Last Updated on May 4, 2023 by Louise
York is an amazing and vibrant city. The best thing is that there is so much to do for free. If you’re looking to have a trip away on a budget, York is a great place. You could spend a weekend here without spending a penny.
If you have kids and a family there are plenty of free attractions and things to do for the younger generation too.
Read on for lots of ideas.
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National Railway Museum
The National Railway museum is an amazing place to visit, even if you’re not a massive fan of trains. There is so much to see including a massive collection of trains including Royal carriages, Army trains and a bullet train from Japan. Also look out for Stephen’s Rocket which is the first steam locomotive and The Mallard. which still holds the record for the fastest Steam Train in the world.
If you’re with kids, there’s an outdoor play area too.
The railway museum is free but you have to book in advance via the website. They do ask for a donation if you can afford it, but otherwise it’s free of charge.
Find out more at the National Railway Museum
Walk the York Walls
The York old city walls are still standing from the 13th century and you can walk around the whole of the walls for free.
If you just want to do one section, I like the section by York Minster as you get some lovely views.
Find out more about the York Walls.
Attend a Service at York Minster
You have to pay to visit and walk around inside York Minster (unless you are a resident of York). If you are resident of York or a York student you can visit the Minster for free. You’ll need proof of address which could be a York Card, driving licence or utility bill. Students must have a local College/Uni ID card with valid date. Tickets still need to be booked in advance.
However, even if you’re not a resident you can attend a service at the Minster for free. You won’t be able to walk around the whole building but you can experience the peaceful atmosphere and stunning interior during the service.
Find out when you can attend a service at the York Minster website.
Of course, it’s free of charge to walk around the outside of York Minster and view the impressive and stunning building.
Children are also free to visit the York Minster with a paying adult (up to four children go free with one paying adult).
Visit Dean’s Park
Dean’s Park is at the back of York Minster. It’s a small green space but lovely to walk around and get a view of the other site of the Minster. It’s a lot quieter than the surround streets, making it a peaceful place to stop and rest on one of the benches.
Walk down The Shambles
The Shambles is a quaint and pretty street with buildings still standing from medieval times.
It’s said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movie and a must for Harry Potter fans.
Even if you’re not interested in Harry Potter, it’s a stunning street where tops of the houses hang over the bottom half. You can also visit and browse in the small little shops and eateries which include a fudge shop, chocolate shop and themed Harry Potter shop.
If you’re a Christmas fan, you’ll love a nose round the Christmas shop too.
Top Tip – if you don’t like crowds go early in the morning as it can get very busy during the day.
The Museum Gardens are lovely for a stroll about, particularly on a sunny day. You can see St Mary’s Abbey which is a stunning piece of architecture within the gardens. A great place for kids to run around and let off some steam. If the weather is good, why not take a picnic.
Kids will also enjoy doing the free Squirrel trail.
Free Walking Tours
While you’re in York, why not take advantage of a free walking tour.
The Association of Voluntary Guides for York, lead regular free walking tours and no tip is expected at the end of the tour. Pre-booking is recommended.
White Rose York tours also lead free walking tours around York and have excellent reviews.
Little Viking Ispy Walking Trail for Kids
Pop into York tourist office and pick up a free Little Viking walking trail for kids. It’s described as a fun walking trail for families that’s available all year round. It encourages families to explore York and helps them discover places they might not otherwise have seen.
Find out more here:
Do the York Cat Trail
The York lucky cat trail is a really fun way for kids to explore the city whilst finding hidden statues of cats! You can pick up a leaflet with the clues from the lucky cat shop.
Another self guided trail is the Selfie Trail. The trail takes you on the most iconic photo spots around the city and you can share them with your Instagram followers as you go! A good trail for older kids. Post your best York selfies online and be sure to tag @visityork and #yorkselfie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Mythical Creature Trail Quest
Another free trail, perfect for kids created by the York Mumbler. It takes you on a short but magical trip of York where you help discover the eight mythical creatures hiding in the city.
York Art Gallery
General admission to the York Art Gallery is free but you’ll need to book your tickets in advance. However, there are charges for special exhibitions. The gallery is open on Wednesdays to Sundays.
The gallery is very family friendly and there are worksheets and activity sheets you can download and print off from York Art Gallery website to get kids involved during their visit.
You can walk along the river to Rowntree Park. There is great for kids as they will enjoy the playground and the duck pond. Older kids can shoot some hoops on the basketball courts or play some table tennis (you’ll need to bring your own bats!).
Holy Trinity Church
Pic credit: Keith Lavarak / Flickr Creative Commons
The Holy Trinity Church is very beautiful with stunning stain glass windows. It’s also peaceful and quiet and despite it’s beauty lacks the number of tourists that visit the Minster. A must while you’re in York if you enjoy looking at places of worship and historical churches.
Watch the Street Performers
York is a city full of tourists and there are often street performers entertaining them for free (especially in the summer months). The renowned place for street-performers to do their performances is in the Kings Square.
Enjoy a Festival
York has many festivals with free events throughout the year. Some to look out for are the Ice Trail in March (or sometimes Februrary) when ice sculptures transform the city centre. At Christmas, York becomes very festive with Christmas activities and experiences including the St Nicholas Fair which you can browse around for free. You can find out when the York festivals take place here and see if there are any free events as part of the festivals during your visit.
Visit the Library
Next to the museum gardens, you’ll find York library. It’s a great place to pop in and have a break for the tourist attractions by reading a book of the shelf. There is also a cafe inside.
A free initiative that you can look out for when your in York is Edible York. The initiative is run by volunteers to show how One of they’ve done is created public veg beds that you can see throughout the city. If there’s food to pick, you can pick some.
Blue Plaque Trail
York is full of free trails and there is one to suit every interest and age range. A blue plaque trail is another brilliant walking activity where you can learn so much about York as you go.
York Civic Trust has been placing commemorative plaques to people and places on buildings in York since the 1940s. There are four trails that are available on their website. There’s something for everyone, with trails on Literary York, Artistic York, Scientific York and Radical York. Each takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
York Civic Trust has created a PDF for each trail with information on the person behind each Blue plaque. The PDFs are fascinating and point out other landmarks and places of interest on your trail too. These are often hidden gems you wouldn’t have already noticed. The PDF can be downloaded onto a smart phone or printed.
Where to Stay
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