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We know that exploring a city can hurt the pocket, but sometimes the best things in life ARE free. Check out our list of free things to do and see in York.

Museums, Galleries and Heritage

National Railway Museum

York is well known for its railroad history, so no trip to York would be complete without a visit to the National Railway Museum. Get up close to rail icons including Mallard, the world’s fastest steam locomotive.

Despite the impressive array of engines celebrating the past, present and future of rail history, the museum is completely free to enter.

York Art Gallery (permanent collections only)

Spot the L.S. Lowry’s, Turner or Hockney and surround yourself with some of the best ceramic art in the world at one of the UK’s best regional galleries. An £8 million development in 2015 saw it shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year and the European Museum of the Year as the whole building was transformed.

The gallery has three exhibition spaces on the ground floor, displaying the best of national and international exhibitions (paid entry), and four on the first floor, including two galleries which are home to the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA), which showcases our internationally significant collection of British Studio Ceramics and are free to enter.

At the rear of the building, walk down into the Artists Garden and the Edible Wood before exploring the rest of the beautiful York Museum Gardens.

York Minster (free to residents only)

Residents can access York Minster for free with a proof of address, or a York Card.

Discover one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals, a masterpiece in stained glass and stone and a sacred space which has been at the centre of Christianity in the north of England since the 7th century.

The Minster was built for the glory of God and this is reflected in every aspect of this ancient building, from the exquisite handcrafted stone through to the unrivalled collection of medieval stained glass.

York’s churches

York has dozens of medieval churches dotted around the city centre, and many of them are open during the daytime for visitors to look in. Try St Michael le Belfrey in York city centre, Holy Trinity hidden in a leafy oasis behind shops in Goodramgate, or one of the York City Centre Churches to explore ancient places of worship.

York has a strong history of non-conformist churches to explore – stop by the Friargate Quaker Meeting House and discover its historical links to the Rowntree family, visit imposing Methodist Centre, St Saviourgate, and nip down the road to see the quirky York Unitarians chapel.

Note – please check opening times for churches directly and in advance to avoid disappointment.

York Explore Library

For those of you who are really into your history, pay a visit to York Explore Library and Archives. Their archives are available for members of the public to browse, however, some specific archives do need to be booked in advance. Discover the library garden – a hidden gem which is often quiet and secluded, and features some of York’s urban archaeology which shows the development of the city walls from Roman times through the ages. You also have the option of taking a book from the shelves and having a read in their cafe or renting a computer to check up on emails or plan your next activity.

Explore has fifteen libraries dotted all over the city, including a mobile library, and a reading café in Rowntree Park. Large or small, all offer a peaceful space to spend an hour or more, and are totally free to enter.

Outdoor Experiences

Guided Walking Tours

With over 80 trained guides and 60+ years of experience, the Association of Voluntary Guides in York is well suited to take you on a two-hour tour of the city.

Tours run every day of the year except Christmas day and leave from Exhibition Square (outside of York Art Gallery).

Self-Guided Walking Tours

Visit York’s Visitor Information Centre for a range of self-guided walking tours that you can use to explore the city. Many cover hidden histories and niche interests in the city and are perfect for experiencing the city in a different light at your own pace.

Museum Gardens

In the centre of York, only a couple of minutes away from York Minster and the busy shopping streets, there is a little haven of peace. In the shadow of the Yorkshire Museum, relax in Museum Gardens.

Take a stroll and watch the squirrels and wildlife, walk down to the bank of the river or just simply sit on the grass and enjoy an ice cream. See all of York's gardens.

York City Walls


One of the attractions that draw people to York is the ancient city walls, which are some of the most complete medieval city walls in Britain. These are of course absolutely free to walk around.

A full circuit of the walls is approximately 3.4 kilometres (2.1 miles). Be aware of steep steps and uneven ground in places; this might not be suitable for all walkers and is not wheelchair accessible.

The Shambles

The Shambles is one of the oldest and best preserved medieval shopping streets (and most famous) in England. Once home to butchers, the street is now filled with boutique fashion lines, sweet and chocolate shops, cafes and jewellers.

It's nice to take a walk down the street, looking at the overhanging buildings and imagining what it might have been like all those years before.

York’s Parks and Green Spaces

Beyond the city centre, there are lots of beautiful green spaces to enjoy. Walk down the River Ouse to encounter Millennium Bridge and nearby Rowntree Park, or head upriver to Homestead Park and the riverside at Rawcliffe.

In the heart of Tang Hall is a jewel of a nature reserve, St Nick’s, where 24 acres of beautiful meadowland and woods cover a historic rubbish dump site. The site includes a nature centre and regular activities to take part in.

Discover the city’s four Strays – over 800 acres of historic common land preserved for anyone to access. Or why not dig out your bike and use the Sustrans network of former railway lines to explore the surrounding area? 

Planning on staying in York? Find trusted hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation in York and book directly through Visit York.

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