As he walked, he became aware of another man following him, who then struck up a conversation with him.
A short time later, as they walked through the Minster Yard area, the 78-year-old tourist was struck on the head with a rock or cobble. He was hit repeatedly on the head before members of the public called for an ambulance.
Police attended the scene where the found they victim and the suspect in the Deans Park area.
The victim was taken to York District Hospital for treatment to a serious head injury and a hand injury. He has since been released from hospital and his injuries are not believed to be life threatening.
A 43-year-old man from Tadcaster was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder. He was taken into police custody where he currently remains for questioning.
Detective Inspector Ian Dyer of York CID said: “This appears to be an unprovoked attack on an elderly man who was enjoying a evening of sightseeing in York.
“We have spoken to a number of witnesses already, but we would still like to speak to anyone else who has not yet come forward. I am appealing for anyone who was in the area of York Minster last night to contact us.
“The victim is a tourist and is unfamiliar with York place names. Therefore police are appealing for anyone who saw anything untoward in the Minster or Minster Yard/Deans Park area, or anyone who witnessed the actual assault to come forward, if they have not already spoken to police.
Anyone with information is asked to call York CID on 0845 60 60 247 quoting reference number 12110108652.