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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 Christmas lights 2020

Never have we needed a bit of Christmas sparkle quite like we do as we approach the end of 2020, but never have we been keeping such an eye on our spending either. In a year when even Santa’s elves might have been worried about being furloughed, many families are understandably 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).

Well, 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 don’t cost the earth. In fact, 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 very cheap.


1. See York’s Magical Tree of Light

Magical Tree of Light York

When you see the words ‘Christmas tree’, I bet you don’t picture something like this! New for 2020, the Magical Tree of Light will be 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. Enjoy Christmas activities at the National Railway Museum

National Railway Museuem York Christmas 2020

Shake off the cobwebs with a ride on the Miniature Railway, guaranteed to bring cheer to children and grown-ups alike. The Pop-up Science shows will reveal a world of wonder on weekdays, exploring the awesome energy of Brussels sprouts and other Christmas magic. Take the fun home with you when you pick up a free DIY light-up Christmas card pack on selected dates while stocks last.

Pop-up Science Shows: Weekdays, 10.30–14.30 in Great Hall
DIY Light-up Christmas card packs: 21, 22 and 23 December

They will be offering you a very warm welcome as always, with some new measures in place to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable day out. Be sure to book your free admission tickets before making your trip.


3. Search York for Santa through a free AR app

York BID Santa

The York BID have launched a brand new ‘York Quest’ AR mobile phone app featuring a festive ‘Santa search’. Download the app and hunt for seven Christmas characters who have taken up residence on York’s historic streets. Take a fun photo and share on social media! The app is called York Quest, and is available on Google Play Store or App Store.


4. See York’s Christmas lights

York City Lights Christmas

York’s Christmas festival might be a little different this year, but take a walk around York city centre and you’ll see that they haven’t skimped on the lights! Take a walk around the streets (Parliament Street, Coppergate, Petergate and Stonegate look particularly pretty) and maybe do a spot of Christmas shopping. 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.


5. See the Fantastic Fiction window

York BID Fantastic Fiction Window

Another first for York this Christmas, the Fantastic Fiction window display on Davygate truly is fantastic. See what and who you can spot, from Alice in Wonderland to Sleeping Beauty’s rose and even some Marvel characters. For the full effect, head along when the sun goes down.


6. Watch York Minster’s Crib Service

York Minster

The York Minster Crib Service is a Christmas highlight for many York families, but for 2020 – as with so many things – it’s going to be a little different. There will still be a service by the crib, but numbers are strictly limited and free tickets must be booked in advance (more details of how and when tobook your tickets here). It will still be a lovely service, though. It will take place at the crib, surrounded by the angels, shepherds and kings. Children are invited to come in fancy dress of their choosing for the service, and Christmas jumpers are optional for all. If you can’t make the live service, or can’t get tickets, you can enjoy it from home as the service will be broadcast at 3pm on Saturday 19th December on York Minster’s website and YouTube and Facebook channels.


7. Do the Gruffalo Spotters Trail at Dalby Forest

Dalby Forest Gruffalo Spotters Trail

Brand new for 2020, the Gruffalo Spotters Trail at Dalby Forest is a great way to blow away the cobwebs and enjoy a family walk without your children really noticing that they’re doing some exercise! 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. The Gruffalo Spotters Trail is free to do, just download the free app before you get there (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 (£5 off-peak, £9 peak). Read our review of the Gruffalo Spotters Trail at Dalby Forest 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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