15 Free Things To Do In York

sunset picture of york minster

York is a beautiful city, with its rich history, charming streets, and vibrant culture! It’s become a fantastic destination for families seeking memorable experiences. But not every attraction comes with a big price tag… We’ve rounded up 15 free days out York that families will love and can enjoy the city without breaking the bank.

From exploring medieval architecture to enjoying scenic walks along the river, there’s something here for everyone.

york observatory

York Observatory

Visit York’s oldest observatory which was built in the 19th century! With a large telescope built by Thomas Cooke, it’s become stapled in history.

You’ll also find a unique clock there that tells time based on the position of the stars. The study of stars and astronomy is important here at the York Observatory. It’s also part of York Museum Gardens, which you can also check out.

Shape Location Get directions

Museum Gardens, York, YO30 7BH

Opening Times

Monday to Sunday 09:00 - 18:30

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york city walls

City Walls Walk

Embark on a journey through time by walking along the medieval city walls. The panoramic views of the city, along with the chance to learn about York’s history, make this a must-do activity.

York City walls are some of the best preserved in England, where you can discover and absorb the stunning views of its city centre and surroundings. The walls can be walked in their entirety, or in sections, and are a great way to get a sense of York’s history!

Did you know that Romans built a lot of the roads you’ll find in York? From Roman fortifications to thermal baths and the longest wall barrier in the country! York City is steeped in history!

With beautiful architecture and miles of pathways and cobbled streets to explore, a long walk along the wall is perfect for a family day out.

york museum gardens

Explore Yorkshire Museum Gardens

These beautiful gardens offer a tranquil escape from the bustling city. Picnic amongst the flowers, explore the Roman ruins, or simply take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

Discover St Mary’s Abbey that dates back to 1294 or explore the crypt of the old St Leonard’s Hospital.

When the flowers are in bloom, it truly is a floral paradise. During Halloween, you can see the return of the dreaded and creepy ghouls… A spooky Halloween-themed walking trail that will certainly delight any family!

Shape Location Get directions

Museum St, York, YO1 7FR

Opening Times

Monday to Sunday 09:00 - 18:00

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a street performer

Observe Street Performers

If you’re looking for something easy to watch and enjoyable, why not sit down in the city centre and look around you? There’s always entertainers in the heart of the city that are sure to wow and amaze you.

From street performances and theatre to music, magicians and more! You may even spot some truly unique and quirky street performers, which is another reason why sometimes it’s just good to stop and observe your surroundings!

golden fleece pub

Stop for A Spirit...

What do I mean? Well, drop by The Golden Fleece…York’s most haunted pub. This 16th-century inn is believed to be haunted by 15 spirits, the most known is Lady Anne Peckett. 

Previous guests have noticed things going bump in the night, a woman wandering corridors and up and down the stairs and even a spirit holding a pistol. With numerous sightings here, it certainly holds the number one haunted pub in York.

Of course, it’s free to visit. But we wouldn’t blame you if you needed a drink to calm the nerves…

Shape Location Get directions

Golden Fleece, 16 Pavement, York, YO1 9UP

Opening Times

Monday to Sunday 11:00 - 00:00

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clifford's tower

Clifford's Tower

Visiting Clifford’s Tower inside requires an entry fee. But you can just simply walk to the entrance and admire the view from afar.

This historic site is a great spot for children to learn about the city’s past while burning off some energy. You can stop here on your own self-guided tour around York. Why not catch a glimpse of York Castle too? What remains is the last of the castle that was built by William the Conqueror. Super interesting for any history buffs in the family!

Psst…if you have a membership with English Heritage you can visit for free! It’s a family day out that everyone can enjoy!

Shape Location Get directions

Tower Street, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9SA

Opening Times

Monday to Sunday 10:00 - 18:00

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lake at rowntree park

Rowntree Park

Ideal for families, this park boasts an adventure playground, green spaces, and a lovely riverside setting!

Stretch your legs and enjoy a breath of fresh air at this lovely park by the River Ouse. From well-kept and fantastic gardens to feeding the ducks. There’s plenty of light-hearted activities to do here. The kids can even enjoy a mini zip wire and climbing frames at the playground! A bit of family fun for those who love to be outdoors!

Not to mention there’s a mini-golf course and a skate park here. Why not pack a picnic, enjoy a game of frisbee, and simply relax by the water? It’s the ideal school holiday family day out!

Shape Location Get directions

Terry Ave., York YO23 1JQ

Opening Times

Monday to Friday 09:00 - 21:30
Saturday and Sunday 09:00 - 21:00

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the shambles in york

Stroll Through The Shambles

Wander down the narrow, charming streets of the Shambles, often said to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. It’s also the most famous street in York! With its cobbled stones, timber-framed buildings and picturesque street – it’s certainly iconic. Did you know that some of the buildings have been around since the fourteenth century?

Marvel at the medieval architecture and quirky shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s a fab place to wander and soak up the atmosphere.

But, did you know the buildings that line up the iconic Victorian street were for a slaughterhouse? You’ll notice hooks adorning the walls where the meat used to be hung.

Shape Location Get directions

Shambles, City Centre, York YO1 7LZ,

national railway museum

National Railway Museum

Why not visit the biggest train museum in the country?! You’ll find a whole host of historic trains and interactive displays that provide a fascinating experience for all ages.

Did you know it features over 100 locomotives and exhibits on the history of the railways? You can immerse yourself in all things to do with train engineering and how travel went from horses to trains!

With an outstanding collection of displays of rail history, there’s so much you can discover. From the bullet train to the fastest steam locomotive, the Mallard!

There’s something for everyone here!

Shape Location Get directions

Leeman Rd, York, YO26 4XJ

Opening Times

Monday Closed
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 - 17:00

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flower stall at york market

Stop By York's Markets

Peruse the Shambles Market or the Newgate Market for a taste of local flavours, crafts, and unique finds!

It’s a great opportunity to engage with local vendors and artisans. With over 85 stalls set up on the cobbled streets, you’re truly spoilt for choice. From veggie food and delicious baked goods to flowers, books and plenty more.

There’s even seating and free wifi in the street food area! The perfect spot for a break or pick me up. Don’t forget to grab a hot chocolate to warm you up on cold days!

Shape Location Get directions

Newgate Market & Parliament Street, York

Opening Times

Monday to Sunday 07:00 - 17:00

a park with a bench

Homestead Park

Located a short walk from the city centre, this park offers play areas, a skate park, and beautiful gardens.

It’s an excellent place for families to relax and enjoy some quality time together. With a monkey gym, paddling pool, table tennis and a wide grassy space for football. It’s the place to be in the summer holidays! Not to mention you can explore the wildflower garden and even a Lord of the Ring’s inspired garden with a hobbit home…

Shape Location Get directions

40 Water End, York YO30 6WP

Opening Times

Monday to Saturday 09:00 - 19:00
Sunday 10:00 - 19:00

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a walking tour

Free Walking Tours

Join a free walking tour of York to discover hidden gems and hear captivating stories about the city’s past!

Knowledgeable guides often tailor their free walking trails and tours to engage visitors of all ages. Sign up for The Associated of Voluntary Guides which run exciting tours that start at York Art Gallery! Discover York in a totally brand-new way.

Grab a refreshment to sip as you walk around. Whether you’re in need of a warm drink like hot chocolate or a bottle of water!

flowers growing in dean park

Dean's Park

Nestled behind York Minster, Dean’s Park offers a quiet place to unwind.

Let the kids explore the open space while you appreciate the majestic backdrop of the cathedral, York Minster.

The family can stop for a picnic on the grass or in the seating area. And enjoy outdoor activities like football, frisbee or having a runaround!

Shape Location Get directions

2 Minster Yard, York YO1 7JJ

Opening Times

Monday to Sunday 10:00 - 16:00

reenactment of battle in york

York Walls Festival

If you’re visiting in August, consider attending the annual York Walls Festival.

This event celebrates the city walls through various activities, including guided walks, reenactments, and more!

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boat on river ouse

Rowing on the River Ouse

While renting a boat might not be entirely free, some operators offer free rowing during specific times. Keep an eye out for such opportunities to enjoy a unique perspective of the city!

Or you could simply stroll along River Ouse and take in the gentle waters. If the weather is nice, then it’s a bonus!

Walk from Skelergate Bridge to Lendal Bridge, for example, and explore York’s water side.

York offers a plethora of cultural history, beautiful architecture and more for the family to discover. So, we hope we’ve given you your next family vacation inspiration or day trip with our 15 free things to do in York!

Whether you’re exploring ancient ruins, walking along historic walls, or simply enjoying the beauty of the city’s parks. There’s something for everyone.

Looking for more cheap and cheerful ideas? From family days outs, free days out in Manchester, free days out in London, free things to do with teenagers or even where kids can eat for free!

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