Children are easily pleased, so you really don’t need to spend a fortune in York to have a good time. Luckily there are lots of ways to have fun in and around the city, with lots of history to explore, nature to spot, green spaces to discover and unique experiences that you won’t get anywhere else and don’t require a costly admission ticket. What can you do in York for free? Here’s our pick of the best things to do in York and beyond that are free or don’t cost the earth and that kids will love.
Admission’s free at the National Railway Museum
A visit to the National Railway Museum is a must on your visit to York: it’s one of the country’s finest attractions and admission is free! There’s a changing programme of activities and lots for kids to enjoy. Keep an eye out during the school holiday for special activities, often with an engineering focus. Pre-booking of your free ticket is required during the coronavirus crisis. National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York YO26 4XJ – Visit the NRM website for more details
Little Vikings I Spy Family Walking Trail
I spy with my little eye a clock, a cat and a flag! With the help of three children, we’ve put together a lovely circular route with twenty-two weird and wonderful things to spot along the way. Starting and ending at the Visit York Information Centre on Museum Street, the Little Vikings I Spy Trail will have you strolling down snickleways, gaping at the city’s medieval gates and ambling down the Shambles, ticking off iconic and eccentric landmarks along the way. This new walking trail around York is available all year round – all you have to do is collect the map and get your shoes and coats on! The map should be all that you need – follow the route and see how many things you can tick off.
Explore York’s City Walls
Why not take a walk around York’s city walls? There’s almost 3.5km of medieval wall to choose from, all with fantastic views, and it’s totally free. If little feet aren’t up to a big hike, just choose a small section. It’s easy to hop off once you’ve had enough. During the coronavirus crisis, there’s a one-way system in place.
Kids go free at many York attractions!
York is full of exciting and inspiring attractions that offer a brilliant experience for children, and many can be enjoyed by kids for free:
– During normal times, lucky under 17s can visit York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and York Castle Museum for free with full-paying adults. This has changed during the coronavirus crisis, as the museums need financial support. Consider purchasing a YMT Card which gives unlimited access to all three museums for a year.
– Under 5s go free at the JORVIK Viking Centre, DIG and Barley Hall, and paid tickets are valid for 12 months. That’s a whole year of entertainment for the price of entry!
– Accompanying under 16s go free to York Minster, and all York residents with valid proof of address gain entry to York Minster free of charge, too.
– Under fives are free at York Mansion House, and all York residents also get a 50% discount at York Mansion House too.
– Under fours go free at York’s Chocolate Story
– Under twos go free at Askham Bryan Wildlife and Conservation Park
– Staying a couple of days? It’s worth considering buying a York Pass from Visit York for free and discounted entry to lots of attractions
Head to York’s libraries
York libraries run activities for children all year long that are free or inexpensive, and they are also great places to drop in and browse or grab a coffee and cake. Don’t miss York’s Summer Reading Challenge either – it’s a great way to keep little bookworms reading during the long holidays. Explore York Library, on Museum Street, is the main central library and it’s a lovely space for families. It’s right next to York Museum Gardens, which is a great place to let kids run about (and again, it’s free).
Lark about in York’s parks, gardens and green spaces
York is full of fantastic parks and open spaces, available to everyone at no cost. Take a picnic if you’re peckish. For squirrel-spotting and balancing along the ruins (where permitted!), try York Museum Gardens. There’s no play equipment as such, but plenty of history, nature and open space to appeal. Dean’s Park, behind York Minster, is a lovely green space too. For swings, slides, ducks and more, try Rowntree Park. We’re very fond of Homestead Park, too, with its outdoor gym equipment and pop-up Reading Cafe during the spring and summer months. Further afield, other green spaces we love are Askham Bog Nature Reserve, Moorlands Nature Reserve, Hagg Wood and Falling Foss.
Stroll through York’s streets
Wandering around the city streets is one of the best things you can do in York and it costs nothing. There’s plenty to interest everyone, from fantastic street entertainers to genuinely talented buskers to tiny alleyways and secret passages, cobbled streets and grand squares. Marvel at the Minster, take a turn around the bottom of Clifford’s Tower, skip along Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate and amble through the Shambles.
Spot the furry friends on the York Cat Trail
One of the best ways to make a walk with kids even more fun is by following a trail, and the York Cat Trail is one of the best. It’s free too! Statues of cats have been placed on buildings in York for around two centuries, although statues since removed or rotted are thought to date from medieval times. The original cat statues were placed on buildings to frighten away rats and mice which can carry plague and illness. They were also thought to ward off wandering evil spirits and generally to bestow good luck and good health on citizens who needed feline friends to ensure a good night’s sleep in old and temptingly chewy timber-framed buildings! Pick up a trail map from the York Lucky Cat shop on the Shambles or download it from their website.
Stretch little legs and go for a walk or bike ride
Ducks, otters, swans and even an ice cream boat: there’s a lot to spot on a walk along the river Ouse, accessible from York city centre. Alternatively, grab your bikes (or hire them) and enjoy a ride along the cycle tracks (York’s solar system trail is very popular). Trips to the great Yorkshire countryside needn’t cost much either – pack a picnic, find a free parking space and let the kids run wild. The Yorkshire Dales and Moors and our glorious coast are all great options. Take a look at the Little Vikings Guide to Family Walks in York and Yorkshire.
BEST THINGS TO DO FOR FREE WITH KIDS NEAR YORK
Parking charges only at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Another cracking day out is yours for the price of a parking ticket during normal times. During the coronavirus crisis, you need to buy tickets but it’s just £6 a ticket and children are free. Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a fantastic outdoor day out that inspires (and tires little legs). Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield WF4 4LG – Visit the website
Just pay for parking at Dalby Forest
One of Yorkshire’s most stunning spots is accessible for just the price of parking (£9 a day). Head out on one of the many trails on foot or by bike and don’t miss the epic adventure play area. Dalby Forest, Dalby Forest Drive, Low Dalby, Pickering YO18 7LT – Visit the Dalby Forest website for more details
Just pay for your fruit at The Balloon Tree
A popular spot for fruit picking, there’s no admission price for this farm shop with its small play area and animal viewing area. Pumpkin-picking is a favourite in the autumn and local families flock here during the summer months to fill punnets with berries galore. During the coronavirus, you need to book and pay for tickets in advance. Tickets are redeemable against the cost of fruit. The Balloon Tree, Stamford Bridge Road, York YO41 1NB – Visit The Balloon Tree website for more details
Free entry at The Royal Armouries
One of Leeds’ top attractions, and the national museum of arms and armour, The Royal Armouries is free to enter. It has been closed due to the coronavirus but it is reopening in September 2020. There’s always something new to see at the Royal Armouries and there are plenty of hands-on activities for children, with lots of special holiday activities too. The Royal Armouries, Armouries Dr., Leeds LS10 1LT – Visit The Royal Armouries website