A Backpacker’s Guide to York on a Budget

A Backpacker’s Guide to York on a Budget

In the heart of Yorkshire’s countryside in the north of England lies the beautiful historic city of York.  A gem in Britain’s glittering crown, I have many fond memories of visiting York as a child, and was thrilled to go back and revisit this incredible city.  It is a popular destination for tourists, both home-grown and from abroad, so I was worried it was going to be expensive.  However, I was relieved to find there is plenty to see and do in York without breaking the bank!  For my fellow travellers who are also counting the pennies, here is my Backpacker’s Guide to York on a Budget.

Welcome to York Backpacker´s Guide to York on a Budget
Welcome to York, The sign greeting you at the station

How to Get to York on a Budget

I was travelling from Coventry to get to York, so I took the MegaBus to Leeds for less than £10 return, then took a train from Leeds to York.  The train station in York is a short walk from all the main attractions, and has connections with all major cities, and taking the train from London takes less than 2 hours.  Check train times and prices here.

If you are travelling by bus there is a Cityzap bus which travels regularly between York and Leeds for fares starting from £8.50 return (the return part can be used within one month), or £6.50 one way, as well as regular ‘normal’ buses running between the two cities.

Read more about my tips for travelling around the UK on a budget here.

cheap train travel in the UK. budget travel in the UK. Travel Uk on a budget
Bus or Train is the Cheapest Way to Get to York

York on a Budget: Attractions in York

To make the most of all the museums and attractions in York I highly recommend the York Pass.  Once purchased, the York Pass offers you free entry to over 30 York attractions and tours as well as discounts at selected restaurants and shopping outlets.

You can buy a one, two or three-day pass to suit your itinerary and allow you to get the maximum out of your time in York and save you more money.  If you are in York for the weekend I would recommend a two-day day pass to give you more time to visit as much as you can, or if you are staying longer then a three-day pass is even better.  The passes also allow you access to attractions outside York too, so you can explore more of Yorkshire while you are here, for example the splendid Castle Howard where Brideshead Revisited was filmed, or a train ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Clifford's Tower - A Backpacker's Guide to York on a Budget
Clifford’s Tower – Another Attraction Included in the York Pass

A one-day pass costs £38 for adults, and £22 for children, two-day pass £50 or £26 for kids, and a three-day pass £60 and £30 respectively.  If you plan to visit the top attractions such as the York Minster, York’s Chocolate Story, the York Castle Museum and perhaps a boat trip or the hop on hop off bus, it is definitely worthwhile.  The Hop on Hop Off Bus tour is also has a live guide for some sections of the route who shared stories and extra tidbits of history from the city, a nice touch!

For me, the York Pass is one of the best ways to see the maximum in York on a budget.  To buy a Pass contact York Visitor Information Centre on 01904 550099, email info@yorkpass.com or visit www.yorkpass.com.

You can also get further discounts through Discover York at www.visityork.org – if you book your accommodation with Visit York you will receive an exclusive 20% discount off a 3 day York Pass.

Explore York's Pretty Streets - Backpacker's Guide to York on a Budget
Explore York’s Pretty Streets

York on a Budget: Explore York on Foot

Use your head – and your feet!  York is a small city, and perfect for wandering around and getting lost.  Make sure you explore some of the side streets off the main drag to uncover more of the city’s hidden gems.  Here are some ideas to get you moving:

The Shambles is a narrow street – apparently so narrow it is said you could shake hands with your neighbour in the house opposite! Once full of butcher’s shops it is now host to a wonderful selection of independent and boutique shops, restaurants and cafés.

Gillygate, just outside the city walls is a must for cheese-lovers as here you will find Love Cheese, a fabulous cheese shop and café where you enjoy a whole manner of cheese related delights.

Fossgate filled with cute shops and tasty independent restaurants, such as “give the dog a bone” selling quirky gifts and souvenirs, and the delicious if oddly named Hairy Fig delicatessen and café.

Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate - A Backpacker's Guide to York on a Budget
Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate – Best Street Name Ever

Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate is the shortest street in York, with just three buildings 1, 1a and 1 ½!  The street itself isn’t particularly fascinating but I love the name.  It’s just across the road from Fossgate.

Stonegate has been a busy thoroughfare for centuries, and was the main Roman road from the River Ouse to the centre of the city where the Minster now stands.  Here you will find plenty of boutique shops, including my favourite Stonegate Teddy Bears stocked full of furry friends, and historic pubs like the Punch Bowl and the oldest pub in York, Ye Olde Starre Inne.

Micklegate is a quieter street filled with restaurants and pretty buildings.  Walk to the end to find Micklegate Bar where gruesomely the heads of traitors were displayed to deter others from committing the same crime!   The Henry VII Experience is also found here.

For social media fans there is also the #Yorkselfie trail to follow, visiting key locations in the city and posting your adventures on Instagram; pick up a map at the Tourist Information Centre or check www.visityork.org

Walking The Walls in York - A Backpacker's Guide to York on a Budget
Walking The Walls in York

York on a Budget: Free Activities in York

For most museums in the city there is a charge to enter, but if you are on a very tight budget, there are still some free activities you can do to explore the city and its history.

Take a free guided walking tour, led by the Association of Voluntary Guides.  The tours leave every day at 10.15am, 2.15pm and 6.45pm during the summer from outside the York Art Gallery on Exhibition Square.  During the winter the tours are only run at 10.15am.  There is no need to book, you can just turn up.

Cat lovers can take follow a self-guided Cat Tour, following a trail around the city to spot the cat statues dotted around the city.  The cats were originally made to frighten away cats and mice, and are now there to be hunted by eagle-eyed visitors.  A handy trail map can be picked up for free outside York Glass Ltd in the Shambles, or just keep your eyes peeled as you wander the streets.

Walk the walls.  The city walls that surround the city were first built by the Romans in 71AD, and a perfect way to get a different perspective of the city, and some good views of the Minster too.  It takes around 2 hours to complete the full circuit, or you can just pop up and down at the various gaps in the wall.

The National Railway Museum - Backpacker´s Guide to York on a Budget
The National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum is free to enter, although a donation is suggested but not required.  The largest railway museum in the world isn’t just for train spotters. It is a fascinating place, and home to the only Japanese bullet train outside Japan, the world’s fastest steam locomotive, the Mallard, and a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket.  You can climb aboard many of the trains in the Station Hall, full of historical carriages, including royal carriages like Queen Victoria’s lavish ‘palace on wheels’, and there is a new exhibit about the ambulance trains used to transport sick and injured soldiers from the First World War.

York Museum Gardens offers a lovely green space to wander around, spot squirrels or have a picnic.  There are early English & Romanesque ruins to admire, and free tours run at 1pm on Sundays so you can learn more about the history of the park.

If you time your visit to coincide with one of the city’s many festivals, you will find lots of free events going on as part of the festivals.  Learn more about York’s Food & Drink Festival here, and a calendar of events throughout the year here.

York Museum Gardens - A Backpacker's Guide to York on a Budget
York Museum Gardens

Extra Information

There are various free wifi spots around the city too, so keep an eye open for those.

Find budget accommodation in York

Find cheap restaurants in York

Thank you to Visit York and the Best Western Monkbar Hotel for hosting my stay in York.  My stay in York was complimentary, and the fact I had a great time definitely impacted my posts!  All opinions are, as always, my own.

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30 thoughts on “A Backpacker’s Guide to York on a Budget

  1. I visited York as a kid and absolutely loved it, and would really like to return there one day. £38 for a two day pass sounds like a pretty good deal, so I’ll definitely look in to it if I do return!

  2. I love Megabus! We have booked buses in advance before for as little as £1 – fantastic! I didn’t realise you could get a York Pass?! That is a great idea, have wanted to head there for ages so will use that pass!

    Oh Food and Drink Festival looks pretty amazing too!! Will have to go next year! 🙂

  3. I love that street name! And I never realised the Megabus ran the route up to York – do you know if it stops in Shrewsbury? York is one of my favourite UK cities, will definitely have to return soon 🙂

    1. Hi Kiara, actually the megabus doesn´t stop in York, it goes to Leeds. I´m not sure about Shrewsbury, I didn´t see it on the timetable but check the website to make sure 🙂

  4. GREAT guide! I love the teeny tiny street! And what a fun name for it!? I also really love smaller towns that are more walkable, so seeing guides to places like that are always refreshing. My best friend would be ALL ABOUT that cat tour! Haha! Cheers!

  5. It’s nice they offer a pass that you can use multiple days for the attractions in York! Also, the transportation to get there and back isn’t bad either. Great guide for budget travelers!

  6. Oh I would love to visit York one day and def during the food festival – Do you happen to know when is it?
    I totally missed going there last time when I was in UK and went upto Leeds – sooo close! Sigh! I love the chic street pic of York!

    1. Ahh yes Leeds is so close! The Food Festival is in September, the 3rd or 4th week I think. I went this year and loved it, I don´t think they have dates set for 2017 yet but I imagine it will be around the same time.

  7. Love these tips. York has always been on my radar partially because there’s a York, Pennsylvania near me :p and my fascination with the Tudors as a kid. I love that it’s a small enough city, I can explore it by foot!

    1. Haha Oh yes you have to visit English York then 😉 actually a lot of the “Tudor” architecture on the old pubs is what they call “Brewer´s Tudor”, and is a replica of the Tudor style – it still looks great though! And there are plenty of real Tudor houses to see too!

  8. York sounds like a quaint place to visit, and fun too! I love the idea of the selfie trail – they got to keep up with the times! Love all the different options for tours and things to do – literally something for everyone!

  9. I was going to say this is probably similar to New York but NYC is extremely expensive and not very budget friendly – it is also a concrete jungle.

    I haven’t made it to York yet but I have heard great things and it is on my list when I return to that area of the world. Thanks for the budget tips!

  10. Excellent backpackers guide! I actually never heard of York before (my mind thought the title said New York lol). Seems like a fun, quant town with very cleaver street names 🙂

  11. This is a great introduction! I’m definitely a lover of walking the towns too. It’s a little funny that they have cats to find…seems like cats have always been incredibly popular! And I kind of want to see 1 1/2 Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate. Just to see the size 😛

  12. Do you know how this relates to “New York”? It can’t just be a coincidence, right? Perhaps this city was the model for NYC. But, anyway, it looks a lot older than NYC and with so much charm. Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate sounds like the next hit song (and probably short to match how short the street is). Cheers!

    1. Haha well I guess New York was named after this “Old” York, which was founded in 71AD by the Romans, so a long time before New York 😀 There are a lot of places in the US with the same names as England, I suppose the early settlers weren’t very inventive with names lol 😉

  13. York sounds like a great city to visit. Even though I live in England (on the South coast) I have never really had the opportunity to explore York, although I did make one flying visit on business one year. I like the way you have included free activities. I like the look of York Museum Gardens.

    1. Ahh York is lovely if you do get a chance to go I highly recommend it! It’s amazing how little we travel in our own countries – I haven’t been down south much myself either!!

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