Most people love York, and you can see why. It is a beautiful place packed full of free attractions waiting for you to discover. York for free? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, hold on to your hats because I’ve put together lots of things to do that won’t cost you a penny. Living here in York, I’ve spent my time walking the city walls at sunset, picnicking by the river, and exploring the cobbled streets of the Shambles. I feel so lucky to live in this city, especially with all these free activities in York!
You don’t need to be rich to explore York, just download a map, pack your walking shoes and set afoot. From the majestic Multangular Tower to the hidden gem that is Mad Alice Lane, every turn in York city centre reveals another piece of its rich history. For those who fancy a bit of curiosity, the Snickelways of York are fun to find, plus they make for beautiful photos. And if you’re keen on railways, York’s got you covered. You don’t have to buy a ticket to explore the York Railway, it’s free! (although parking is not!)
We’ve also got the Yorkshire Museum right here in the North of England that tells you the history of York. And if you’re looking for peace, you can always attend a service at the centre of Christianity in York, light a candle, and revel in the silence. But don’t miss out on the Shambles Market, even if your wallet’s feeling light. Window shopping is an art, and this place is a masterpiece!
- Historical Architecture and Landmarks
- 1. The Train Station
- 2. York Minster
- 3. Stroll Down The Shambles
- 4. Walk Along City Walls
- 5. Holy Trinity Church
- 6. The Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey
- York’s Cultural Scene
- 7. York Art Gallery
- 8. National Railway Museum
- 9. The Snickelways
- 10. York Cat Trail
- 11. Window Browsing at Shambles Market
- Soak up the Natural Beauty of York’s Public Spaces
- 12. Museum Gardens
- 13. Rowntree Park
- 14. Walk Along The River Ouse
- 15. Discover York’s Edible Wood
- 16. Dean’s Park
- 17. St Nicks
- Participate in Unique York Experiences
- 18. Enjoy a Free Guided Walking Tour
- 19. Attend the Viking Festival
- 20. Watch the Famous March to Coppergate
- 21. Experience York Observatory
- 20. York Selfie Trail
- Trip Planning
- Take the Money-Free Challenge In York
Historical Architecture and Landmarks
1. The Train Station
You know, this might surprise you, but the York train station itself is an interesting place to see, especially if you are not from the UK. You don’t have to be a Harry Potter fan to appreciate its charm. The gorgeous clock near the footbridge, the grandeur of the station—it’s all a sight for sore eyes. And the best part? It’s completely free to visit.
2. York Minster
You’ve got to see York Minster! It’s like the jewel in the crown of York. For York residents, it’s absolutely free to visit. Don’t forget to take along some valid ID though. What’s better than visiting the york minster for free?
If you’re not a York resident and don’t want to pay, it’s still great to check out the exterior of the building. If you walk around the back, you can see the stone masons workshop. Here, you can watch real stone masons at work as they cut new gargoyles and stone to replace those that have been worn down by the rain. There’s also the gorgeous gardens right by the Minster. There’s even a status of the late Queen Elizabeth II on the front now.
Read my full York Minster Review here.
3. Stroll Down The Shambles
The Shambles is one of the most recognisable spots in York and was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. Walking down its cobbled lane is like stepping back in time. You’ve got timber-framed buildings that date back to the fourteenth century, leaning their heads closer to each other as if whispering age-old secrets. It’s like a scene straight out of a fairytale.
And while window shopping here is completely free, do spare a moment to appreciate the love and craftsmanship that goes into the products in the one-of-a-kind shops that line the street. Trust me, there’s something very magical about having The Shambles to yourself, especially in the early morning.
4. Walk Along City Walls
I’ve lived in York for the past 7 years, but even I still love going for a stroll along York’s city walls. Built by the Romans back in 70 AD, they’ve had a few touch-ups since then, most notably around the 13th century. If you think about it, that’s a whole lot of history under your feet, and atop these walls!
A good place to start your walk is at Micklegate Bar, one of the four main gates into the city, alongside Walmgate, Monkgate, and Bootham Bar. Not sure which is best? Well, remember the old saying: different strokes for different folks. But trust me, the stretch from Bootham to Monkgate is worth the legwork. Those spectacular views of the Minster are something else. Better yet – it’s free!
5. Holy Trinity Church
Next on the freebie fun times in York is Holy Trinity Church. This place is like stepping into a history book that’s sprouted stained-glass windows and wooden box pews. Tucked away in the heart of the city, this church might be small and secluded but it’s overflowing with character. Don’t forget to look for the uneven floors—a testament to its history.
Then there’s a bit of modern history to remember. Do you see that blue plaque outside? That’s for Anne Lister and Ann Walker, who, back in 1834, took communion here as a stand-in for a marriage ceremony – this is the first lesbian wedding known in Britian. To this day they’re celebrated as pioneers in the LGBTQ+ community. Visiting Holy Trinity isn’t just a free jaunt to a place of worship, it’s a journey through time. Here’s a toast to history, and not spending a penny!
6. The Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey
Ever had a mooch around the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey? If not, it’s high time you did—it’s a feast for the eyes. Once a thriving establishment back in 1088, it’s now a captivating scene of decayed grandeur. These stones have stories to tell, from high times as a prosperous abbey to their current standing as a stellar backdrop for your picnic.
The Abbey is nestled within the glorious Museum Gardens, offering a picturesque yet tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. As you explore the remnants of the nave, crossing, and cloisters, you can almost feel the echoes of the monks going about their daily business. A visit to St Mary’s Abbey is like a free ticket to the past—and who wouldn’t want to jump on that train?
York’s Cultural Scene
York isn’t just about the ancient stuff, though. This city can strut its cultural stuff with the best of them—and you can soak it all up without opening your wallet! Those looking for a break from the concrete can find solace in York’s numerous green spaces, from the winding trails of Rowntree Park to the scenic walkways in Museum Gardens. Whether you’re in the mood for a picnic or just fancy a stroll, there’s always a lush spot waiting.
7. York Art Gallery
A visit to York isn’t complete without stopping by the York Art Gallery. Now, before you say it, I know what you’re thinking: “Galleries cost money, right?” Well, not this one! While some exhibitions do have a fee, the gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) offers free entry for all. This place is home to an impressive collection of British Studio Ceramics which are worth a butcher’s, to say the least.
Would you believe, they’ve got artworks from Turner and Hockney, and even a few pieces by the great L Lowry? Not to mention the development in 2015 that cost a cool £8 million and got them on the shortlist for the Art Fund Museum of the Year. So, pop on your artist’s beret and immerse yourself in the cultural vibes—it won’t cost you a penny. And afterwards, why not explore the surrounding York Museum Gardens, which is home to the famous Edible Wood?
Read my York Art Gallery Review here.
8. National Railway Museum
As a resident of York, I can confidently tell you that we’re quite proud of our train history. A trip to York isn’t complete until you’ve soaked in the grandeur of the National Railway Museum. It’s smack on Leeman Road, easy to find, and not to be missed. The best part? It’s totally free. A priceless dive into our country’s railway journey.
One of my personal highlights is that you get to ogle at the ‘Mallard’, which holds the title of the world’s fastest steam locomotive. How cool is that? After all that exploring, if your belly starts a-rumbling, there are plenty of places to eat around.
Read My National Railway Museum review here.
9. The Snickelways
In my opinion, York’s snickelways are the finest in the United Kingdom, proper labyrinth they are. Wind through narrow passageways and hidden alleys, sneak through snickets, take a shimmy down Lady Peckett’s Yard – it’s a proper adventure, and all free of charge.
Every turn you take will reveal a bit more of York’s past, and you’ll be testing your navigation skills for sure. There’s no better way to discover the city than through the snickelways, just remember to keep your bearings!
10. York Cat Trail
If you’re up for something a bit different, how about going on the hunt for some feline friends? The York Cat Trail is a self-guided tour around the city, where you can spot twenty-two certified cat sculptures on the buildings and rooftops. Trust me, it’s more entertaining than it sounds, and it won’t cost you a penny!
This freebie is one of our city’s best-loved tourist attractions. It’s a great way to see the city and its many sites, and it gives you the chance to see a side of York most folks miss. And the statues? Each one is unique, with its own story to tell. It’s one the kids will love!
11. Window Browsing at Shambles Market
Whether you’re a serial shopper or just enjoy a good mooch, Shambles Market is a must-visit. This place bagged the ‘Best Outdoor Market’ award in 2022, and I can see why. With over 70 stalls, there are loads of knick-knacks and finds from flowers to vintage clothing, and all sorts of gifts and crafts. No entry fee is required, so window shopping is encouraged!
Now I’m not pointing any fingers, but I’ve seen more than one frugal window shopper end up with a bag full of goodies, enticed by the range of goods on offer. But even if you do splash out a bit, you can still feel good knowing you’ve supported local businesses.
Soak up the Natural Beauty of York’s Public Spaces
We’re not all historic buildings and markets here in York, we’ve also got plenty of green spaces for you to explore. For a bit of tranquillity in the city, take a leisurely stroll to Rowntree Park or Homestead Park. Or if you’re up for some adventure, head to St Nick’s nature reserve. It’s a charming green space right in the heart of Tang Hall, home to beautiful meadowlands, woods, and a fair few resident squirrels. All this is yours to enjoy, without spending a single penny.
12. Museum Gardens
Right in the beating heart of York, you will find the York Museum Gardens. This serene 10-acre spot is nestled next to the famous River Ouse, where the sweet serenade of rippling water adds to its natural charm. It’s unique in that it was once the sacred grounds of St Mary’s Abbey. And believe me when I say, the echoes of the past still resonate as you explore the remnants of the former Abbey scattered across the lush greenery.
Now, I live in York and I can tell you, that one of the York attractions that leaves everyone fulfilled, maybe even a tad spooked, is the Halloween-themed trail in the Museum Gardens. From spooky Victorian gentlemen to jilted brides, the trail is an absolute hoot. So, whether it’s soaking up history, botany or just a bit of the town’s local spirit, Museum Gardens is a great place to visit. And the icing on the cake? No hole in your pocket, it’s all completely free.
13. Rowntree Park
A visit to York wouldn’t be complete without stopping by Rowntree Park. Sprawled across 30 acres, located just a stone’s throw away from York’s city centre, this park is jam-packed with lots to keep everyone occupied. Kids can run wild in the playgrounds, sports enthusiasts can break a sweat in the open fields, and you may even find yourself lost in the peaceful hum of the large pond.
The park itself was a gift from the Rowntree family, and let me tell you, they didn’t skimp. This park has everything. Want a place to skate? There’s a skate park just waiting for your wheels. And if your belly starts growlin’, there’s even a café tucked away inside. Or for a cheaper option, why not pack a picnic? Easy to reach, say from the Skeldergate Bridge on the west side of the River Ouse, it’s an oasis offering relaxation and exploration.
You can get there by walking along the River Ouse, about a 15-minute walk from the city centre.
14. Walk Along The River Ouse
York is a city of many bridges, and there’s genuine joy in taking a casual stroll along them. In particular, wandering along Lendal Bridge is nothing short of therapeutic. Nestled next to the River Ouse, you have a mesmerising view of the station. From here, you can spot boats sailing along the river and trains whizzing over the neighbouring Scarborough Bridge. It’s a peaceful yet bustling scene, and in my opinion, it deserves a moment of your day.
Down steps from Lendal Bridge, you’ll find yourself at the banks of the river. Whether it’s summer or winter, the riverside walk is absolutely stunning. After a bit of fresh air, you could pop over to the nearby Museum Gardens or seek out an ice cream boat – yes, you heard it right, an ice cream boat!
15. Discover York’s Edible Wood
Now, right behind the York Art Gallery, there’s a little secret that is rarely spoken about – York’s Edible Wood. It’s a garden created to spark curiosity about food and permaculture. Here, every plant screams ‘eat me’ – but hold your horses, they do request visitors not to pick the plants.
Though you can’t feast on them, the plants here offer a feast for the eyes. The Edible Wood is part of the Museum Gardens, and the best part, there are no entry fees! If you’ve got a bit of a green thumb or want to learn a thing or two about permaculture, the Edible Wood provides a unique, free experience that’s really worth your time.
16. Dean’s Park
In York, green spaces are not hard to come by, and one that always comes to mind is Homestead Park. However, nestled among all these green havens is Dean’s Park, and it’s not your run-of-the-mill patch of green. The park is an oasis of carefully manicured lawns. Trust me when I say that a walk through this park is a breath of fresh, peaceful air.
17. St Nicks
St Nick’s is a 24-acre nature reserve located smack bang in the centre of Tang Hall. With its beautiful meadows and woods covering a historical rubbish dump site, the park is a testament to the resilience of nature. Whether you’re a nature lover or just enjoy a good wander, a stroll through the lush greens of Dean’s Park offers relaxation at no cost, right in the heart of York.
Participate in Unique York Experiences
Visiting our spectacular city doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket! There are so many unique experiences here that are priceless, yet don’t cost a penny. Let’s have a gander at some of ’em.
18. Enjoy a Free Guided Walking Tour
Who doesn’t love a good chat with a local, especially when it can teach you a thing or two about York’s history? Enter the Association of Voluntary Guides, a top-notch crew who have been offering complimentary guided tours since the early 1950s. True-blue lads and lasses with York running through their veins.
Each tour takes about 2 hours, pouring out insights and stories about our historic city. And here’s the cherry on top – they start these tours twice daily at 10:30 am and 1:15 pm, and you won’t even have to dip into your pocket for a tip. How’s that for a freebie?
Join a free tour here.
19. Attend the Viking Festival
Picture this: a sizzling summer day, a historic city, and an army of Vikings, all here in York. Sounds exciting, eh? Well, welcome to the largest Viking Festival in Europe! You’ll get to see a bunch of fearless fellas and lasses in their Viking best – and the best bit is, it’s free for all.
Every year, around May and June, the city centre becomes a bustling hub of free Viking-themed activities. From hammer-holding competitions to storytelling sessions, there’s a flurry of action every Viking enthusiast can partake in. So, if you happen to be visiting York during the Viking Festival, make sure to check it out!
20. Watch the Famous March to Coppergate
If that’s not enough to give you a Viking fill, wait till you see the famous March to Coppergate. These Vikings leave no stone unturned, or in this case, no street un-marched, to recreate the historic city of York’s ancient traditions. All part of the Viking Festival that turns our quaint town into a Nordic spectacle.
Dressed to the nines in their Viking gear, you can watch men and women as they parade through the city streets, letting out their fiercest war cries. You might think you’ve stepped onto a movie set, but this is as real as it gets. And, it’s completely free to watch!
21. Experience York Observatory
Down the road in York, at YO26 4XJ, you’ll find a place that’ll rocket you to the stars without charging you a penny – the York Observatory. Just like the historic city walls that have kept our city safe for centuries, the Observatory stands tall, welcoming all with open arms, at no cost.
20. York Selfie Trail
If you’re up for a self-guided tour, and you’ve got your smartphone at the ready, then the York Selfie Trail is a must-do. Visit York has really pulled the rabbit out of the hat with this one. They’ve put together a cracking trail covering the city’s iconic spots, perfect for a click and pose. Stops on the trail, you ask? Well, they’ve got you snapping away in front of Clifford’s Tower, grinning at the Jorvik Centre, and even pulling faces at St Mary’s Abbey.
And here’s a little insider tip – don’t be shy to sidestep and discover what is known as the ‘chocolate trail.’ For a city famous for its sweet-tooth history, you’ll bet your bottom quid there’s a heap of confectionary-inspired attractions peppered along your way. Quite literally, sweet!
Get the map here.
As you can see, plenty of places around here offer up good times without charging. But here’s the magic word: planning. A tickle of forethought can open the gates to many activities without you shelling out a penny.
Choose the Best Time to Visit
Sure, you’re dying to visit York, but when’s the best time to do it? Well, the answer to that depends on what you fancy. Every season has something to offer. Late February, for instance, sees York turning into Valhalla for the annual Viking Festival. Then again, if you’re keen on Roman history, then do pack your bags for June.
Remember, York has a whole host of activities during school holidays. You could check out the Japanese Bullet Train at the National Railway Museum or perhaps, take a stroll along the York City Walls. All of this in York, without costing you a pretty penny. Now that’s what I call a bargain!
Then again, if you’d rather don a Santa hat and soak in the festive spirit, the Christmas markets are quite the crowd-pleaser. Trust me, the aroma of mulled wine and gingerbread floating in the crisp winter air is enough to send anyone into a spin. And when spring pops its head around the corner, the parks transform into a floral masterpiece.
Take the Money-Free Challenge In York
If you ask me, living in the heart of York, I’d say you don’t need much more than a sturdy pair of walking shoes and a healthy dose of curiosity to enjoy this lovely city. Rich history, vibrant culture, lush public spaces, and unique experiences —York packs quite a punch without costing a penny. Rather than splurging on pricey tourist attractions, dare to take the money-free challenge. Get a genuine taste of York—you might just find it more rewarding.
On your journey, you could stumble upon charming spots like Rowntree Park, or even the designer outlet—don’t let the word ‘designer’ put you off, it’s in York after all. Take a gander and you’ll find it’s a feast for the eyes and a test of your self-restraint! But remember, we’re doing this the budget way. And don’t forget North Yorkshire, it’s a stone’s throw away. Gorgeous landscapes, quaint villages—it’s a whole other world. So, come on then, what are you waiting for? Your grand York adventure awaits!