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‘Tis the season to save money! Eight amazing things to do in and around York for free this Christmas with kids

york nutcracker trail

This year, many families are watching the coins (the real ones in their bank accounts and, if our house is anything to go by, the chocolate coins that have been stashed away for later in the month), so we’ve been on the lookout for free and cheap ways to enjoy Christmas in York. The good news is that there are plenty of things to do in and around York in the run-up to Christmas and for the rest of the Christmas holidays that won’t cost the earth. Many are free and all will give you a warm, fuzzy festive feeling. Here’s our top pick of things to do in and around York this Christmas that are either free or cheap.


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1. See York’s Magical Tree of Light

York magical tree of light

When you see the words ‘Christmas tree’, I bet you don’t picture something like this! The Magical Tree of Light is sparkling outside York Castle Museum, at The Eye of York, for the festive season and is free for all to enjoy. Keep an eye out as the effects change from time to time.

2. See the engines at the National Railway Museum

Wonderlab railway museum york

There’s plenty to see and do at the Railway Museum, and we always have to pinch ourselves before we tell you that admission’s free. See iconic engines, look at the model railway, sit inside the bullet train, watch live demos, play in the indoor play area (for under 6s) and take your own food to save even more money. If you do fancy splashing out, the ticketed Wonderlab exhibition is fantastic hands-on fun for kids.

3. Visit York Christmas Market

York Christmas Market 2023

Soak up the festive atmosphere at York Christmas Market, which is better than ever for 2023. With more space, more local independent businesses and more sparkle, it’s a nice space for a wander (but avoid peak times for the most relaxing experience). Treat yourselves to a hot chocolate or mulled wine if you fancy splashing out.

4. See York’s Christmas lights

York’s Christmas lights are looking better than ever this year. Take a walk around the streets when the sun goes down to see them twinkle (Parliament Street, St Helen’s Square, Coppergate, Petergate, Swinegate and Stonegate look particularly pretty). We’d recommend going at quieter times like late afternoon/early evening to avoid crowds and to give your children an even more exciting experience. Why not post a letter to Santa in the sparkling post box in York Museum Gardens while you’re out and about?

5. Do the York Nutcracker Trail

York Nutcracker Trail

The York Bid’s giant nutcrackers are back! The unique bespoke nutcrackers, painted by local artists, are hidden in locations in York just waiting to be spotted. There are ten to find, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a £250 York Gift Card if you find them all and solve the puzzle, then post your entry into the sparkling post box in York Museum Gardens or at the Visit York Information Centre on Parliament Street. The Nutcracker Trail runs from 16th November 2023 throughout the festive season.

6. York Minster Christmas Tree Festival

Non-residents, look away now! York locals with proof of address – and ALL under 16s – can enjoy free admission to York Minster all year round. It’s always a wonderful place to visit, but this Christmas it’s even more worth a trip thanks to the York Minster Christmas Tree Festival. With over 70 individually trees to look at – including our very own Little Vikings Christmas tree, celebrating the best of family-friendly York – it’s a real festive treat.

7. Enjoy a winter walk at Dalby Forest

Dalby Forest Christmas

Dalby Forest is one of our favourite places for a day out when we need some fresh air, with plenty of walking and cycling trails for all ages and abilities. Young children will love the interactive Zog Trail. It’s free to do, just download the free app before you get there (and you can buy an activity pack from the Dalby Forest Visitor Centre if you like). There’s no admission charge for Dalby Forest or the trails, you just need to pay to park. Find out more about family walks at Dalby Forest and in the wider North York Moors here.

8. Go for a family walk in or near York

Sutton Bank Visitor Centre

Nothing beats a family walk for some free, screen-free time together. Don’t let the winter weather put you off: just wrap up warm and make sure everyone’s wearing the right shoes and coats. Take a look at our handy guide to the best family walks in York city centre and near to York, from the circular walk around York’s city walls to exploring York’s nature reserves (Askham Bog and Moorlands are our favourites) and walks in the North York Moors. Pack a flask of hot chocolate and some Christmas food to fuel your adventure and make it feel festive.

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