The Top Free Things To Do In York

Published by: BouncePosted
Streets of York

Founded by the ancient Romans, York is a walled city full of history, charm, and things to do. It's easily recognizable by the large stretches of ancient walls bordering the River Ouse and the majestic York Minster, also known as The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York. Visitors flock to this North Yorkshire town for everything from museums to shopping to churches. The ideal time to visit York is in the warmer months so that you take in all that this quaint city has to offer. It's best explored on foot, and cold weather and rain will put a damper on your fun.

Although it has many activities for everyone, traveling can get expensive so it's good to mix in some free things to do in York while you're in town. A trip to York is suitable for adults, kids, and everyone in between. For families visiting York, you'll want to check out the best things to do in York with kids.

Before you embark on your journey, take advantage of the freedom that a Bounce luggage storage in York affords you. Conveniently drop your bags and let the good times begin. Whether you have a high or low travel budget, the top free things to do in York will keep you busy and take you through the whole York area. You definitely don't have to spend a lot to enjoy this picturesque town.

Photographer in York

St. Mary's Abbey

St. Mary's Abbey is a ruined structure inside York's walls set in beautiful gardens. While there is no roof on the Abbey, the walls tell a story of a time gone by. Take in what remains of one of the most significant Benedictine monasteries in the country. It was constructed in 1088, although the walls that stand now were built in the 1260s. There are paths for visitors around the Abbey and the nave walls are still a dominant feature. You can still see the areas where the monks sang and prayed and the cloister, the only place the monks could speak.

A tour of St. Mary's Abbey won't take too long, but the photos and history lessons are worth the trip. The entry is totally free, and the well-kept Museum Gardens that surround the Abbey is an ideal place to picnic and stroll.

York Art Gallery

Art lovers will be pleased to learn that the York City Art Gallery offers free entry at any time. The gallery is a charity and believes that the permanent displays of important national and international art should be accessible to everyone. The art gallery features paintings from the 14th century to contemporary pieces with a collection of watercolors, drawings, prints, and even ceramics.

The York Art Gallery building is picturesque from the outside and has arches, skylights, and impressive columns in the interior. It's adjacent to The King's Manor and an easy walk from St. Mary's Abbey and Museum Gardens. The gallery is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm with entry times every 30 minutes. This free activity in York is very popular so try to book your tickets online in advance. A time slot guarantees you access in a half-hour window, and once inside you can stay as long as you want, or until closing, whichever comes first. Although the entrance is free, if you can make a donation, it's always appreciated.

National Railway Museum

Part of the Science Museum Group, York's National Railway Museum is heaven for rail history fans. The museum's goal is to tell the story of Britain's rail achievements through time by offering interactive exhibits and workshops, and, of course, a huge display of locomotives. The exhibits change through the seasons, but on permanent display, you'll find everything from a Japanese bullet train to Mallards and Duchess of Hamilton models. If you arrived at York Station, compare your train to these historic marvels.

One of the most popular activities for kids at the National Railway Museum is the miniature railway. Although it's not technically free, children under two ride free and everyone else needs to pay £3 for a ride. This small-scale tour of the South Yard is fun for all ages and worth it if you can spare the fee. Space on the miniature railway fills up quickly so try to book your ride as soon as you arrive.

Free Walking Tours

One of the best ways to cover a lot of ground for no cost is a free walking tour in York. Companies run daily walking trips to explore the best the city has to offer. Most walking tours will take you past Museum Gardens, York Minster, the ancient walls, and many other highlights. Generally run by volunteers, a walking tour provides access to a local expert that you wouldn't get otherwise.

Meet up with the volunteers at the York Art Gallery's Exhibition Square for a tour with the Association of Voluntary Guides at either 10:15 am or 1:15 pm. Free tours by White Rose meet outside York Minster at 11 am and 3 pm starting in spring until fall.

Streets of York in Winter

Picnic at Rowntree Park

Rowntree Park is the ideal spot for a picnic in York with wonderful views of the River Ouse. Enjoy a meal on one of the lawns and watch the boats and people go about their business. This park is especially appealing to traveling families for the abundance of children's activities. They can burn off steam in the play area, feed birds at the narrow lake, and engage in a competitive game at the tennis and basketball courts.

Parents and adults will love the park's serenity less than 15 minutes on foot from the city center. Bring a book and a snack for a quiet moment amid the stress of travel. The park is open from 9 am to 9:30 pm and admission is completely free.

Views from Clifford's Tower

Clifford's Tower is part of the ruined keep at York Castle on a hill with breathtaking views across the city. While it will cost you to climb the tower itself, the hilltop views are almost as good and access is free. The tower still keeps watch over the city and has done so since 1245 serving as an iconic medieval symbol.

Sandwiched between the York Castle Museum and the York Army Museum, the hilltop offers magnificent sunset views of York's historic buildings, church steeples, and the River Ouse. Although it's hard to resist snapping excessive amounts of photos of the view, don't forget to turn around and capture the imposing tower as well.

Meander along York's Medieval Walls

Probably the most widely known attraction in York is the collection of medieval walls that border the River Ouse. The city is proud that it has the longest section of intact walls in England, sometimes referred to as the Bar Walls or Roman Walls. The walls are hard to miss as you navigate through York, but a specific trip along the trail that runs parallel is worthwhile.

If walking is a favorite pass time while traveling, York is full of options. To expand your walking beyond the walls and the river, visit the best hikes in York.

Museum Gardens and York Observatory

Surrounding the gardens of St. Mary's Abbey, Museum Gardens is a botanical garden adjacent to the River Ouse with spectacular abbey views. The York Observatory houses a four-inch refractor telescope built in 1850. While the gardens are ideally visited during the day, the observatory is a wonderful nighttime excursion. On a clear evening, the observatory offers events that permit you to gaze at the stars through the telescope. Regular star-gazing tours are also run on the Museum Garden lawns and everything is completely free.

York's Edible Wood

The Edible Wood is one of the more unique free things to do in York. Part of the Museum Gardens, this area was planted in 2015 to showcase plants that are both edible and beautiful. Although visitors are not permitted to sample the plants, everything serves a dual purpose. From the colorful ornamental onions to the edible shrubs and fruit, this place is magical. Even if you can't eat what you see, it's a wonderful opportunity for a leisurely stroll among a combination of plants you won't find anywhere else.

View of the River Ouse

St. Olave's Church

Next to St. Mary's Abbey, St. Olave's is a working Anglican church on Marygate. For anyone who doesn't want to splash out cash to tour the inside of York Minster, this is a great alternative. Entry is always free, but donations are welcome. Known for a proud music tradition, you might happen on the choir practicing here. As music fills the air, tour the church that was rebuilt in the 15th century and again in the 1720s. Despite further improvements, the structure retains many 15th century features.

Shambles Market

Visiting York's city center market might be an exercise in restraint if you're trying to avoid spending money. Regardless of whether you can spend a few pounds or not, Shambles Market is a fun way to spend an afternoon. The market teems with locals, tourists, and independent traders to offer a vibrant market experience with over 70 stalls.

At this exciting market, traders showcase everything from produce, cheese, and other food to souvenirs and flowers. If you plan to picnic at Dean's or Rowntree Park, this is the perfect place to amass your supplies. You have to eat anyway so spending money on food doesn't count, right?

Dean's Park

Dean's Park is made up of the gardens that surround York Minster, and it's the ideal spot to gaze upon this magnificent cathedral. Typically open from 7 am to dusk, this popular park welcomes picnickers and those out for a stroll. The tree-lined area offers expansive green lawns situated on the north side of York Minster and south of the City Wall Walk. In the summer months, enjoy a drink or some ice cream from the park's refreshment stand. There's no charge to spend time here and it's popular with both locals and tourists.

Dean's Park is also home to the Cathedral Library, another free thing to do in York. It's open daily from Monday to Friday between 9 am and 5 pm.

Take in the River Ouse

The scenic River Ouse might be part of some walking tours, but if not, it's certainly worth a stroll. Easily accessible from York's city center, the river features city wildlife like ducks and swans and beautiful views. Admire the boats as they pass and reflect on all the fantastic things you've seen in York. If you want to keep your walk short, travel along the river's edge from Scarborough Bridge to Lendal Bridge. This short trip will offer the best bang for your buck, especially if your feet are tired.

Edges of York Minster in York


Once you've explored the best free things to do in York, you can rest assured that you've seen and done some memorable activities. If you can afford the entry into York Minster and Clifford's Tower it might be worth considering, but the view from the tower's hilltop and St. Olave's Church are ideal replacements.

York is the perfect example of a desirable destination that doesn't have to break the bank. You can easily fill your time with free things to do and most things are accessible on foot with a good pair of walking shoes. Don't let your budget stop you from getting out there and traveling.

Newsletter Banner

Love discounts and traveling?

Sign up for our newsletter to get insider travel tips and a 10% discount delivered straight to your inbox.

No spam here, just the good stuff.

Get the
Bounce app

Instantly find locations nearby to drop off your luggage wherever you go.