Visiting a heritage site provides a pleasant family day out and can fit well with current advice to travel more locally. Many of the major sites have special activities for children and some have play areas.
Nearly all the most interesting sites in the UK are under the stewardship of English Heritage, Historic Houses or the National Trust.
You can choose to pay each time you visit a separate site but, at anything up to £50 or more for family entry, this can prove expensive. If you plan to visit three or more a year then it is probably better value to purchase annual membership which is offered by all three of these organisations.
However annual membership can cost £100 or more for a family, so if you want to join just one of these heritage organisations, which one should it be?
Audley End House, Saffron Walden - English Heritage
This government sponsored public body with a remit to manage the historic environment of England, owns over 400 sites. Many are ancient ruins, such as Stonehenge, Whitby Abbey (of Dracula fame) and Housesteads Roman Fort along Hadrian’s Wall. Sometimes ruined buildings are surrounded by superb landscaped gardens as with Witley Court in Worcestershire.
English Heritage has about 50 stately homes with gardens and parkland such as Audley End in Essex, Brodsworth Hall in West Yorkshire and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Annual membership currently costs £63 a year for an individual and £109 for a couple, but a great bonus for families is that you can take up to 6 children under 19 years old with you free of charge.
Your English Heritage membership gets you discounted entrance to properties under the stewardship of Historic Environment Scotland, CADW (Wales) and Manx National Heritage. During your first year of membership entrance is at half price and subsequently free of charge.
* Special Offer: For 15% discount on annual and gift membership, click on English Heritage and enter code EH2020 at checkout.
*** English Heritage Membership are extending the 15% off voucher code for an additional month! Enjoy precious family time at a range of beautiful spots around the UK. Simply continue using code ‘EH2020‘ at checkout to redeem 15% off Gift & Annual memberships. Code will now expire 31st August 2020. – JOIN NOW ***
Culzean Castle is a castle, near Maybole, Carrick - National Trust Scotland
This charity works to preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It owns over 200 historic stately homes, many with fine gardens and extensive parklands, such as Osterley House in London, Belton House in Lincolnshire and Cragside in Northumberland.
National Trust also has stewardship over 1,000 square miles of coastline and countryside, including large tracts in the Lake District and Peak District. Recently it has broadened its activities to include historic mills and Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s childhood homes.
Your National Trust membership gives you free entry to all National Trust for Scotland sites including 26 castles and palaces, 16 islands and many fine gardens.
Annual membership is currently £72 for an individual and £120 for a couple. For an extra £6 you can include children under 18 (children under 5 are free anyway).
*Special Offer: To receive free binoculars with annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, click on National Trust.
Burton Agnes Hall - Historic Houses
is a non-profit organisation representing more than 1,600 privately owned historic houses, castles and gardens in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island. Some of the finest stately homes in the UK come under its umbrella.
More than 300 of these sites are free to visit for members of Historic Houses, including Sandringham in Norfolk, Longleat House in Wiltshire, Burton Agnes Hall and Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and Blair Castle in Perthshire. For a few sites only gardens and parkland are free to members.
Individual membership is currently £56 a year, joint membership is £89 a year and child membership (3-16 years) is £25 a year per child.
* Special Offer: If you click on Historic Houses and then enter our unique code STEW10 at ‘Add discount code’, you will receive a £10 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.
Brodsworth Hall - English Heritage
Which to Join for Families?
English Heritage is the least expensive for annual membership for one or two parent families (particularly if you take up our special 15% discount offer). So if you like a mix of ancient ruins and castles along with a few stately homes and gardens, then this is the best choice of the three heritage organisations.
If you particularly enjoy visiting stately homes and their gardens, then Historic Houses comes out on top on the basis of the number of top class properties available, with the National Trust a little way behind.
However if you wish to include two or more children, then the National Trust is the cheaper option of the two (even taking into account our special £10 discount for Historic Houses), and in addition you will have access to hundreds of other heritage sites including industrial monuments and social history properties, plus coastline and countryside sites.
You could of course change between the three heritage organisations every few years or so (as I do), or, if you and your family are a heritage fanatics, you could join all three!