7 Totally Free Things To Do In York, England This Summer

York Minster

York is a fantastic, historic city. There’s loads to see and plenty of exciting things going on throughout the year to keep any locals and visitors entertained.

York has been my home for a year and a half now, and the excitement of wandering down its charming, medieval streets has not warn off.

Unlike some other UK tourist hotspots, a trip to York city centre needn’t cost you an arm and a leg. When the skies are clear and the sun is shining, you can busy yourself for hours exploring the city’s historic sights.

I’ve put together a little list for those looking for some inspiration for what to get up to. Here’s 7 completely free things to do in York this summer.

1) Walk the city walls

Free things to do in York - Walk the city walls
Photo by Nilfanion on Wikimedia UK, with adaptations.

If you’re looking for free things to do in York, walking around its famous walls is an absolute must.

One of York’s defining features is the 3.4km medieval stone wall that surrounds it. Since the Roman times, the city has been defended by some form of wall, and what remains of it today was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Impressive, right?

A walk around the city walls is a fantastic way to get to know the city – and to get your bearings! There’s some really stunning views of the Minster and its surrounding gardens too.

It would take you around 2 hours to make your way around the full circuit, but there’s no need to do the full loop if that’s too far for you. The wall is broken up by several gates where you can easily hop on and off. Who knows where you’ll end up!

Free things to do in York - York Minster
Views from my favourite part of the walls, near the Minster. Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash

2) Visit St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens

Free things to do in York - St Mary's Abbey
Photo by Kaly99 on Wikimedia UK, with adaptations.

If the sun is shining in the centre of York, the Museum Gardens are the place to be. And the best news is that they are free to visit and open daily.

It’s lovely to wander around these colourful botanic gardens, even if you don’t venture into the Yorkshire Museum they surround. Why not pick up some nibbles and enjoy them on the grass with the other picnickers?

If you have any sort of interest in history, stop and look at the impressive, medieval ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. The former Benedictine Abbey was established in 1088, and the picturesque ruins that remain today are from between 1271 and 1294. There’s a whole lotta history in York, I tell you.

Relaxing in these peaceful gardens is one of the very best free things to do in York.

3) Wander around the Shambles

Free things to do in York - Shambles Market
Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash, with adaptations.

Probably York’s most popular tourist attraction, The Shambles is one of Europe’s most impressive and best preserved shopping streets from the medieval times.

The Shambles used to be known for its plentiful butchers’ shops. This is why the street was deliberately made so narrow; to keep the meat that was on display out of direct sunlight. Even today, you can see the hooks the meat was hung from above some of the shop fronts.

Nowadays, there’s a lot less raw meat on offer. Instead, the historic buildings house dinky little cafes, unique restaurants, and an array of different shops.

At the adjoining Shambles Market, you’ll find a variety of market stalls selling fresh produce, plants, local products, and pretty much whatever else you can think of. There’s also a bustling outdoor food court offering a variety of world cuisines and drinks.

It’s easy to get lost in the history of The Shambles. It’s even easier to find yourself drawn into one of the sweet shops on your way down!

4) Explore rail history at the National Railway Museum

York may not have the reputation of London, but it does have its very own national museum to brag about.

The National Railway Museum is plonked right in the heart of York, just a few minutes’ walk from the train station. It puts on display hundreds of years of rail history, and best of all, it’s totally free.

You don’t have to be a train buff to find it interesting here. The museum is super interactive and engaging for adults and children alike. Not only can you marvel at the huge trains (including the world’s fastest steam locomotive, Mallard), you can also explore inside some of them. I found it particularly interesting to explore a carriage of Japan‘s famous bullet train.

A trip to the National Railway Museum really is fun for all the family – and it’s one of the most exciting free things to do in York!

5) Stroll along the river to Rowntree Park

River Ouse York

On a warm summer’s day, there’s nothing quite like taking a stroll along the River Ouse, soaking in the sights of the city and watching boats bob along by.

The cobbled riverside is lined with bustling bars and restaurants, and on warm evenings the atmosphere is electric.

Wander south down the river and you’ll end up in the wonderfully peaceful Rowntree Park, where you’ll find cafes, play equipment and an abundance of green space to picnic and play on.

6) Take in the awesome sights of York Minster

York Minster

You can’t visit York without checking out its famous minster. In fact, when you’re in York, you really can’t miss it.

York Minster is one of the largest and most impressive cathedrals in Northern Europe. Completed in the late 15th century, it is situated right at the heart of York city centre – and it’s definitely not to be missed.

In my opinion, tickets to get in are really overpriced. But, the best views of the Minster come from the outside – and they can’t charge you for that!

You can walk around the entire circumference of the Minster, passing through cute cobbled streets and lush green gardens. The sights are really magnificent.

Keep an eye out for the famous tiger-looking Minster cat who likes to hang around these parts!

7) Admire the city from Clifford’s Tower

Clifford's Tower York
Photo by Andy Falconer on Unsplash

Clifford’s Tower is the last remaining structure of York Castle, which was once the centre of government for the whole of the north of England. The 13th-century stone tower we see today has served as a number of things in its long history, including a treasury, a prison and a royal mint. Today, it remains one of the most iconic sights in York.

Just like the Minster, going inside the tower will cost you a bob or two. However, venturing up the very steep steps and walking around it is completely free (if you can survive the climb!).

The top of the hill is a great place to admire views of the city, and an ever better place to sit and await the sunset. It’s the perfect way to end a busy day exploring York.

7 Totally Free Things To Do In York This Summer

And there you have it! That should be enough free things to do in York to keep you occupied for your trip to the city.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Check out some more exciting travel guides here!

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Charlie Semmence

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Seasoned traveller, writer and food-lover from Essex, UK. Loves city breaks, adventurous trips to distant lands, and writing all about them.

16 thoughts on “7 Totally Free Things To Do In York, England This Summer

  1. I haven’t been to York yet but I’m hoping to see more of the UK this year and now York has gone higher up the list. I bet there are some fantastic views from Clifford’s Tower

  2. Planning a few trips around the UK for the next few months so will definitely have to stop by York on my travels! This has given me some great budget-friendly ideas about what to do when I’m there!

  3. Love York! The cream tea there is beautiful, and I was there once when the water level was quite high. I have a photo of, I think the church in town center, during the day, with some strange light pattern…we think it was a ghost! 😮 York is a wonderful town and lovely to see your recommendations.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Heather! Yes, the river floods pretty much every year and it’s quite a sight. There’s lots of places in York that are supposedly haunted too – though thankfully I haven’t experienced that myself yet 😱

  4. OMG, I totally thought your article was about NEW York and I’m just looking at the photos and was like wait a minute, this place is lovely! NOT like New York at ALL!!! HAHAHAHA

  5. What a great read! This place looks amazing and your pictures are amazing!! I would love to travel more around the UK. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. I studied abroad in York and love it so much! I went back to visit for the first time last summer, and coincidentally did all the things on your list. So I can confirm that it’s an awesome list, haha!

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