How to spend a cheap weekend in York

View of York Minster from the City Walls of York - luxury weekend in York

The historic city of York is one of the most popular places to explore in the UK, and is visited by millions of tourists each year. People come from near and far to see the famous minster, walk down the pretty Shambles, and admire views from the ancient city walls. There’s so much to see and do in York that you’d need at least a week to make a dent in the list, but most visitors come for the weekend, or even just a day, to soak up the vibe.

Sightseeing and eating out can get quite expensive in York, as the city’s popularity hasn’t done anything to keep prices down. If you’re on a budget but still want to experience the best that York has to offer, check out these tips to help you keep an eye on the spending. There’s plenty of fun to be had without spending a king’s ransom!

Walking along York City Walls - luxury weekend in York
York city walls

Visit the free York attractions

You might be surprised to hear that there are actually several attractions in York that you can visit for free. The National Railway Museum is one of the most famous, and no, you don’t need to pay anything to enter. Inside, you’ll learn about the history of Britain’s railways and their impact on industry and society. You can explore some of the old engines and carriages, and check out a whole host of artefacts. There’s even afternoon tea available in the Countess of York carriage, although that does come with a price tag. Well worth it though!

The Mallard at York Railway Museum - luxury weekend in York
The York Railway Museum

Part of the York experience is about wandering down the cobbled streets, absorbing the atmosphere and admiring the architecture. There’s a lot of this to be had in this ancient city! Enjoy a stroll down the picturesque Shambles and see how many Harry Potter themed souvenir shops you can count! For those in the know, this charming alleyway was apparently the inspiration behind Diagon Alley. For superb views, head to the York city walls and walk around the perimeter of the old town – it’s a great way to get your bearings.

Walking down The Shambles in York - luxury weekend in York
The Shambles

If it’s a nice day, you can visit the Museum Gardens which are set beside the photogenic ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. It’s a lovely place for some fresh air, flower spotting and even a picnic. Pop into the abbey while you’re there and see where the monks once lived. Finally, back in the city centre, the York Art Galley has an impressive array of masterpieces on display, by everyone from Hockney to Lowry. As they say, some of the best things in life are free!

Save money on restaurants with a discount card

There’s no question that city breaks are expensive, and York is no exception. You’re eating out all the time, indulging in local restaurant cuisine, taking tours and visiting as many attractions as you can pack into your time away. Because, after all, that’s the reason you’re here! Yet when it comes to meals, you’ll be pleased to know that they don’t need to cost a lot.

Initiatives like tastecard are a great way to save money on all the things you were going to be doing anyway, meaning that you’ll have more to spend on frivolous little holiday luxuries like ice creams. This discount card saves you money on all sorts of things, from restaurants and shopping to cinema tickets and tourist attractions like the York Dungeons. Even if you’re only visiting York for the day, a card like this is a no-brainer.

Refectory Restaurant at The Principal Hotel York
Eating out in York doesn’t have to be expensive

There are lots of York restaurant deals up for grabs with your tastecard, including 2 for 1 meals at Zizzi and Manahatta, and 25% off your bill at places like the Plush Cafe. Reserving a table in advance is highly recommended as they’re popular places. Discounts on drinks at spots like Caffè Nero are also available for when you need your caffeine fix after all that exploring.

Head out of the city for some cheap sightseeing

Whilst York has heaps of incredible attractions, many of them have entrance fees which can rack up when you’re visiting more than just a couple. The good news is that in the beautiful countryside surrounding the city, there are plenty of places where you can enjoy a bit of sightseeing for free.

Byland Abbey is always a good choice, and you can visit it without paying a penny. The ruins of this medieval monastery are very photogenic, and there’s a small museum of artefacts to admire too. Meanwhile, if you fancy a ramble through the glorious Yorkshire countryside, head to the nearby Howardian Hills AONB and explore one of the many hiking routes in the area. Take a picnic and make a day of it!

Byland Abbey in Yorkshire
Byland Abbey

Another option is to take a day trip to Knaresborough, which is a wonderful town for wandering around in the sun. You can walk up to the castle for splendid views over the River Nidd – this is a great vantage point to photograph the picturesque viaduct too. Take a wander along the river to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, and enjoy a stroll around the historic streets searching for the famous ‘Town Windows’ street art. None of that costs a penny, although you might want to fork out for a rowing boat on the river or a scrumptious cream tea at one of the cafes.

Book a hotel away from the historic centre

Accommodation in central York can be very expensive, especially if you’ve opted for one of the historic buildings or luxurious hotel chains. There are some central options that are easier on the purse, but to truly save money, try and book a hotel or guest house that’s a little way out of the old part of town. York is a very walkable city, and you’ll be able to find several affordable places if you’re prepared for a short stroll into the centre. Just bear in mind that parking in York is expensive, and car parks are few and far between, so don’t plan on staying out of town and driving in.

If you would prefer to save money by choosing to stay in accommodation outside of York, this is possible too. There’s a convenient park and ride system in place that will whisk you off into town in no time. Parking is free, and the bus ride doesn’t cost much so it’s a wonderfully cheap way to access York.

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