Today – My top 10 free things to do in York
Family travel is fabulous but it can also easily get pricey. Over time I’ve picked up a few tips for keeping costs down but the most important one is probably the simplest: Don’t forget to find out about free things to do in your destination.
Having recently come back from a weekend in York (do have a look at our Things to do in York with Kids post) I was really impressed with how much there was for a family to do but also the amount of free things to do in York. Here’s a list of my top ten free activities to help stretch your travel budget a little further.
Free Things To Do In York
1 – Walk the city walls
If you really want to feel yourself walking in the footsteps of York’s historic residents then head up to a section of the city walls. They’re really well preserved and give a great view of the city and surroundings. Various information plaques along the route keep you informed. You can follow a small section or attempt to go all the way around in about 2 hours.
2 – National Railway Museum
With over 260 locomotives and vehicles plus all sorts of memorabilia, historic objects and art work NRM won’t disappoint. There’s something for all ages plus the usual shop and cafe. A great family day out.
3 – The Shambles and City Centre
With so much to ‘do’ it’s easy to forget to stop and take in the sights and sounds of this pretty city. A wander around the city centre including the iconic Shambles area is a fab way to pass the time. You’ll often find street entertainers of all sorts wowing the crowds.
4 – The Yorkshire Museum Gardens
While there is a fee for adults visiting the Yorkshire Museum itself (kids go free) the surrounding gardens are open to the public. You’ll find plenty to explore including the observatory and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. There is also the ‘Squirrel Trail’. Kids can follow the ten information points round the gardens and then take an online quiz at the end.
5 – Dalby Forest
Ok, technically this is about half an hour outside of York itself but Dalby Forest deserves to be included. A great example of how the Forestry Commission is making forests fun and accessible places for families. As well as just walking (or cycling) and enjoying the forest you’ll find play equipment and activities like the Highway Rat Trail. There’s also a calendar of events throughout the year so check out the website for dates. Expect everything from art installations and interactive theatre to stargazing. (Entrance is free but you will have to pay to park here)
6 – Free walking tours
The lovely (and very knowledgeable) folk at the Association of Voluntary Guides offer a daily free walking tour of the city. Starting in Exhibition Square, it lasts about two hours taking in all the sights. Check out the website for start times and a map of the route.
7 – Rowntree Park
Whether you prefer the playground and skate park or a quiet wander and feeding the ducks, Rowntree Park is another great free open space close to the city centre.
8 – Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yes, admittedly this one is also about 40 minutes from the city but still a worthwhile trip. With over 80 installations over the 500 acre site to explore this will keep you busy for the day. There are lots of resources on the website to engage kids, trail maps and things to spot etc. (Entrance is free but you will have to pay to park here)
9 – York University Astrocampus
Astrocampus is a fortnightly early evening tour of the university observatories and an introduction to the night sky. You’ll get to observe the Moon, planets, and stars and find out more about space science. This can include meteorite handling, using an infra-red camera to discover how space telescopes work and investigating spacecraft in 3D. The exact itinerary will vary depending on the weather conditions. Booking in advance on the website is essential.
10 – Free Child Entry to Museums
Kids go free with a paying adult at several venues in York, including York Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and the York Art Gallery, so while not entirely free they can also be a really cost effective option for families.
Hopefully, that’s given you plenty of ideas of free things to do in York and inspired you to give this wonderful city a try. It’s making me want to go back again! For more information you can read about our weekend in York and all the things to do in York with kids or check out the Visit York website for more ideas.