grass to picnic on.)
🚲 🚲 🚲 02 🚲 🚲 🚲
02 Bishopthorpe Rd 0.2km road
Links to: ‘Bishy Rd’ area
FACILITIES shop • pub • takeaway
Cross busy Bishopthorpe Road. There’s a small refuge in the middle.
(Down the road a kilometre right is the trendy area of ‘Bishy Rd’, with independent shops, and great cafes and restaurants.)
Head through the South Bank’s terraced streets, a desirable place to live thanks to its proximity to the university via the Millennium Bridge.
Follow the ‘avoid hill’ option by forking left at the sign.
🚲 🚲 🚲 03 🚲 🚲 🚲
03 Albemarle Rd 1.0km cycleway/path
The open green spaces of York Racecourse are to your left.
At the sign, turn sharp left down the slope and follow the path between the Knavesmire’s grassy spaces and some allotments.
Cross a quiet road and follow the path.
🚲 🚲 🚲 04 🚲 🚲 🚲
04 Tadcaster Rd 2.0km path
Links to: Tadcaster Rd; York College; Tesco; Park and Ride
Benches and a small monument mark Tyburn, the site where York held its public hangings until 1801. The highwayman Dick Turpin was among those who came to a sticky, and fragmented, end here. The apparatus used to dispatch the guilty was nicknamed a ‘Three Legged Mare’, now the name of a good city centre pub in Petergate.
A signal crossing takes you right, over busy Tadcaster Rd, to Hob Moor.
On the right you see two ancient monuments.
The smaller is the Plague Stone: victims of the disease housed here in the 17th century paid for food with coins disinfected by placing them here in a pool of vinegar.
The larger is the Hob Stone, a very worn 14th-century effigy of a knight.
Duck under the East Coast Main Line…
…and grapple with the uniquely shaped barrier.
It’s designed to prevent cows, sheep, motorbikes, and unintentionally some cyclists, from accessing the Moor.
A gate at the side for wider wheeled users can be opened with a RADAR key.
Hob Moor is an airy, sweeping space popular with joggers, dog walkers, and well-fed cows.
🚲 🚲 🚲 05 🚲 🚲 🚲
05 Hob Moor 3.0km cycleway/road
Links to: Foxwood; Woodthorpe
At the sign, turn right. You’ll be cycling towards the camera here.
There are a few benches for a picnic if you want to enjoy the space. Now clamber your way over another tank-trap barrier; another RADAR-operated alternative gate is at the side.
Turn right up the quiet residential road.
🚲 🚲 🚲 06 🚲 🚲 🚲
06 Westfield 3.5km road
FACILITIES pub • shop • pharmacy
At the roundabout, turn right along the path, then join the road.
🚲 🚲 🚲 07 🚲 🚲 🚲
07 Moorgate 3.7km road
Turn left at the sign up Moorgate.
Turn left again to follow Hobgate through the estate, past some pleasant houses.
🚲 🚲 🚲 08 🚲 🚲 🚲
08 Hobgate 4.3km road
FACILITIES supermarket • (pub • shop • takeaway)
At the main road turn left. This is busy Acomb Rd; the footway is not shared-use, but we’d advise that children use it for the short stretch up to the Co-op on the right.
(Straight on past the Co-op is the centre of Acomb with a range of shops and services, though not a bike shop.)
🚲 🚲 🚲 09 🚲 🚲 🚲
09 Acomb 4.4km road
Links to: Acomb centre
At the Co-op, turn right and follow the signs up the avenue.
After 250m turn right along a short stretch of path, then turn left.
You go up the nearest you have to a ‘hill’ on the Orbital – past some shops and looming water tower on your right.
🚲 🚲 🚲 10 🚲 🚲 🚲
10 Boroughbridge Rd 5.3km path
Links to: Poppleton; Park and Ride
At the traffic lights at the bottom of the ‘hill’, go straight on across and take the path, on the right side of the oncoming road as you look at it.
(If you cross diagonally to take the path along the left side of the oncoming road, it takes you on to the busy road for a stretch. However, that path has a strange quality: in your direction of travel, it looks uphill, yet – thanks to an optical illusion – you can freewheel it. This is York’s answer to Ayrshire’s ‘Electric Brae’.)
🚲 🚲 🚲 11 🚲 🚲 🚲
11 Salisbury Rd 5.9km path
Links to: Riverside cycleway to city centre
At the signalled crossing, just after the RSPCA dog’s home, cross over the left side of the main road and continue on the path. You can see the River Ouse to your left and perhaps some moored narrowboats.
🚲 🚲 🚲 12 🚲 🚲 🚲
12 Clifton Bridge East 6.5km road/path
Links to: NCN65 north along riverside to Skelton, south along riverside to railway station (1.5km) and city centre; Beningborough; Park and Ride
FACILITIES park • (cafe • picnic tables)
Cross the Ouse and go past the entrance to Homestead Park on your left.
(You can’t cycle in the park, though you can wheel your bike through to the cafe, picnic tables and children’s play area – with table tennis tables. There are also racks at the entrance.)
Continue to the nasty junction.
🚲 🚲 🚲 13 🚲 🚲 🚲
13 Clifton Green 7.7km road
Links to: Clifton and Rawcliffe; Bootham
This is the worst part of the Orbital: there isn’t a pedestrian crossing here, and you’ll have to mix it with the traffic queues.
The cycleway abruptly joins the main road, funnelling you into two lanes of impatient traffic.
Join the right hand lane and turn right at the traffic signals, then immediately left down Water Lane.
This is narrow and the drivers tend to be impatient.
After 200m come off onto the path on the left and use the crossing.
🚲 🚲 🚲 14 🚲 🚲 🚲
14 Water Lane 7.1km cycleway
Safely back off the road, follow the winding path up the middle of the pleasant green space.
There are benches and unexplained small monuments. You might find something edible or potable in the adjacent parade of shops.
🚲 🚲 🚲 15 🚲 🚲 🚲
15 Kingsway North 7.7km road
Links to: Clifton Moor retail park via cycleway
FACILITIES shop • takeaway • supermarket
At the end, turn right, pass the parade of shops, and cross twice to join the on-road cycle lane that’s usually blocked by parked cars.
Continue to the bridge, and cross to the path on the right hand side. Continue to the end of the bridge.
Turn right down the corkscrewing path round the blue metal figure.
🚲 🚲 🚲 16 🚲 🚲 🚲
16 Wigginton Rd 8.5km cycleway
Links to: New Earswick and Haxby; Hospital
This is one of the best parts of the Orbital: a traffic-free path following the route of an old light railway.
The path provides good access to the houses and roads over its 2km+. The width varies but most of them are accessible, in theory at least, to most bikes, even tricycles or recumbents.
Look out for various slightly mystifying sculptures and artworks with an industrial theme along these sections. Local author Kjartan Foskitt has a web page with lots of photos and musings about them.
🚲 🚲 🚲 17 🚲 🚲 🚲
17 Haxby Rd 8.8km cycleway
Links to: Yearsley Pool
More pleasant riding on this well-used traffic-free path.
There’s a small community garden on the left with benches and information boards, including one for recent wildlife sightings.
🚲 🚲 🚲 18 🚲 🚲 🚲
18 Heworth Green 9.9km cycleway
Links to: Monks Cross retail park and Vangarde shopping centre; Park and Ride
More good traffic-free riding as you glide south through the city.
As you approach the bridge, this artwork is on your right. On the bridge itself is a sculpture of a mantlepiece with an old-style clock.
🚲 🚲 🚲 19 🚲 🚲 🚲
19 Layerthorpe 10.1km cycleway/path
FACILITIES supermarket • bike shop
The sign for No 19 was missing on our reconnaissance.
(At the junction with Layerthorpe, the excellent local bike shop Cycle Streets is 200m away to your right. Reach it by turning left and left just after going under the bridge.)
Look back at the bridge to see a sculpture of a mantlepiece with sports trophies, and some mural artwork.
Cross the busy residential road and carry on along the path.
🚲 🚲 🚲 20 🚲 🚲 🚲
20 Foss Islands Route 10.6km path
Links to: NCN658 west to city centre, east to Bridlington along Way of Roses Route; Park and Ride; Derwenthorpe; Osbaldwick; Marton; Dunnington
FACILITIES supermarkets • (bike shop • takeaway)
(Foss Islands retail park is to your right over a signalled crossing. There’s a Morrisons, a Halfords bike shop next to it, a Waitrose 200m further down, and a Greggs.)
The brick tower you can see is Foss Islands Chimney, a local landmark and frequent meeting point for leisure cycle rides.
At the traffic signals, cross over the right hand side of the road and carry on along the path.
In theory the cycleway has priority at the junction as you pass Lidl. We hope drivers agree in practice.
Carry on along the right-hand-side path to the end of the road.
Cross at the signals following the signs, straight across slightly to the left, through the gap between buildings down a residential access road.
🚲 🚲 🚲 21 🚲 🚲 🚲
21 Lawrence St 11.2km road
Carry on forward past the town houses. At the end of the short residential road, turn right at the junction.
Take the first left, following the signs.
🚲 🚲 🚲 22 🚲 🚲 🚲
22 Heslington Rd 11.6km road
FACILITIES shop • takeaway
Cross busy Heslington Road, jagging slightly left.
This is the view as you look back. Carry on forward and take the first right. At the end of the road turn left along busy Barbican Rd.
There’s this hectic right turn coming up; a less stressful option is to either turn left into St Ann’s Court, do a 180 and wait to go straight across, or to cross via the refuge a few metres further up.
🚲 🚲 🚲 23 🚲 🚲 🚲
23 Cemetery Rd 11.9km road
More road riding.
🚲 🚲 🚲 24 🚲 🚲 🚲
24 Fishergate 12.1km road
Links to: Fulford
At the end of the road cross to the refuge in the middle. When clear, turn right and immediately left.
You see the river in front of you, at the end of the slope. Here you’ll find if your brakes are working properly.
🚲 🚲 🚲 25 🚲 🚲 🚲
25 Blue Bridge 12.4km cycleway
Links to: Riverside cycleway north to city centre
FACILITIES (bike shop • cafe)
On your right is Blue Bridge. (To get to the centre of town, go over the bridge and follow the path of New Walk.) However, to follow the Orbital, you turn left here, and follow the pleasant path that runs alongside the River Ouse.
This section is prone to flooding. If the flood levels are 3.5m or higher it may be impassable between these gates and the Millennium Bridge.
Continue along this busy shared path with walkers, joggers and cyclists.
(As you approach the Millennium Bridge, you’ll see a board directing you to Cycle Heaven – if it’s open – exactly 173 paces to your left. This is one of Britain’s best bike shops and has an excellent child- and cyclist-friendly cafe.)
🚲 🚲 🚲 26 🚲 🚲 🚲
26 Millennium Bridge East 13.2km path
Links to: NCN66 east to Bridlington on Way of the Roses
FACILITIES ice cream • (supermarket)
Journey’s end. Relax on the bridge and maybe treat yourself to an ice cream from the boat if it’s anchored there.
(If you need supplies for a picnic to enjoy on the bridge, there’s an Aldi not far away: rather than turning right to go on the bridge, turn left, then at the end of the road turn right along the path for about 150m. Aldi is on your right.)