Moving away from home for uni can be scary- you’re in a brand new city, surrounded by brand new people, and it’s really common to feel out of your depth. The best way to make yourself feel at home? Explore your new city. York is a beautiful city with so much to see and do. You might actually feel like there’s so much on offer that you don’t know where to start. That’s why I’ve created a sort of bucket list of all the best things to do in York as a student, which has all your typical visitor attractions as well as great places to eat and drink, where to listen to live music, volunteer and shop and more.

1. Visit the York Dungeons

York Dungeon
Source: York Dungeon Facebook

Want to learn about York’s history in an entertaining setting? The York Dungeons allow you to do just that. The website itself describes the experience as “an amazing cast of theatrical actors, special effects, stages and scenes.” This experience is the perfect opportunity to really get connected with the city you now call home, and you can learn 2000 (yes, two THOUSAND) years of York’s history in this hour-long experience, meeting characters like Vikings and Guy Fawkes. Furthermore, the entry prices are entirely reasonable for the quality of the experience you get, which also makes it a great place for students! Overall, the York Dungeons are a fantastic place to go, and really allow you to appreciate and understand the city just that bit more.

Address: 12 Clifford St, York YO1 9RD

2. Head to independent coffee shops

Gatehouse Coffee things to do for students in York
Source: Gatehouse Coffee Facebook

York is home to many different independent coffee shops, and so it’s the perfect place for you to support small businesses and get a nice hot drink while you’re at it. Independent coffee shops make a perfect place to study or wind down with a book- I mean we’re students, we practically live off caffeine. The cobbled streets of York make this experience so much better too (seriously, it’s like the coffee tastes better!). If you’re not sure where to start, Gatehouse Coffee or Spring Espresso are fabulous coffee shops to stop by, and you can’t go wrong with Rae & Webb!

3. Go to a local pub or bar

bars in York things to do for students in the city

Everyone loves a pub, especially uni students. Whether you’re wanting to just have a couple drinks or go on a pub crawl with your friends, there are plenty of pubs and bars for you to choose from. Are your friends coming up to visit you? Well look no further than our best student bars in York to make sure you really have a great time.

4. Wander down the Shambles!

York street - The Shambles

One of York’s most famous landmarks, the Shambles is definitely a must-visit place in York. With its cobbled streets and overhanding buildings, it really makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time- it’s also believed to have been the inspiration behind Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley! The Shambles is home to an entire array of shops such as The Shop That Must Not Be Named (Harry Potter fans, this one’s for you), the old-fashioned Shambles Sweet shop, and my favourite- The Society of Alchemists. Whatever you’re looking for, the Shambles has a shop for anything and everything. Of all the things to do in York as a student, the Shambles is one of those places that you just HAVE to visit. The Shambles is also home to the next thing on this list- the infamous York Ghost Merchants.

5. Find your ghost at the York Ghost Merchants

York Ghost Merchants - things to do for a student
Source: York Ghost Merchants Facebook

Located in the shambles, the York Ghost Merchants has truly taken the city by storm. It’s essentially a store selling hand-crafted ghosts. They’re made using traditional methods so each York Ghost is unique, making your own ghost just that extra bit special. The York Ghost Merchants are incredibly popular, and you can often find the store due to the incredibly long queue waiting outside- I’d recommend arriving early in the morning to avoid having to wait for possibly hours. However, a queue isn’t always a bad thing- it just goes to show how amazing the York Ghost Merchants shop is, and it is well worth the visit.

Address: 6 Shambles, York YO1 7LZ

6. Sail the River Ouse on a city cruise

River Ouse York city cruise

Yep, that’s right! The iconic River Ouse has a cruise! This cruise serves as both an educational and entertaining tour, allowing you to see sights such as the York Minster, Clifford’s Tower, and the mediaeval Guildhall. This is great if you have friends or family visiting you for this first time and you want to cram in all the attractions while doing some fun and relaxing.

Sailing along this river that brought some of the Romans and Vikings to York, there’s really not a more unique and exciting way to explore this amazing city. Complete with an on-board bar, the River Ouse city cruise is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about this wonderful city. Also, if you fancy a quieter trip and being the captain yourself, you can be!

7 . See a show at the York Theatre Royal

york theatre royal
Source: General George Marshall, Wikicommons

There’s nothing quite like watching a play to help you wind down after a university semester- that’s why visiting the York Theatre Royal is an amazing thing that every student should do at least once during their time in York. The York Theatre Royal hosts a whole array of shows, from poetry showcases, to informative talks, and of course various plays- there’s something there for everyone! They also work as a hub for many of York’s festivals and events, which means there’s almost always something on and countless chances for you to see something that interests you. Make sure you look into joining their scheme which provides 18-35 year olds discounted tickets on some shows too!

Address: St Leonard’s Pl, York YO1 7HD

8. Learn how to make chocolate at the York Chocolate Story

York Chocolate Story masterclass - things to do in York
Source: York Chocolate Story

If there’s one thing we can probably all bond over, it’s our love for chocolate, right? The York Chocolate Story is a fantastic place to visit for anyone who loves chocolate. Not only can you watch professional chocolatiers at work and learn how chocolate is made, but get this- you can learn to taste chocolate like an expert. Yep, the York Chocolate Story allows you to taste the chocolate, and truly you can’t get much better than that. The York Chocolate Story also holds chocolate masterclasses in the summer (a perfect opportunity to put “chocolatier” on your CV) and a whole load of other events throughout the year. It’s definitely a bucket-list experience for anyone in York.

Address: 3-4 King’s Sq, York YO1 7LD

9. Listen to live music at The Vaults

The York Vaults live music in the city
Source: The Vaults Facebook

Declaring themselves a ‘Grassroots Music Venue’, The Vaults is all about showcasing up-and-coming talent to local listeners. It’s an independent venue, with everyone from new bands to tribute acts playing on stage. In fact, there are a lot of tribute acts. But they’re great ones where you can dance along to legendary songs performed live, such as tracks from Oasis, Pearl Jam, Whitesnake, ACDC, Kasabian and more.

Address: The York Vaults, 47-49, Nunnery Ln, York YO23 1AB

10. Join a conservation project with St Nicks Environment Centre

St Nicks York Facebook - volunteering activities in York for students
Source: St Nicks York Facebook

Participating in a conservation project with St Nicks Environment Centre is a rewarding way for students to contribute to York’s green initiatives. This involvement offers practical experience in environmental conservation and sustainability practices. Students can engage in activities like habitat management, wildlife surveys, and sustainable urban living projects. It’s not only a chance to make a positive impact on the local environment but also a great way to learn about ecology, meet like-minded individuals, and develop a deeper appreciation for nature and sustainability. This also looks great on your CV if you’re looking for a job in sustainability.

Address: Rawdon Ave, York YO10 3FW

11. Join a student society at the University of York

student societies in York things to do for students
Source: University of York

Want to spice up your uni life? Dive into one of our awesome student societies! Whether you’re into kicking a ball around, debating hot topics, or strumming a guitar, there’s a group for you. It’s not just about the activity; it’s the cool people you’ll meet – trust me, some might become your uni family. From sports nuts to art buffs, we’ve got a society for every passion. So, why wait? Give it a go, make friends, and make those uni memories unforgettable!

12. Volunteer at the York City Walls

York City Walls Volunteer
Source: Friends of York Walls Facebook

Calling all history buffs and culture vultures! How about volunteering at the iconic York City Walls? It’s like stepping into a time machine – minus the sci-fi bit. You get to soak up all that medieval vibe while helping preserve our city’s crown jewel. Plus, it’s a fab way to meet other students who share your love for history. Imagine the bragging rights – “Oh, I help keep centuries-old walls standing.” Pretty cool, right? Let’s keep our walls awesome for generations to come! Find more ways to help in our list of volunteering opportunities in York.

13. Visit the York Minster

York minister is an iconic building that makes York famous

Easily one of the most gorgeous buildings in York, the York Minster is one of the things that make York truly remarkable. Since its construction in 1069, the York Minster has remained one of the most popular locations for tourists and locals alike- and with good reason. Whether you want to attend the religious meetings or have a tour of the cathedral itself (which is free for uni students, by the way), visiting the York Minster is something everyone in York should do purely for the opportunity of being able to explore one of the most monumental buildings in the North of England.

Address: Deangate, York YO1 7HH

14. Learn about travel at the National Railway Museum

National Railway Museum York - popular things to do
Source: National Railway Museum York

Every student knows the importance of public transport- we practically live and breathe public transport! So, why not go and see the history of this incredibly important part of our everyday lives? The National Railway Museum has free entry, which makes it a perfect place for students, and it can really help to make sure we appreciate this mundane thing that allows us to travel as much as we can. The National Railway Museum is a fantastic way to learn more about Britain’s industrial revolution and the true extent of the impact it’s had on our everyday lives- plus, who doesn’t love a funky-looking train?

Address: Leeman Rd, York YO26 4XJ

15. Volunteer at the York Rescue Boat

York Rescue Boat volunteering in York for students
Source: York Rescue Boat Facebook

For an adventure with a purpose, get involved with the York Rescue Boat. You’ll be able to have fun on the water while also making a real difference in keeping our rivers safe. Through volunteering you’ll learn valuable skills like first aid and water safety, all while being part of an amazing team. Whether you’re steering the boat or helping on land, it’s a rewarding experience that gives back to the community and one of the best things to do in York as a student if you enjoy this sort of thing. Plus, it’s a great way to meet new people and add some excitement to your uni life.

16. Explore the York Cold War Bunker

York Cold War Bunker unusual things to do in York
Photograph by Mike Peel (

For a truly unique experience, check out the York Cold War Bunker. This hidden gem offers a chilling yet fascinating glimpse into a time when nuclear war was a real threat. Step underground and explore the bunker’s rooms, where you’ll learn about York’s role in the Cold War. It’s eerie, educational, and definitely something to tell your friends about. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for something different to do, this bunker visit is an eye-opening journey into the not-so-distant past.

Address: Monument Cl, Holgate, York YO24 4HT

17. Explore the Botanic Gardens at the University

Museum Gardens York
Source: Wikicommons, Dmitrij M

Need a break from the books? The Botanic Gardens at our uni are a slice of paradise. Tucked away, this tranquil spot is perfect for a peaceful study session or a lazy afternoon picnic with friends. Wander among vibrant flower beds, find a quiet bench by the pond, or just lie back on the grass and cloud-watch. It’s a beautiful, serene space to recharge your batteries, connect with nature, and maybe even spot some local wildlife. Trust me, it’s the best stress-buster around!

18. Go to a film screening at the York Student Cinema

York Student Cinema things to do in York for students
Source: York Student Cinema Facebook

Fancy a movie night? York Student Cinema is your go-to spot! Nestled right on campus, it’s run by students for students, offering a cosy vibe unlike any commercial cinema. Here, you can catch everything from the latest blockbusters to those cool indie films you’ve heard about. It’s a great way to both enjoy watching a movie while experiencing cinema with a community of fellow film lovers. Grab some popcorn, settle in with friends, and enjoy a cinematic escape right at your doorstep.

Address: P/X/001, Exhibition Centre, Newton Way, Heslington YO10 5DE

19. Visit the McArthur Glen York Designer Outlet

McArthur Glen York Designer Outlet
Source: York Designer Outlet Facebook

Retail therapy. We’re all guilty of it. Just finished an exam? Of course you’re going to buy yourself a little treat (as you should). So why not visit the York Designer Outlet, a shopping centre with over 100 shops to choose from, all selling at discounted prices! Take your pick from shops like Doc Martens, Adidas, Haribo and plenty more. The shopping centre also features a food court with restaurants like Slim Chickens (my favourite), Wagamama, Café Nero, and of course McDonalds. The Designer Outlet really does have something for everyone, and us students deserve a little retail therapy every now and then.

Address: St Nicholas Ave, York YO19 4TA

20. Have food at Spark

Speaking of food, why not check out Spark for a hearty meal in the city centre? Here, you order food straight from your table, which is definitely a positive thing among students. Spark has loads of different food types to choose from, including Greek gyros (which is to die for), Asian-style ramen, and of course the classic burger & chips combination. Sure, Spark is more expensive than your run-of-the-mill McDonalds, but the portion sizes and quality of the food are totally worth it, making Spark an amazing place for students to go for food in York.

Address: 17-21 Piccadilly, York YO1 9PB

21. Ride the Ghost Bus

York is famous for it’s ghosts- I mean, we can’t have a rich history without ghosts now, can we? This ghost bus tour takes you all around York, stopping at places like the Minster, the Shambles and- wait for it- Dick Turpin’s GRAVE! It doesn’t get much better than that now, does it? This self-proclaimed “UK’s ONLY comedy-horror theatre experience on wheels” is sure to get your blood pumping, and is a perfect way to see York from a whole other perspective. As a student, you can get discounted tickets too, which always helps.

Address: Station Rd, Bus stop RE, York YO24 1AA

22. Visit the Barbican

York Barbican venues in York - things to do for students
Source: York Barbican

The Barbican is, simply put, an indoor entertainment venue. Whether you enjoy comedy shows, music concerts, or even sports, the Barbican is guaranteed to have something to suit your interests. Located in the city centre, the Barbican is in a prime area for students, only a short bus ride away from the university, making it the perfect venue for a night out with friends.

Address: Paragon St, York YO10 4AH

Other things to do in York as a student

York Market things to do for students in York
Source: York Market Facebook

Go shopping in York

Shopping in York is something every student will want and need to do. Luckily, York has a mix of traditional and modern retail options. The Shambles, one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe, is a must-visit. It’s lined with timber-framed buildings, some dating back to the 14th century, and you can find a range of shops selling everything from handmade chocolates and souvenirs to vintage clothing and artisanal crafts.

Beyond The Shambles, the city centre is home to high street brands and designer boutiques, so you can get all the known brands here.

For those looking for local food or unique gifts, or things to make your dorm room feel less empty and clinical, York Market is the place to go. With its vibrant stalls selling fresh produce, handmade jewellery, and quirky gifts, it’s a treasure trove for shoppers.

Eat, eat and drink and eat more

York’s bars, cafes and restaurants are as diverse as its history. The city has a range of dining options, from traditional Yorkshire pubs serving classic British grub to contemporary restaurants offering loads of international cuisines. The Shambles Market and Food Court is a popular spot for students, where you can find really good street food from around the world.  Or if you’re treating yourself or celebrating, you can try posher places to eat in York like Skosh and The Star Inn the City.

York’s nightlife is equally vibrant, with cosy pubs, trendy bars, and lively clubs. Some of the historic pubs date back to the 16th century while the riverside bars and clubs offer perfect for cocktails and dancing. Whether it’s enjoying a hearty meal or sipping a craft beer, York’s dining and nightlife scene caters to all tastes and preferences. Why not check out our 14 best brunch spots in York to help start your day right?

Find outdoor things to do in York as a student

York’s picturesque landscape offers a variety of outdoor activities. The York Maze, one of the largest mazes in Europe, provides a fun and challenging experience for all ages (yes there are kids there but I can assure you it’s not just for kids). Its intricate pathways and themed gardens create an engaging outdoor adventure. Additionally, the city’s parks, like Rowntree Park and the Museum Gardens, are great for picnics, leisurely walks, and bird watching. These green spaces are perfect for those seeking a break from uni or the city. Whether it’s navigating the twists and turns of a maze or enjoying a peaceful afternoon in a park, York’s outdoor activities are fun and make a nice change of scenery.

Look at what’s on in York

York’s calendar is filled with seasonal events and festivals that show off the city’s heritage and culture. The York Christmas Festival has charming Christmas markets, an ice-skating rink, and festive events. In spring, the York Literature Festival celebrates the written word with author events, workshops, and readings. Summer brings the York Food and Drink Festival, where food lovers can indulge in local and international cuisine, cooking demonstrations, and food-related workshops. The York Early Music Festival is another summer event, featuring concerts, lectures, and workshops focused on medieval, Renaissance, and baroque music. In autumn, the York Ghost Festival delves into the city’s spooky side with ghost walks, talks, and paranormal investigations. It really is a year-round calendar of things to do in York.

Go on a day trip from York

York’s central location makes it an ideal base for exploring the wider region. The North York Moors National Park, with its stunning landscapes of heather moorland, woodlands, and coast, is a short drive away and offers opportunities for hiking, cycling, and wildlife watching. The historic city of Leeds, known for its vibrant arts scene, shopping, and dining, is another great day trip destination.

Or head to the picturesque town of Harrogate, with its elegant gardens, historic buildings, and famous tea rooms, for a more relaxed pace. The coastal towns of Whitby and Scarborough, with their sandy beaches, historic harbours, and seaside attractions, are perfect for a day by the sea. And the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with its rolling hills, quaint villages, and scenic walks, is another must-visit for nature lovers. These day trips from York not only provide a change of scenery but also offer a chance to experience different places in the Yorkshire region.

Tips on how to make the most of living in York

The Perky Peacock York Facebook brunch spots in the city
Source: The Perky Peacock York Facebook

To truly experience York like a local, it’s important to know some insider tips and tricks.

  • First, explore the city on foot or by bike to discover hidden gems and quaint alleyways that are not accessible by car. Visit the local markets, like the Shambles Market, for fresh produce and unique finds.
  • For dining, venture beyond the tourist hotspots and try the local pubs and cafes where residents eat.
  • Take advantage of the free walking tours offered by local guides to learn about the city’s history and culture.
  • Check out the community notice boards or local websites for information on events, festivals, and exhibitions that are off the tourist trail.
  • Visit attractions early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds.
  • For shopping, explore the independent shops and boutiques in the city centre for unique souvenirs and gifts.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with locals, as they are often happy to share their knowledge and recommendations about their city.


These local tips and tricks not only enhance the travel experience but also provide a more authentic and enriching visit to York.

Last Updated on March 15, 2024