York has so much to offer visitors and residents alike, and if you look carefully, you will find all sorts of free things to do in York as well.
One of the best things about York is that these free activities are not hidden, you just need to know where to look to find and enjoy them. Our top 10 free things to do in York guide is designed to make it easy for you to plan your next visit to York or if you already live in this fantastic city, perhaps remind you of the fun free activities you can do with your family and friends.
Let us know what you think and if there is anything we have missed that others might enjoy via our Contact Us page.
1. National Railway Museum
Do you love trains? Even if you are not a train enthusiast, you will love the National Railway Museum, with its trains of the past like the famous Mallard steam train to the amazing Japanese Bullet train, and even a Eurostar train.
Admission is free and you can easily spend half a day or more enjoying all the exhibits. The National Railway Museum is a fully equipped tourist attraction for your kids and all the family with a choice of 3 places to eat inside the museum and amenities.
Free tours and demo’s take place at specific times each day, so make sure that you check out time table when you first arrive to make the most of your visit.
The National Railway Museum is free, great fun for everyone and with over 750,000 visitors in 2016, one of the best things to do in York.
Address: Leeman Road, York, YO26 4XJ, England.
Contact: 01904 621261; http://www.nrm.org.uk
Opening times: daily from 10am-6pm.
2. Free guided walking tours
The free guided walking tours of York are either ignored or unknown by the vast majority of visitors and residents of York, which is a shame, as they are great fun.
The free guided walking tours are provided by the Association of Voluntary Guides to the City of York and they will happily take you on a tour of the ancient city walls or around the historic centre showing you everything that York has to offer.
With an incredible knowledge of York, the guides will walk and talk you through the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, York Minster, St. William’s College, the King’s Manor and the haunted Treasurer’s house. The tours leave from Exhibition Square and end at the Shambles.
Even if you have visited York previously or live there, you are bound to find out something new and enjoy the company of some friendly, knowledgable fun people who can show you everything that York has to offer, for free.
Address: 1 Museum Street, AVG Information Desk, York, YO1 7DT, England.
Contact: 01904 622303; http://avgyork.co.uk
Opening times: please check the website for details but basically 2-3 times a day (morning, afternoon and evening) depending on season.
3. Yorkshire Museum Gardens and Observatory
There is an awful lot to see and do in York but every now and again it is great to take a break from this ancient city and enjoy the countryside. If you fancy a bit of green and nature to enjoy as you have lunch then a visit to the Yorkshire Museum Gardens in the heart of the city is a must.
The Yorkshire Museum Gardens which lay around the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, are home to more than 40 types of birds and a lot of squirrels. Even if you do not fancy having lunch in the gardens and enjoying the river in the sunshine, it is a great place to visit to take a walk around the informal garden and botanical collection, or take the opportunity to visit Yorkshire’s oldest working observatory.
Address: Museum Gardens, York, YO1 7FR, England
Contact: 01904 687687; yorkshiremuseum.org.uk
Opening times: daily 10am-5pm, except December 25 and 26
4. The Shambles
We mentioned the Shambles as part of the second best free thing to do in York, the guided walking tours, but even if you miss the free tours, be sure not to miss the Shambles.
You can while away a very pleasant couple of hours meandering through these 14th century cobbled streets, admiring the timber framed shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and tourist attractions. There is so much to see and enjoy, which is why it is one of the most visited streets in England.
Tip – avoid the crowds and take a walk through the famous cobbled streets late in the afternoon/early evening or first thing in the morning.
Address: Shambles, City Centre, York, YO1 7LZ, England
Opening times: daily 24hrs, shops 9am-7pm
5. York City Walls
Again, we mentioned the city walls as part of our guided walking tours recommendation, but even if you do not get a chance to go on the tour, be sure to take a walk along the York City Walls.
These incredibly well preserved Roman walls have guarded the City of York for over 700 years and provide a unique view of ancient York and some of its most famous tourist attractions like the York Minster.
It takes around 2 hours to complete the full circuit walk and there are information plaques to make your walk more pleasurable and informative, telling you exactly what you are looking at and little bits of York City’s history. Don’t worry, there are lots of places to get off the walls whenever you want to, so you can always take a stroll and continue your visit to other attractions whenever you want.
One of my favourite things to do as a kid was to go for a walk on the walls with my family and a couple of sticks and have sword fights all along the wall with my brother and sister. We would be exhausted by the end and my parents got to enjoy a nice walk, without having to worry about us.
Address: York city centre – look for a big old wall 😉
Opening times: daily 8am till dusk, no dogs allowed.
6. Rowntree Park
Another great way to tire out the kids or just enjoy a lovely summers day is to visit Rowntree Park which is only a 10 minute walk from the city centre along the river Ouse.
At Rowntree Park you can take a walk around the beautiful gardens and if you bring some bread with you, head down to the lake and feed the ducks and geese. If you have the kids with you, take advantage of the superb free play area which has a mini zip wire, climbing frames and everything else you might expect or you could always use the basketball and tennis courts, enjoy the skate park or if you are looking for a slightly more leisurely activity, have a go at grass boules or the mini golf.
Regardless of wether you want a quiet relaxing walk in the sunshine or somewhere to go and have fun, Rowntree Park should not be missed and is a great free thing to do in York and takes a worthy place on our top 10 list.
Address: Terry Ave, York, YO23 1JQ, England.
Contact: 01904 687687; yorkshiremuseum.org.uk
Opening times: 8am Mon-Fri, 9am Sat-Sun until dusk. Closes at 4pm in winter.
7. Homestead Park
Another free park just a short walk from the city centre along the river ouse is Homestead Park which was created by Joseph Rowntree and is maintained and continuously developed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for the people and visitors of York.
Be sure to pickup your free tree trail and wildlife spotting guides which are available at the entrance and head off into the 14 acre arboretum and formal/medieval gardens which are full of butterfly and bee friendly plants, a Lord of the Rings themed garden which has a hobbit home and a beautiful wildflower garden.
Children can enjoy the big play area which includes helter skelter slides, a monkey gym, a paddling pool and even table tennis, along with plenty of open grass spaces to kick a ball around or enjoy other games.
Address: 40 Water End, York, YO30 6WP, England.
Contact: 01904 629241; https://www.jrht.org.uk/about-us/homestead-park
Opening times: 9am Mon-Sat and 10am Sunday – dusk.
8. York Shambles Market
Open seven days a week from 7am, York Shambles Market has more than 85 stalls to explore and maybe even find a little something for you or a loved one.
This is a great way to get amongst the atmosphere in York’s historic Shamble streets and amongst the 85+ stalls you will find all manner of goods, from local produce (including cakes and bread), flowers, books, crafts, clothing and cosmetics.
Be sure to make use of the street food area which has free seating and wifi whilst you enjoy a few of the tasty treats.
Address: Newgate Market & Parliament Street, York, England.
Contact: 01904 551355; http://www.shamblesmarket.com
Opening times: daily 9am-5pm.
9. Yorkshire Lavender
If you head 15 miles North out of the city to Terrington in the Howardian Hills Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), you will find Yorkshire Lavender.
The award winning Yorkshire Lavender farm and gardens has lots of things to do for all ages, including a lavender maze, a sensory garden to excite your senses of smell and sound, a sculpture park for you to explore and white deer, highland cattle and sheep (lambs in spring). You can always take a picnic with you but should you decide to splash the cash, there is a tea shop and gift shop on site, where you can get treats and lavender themed gifts to take home.
Address: Terrington, York, YO60 6PB, England.
Contact: 01653 648008; http://yorkshirelavender.com
Opening times: daily 10am-5pm.
Geocaching should be on the top 10 list for any city or town. If you have not done this yet, it is a great way to explore a new city and is great for all ages. So why not introduce your gran to something new and go find the hidden items all over York.
Just like all locations, the hidden items in York are low value, like a pencil, notepad or a single letter, which when you find them all, spells out a word. Geocaching is where Pokemon Go came from, speaking of which, there are tons of Pokemon to catch and Pokestops located at the cities attractions.
Regardless of whether you are going on a geocache treasure hunt or searching for Pokemon, make sure you look up from your phone every now and again to enjoy everything that York has to offer you for free.
Free things to do in the North East
If you are going further afield, perhaps up North, take a look at our things to do in Durham guide, where you will find new and exciting free activities which are not too far away, just a short train journey of 30 minutes.
The BBC wrote a guide on free things to do in York which you might find helpful, they also have the latest news as to what is happening in the city, so be sure to check this out if you get a chance.
Top 10 free things to do in York conclusion
I really hope you enjoyed this guide and it has inspired you to do something new in York today. I know that there are lots more free things to do in York and when I get a moment, I will add to this list to give you all a little more inspiration.
Whatever you do, be safe and enjoy yourself.
If you are still unsure of what to do in York, why not take a look at more of the attractions and events in our other York tourism guides:
- Low cost things to do in York
- Kids activities in York
- What to do in York Today?
- Whats on in York?
- York tourist information guide
- 20 Must See Points of Interest in York
- Top 10 Best Places to Eat in York