Car-free adventures aroundYorkNorth Yorkshire

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Nearly two thousand years ago, a Roman legion marching north through England built a fort where two rivers meet; eight centuries later, the Viking army invaded by boat. You still don't need a car to get around history-rich York, the ultimate car-free staycation city with lots to see and do. Besides the cobbled alleys, Victorian tearooms, haunted pubs and unmissable medieval Minster, York has cutting edge art galleries, revamped chocolate factories and interactive ride-through museums. Explore them all on foot, by boat, bus, train or bike. We've added tips for transport and places to stay at the end.

  • County: North Yorkshire
  • Great for: architecture | arts | castle | chocolate | family | history | museums | riverside walks | Shopping | steam train |
  • Refreshments: pubs, cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch:
Country house - York car-free adventures
  1. 3. Visit the world's biggest rail museum

    If you love railways, you’re in the right city! From Stephenson’s rocket to Japanese bullet trains, from model railways to classic station architecture, you can see it all here. Half way between Edinburgh and London, it’s not surprising that York’s railway station should be an important transport hub. Next door, the world’s largest rail museum attracts nearly a million visitors per year and spans three centuries of train-related history. It’s free (although they encourage donations quite actively) and packed with extraordinary exhibits. Follow Good Journey’s directions.

    • The National Railway Museum car park costs £10, which is one good incentive to get there by other means: it’s less than five minutes walk from York Station, fifteen minutes (and signed) from the town centre, or a fun trip on the road train from Duncombe Place near the minster.
    • From York railway station, climb the steps behind the signal-box-café, passing a spectacular clock and walk along the raised bridge over the platforms to emerge behind the station. Go down the steps and follow the fenced path ahead and you’ll soon see the National Railway Museum.
    • Go inside the museum and past the Countess of York carriage-tearoom, to start in the Great Hall with the gleaming Mallard, the world’s fastest ever steam train. Nearby you can admire a Eurostar engine and an early Japanese bullet train.
    • Go back past the main entrance into the Station Hall to see Queen Victoria’s carriage – an ornate “palace on wheels”. Head out into the South Yard to enjoy steam train rides and a miniature railway.
    • You can also take steam train tours from York Station with Grand Yorkshire, puffing through the Yorkshire countryside towards Castle Howard or over the moors to the coast.
    • If you simply want to see one of the trains in action, have a look at the timetable and wander over to the station to catch the locomotive setting off on its journey.
  1. 4. Get the bus to Castle Howard

    Surrounded by the rolling Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, many-roomed Castle Howard has grand interiors and formal gardens to enjoy. You can stroll through the landscaped park, take a boat trip on the lake, or explore the surrounding countryside with views of the baroque mansion, the domed mausoleum and the elegant Temple of the Four Winds. Follow Good Journey’s directions.

    • The CastleLine bus leaves from Station Avenue, near York railway station, every couple of hours, passing through several lovely Yorkshire villages along the way to Castle Howard.
    •  And arriving by bus gets you money off entry. The whole Malton area is great for car-free adventures and you can even take the Coastliner bus all the way to the sea!
    • From the bus stop at Castle Howard, it’s also a very short walk past the obelisk to the Yorkshire Arboretum. The café is open to visitors with or without an entrance ticket and does some seriously good cakes. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • There’s also a farm shop at Castle Howard selling local produce so you can take home edible souvenirs, from Yorkshire crisps to lavender-flavoured goat’s cheese.
  1. 5. City of Chocolate

    From chocolate makers in the heart of the city to the Arts and Crafts home of the Terry family, York has a sweet legacy: the Chocolate Orange, Smarties and other world famous names were all invented in York, which still produces millions of Kitkats every day. The sweet success of local pioneers, like the Rowntree and Terry families, is reflected in the city’s landmarks.

    • You can find out more at the Chocolate Story in King’s Square, and stroll through the nearby picturesque Shambles to Monk Bar Chocolatiers, one of York’s many artisanal chocolate shops.
    • Turn left along Pavement (the first Rowntree store was to the right, where Pizza Hut is now) and right onto Fossgate to visit the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall through an archway next to the Hairy Fig delicatessen. The Company of Merchant Adventurers controlled York’s trade for centuries and still own this fine beamed hall with a great garden café. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Make your way past the hall, up steps onto Piccadilly and turn left. Turn right before the bridge onto a path beside the River Foss. Turn right into Coppergate shopping centre and left at Carluccio’s, past Scoops ice cream kiosk, to find Fairfax House. This elegant Georgian townhouse recreates the grandeur of eighteenth century York with furniture from the Terry family home.
    • On the far side of Fairfax House, on Castlegate, is the York Cocoa Works. This chocolate academy, shop and café is taking forward the city’s luscious legacy on the site of a warehouse that once belonged to Mary Tuke, the independent Quaker woman who started the business that would become Rowntrees of York.
    • Walk back past Clifford’s Tower to the York Castle Museum. Kirkgate, a reconstructed street full of real Victorian shop fronts includes a real sweet shop and a Cocoa Room.
    • Cross over Tower Street to bus stop TE. Hop on regular bus 4 or others to Dringhouses to visit Goddards. This lovely National Trust Arts and Crafts house was once home of the Terry family and has an elegant garden where you can have a cup of tea. Catch any of the frequent buses back into town from near the Cross Keys pub over the road.
  1. Buses, bikes and places to stay

    Here’s a bit more practical info if you’re planning a staycation in York

    • York’s myriad places to stay include several Travelodges, dotted across the city from historic centre to the suburbs. In 2017, Travelodge opened a new 128-roomed flagship Layerthorpe hotel, just east of the city centre near the River Foss. It’s just five minutes’ stroll from the Peaseholme Green steps up onto the city walls and ten minutes’ from the Shambles. There’s a bike repair shop next door, the Red Goat climbing walls across the road, and several local supermarkets. Several direct buses from the railway station stop outside the neighbouring Asda, including the 840 and 843 Coastliner buses, heading through Malton to Scarbrough and Whitby.
    • A short stroll along the walls from Layerthorpe Travelodge, check out Grays Court, York’s oldest inhabited house. If you can’t afford to stay here, you can still have drinks or afternoon tea in the magnificent flowery gardens.
    • If you’re taking several bus rides around the area, there are great value day tickets giving unlimited trips across the city.
    • If the bus journeys are on the same day that you arrive by train, get a bargain PlusBus ticket for unlimited bus rides around the whole urban area. The buses covered could take you as far as Haxby (lovely five-mile walk back along the River Foss from there into the city), to Goddards House, which once belonged to the Terry family of chocolate fame, or to the Yorkshire Air Museum in a former RAF bomber command station in Elvington.
    • You can no longer hire bikes from Cycle Heaven at York station, but you can get your own bike repaired there. They also have a huge branch, open every day, in Fulford, North Yorkshire’s largest cycle store and café.
  • Steam train - York car-free adventures
  • Castle Howard - York car-free adventures
  • Yorkshire Arboretum - York car-free adventures
  • York chocolate story - York car-free adventures
  • Country house - York car-free adventures
  • Leather chair in cafe - York car-free adventures