York on the cheap: Free things to do

Freebie. Gratis. Cheap. York may be one of the UK’s most historic, most pretty cities – but you can explore it without spending a penny.

History- National Railway Museum

All aboard. Swoon at the romance of the steam age and marvel at its marvellous engineering. Get up close to some of the most important trains in history and see how the railways changed the way we worked, lived and holidayed.

What to see:

  • Mallard. Super-speedy. Mallard became the world’s fastest steam engine in the 1930s – and no one has managed to beat it yet (that’s staying power). Its streamlined bullet shape was designed by engineer Sir Nigel Gresley
  • Vintage railway posters. Get all misty-eyed at the holidays of yesteryear - when a train ride to the coast was the equivalent of a week in the sun. Don’t the miss the 1920s Art Deco style posters – they’re fab.

What to do with the kids:

  • Play trains. The Playing Trains exhibition is a haven for train-loving little ones. With models, toys, artwork and books for kids to explore.


Art and Culture- York Art Gallery

The magnificently spruced up York Art Gallery features a new mezzanine gallery that will take your breath away – it’s a real bobby dazzler. Find ceramics alongside historically important oil paintings from 17 and 18th century artists. 

What to see:

  • Ceramics. Find a vast collection of British-made ceramics from the early 20th century to the present day from collectors such as Dean Milner-White and Henry Rothschild. 

What to do with the kids:

  • Explore Museum Gardens. Little ones can run free across the lawns, explore the plants and flowers and feed their imaginations on the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.


The great outdoors- Rowntree Park

Find this green oasis just a stone’s throw from the city centre. The park was designed in tribute to the employees of York cocoa firm Rowntree & Co who died in the First World War.

What to see:

  • Water and wildlife. Watch the ducks and geese on the park’s ornamental lake, and keep a look out for squirrels as you wander the parks lush lawns.

What to do with the kids:

  • Follow the tree trail. There’s something magnificent about the tree – strong, wise and towering. Explore some really old, really important trees here and learn about the different species and their history and mythology. 



  • The City Walls. The stone walls surrounding York were built in medieval times to keep out invaders. Nowadays they make for a lovely afternoon walk. The walls were built on the remains of ones built in Roman times.


  • York Minster. You need to pay to get into this Gothic masterpiece. But it costs nothing to stand outside and breathe it all in. The last stone was laid in the 1400s – so it’s pretty old. It’s pretty special too – experts reckon it one of the UK’s great historical buildings.


  • The Shambles. How many shopping streets in our cities were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086? The Shambles was. It’s one of Britain’s best preserved medieval streets – and was once filled with butchers plying their trade. Now it’s brimming with quirky independent shops and buildings that lean in ‘til they almost touch above your head. No wonder Google once named it the UK’s most picturesque street