The Locals’ Guide to free things to do in Harrogate in the summer holidays

As the summer holidays begin, those six long weeks stretching out ahead of you can feel a bit empty. Keeping the kids occupied without spending a fortune is something that many parents struggle with every year.

Fear not! The Locals’ Guide to free things to do in Harrogate during the summer holidays is here! We have compiled a handy guide to free places to visit with all the family within easy reach of Harrogate. You can visit all of these without paying anything for admission, though many have extra activities and options if you want to take advantage of them.

If you visit any of these places, or have suggestions of other free things to do in Harrogate, we’d love to hear from you! Just leave your comment at the end of the post.

Brimham Rocks

These other-worldly balancing rock formations in moorland near Pateley Bridge are completely awe-inspiring – and they’re also great for scrambling over and climbing! There are several paths winding through the landscape, and magnificent views across Nidderdale and beyond.

Children can have hours of fun exploring the rocks and guessing their funny names (there’s the Dancing Bear, The Eagle and The Gorilla, among others). Parents need to keep an eye on the kids at all times, though, as some places have a steep drop from the rocks.

Visitors sitting at Brimham Rocks, Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. Free things to do in Harrogate in the summer holidays

A house on the site contains an exhibition about the rocks and a shop selling Yorkshire products. Nearby is a kiosk with a range of hot and cold drinks, treats and snacks, as well as Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream. There’s also a large area with picnic tables and benches. Owned by the National Trust, Brimham Rocks has free entry, although you have to pay for parking if you’re not an NT member. There are various events taking place at the site over the summer. For more details click here.


Valley Gardens

This may be a well-known family venue in Harrogate but it’s still worth a mention because it really does provide a great day out. The park covers a 17-acre site which is Grade II listed by English Heritage. It’s a joy to walk through at all times of year but is particularly resplendent during the summer, when all the flowers are in full bloom. There’s also the Art Deco-style Sun Pavilion and bandstand, where concerts are performed on Sunday afternoons from June to the end of August. Between the two buildings is a stretch of grass which is perfect for a picnic and a dance!

For refreshments, there’s a café and ice cream stand where you can take a break and watch the miniature boats on the boating pool. But the big attraction for families is at the top end of the gardens, where there is a superb children’s playground, a skate park, crazy golf and tennis courts (the latter two available to use for a small fee). Further up the hill, you can also try your hand at disc golf or the more traditional pitch and putt course, with equipment available to hire from the hut near the entrance to the playground.

The playground itself features a range of equipment for all ages, from swings and climbing frames to a huge wooden fort and a zip wire. A kiosk on the site sells drinks and ice cream and there are lots of picnic benches for mums and dads to sit at. There’s also the added bonus of a paddling pool during the summer months. The skate park is suitable for BMXs, skateboards and scooters, and is always thronging with youngsters showing off their skills.

Looking for free things to do in Harrogate with the family? The Valley Gardens is the best place to start - right in the heart of Harrogate!

There’s enough to do at the Valley Gardens to keep families happy for most of the day – and it’s free. You don’t even need to pay for parking as the gardens are surrounded by disc zones. If you’re not from the area, pick up a disc from the nearby Tourist Information Centre and display it in your windscreen to park free for up to three hours in designated areas.


National Railway Museum

Celebrating all things rail-related, this York museum is a perennial favourite with families – not least because it’s free to visit. It is open daily throughout the summer and has plenty of fun, interactive elements to keep children of all ages occupied. It has regular exhibitions and events, so even if you’ve visited before, there’s always something new to see. This summer, learn more about the First World War ambulance trains, or go for a ride on the miniature railway in the yard (£3 per ticket).

If you are running out of free things to do in Harrgate, consider a trip to York where the National Railway Museum is a great day out!

Throughout the day, there are talks and demonstrations on everything from royal carriages to how steam engines work, with storytime for younger visitors too. No matter what age you are, you’ll love getting the chance to hop in and out of steam locomotive cabs, enjoy the Mallard simulator taking you back to the famous train’s record-breaking run in 1938, or stopping for a bite to eat in the four different dining venues in the museum – including a Victorian-style dining car.

Close to York Railway Station, arriving by train (with a direct service from Harrogate) is the obvious option. If you’re enjoying a day out in York, you can catch the land train from outside York Minster for £2 per adult and £1 per child, or there is a car park opposite the museum if you go by car.


Knaresborough Castle

The ruins of Knaresborough Castle are a beautiful sight on a summer’s day, and there’s plenty to keep the whole family happy around the grounds too. Originally built around 1100, the castle had an interesting history until its destruction following the civil war in the 17th century. There is a museum attached to the ruins, with entry £3.40 for adults and £1.90 for children if you want to learn more.

Within the grounds of the castle, you’ll find a bowling green and a putting course which are both fairly low-cost. Close by is one of Knaresborough’s hidden gems, Bebra Gardens, which is a great spot for a walk or a picnic and also offers a paddling pool, ideal for cooling off on a hot day.

Knaresborough Castle has views to the beautiful viaduct if you're looking for free things to do in Harrogate

From the castle grounds and Bebra Gardens, the views of Knaresborough riverside are stunning, and there are lots of paths to help you explore more of the area. From riverside cafes to boat hire, you can find lots to do every day of the week – and don’t forget to take some time to look around Knaresborough and visit its great independent shops and eatieries too.


Bilton to Ripley Cycleway

Forming part of the Nidderdale Greenway, this former railway route has recently been converted into a fantastic path for walkers and cyclists. It begins in Harrogate itself and is quickly out in quiet countryside, surrounded by trees and wildlife.

Four miles later, you’ll find yourself in the pretty village of Ripley, which itself has plenty of attractions. Look around the local buildings, visit Ripley Castle, or stroll further out along the nearby paths. There’s a great village shop and a butcher, and no visit to Ripley would be complete without trying a World Famous Ripley Ice Cream.

Cycling on the Bilton to Ripley path is one of the great free things to do in Harrogate!

If you want to get out and about a bit more, tourism organisation Visit Harrogate has a list of local walks. It’s a great way to explore more of the Harrogate area throughout the summer.

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