We often get asked questions about this so we thought we’d make our latest blog post a quick summary of the heritage passes that we think are the most useful on a trip to the UK!
We are very lucky to have such a vast number of historic and cultural sites to visit but, as they are often managed by different organisations, it is difficult to get a pass that covers everywhere you are likely to stop. That said, some passes can work out to be really good value. They are also good if you like the idea of stopping at a few lesser known sites as you pass them without having to think about whether the cost is worth it for a quick stop (maps come with the passes, and are available on the websites, to show where different sites are located, so you can see where would be easy to detour to).
Here’s our pick of the passes (and links to each pass can be found at the bottom of the page).
National Trust Overseas Pass
We love the National Trust and think they do a fantastic job of caring for our historic places. They have plenty of informative displays, helpful staff and are very good at making the properties interesting and accessible for the whole family. In their care is everything from historic houses, castles, gardens and parklands to film locations and the homes of famous artists, authors, politicians and aristocracy. If you purchase a pass, it will be stamped with the date when you pick it up from your first property. You’re then free to visit as many properties as you like for the following 7 or 14 days.
Over 300 houses and gardens across England and Wales are included with the pass and some of the highlights include: St Michael's Mount in Cornwall; Avebury, Lacock Abbey and Stourhead in Wiltshire; Bodiam Castle in Sussex; Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire; Sizergh Castle and Hill Top in Cumnbria; and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in North Yorkshire.
There are three categories of pass to choose from – Admit one (£33 for a 7-day pass, or £38 for a 14-day pass), Admit two (£58 / £69) or Admit family (£64 / £81 – which covers two adults and any children under 18, children under five go free).
If you are visiting from the USA, it is worth looking at joining the Royal Oak Foundation, which is an affiliate of the National Trust and based in the US. Membership provides a number of benefits, including free access to all National Trust properties (as well as those properties in Scotland operated by the National Trust for Scotland).
English Heritage Explorer Pass
The English Heritage is, along with the National Trust, the major heritage organisation in England. They do a wonderful job of making the history come to life. The mange a lot of our castle, but the collection included historic sites and artefacts which span six millennia, from the ancient past to the present day and include palaces, houses, hill figures, abbeys, industrial sites, Roman forts and even deserted medieval villages.
You can visit over 100 places with the pass including the 1066 Battle of Hasting battlefield, Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle, Middelham Castle, Richmond Castle, Helmsley Castle, Whitby Abbey and Housesteads Roman Fort.
Here you choose a 9 day pass or a 16 day pass and, as with the National Trust Pass, there are three categories of pass to choose from – Admit one (£37 for a 9 day pass, or £44 for a 16 day pass), Admit two (£64 / £74) or Admit family (£69 / £79 – which covers two adults and up to 4 children under 18).
Historic Scotland Explorer Pass
The Explorer Pass gives you access to Historic Scotland’s attractions (please note that this a different organisation to the National Trust for Scotland!) and can be a great value way to discover Scotland's history. Among the places to visit are world-famous attractions including Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart castles and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Explorer Passes are available for either 3, 7 or 14 consecutive days to suit the length of your stay.
For the three different lengths of pass, current prices are £33 / £40 / £45 for one adult and £66 / £80 / £90 for a family pass (which covers two adults and up to 3 children under 16).
If you are spending some time in Wales, this can be a great option, and covers over 100 of Wales’ impressive castles, abbeys and historic sites. Popular attractions include Caernarfon Castle, Caerphilly Castle, Tintern Abbey and Conwy Castle.
A 3-day pass can be used in any 7 day period and the 7-day pass in any 14 days. They are sold as either single adult (£23.10 / £33.60), two adults (£35.70 / £53.55) or family passes (£47.25 / £65.10 – which covers two adults and up to 3 children under 18).
If you are visiting London, one ticket worth considering is the ‘London Pass’ - this is a ticket that gives you access to a number of attractions (including the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hop-on Hop-off bus tour, The Globe and Westminster Abbey) and gives ‘fast-track’ entry to several attractions, which can be very useful. If you think you will want to visit several of the included attractions, it can work out to be good value (although it is worth looking carefully at where you would like to visit, as you need to visit a few of the more expensive attractions to make it good value). Passes are available for 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 days, and costs start from £75.
International National Trust Organisations
It is also worth noting that there are reciprocal arrangements in place between heritage organisations that are part of the ‘International National Trusts Organisations’ and the National Trusts in England and Scotland, meaning that if you are a member of the National Trust in your own country, you may automatically get free or discounted entry into National Trust properties in Britain. This tends to be particularly relevant to customers travelling from Australia and New Zealand, but several over countries are covered so it is worth checking with your own organisation at home before you travel.
If you want help planning a self-drive trip around Britain to make sure you get to see plenty of these amazing historic sites, please do not hesitate to get in touch.