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