The best free things to do in York

The best things in life are free!

Historic York is a world-renowned treasure chest of heritage and culture, but experiencing everything the city has to offer doesn’t mean you have to splash the cash. 

There are lots of ways to explore York’s history, hidden gems and gorgeous green spaces that don’t need a costly admission ticket.

So if you’re looking for free attractions in York, here’s our pick of the best options to make your visit as cost-effective as possible.

The National Railway Museum (it’s free!)

How could we not start here? The National Railway Museum is a must-see for any visitor to York.

The world-class museum tells the story of rail transport and its impact on society.

Pre-booking of a free ticket is required during the coronavirus crisis and you need to wear a face covering in the museum, but there’s still lots for everyone to enjoy.

The National Railway Museum is currently open Wednesday-Sunday from 10am to 5pm and some smaller exhibits and attractions are closed.

Explore the city walls

York has 3.5km of Roman and medieval city walls to wander along.

Boasting fantastic views of the old city, it’s totally free and there are plenty of places to jump on and off, so you don’t have to walk the entire length.

Due to the narrowness of parts of the wall, during the coronavirus crisis there is a one-way system in place which is very easy to follow.

Find furry friends on the York Lucky Cat Trail

One of York’s best-kept secrets, the York Cat Trail is a fun, quirky way to explore the city.

Small statues of cats have been placed on buildings in the centre of York for centuries.

They were originally placed on buildings to frighten away rats and mice, which helped spread plague and illness. 

Citizens also believed that they kept evil spirits away and brought good luck. 

Follow the walking trail and find more than 20 cats by downloading a free map here.

Go for a stroll along the River Ouse

There’s so much to see just walking along the banks of the River Ouse as it meanders through the centre of York. As well as the sights and sounds of the city, you’re likely to see ducks, swans, otters, and maybe even the popular ice cream boat or a luxury cruiser or two.

There are miles of accessible paths and a series of circular walks available to download.

Enjoy Museum Gardens and St Mary’s Abbey

A splash of green right in the heart of the city, the 10-acre botanical Museum Gardens and St Mary’s Abbey are much loved by York residents and renowned as a great spot for a stroll or a riverside picnic

Designed around the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, the gardens are home to more than 40 species of birds as well as squirrels and a huge botanical collection.

The Museum Gardens are currently open daily from 10.30am to 6pm.

Take in the views from (outside) Clifford’s Tower

Although you need to pay to get inside the tower itself, you can still walk up the steps to Clifford’s Tower.

And the view from the top of the hill is absolutely free.

One of York’s most cherished landmarks, the canny visitor can take in the stunning panoramic views over ‘Old York’ without ever setting foot inside.

Go on a free walking tour

Discover thousands of years of history and really get under the skin of the city with a free walking tour.

Still safely taking place with distancing rules observed, the White Rose York group organise free walking tours at 11am every day.

Meet outside the Minster for a two-hour tour of all the main historic sights. 

The Shambles

One of the most visited thoroughfares in the UK, The Shambles is known as Europe’s best-preserved medieval street.

It costs nothing to wander down the narrow lane past charming boutiques, cafes and attractions all trading from precarious-looking ‘wattle and daub’ buildings that date back centuries. 

Soak up the atmosphere, listen to street musicians and do some window shopping.

B+B York, a privately-owned boutique bed & breakfast hotel is situated just a few minutes’ stroll from the famous York city walls and offers the perfect location for exploring the heart of Yorkshire.


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