6 Things to do in York: Hidden Gems + Free Activities [2024]

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6 Things to do in York: Hidden Gems + Free Activities [2024]
Heading to England and looking for a city with English charm, delicious afternoon tea, and great shopping? Then you need to visit York. York is a beautiful city in the heart of the English countryside. Travelers from all over the world rush to York for its charm, quaint English lifestyle, and wonderful shopping.
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No trip to the UK is complete without visiting London and Scotland. But what if I told you that York will give you the best of both worlds? York has a vibrant city life as well as gorgeous countryside.

Intrigued? Explore this guide to find out the best things to do in York.

york england attractions
Photo by Karl Moran on Unsplash

Where is York?

Before we dive into what there is to do in York, we should start at the beginning. York is situated in North Yorkshire, sitting alongside the River Ouse and River Foss. Founded by the ancient Romans and dating back to 71 AD, this beautiful town has history and culture to spare!

The closest airport to York is Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA), taking around 55 minutes to drive on a good day. There are also great train links to York from London.

What is York Best Known for?

York is famous for its cobbled streets and alleyways that are lined with charming shops, tea rooms, and gorgeous architecture. From delicate jewelry to the famous Betty's Tea Room and museums, the streets of York, particularly The Shambles, have put this city on the map.

In addition to eating and shopping, you can also learn about the history of England through historic places like the famous York Minster, a religious building that dates back to medieval times.

York is also famous for its ghost walking tours and its huge city walls. You can spend a whole day just walking around York and you won't be bored.

York also has a great nightlife. There are plenty of local beers on hand to see you through the night. Or if you fancy a good old dance, York clubs welcome you with open arms and great music.

york walking tour
Photo by Cajeo Zhang on Unsplash

Is York Expensive to Visit?

When you're off on a backpacking trip through Europe or a vacation on a budget, it's important to be aware of what you might spend before you travel. So let's dive into the average costs for visiting York so you can plan.

Food in York

In York, there isn't a shortage of delicious restaurants, cafes, bars, and coffee shops to enjoy. You will be paying around $29 per meal per person for a main course and a glass of wine.

There are, of course, more affordable places to eat. If you head away from the Shambles Street, you will find better-value food. But if you eat in famous places such as Betty's Tea Room you will pay a little extra but get the true English experience.


There are plenty of great value accommodations to choose from. If you're looking for a hostel in the center of York, you will pay $30 a night on average. If you're in the mood for a cozy Airbnb in the countryside just a short drive away from York, you will be paying a minimum of $100 a night.

York Attractions 

There are many amazing attractions in York, and we will take a look at some of my favorites a little later in the blog. But on average, attractions like a river cruise, museums, and the York Dungeons start from around $18 per person.

Overall, York can be done on a budget. If you're open to doing free activities or eating at cheaper restaurants, you can get great value for money. But if you don't mind blowing the budget a little, delicious foods and fantastic activities are waiting to be explored.

york streets
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

6 Things to do in York

6. Join a Ghost Walking Tour

Be ready to be spooked. Ghost walking tours are very popular all over York. With many different themes, you can take your pick of what spooks you. Going on a ghost walking tour is a great way to explore the city of York by night and hear some ghostly tales.

My personal favorite is The Original Ghost Walk of York, starting from the King's Arms, Ouse Bridge. This tour runs every night from 8 p.m., lasting around 75–90 minutes. Tickets start from around $9 per adult.

If ghosts aren't your thing, you can take one of the many free walking tours to explore the city. They run every day from Exhibition Square. This is a great way to explore the city with a knowledgeable local.

5. Shop at Shambles Market 

This free, local market is the perfect way to pick up some souvenirs for friends and family back home. Located in the Shambles, this York market is home to independent traders offering different goods and handicrafts from around the local area.

From scented candles to locally brewed beers to handmade crafts, this market is a perfect place to grab a gift. Or a little present for yourself! Shambles Market is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Once you have explored the market, wander through the cobbled streets of the Shambles. You can visit a variety of shops, including dedicated Harry Potter shops, bespoke jewelry, chocolate shops, and The Potions Cauldron.

4. Visit York Minster

York Minster is one of the most impressive religious buildings in the UK. If you love architecture, you will be astonished by this masterpiece. For those who just want to experience some English culture, you will be equally captivated by its beauty.

If you decide you want to head inside the cathedral, you must pay for either a general administration pass or a pass that includes a visit up to the tower. If you want some superb views of York, I would recommend heading up the tower.

With your ticket, you're directly funding the York Minster, helping maintain this medieval structure. They also offer free guided tours around the cathedral and entrance into the Undercroft Museum.

york minister
Photo by Tommao Wang on Unsplash

3. Enjoy a Cup of Tea at Bettys Tea Room

If you want the real English experience, you need to get yourself to Betty's Tea Room. With two tea rooms in York, you can get a proper English cream tea with all the trimmings. You can also enjoy their selection of baked goods and other delicious treats.

Bettys Tea Room gets busy, so you either want to get there for an early morning snack or a late afternoon lunch. Be prepared to queue! It's well worth the wait when you get inside. With beautiful decor and friendly servers, you won't be disappointed.

2. Climb up to Clifford's Tower

One of the remaining parts of York Castle, Clifford's Tower, offers breathtaking 360 views over the city. This historic structure is a hidden gem! It has recently been renovated to include a rooftop deck to get those amazing views. They have also reworked the structure of the building to make it more accessible to visitors. 

Tickets start from around $9, and it's advised you pre-book in the summer!

cliffords tower york england
Photo by Karl Moran on Unsplash

1. Explore the Museum Gardens

Heading to York on a sunny day? Then a walk around the York Museum Gardens is a must! Entry to these idyllic botanical gardens is free. You can get a delicious Yorkshire ice cream inside, or why not take a picnic to enjoy on the grass? It's perfect for a summer's day.

With beautiful ruins inside the gardens, make sure you have your camera ready to snap away.

FAQs about York

What's so special about York?

York is full of beautiful shops, restaurants, and bars. But as well as filling your belly with delicious English food, you can explore the wonderful heritage of England through buildings, museums, and friendly locals. The streets of York are truly unique, with beautiful medieval buildings that are still well preserved.

Can you do York in One Day?

Yes, you can! You need to pre-book your tickets where possible when visiting in the summer months if you're looking to do everything in a day. Be prepared for a full-on day of adventuring with plenty of walking and lots of food!

Is York worth Visiting?

The simple answer is yes. If you want to learn about English history and culture and, of course, enjoy food and drinks to go along with it, it's the perfect city for exploring.

It's Time to Visit York

Now that you have added York to your English adventure, it's time to start planning this magical trip. That's where Pilot comes in!

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Disclosure: Pilot is supported by our community. We may earn a small commission fee with affiliate links on our website. All reviews and recommendations are independent and do not reflect the official view of Pilot.

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