Explore York on a budget…10 fun places to visit!

One of the advantages of attending the University of York is that you will be in the heart of one of the UK’s most beautiful and historic cities. Believe it or not, you can explore York by spending very little or nothing at all. If like me, you are always looking for things to do with your friends or family without breaking the bank, here are 10 great places I’ve discovered in York that are absolutely FREE….or very cheap! Living off campus with my husband and 2 young children means that I am always on the lookout for cheap and cheerful days out especially as the weather is warming up and summer holidays are around the corner. In this blog, I will share my top 10 fun and favourite places to explore in York!

My husband and children relax and take in the views of the lake at Rowntree Park.
My family relax and take in the beautiful views of the lake at Rowntree Park.

1. National Railway Museum

For a fantastic free day out for the whole family in York, visit National Railway Museum. Get up close to over 200 years of fascinating history. On weekends and school holidays there is  a fun programme of events and activities, including science shows, storytelling, steam rides, craft activities and special events.

Location: Leeman Road, York

2. The Shambles

The Shambles
The Shambles

The Shambles is a great place to take a  stroll do some window shopping, listen to the street musicians and soak up the historic atmosphere. It’s a narrow cobbled street in the heart of the city, and is said to be Europe’s best preserved medieval street. The leaning ‘wattle and daub’ buildings were once home to the city’s butcher shops, but these days they’re filled with charming, quirky boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

Location: City Centre, York

3. York City Walls

York City Walls
York City Walls

A lovely walk along the walls gives you a clear view of the city, with informative plaques dotted along the route that explain the historical background. The well-preserved Roman walls have been guarding the historic city centre for around 700 years. I completed a full circuit in around 2 hours, but if you prefer a shorter experience, you can enter and exit via the five main bars or gateways onto the walls.

Location: Monk Bar and Micklegate Bar, York

4. Rowntree Park

Rowntree Park is one of my favourite outdoor spaces in York
Rowntree Park is one of my favourite outdoor spaces in York

One of my favourites! This green oasis is just a 10-15 minute walk south of the city centre. Watch the ducks and geese on the park’s lake, and keep a look out for squirrels as you stroll across the parks lush lawns. Children could entertain themselves in the play area, complete with climbing frames, swings and a mini zip line. If you want to get active there is a tennis court, basketball areas and skate park or you could also relax and have an ice-cream or lovely cuppa at the café.

My 5 year old enjoying the mini zip line at Rowntree Park.
My 5-year-old enjoying the mini zip line at Rowntree Park.

Location: Terry Ave., York

5. Yorkshire Museum Gardens and Observatory

The Yorkshire Museum and gardens are stunning!

This museum is free for York Museum Trust cardholders, however up to four children can enter free per one paying adult (definitely a bargain!). Weather permitting, this a fantastic spot for a stroll and a relaxed riverside picnic on a sunny summer’s day. Another oasis in the heart of the city, set around the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. The flora and fauna is AMAZING! Yorkshire’s oldest working observatory is also within the grounds.

Location: Museum St., York

6. Free guided walking tours

Cobbled stones dating back to medieval times!
Cobbled stones dating back to medieval times!

The Association of Voluntary Guides to the City of York give free walking tours on the city walls and around the historic centre. Tours leave daily from Exhibition Square and wind through the city to end at the Shambles. The route varies but normally passes by the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, the King’s Manor, York Minster, the haunted Treasurer’s house and St. William’s College. The guides have an incredible knowledge of the city’s historical background and lots of fascinating local gossip and jokes.

York City Walls
York City Walls

Location: 1 Museum Street, AVG Information Desk, York

7. The Homestead

The Homestead is a great park to visit on a sunny day. It’s a short pleasant walk from the city centre along the River Ouse towpath. For younger children, there is a large play area with a monkey gym and slides, as well as a paddling pool, table tennis and lots of grassy spaces for football and other games. The gardens are quirky and well thought-out. There are also free tree trail and wildlife spotting guides available at the entrance.

Location: 40 Water End, York

8. Shambles Market

Shambles Market
Shambles Market

There are usually over 85 stalls set up amongst the cobbles at this daily market behind the Shambles. There is an incredible range of goods on sale from local produce, fruit and veg, delicious cakes and freshly baked breads to flowers, cosmetics, clothing, gifts, books and unique crafts. There is also a street food area where you can try all kinds of tasty international snacks, with a seating area and free wi-fi.

Location: Newgate Market & Parliament Street, York

9. York Minster

York Minster
York Minster

You need to pay to get into this Gothic masterpiece…BUT it costs nothing to stand outside and take it all in! The last stone was laid in the 1400s – experts reckon it one of the UK’s great historical buildings.

York Minster
York Minster

Location: Deangate, York

10. York Early Music Festival

This weeklong festival takes place each July and focuses on a different composer and theme each year. The National Centre for Early Music offers a warm welcome to everyone and is fully accessible to wheelchair users. Events include choral and chamber concerts and recitals as well as larger symphonic performances in some of York’s most popular music venues. There are also lectures related to featured composers. The University of York’s Jazz orchestra is carded to play on 2nd June 2017, there is a fee of £3 for students.

Location: The National Centre for Early Music, St. Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York

So there you have it folks! York is indeed a beautiful city with lots to see and do. You can start exploring using my list above, but of course I have only scratched the surface of what the City of York has to offer. There are many other places to visit, restaurants, cafes, museums, parks the list is endless!

You will find loads of quirky shops in The Shambles.
You will find loads of quirky shops in The Shambles.
The wildlife are part of the scenic beauty of the City of York.
The beautiful wildlife at Rowntree Park.


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Hi! My name is Renée and I am a 2nd year Social Work student. I am a mature student and balance my time between my studies and looking after my family. I am thoroughly enjoying my course thus far and hope to give you a useful insight into the life of a Social Work student at The University of York.

One thought on “Explore York on a budget…10 fun places to visit!”

  1. Dear Renee

    A small correction, you can go inside the see the Minster if you are attending a service or want to pray, without paying an entrance fee to get in.



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