There’s no life quite like student life- some people say that their time as a student was the best time of their lives! However, I think we can all agree that being a student is expensive, especially if you don’t have a part-time job or any income besides your student loan (and we can’t blame you- focusing on your studies always comes first). But, it’s also important to make sure you’re having fun at uni regardless of your financial situation. So here are the 18 best things to do in York for students, that are all completely free.

1. Take a trip to the National Railway Museum

Source: National Railway Museum

York’s history of public transport is incredibly rich, and the National Railway Museum allows us to experience and appreciate that. Once you book your free admissions ticket, you’ll be able to explore the vast range of experiences that the National Railway Museum has on offer- you can even see the famous steam locomotive, the Flying Scotsman. It’s a really nice thing to do with fellow uni mates because you can all enjoy different parts or displays of the museum depending what you’re interested in.

2. Find feline friends on the Cat Trail

Cats have played a part in York’s history and luck has been associated with them from the very beginning. The original cat statues were made to scare away rats and other rodents during the plague! This trail is a fabulous way to get really close and personal with the city you now call home. Complete with a free map, this trail takes you searching for 22 cats, finishing at the York Glass shop where you can purchase your very own lucky cat (but other than that, it’s entirely free!)

3. Walk the York City Walls

Source: Jorvik.co.uk

Trains and railways not your thing? Don’t you worry- the York City Walls have you covered. Whether you want to walk in silence or with the free audio guide, this is a fantastic (and free!) way to get out and about, and view the city from a whole new perspective. Taking you around the York Minster, the River Ouse, and the Railway Station, you really can see the whole city on this two-hour walk. There’s nothing like a walk in the fresh air to help you decompress from the stress of student life, so why not give this a shot?

4. Visit Edible Wood

Edible Wood York Museum Gardens
Source: York Museum Gardens

Within Museum Gardens, you can find Edible Wood, which (as evident in the name) is a wood full of edible plants, herbs, fruit and veg. Ok you can’t actually eat them, but you can admire how things are cultivated, cared for and grown. This unique project turns the concept of a community garden on its head, focusing on forest gardening and permaculture. Why not wander round the rest of the gardens afterwards too (see my next point).

5. Visit the Museum Gardens

Source: York Museum Gardens

The Museum Gardens were established in the 1830s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and they’ve been a hit with the public ever since. Self-described as an “idyllic haven”, the Museum Gardens are an amazing place for any student who loves walks through nature. Also situated in the Museum Gardens is the York Museum itself, however if you’re looking for a day out with no money spent then the Gardens are all you need. Bring a picnic and some friends, and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Museum Gardens for free.

6. Hop from planet to planet at the University

Source: University of York

That’s right, the solar system trail in the University of York means that you can practically visit space for free! Based in both Campus East and Campus West, this easily walkable trail takes you to all the planets in our solar system- and they’re all at accurate distances from each other (on a smaller scale- unfortunately the University isn’t big enough for the real scale). This is a fantastic way to relax between study sessions without having to travel too far from your flat! Who knew the university had free things on campus, huh?

7. York free walking tours

White Rose York Tour free things to do in the city
Source: White Rose York Tour

Exploring and learning about York doesn’t have to cost a fortune (or anything for that matter). There are several free walking tours in York. Some of the best are run by Association of Voluntary Guides to the City of York and White Rose York Tours. From the ancient walls to hidden gems, you’ll discover York’s secrets and stories. It will make you see all the iconic attractions you pass everyday without appreciating in a new light, and give you a load of random facts to tell others when you next come across them. York’s free walking tours are also great if you have visiting friends and family that don’t know the city that well.

8. Take a stroll at local parks and greens

Dean's Park York- free things to do
Source: Seasider53, Wikicommons

You can’t go wrong with visiting a local park (on a good weather day I mean). York has plenty to choose from, such as Rowntree Park and The Homestead; and why not make a day out of it, and take some food and games? As students we tend to spend a lot of time inside doing essays, and so it can be really important to make sure we’re getting outside enough. York’s parks really allow us to not only go outside, but to enjoy it and truly appreciate the beautiful city we have.

9. Visit the York Minster

inside of York Minister

The York Minster is an incredibly popular building in York- and with good reason. Offering free entry to York residents (with proof of address), take a step into history for free. Boasting incredible architecture and services you can attend for free, there’s no reason for you to not experience the religious history of York- if you’re looking for free things to do in York, this should be top of your list.

10. Visit the York Explore Library

York Explore - free things to do in the city
Source: York Explore Facebook

Now, I know what you’re thinking- you spend so much time reading every week for your classes, why would you ever want to visit a library in your free time? I’ll tell you why: not only does the York Explore Library have gorgeous architecture (photo ops, people) but it’s also a great place to rewind. Also, you can literally take your work to the library and do it there (no one said you can’t be an academic weapon in style)- the quietness of the library makes for a great place to study if you want to go somewhere new. Finally, the Library is right next door to the Museum Gardens- why not experience both these free things in the same day, and use the Gardens as a reward for all your studying?

11. Walk down the Shambles

The Shambles York free things to do

The Shambles is an absolutely iconic area of York, and it attracts thousands of tourists every month. Boasting gorgeous cobbled streets and overhanging buildings, the Shambles is a must-visit for everyone in York. Now, it is true that the Shambles is home to many unique and eye-catching shops, but you can still visit for free! With plenty of Insta-worthy photo opportunities and detailed buildings to die for, taking a stroll down the Shambles can be an amazing (and free) use of your time.

12. Discover the mysterious snickelways

Source: Photos and the City

Nope, I didn’t make that up – snickelways are a real thing. To put it simply, they’re small alleyways and streets that we often miss while out and about. So why not stop missing them, and see where they take you? These snickelways really help to add to the rich and mysterious history of York- and they’re literally just architecture, so they’re totally free! With street names like Mad Alice Lane and Pope’s Head Alley, you’ll truly feel transported back to a different time when exploring the snickelways.

13. Pose for a photo with Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate

Source: York Civic Trust

Isn’t it mad how a street can get so famous just for having a funny name? This iconic street loosely translates to “neither one way or another” and people have travelled from all over the UK (and possibly the world) just to visit this street sign- Kylie Jenner, move over! I know this is one of the sillier free things on this list, but again it’s just truly a bucket-list item. And, technically, it is completely free, so go do it.

14. Watch street performers

Source: Away With Maja

You haven’t lived in York until you’ve been on your way to do a bit of shopping in Primark, only to come face-to-face with some roleplaying Vikings. This is seriously a thing that happens here. Really though, it can be super entertaining to have your day interrupted by something crazy like this happening in the city centre- you never know what you’re going to see next. York has loads of funky street performers (and just funky people in general), making every day out unpredictable in the most fabulous way. It’s also really nice to stop for a second and listen to the musicians that perform on the streets, it really helps to allow us a second to stop and be reminded what a lovely (but eccentric) city York is.

15. Attend one of York’s free festivals

York Festival of Ideas - free things to do in York
Source: York Festival of Ideas Facebook

Everyone loves a festival! Whether you’re cool and enjoy art festivals, or just like me and love a food festival, York has festivals for everything. Most festivals take place in the summer, including the Festival of Ideas, but you know I can’t write this entry without mentioning the York Christmas Festival- who doesn’t love a Christmas market? Most of these festivals have free entry, like York Residents’ Festival, but be warned: no one is going to stop you from buying every trinket and gift and cheese they sell (I found that out the hard way) so it might be a good idea to take money with you. Either way, these (mostly) free festivals are amazing for students and I highly recommend them.

16. Go on York’s Ice Trail

Imagine a winter wonderland in the heart of York, where the chill in the air is as invigorating as the creativity on display. That’s the York Ice Trail for you! Often hailed as a highlight of the year, this event transforms the city into an icy gallery, showcasing spectacular sculptures that glisten under the winter sun. It’s a perfect outing for students who appreciate art with a frosty twist. Bundle up, grab a hot chocolate, and walk through the streets, marvelling at the frozen masterpieces. It’s a cool way to enjoy York’s charm without spending a penny!

17. Walk along York’s River Ouse

Source: Jorvik.co.uk

The River Ouse is one of the most well-known landmarks in York, running straight through the city centre (we’ve all looked longingly into the River after a few too many drinks at Stone Roses, let’s be honest). So, why not take a stroll along the river? Take a moment to appreciate the nature that we have here, and you can also people-watch as there’s many river cruises along this river, making it a perfect way to chill out after any exams or hard lectures.

18. Take a look inside of York’s churches

Source: Visit York

York has plenty of medieval churches dotted around the city centre, many of which are open during the day for visitors. If you’ve already visited the York Minster and still want to discover York’s religious history, these churches are for you. With churches like St Michael le Belfrey and Holy Trinity, and non-conformist churches like St Saviourgate, there’s plenty for you to choose from.

Having a good time doesn’t always mean spending money, and for us students I’m sure that comes as a big relief. However, if you do have a little but of your student loan left why not check out our best things to do in York as a student for cheap, but not free, days out?