Free or cheap things to do in York

The summer holidays can be so stressful for some parents especially now with the cost of living crisis going on. It’s a case of where do we go? What do we do? How expensive is it going to be? A lot of the time. So we decided to help out a little by putting together a list of free or cheap things to do in York this summer.

1.Visit the Museum Gardens

Pack up a picnic, a few outdoor toys, and a blanket and head to the centre of York to the beautiful Museum gardens where you can lay out an area to relax in whilst the kids play in the 10 acres of open space, explore the abbey ruins, and spend time finding some of the unique features hidden around the place.

2. Go choo choo crazy at the National Railway Museum

With so many models of trains from old right through to more modern trains, a mini railway ride, interactive learning stations, plus many other fascinating exhibitions, the railway museum is perfect not just for train enthusiasts but for families too! And an added bonus is that it is free too! Although if you want to you can give them a donation instead! It is also worth checking their website as they do tend to organise events, or temporary exhibitions just for during the holidays too.

3.  Do you know what a snickleway is? Why not find out!

The term means ‘unique passageways’ in the city and usually describes narrow walkways leading from one place to another. When wandering through the many snickleways York has to offer you can genuinely feel like you are taking a step back in time. Why not explore York and try and find ‘Lady Peckett’s Yard’, or ‘Hole-in-the wall’, or ‘Coffee yard’ whilst on your adventure.

4. Be inspired by artists at the York Art Gallery

The wonderful York Art Gallery is another of York’s free entry attractions, and is well worth a visit, not only for learning purposes but also for some inspiration for budding young artists out there! There are often various events and exclusive exhibitions held at the gallery so it is always worth heading to their website to see if there is any arranged especially for the holidays.

York Art Gallery

5. Harry Potter Fan? Yes? Well you should definitely head to York’s very own Diagon Alley (The Shambles)

The Shambles is such a magical street not only because it is full of magical shops but also because of its history and charm. With old-fashioned overhanging buildings, cobbled stones, and old meat shelve windows built into many of the shops, this is definitely a piece of York everyone should visit and admire.

6. Look in awe at the famous York Minster

The stunning architecture of the York Minster alone is enough reason to pay this famous attraction a visit. You can choose to just admire the external beauty of the cathedral and enjoy some time in it’s gardens, or for a small charge you can visit its vast chapel areas, and even climb to the top of one of it’s very tall towers, but be aware its pretty steep and you most definitely need to be pretty fit.

7. Take part in one of York’s many trails!

There are various trails to take part in across the city from the famous ‘Cat Trail’ to the ‘Nature York Play Trail’ to the ‘Fun Treasure Hunt’ whatever trail you choose to do they all encourage getting active and exploring, and most of them are free or have a minimal charge.

8. Pretend to be a Roman atop the York Bar Walls!

Another way to get your kids active this summer is to head to the York Bar Walls. You could make it even more fun by dressing up and pretending to be Romans as you explore each of the sections and the bars that are dotted along the route.

York Bar Walls

9. Head to one of York’s big parks.

There are two main parks to head to in or close to the city centre. The first is Rowntree’s park which is just near the river close to the centre. At Rowntree’s park you will find plenty of play equipment, a lake, a bike ramp area, basketball courts, bowling greens, a cafe, plenty of open space, and generally there is also an ice cream truck in the car park too. The other park which is located not too far from the centre is Homestead park. At Homestead park there is again plenty of open space, gardens, a pond, a rockery garden, plenty of play equipment, a cafe, toilets, an obstacle course, and more. So why not pack up a picnic and a blanket and let the kids run wild for a few hours.

10. Support York’s street performers.

In York you will generally always find buskers and street performers but definitely more so during the summer holidays when York is at it’s busiest. So it is always worth heading in for a wander to see what great acts you can find.

11. Kick back in York Library.

Not only is the library a great place to grab a book and sit and read in their cafe but it also has a lovely hidden gem of a garden that is often quiet and secluded too. The library does hold events fairly often so it is always worth visiting their website to see what’s on.

12. St Nick’s 

St Nick’s is a centre for nature and green living, it is an old landfill site that was transformed in the 1990’s into a thriving local nature reserve. There are 24 acres of beautiful meadowland, woods, and a nature centre. There are often regular activities organised at the site so it is worth checking their website for more info.

13. Explore the four strays of York.

The strays of York is a collective name for four areas of open land (equalling 800 acres) with the city of York. There is Bootham Stray, Micklegate Stray, Monk Stray, and Walmgate Stray. The strays are ideal for exploring, picnicking, walking, biking, or playing outdoor activities for a few hours.

14. Like to bike? Than head out on the Sustrans!

There are many former railway lines that can be explored via walking or biking in York known as the Sustrans, so if your feeling active why not look them up and head out for a good bit of fresh air for the day!

Rowntrees Park in York

There are quite a few ideas above, and hopefully I have covered most of what York has to offer for Free (or cheap) to keep your family entertained this summer, but here are also a few quick ideas for if you choose to just stay at home too:

  • Set a reading challenge
  • Indoor or back garden camping
  • Craft day
  • Garden Olympics or sports day
  • Learn a new skill
  • Home cinema night
  • Take up a hobby
  • Head out on a local walk or bike ride
  • Have a games day
  • Make a herb or veg garden
  • Have a bake sale
  • Create a time capsule
  • Create some dream/vision boards
  • Slumber party
  • Treasure hunt
  • Become an artist day
  • Have a garden festival

Hopefully you are now armed with some ideas ready to hit the ground running from the end of next week. For more ideas on things to do in York or to find out about local events, do head to the Visit York website, and should you need accommodation for your visit to York pop across to our enquiries page to see what’s available.