York is a great place to visit. However paying for your hotel, entrance to attractions, drinks and a couple of meals out can burn a sizeable hole in your wallet. If you’re visiting York on a budget we’ve put together a little guide on how you can save some money and still have good time whilst you’re here.
Getting to York Cheaply
The cheapest way to get to York on public transport is on the Megabus. Initially just a London to York route, they have recently joined up their network and you can get to York from a wide selection of UK towns and cities.
You don’t get many choices as to what time you travel, however the prices are unbelievably cheap. Advance tickets can be as little as £3, and even if you book only a day before the prices are still very reasonable (I’ve just had a look online and I can still get a ticket on a bus to London tomorrow for just £15).
Split Train Tickets
If you don’t manage to get a good deal by booking ahead, buying train tickets on the day can be an incredibly expensive business.
If you’re buying a ticket over the counter at a station be sure to ask (very politely!) whether splitting the journey would be cheaper. One of the peculiarities of the British rail network is that buying a direct ticket is sometimes a lot more expensive than breaking the journey up and buying two or more tickets.
So for example, a while back I travelled from York to Birmingham with three tickets: York to Sheffield, Sheffield to Derby and Derby to Birmingham New Street. This was considerably cheaper than paying the full fare for a single ticket.
This is known as Split Ticketing and is perfectly legal. You don’t have to change trains, you just need to show the correct ticket to the inspector. Money Saving Expert have – rather helpfully – created this Tickety Split Tool that allows you to see if a cheaper split ticket deal is available online.
Cheap Places to Stay in York
There is plenty of healthy competition between York’s numerous hotels, however the prices can still seem quite high compared with other UK cities. Like buying train tickets, it pays to start looking a couple of months before you visit.
Out of season or in the middle of the week, the prices are definitely cheaper and York is actually (in my opinion!) a better place to visit. The streets, shops and pubs are less crowded, and you can walk straight into most of the city’s attractions without queueing.
If you’re travelling as a group it might work out cheaper overall to book an apartment rather than hotel. Not only will the overall cost be less, you have the option to cook your own meals and save money that way too.
Staying in one of York’s Youth Hostels also might save you a few extra pennies, most have both dormitory as well as individual rooms – although the latter are often similar in price to books a cheap hotel. Like an apartment, in a hostel you get the added bonus of kitchen facilities so you can make your own food.
Cheap Things To Do
Easily the best free thing to do in York is visiting the National Railway Museum. The biggest museum in Britain, the NRM has a vast collection of locomotives, rolling stock and rail-related memorabilia. Not only is there no entrance free, there are multiple picnic areas where you can eat food you’ve brought with you.
Another nice free thing you can do is walk the entire length of the City Walls. Not only do you get some lovely views of some of York’s most famous landmarks – it’s also a great way to tire out boisterous young ‘uns.
The Castle Museum (pictured below) offers great value for money if you’re visiting York with kids. Up to four under-16s are entitled to free admission with just one paying adult – an absolute bargain. The main part of the museum is a life-size recreation of a Victorian cobbled street, complete with shops, schoolroom and police cell, however there are also other exhibitions on life in 1960s and the Great War.
If you’re planning on doing some serious sightseeing then buying a York Pass will save you money on entrance to almost all of York’s attractions. The pass is available as a one, two or three day ticket and once purchased can be collected from the tourist information office in the city centre.
York is an interesting place to wander about and has some more unusual shops that you wouldn’t find on your typical high street. But be warned – whilst technically free, window shopping can turn expensive all too quickly and become a spending spree. If your husband is a notoriously bad shopper you can always send him to the pub with a paper on a Sunday morning whilst you have a nosy around.
After a busy Saturday sightseeing and shopping you might want to wind down a bit on a Sunday. A stroll along the river post- or pre-lunch makes for a very pleasant hour or so.
You can walk out of the city centre along The Ouse, cross at Millenium Bridge and head back into town on the other side. You’ll pass Rowntree Park on the way which has a very pleasant cafe, and there are usually numerous opportunities to buy an ice-cream – including from a boat moored up at the river bank.
If you’re staying in a hostel or an apartment you can take advantage of their kitchen facilities and cook your own meals. There are two Sainsbury’s Locals and three Tesco Express stores within the city walls and a larger Sainsbury’s supermarket just outside of Monkbar. The prices of these city centre convenience stores are a little steeper than in you’re average supermarket, however buying your own food is still a lot cheaper than eating out.
Making a few sandwiches – or even buying some ready made ones – is a cheap option for lunch. If you’re looking for somewhere nice to enjoy a picnic, the Museum Gardens around the Yorkshire Museum are a lovely spot as is Dean’s Park – the green space behind York Minster.
Although some people are snobby about the Wetherspoons chain, you can get a decent enough meal and a drink for around £5 or £6. There are two Wetherspoons pubs in York – The Punchbowl at the top end of Micklegate and Postern Gate round the corner from Clifford’s Tower.
There are also some good deals on eating in restaurants if you keep you’re eyes peeled for an offer. Mondays is great day for a bargain with Kennedy’s, Revolution and The Slug and Lettuce all offering a massive 50% off your food bill.
It tends to be in pubs and bars rather than dedicated restaurants that you get the best deals. Although they won’t be winning any Michelin stars, places like The Hole in The Wall and The Lowther run offers through the week – two-for-one curries, deals on fish and chips etc.
Another way of getting money off when eating out is to get hold of a Tastecard. It’s basically a membership scheme that gets you deals in selected restaurants across the country – either 50% off your food bill or 2-4-1 on mains. If you eat out reasonably regularly the card will quickly pay for itself.
If you’re visiting York from the South-East you probably won’t think that prices in the city centre are too unreasonable. I’m sure I will get used to it, but I still flinch when charged over £4 for very average European lager.
For reasonably priced drinks Wetherspoons is always a good option, as is The Windmill Inn just beyond Micklegate Bar, and 128 Micklegate a hundred yards away. Although their beer is not to everyone’s tastes, Sam Smith’s pubs are renowned for their cheap prices. There are two in the city centre – The Burns Hotel (formerly The Hansom Cab) and The York Arms – and others are scattered across York.
Quite a few places have cocktail and wine/fizz offers running through the week, including both Slug & Lettuce’s, All Bar One, The Graduate and Lendal Cellars – and most of these have 2-4-1 offers that run on a Friday and Saturday. Lucia’s also do some good deals through the week on wine and cocktails – plus you can stay there to eat as well.
Of an evening there is plenty of free music in pubs and bars across the city. You’ll have to pay for a couple of drinks, but there’s no entry charge. If you have a bit of musical talent there are open mic nights that offer a free drink in exchange for a song.
York also now has a free Comedy Night one night a month at the Duke of York. For everything that’s going on in York of an evening check out our Full Listings page.