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10 Best Free Things to do in York


York is a wonderful place to visit - which is probably why it welcomes nearly 7 million visitors every year.

York Museum Gardens
York Museum Gardens

But is it still fun if you’re on a tight budget? Absolutely! There’s so much to see and do in York, that it’s easy to find interesting places to visit that are completely free of charge.

Although many of the city’s attractions do charge for entry - there are some notable exceptions. Here are 10 of our favourite free things to do in York:

National Railway Museum

It seems incredible - but the National Railway Museum - one of the best museums in Britain, and probably the best railway museum in the world - is completely free of charge to visitors.

Great Hall, National Railway Museum
Great Hall, National Railway Museum

The museum has nearly 300 rail vehicles in total (and more than a million railway-related artefacts), covering the 300 year history of the railways in Britain.

City Entrance, National Railway Museum
City Entrance, National Railway Museum

Here are just a few of the highlights:

National Railway Museum
National Railway Museum

  • Mallard: This beautiful streamlined locomotive was built in 1938 and set the world speed record for steam locomotives that same year. That record stands to this day!
  • Stephenson’s Rocket: An exact replica of the pioneering design by George and Robert Stephenson.
  • Duchess of Hamilton: Another spectacularly beautiful streamlined stem locomotive
  • Shinkansen: The only Japanese Bullet Train outside Japan - capable of over 130mph in 1964.

 

As well as these iconic locomotives there are lots more, as well as lots of rolling stock, and railway artefacts including posters, art works, photos and more.

 

See The Shambles

This street in the centre of York has become a well-known tourist destination. The narrow cobbled street is flanked with ancient overhanging timber-framed buildings.

The Shambles
The Shambles

The Shambles
The Shambles

Shambles is an old word for a slaughterhouse and meat market, and as recently as the end of the 19th Century there were more than 20 butchers shops on this street.

You can still see the meat hooks and shelves outside some of the shops today.

The butchers shops have all gone now, and been replaced with independent shops selling souvenirs to tourists - though you’ll find some interesting places, some cafes and tea rooms, a bakery and more.

Atmospheric, and very photogenic, it’s well worth taking a walk up The Shambles when you’re in York.

 

Walk the City Walls

York’s city walls go back 1900 years, to Roman times, and to walk them today is to connect with the long history of York.

City Walls
City Walls

City Walls
City Walls

The walls are just over 2 miles (3.4km) long, and there are 4 main gateways known as “bars”, as well as three other smaller gateways. There are more than 40 towers along the walls.

The city walls were originally built to defend the city from attack, but have been modified and added to continuously throughout their history.

You can simply walk any section of wall that appeals - commit to going the whole way around, or do the City Walls Trail, created by the Friends of York Walls. This detailed guide has 19 pages of information available by scanning the QR codes on information boards at various access points around the walls.

http://www.yorkwalls.org.uk/

 

York Minster (Exterior Only )

York Minster is one of the world’s greatest cathedrals.

York Minster
York Minster

York Minster
York Minster

Unfortunately, to help defray the £20,000 per day running costs, York Minster charges visitors for admission (unless you’re a resident of York with ID), so those looking to enjoy York for free must content themselves with enjoying the exterior of this wonderful building.

York Minster
York Minster

There’s been a church on this site since 627AD - though that was a quickly-constructed wooden building.

It has subsequently been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions - the Gothic style building was begun in 1220 and continued into the 15th century.

You will hear the Minster bells ring every quarter hour during the daytime, and Great Peter - a 10 tonne bell in the north west tower strikes every hour.

The minster is floodlit at night and visible from many vantage points throughout the city including Exhibition Square, Precentor’s Court and Low Petergate.

https://yorkminster.org/

 

White Rose Free Tours

York Minster
York Minster

If you want to experience York’s long and fascinating history in the company of a knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, then why not take a White Rose tour of York?

White Rose Tours last for three hours, so you get a really thorough overview of York, and how it’s been an important place through hundreds of years of English History.

Tours run every day, morning and afternoon, and all tours start outside the West Entrance of York Minster.

Amazingly the tours are free - and the guides work for tips only, which you are free to give at the end of the tour in proportion to the value you received and your budget.

https://whiteroseyork.com/


Rowntree Park

There’s lots to enjoy in Rowntree Park - a 30 acre park gifted to the people of York by sweet-makers Rowntree & Co in 1921.

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

Take a stroll round the ornamental lake, and watch the ducks, geese, and sometimes model boats being sailed, or enjoy the woodland walk and tree trails.

There’s also a well equipped play area for children to enjoy, as well as two table-tennis tables, a basketball court and skate park.

 

Shambles Market

Between Parliament Street and The Shambles, you’ll find Shambles Market with more than 70 stalls offering all sorts of merchandise.

Shambles Market
Shambles Market

But it costs nothing to wander around the market and soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant and historic open-air market.

York has had a market since Viking times in the 8th century, and in the 12th and 13th centuries there were a variety of different markets on different days.

Shambles Market
Shambles Market

Today the market is open 7 days a week - and there’s a new Street Food area with free WiFi available!

http://www.shamblesmarket.com/

Yorkshire Lavender

Yorkshire Lavender is a family-run lavender farm, lavender gardens and plant nursery located in the Howardian Hills.

As well as enjoying the 60 acres of farm and gardens themselves, visitors will love the unforgettable panoramic views over the Vale of York.

Yorkshire Lavender Farm
Yorkshire Lavender Farm

Yorkshire Lavender Farm
Yorkshire Lavender Farm

Enjoy the many different varieties of lavender and their many different colours and distinct scents.

There’s also a unique Lavender Maze, Sensory Garden, Natural Wildflower Meadow, the Lynne Goodwill Memorial Garden, Sculpture Park and more. There’s also a gift shop and tearoom on site.

During March, April May and September you can visit Yorkshire Lavender free of charge. A small charge is made during the months of June, July and August.

If you like lavender - you can’t fail to enjoy a visit to Yorkshire Lavender.

http://yorkshirelavender.com 

Homestead Park

Homestead Park is a 14 acre park and gardens in the Clifton area of York. It’s owned and maintained by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation - and is open to visitors free of charge.

Homestead Park
Homestead Park

Originally opened in 1904 by Benjamin Seebohlm Rowntree - (the son of Joseph Rowntree the chocolate maker) who announced that the fields behind his new house could be used by children from York Elementary Schools for outdoor activities.

Homestead Park
Homestead Park

There’s a children’s play area in Homestead Park today, although it’s probably best known and loved for its floral displays.

Homestead Park
Homestead Park

Make sure you see the beautiful tree-lined cherry walk - which looks most spectacular when there is blossom on the trees.

Homestead Park
Homestead Park

There’s also a pond, rock garden, woodland area and wildflower meadow. It’s a great place to go for a picnic.


https://www.jrht.org.uk/about-us/homestead-park

York Museum Gardens

In the centre of York, beside the River Ouse, you’ll find the York Museum Gardens - 10 acres of beautiful botanic gardens that you can enjoy completely free of charge.

York Museum Gardens - Abbey Ruins
York Museum Gardens - Abbey Ruins

York Museum Gardens
York Museum Gardens

As well as the botanic gardens, there are interesting historic buildings to see, including the remains of the Roman Fort of Eboracum, the Multangular Tower dating from the 4th century, St Mary’s Lodge built in 1470, the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey Church from 1279, and the much more recent Yorkshire Museum and Octagonal Observatory.

York Museum Gardens - Hospitium
York Museum Gardens - Hospitium

There are around 40 species of birds in the gardens, as well as a population of almost-tame grey squirrels.

York Museum Gardens
York Museum Gardens

See if you can spot the very rare Tansy Beetles which only live in a 20 miles area around York. You’ll know one if you see it, for its lovely bright green iridescent jewel-like colour. You’ll find them in a flower bed near the Hospitium Building.

There is a lovely fern garden with both native and non-native ferns.

Also notable is the Observatory Border with appropriately “starry” flowers and the Prairie Border featuring native flora from the American Prairies.

There’s also a butterfly border which attracts butterflies, bees and other insects, an Oriental Border, Rock Garden and more.

https://www.yorkmuseumgardens.org.uk/


York is one of England’s most interesting and historic towns to visit, and as you can see, it’s possible to visit the city and have a great time without breaking the bank.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these ideas for things to do in York for free, and we’ve inspired you to take a trip to this wonderful city.

If you’ve enjoyed our selection of the best free things to do in York, then why not check out our other article, on things to do in York:

Things to do in York

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