If you are interested in visiting stately homes in the UK, then taking up annual membership of either Historic Houses or the National Trust is well worth considering. Each of these heritage organisations gives free entry to over 200 stately homes and gardens (far more than the 50 or so with English Heritage).
You can of course choose to pay each time you visit a separate property but, at anything up to £20 per person, this can prove expensive.
If you plan to visit four sites or more per year then it is better value to purchase annual membership.
However this can cost £50-100 or more. So, if you only want to join just one of these two organisations, which one should it be?
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.
More than 300 of these sites are free to visit for members of Historic Houses, although in four cases (Blenheim Palace Park, Castle Howard, Harewood House and Hever Castle), only one visit is permitted per calendar year. For some sites only gardens are open to members.
Most properties are typically open from March to October, although about 60 are open throughout the year. This is similar to the National Trust and English Heritage, see: English Heritage and National Trust – Winter Openings.
Individual annual membership is £56 a year, joint membership is £89 a year and child membership (3-16 years) is £25 a year. There are no senior discounts.
However if you click on Historic Houses and then enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’, you will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.
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 Belton House, Lyme Park and Cragside. Members also have free access to National Trust for Scotland sites.
National Trust also has stewardship over 1,000 square miles of 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.
Annual membership is currently £72 for an individual and £120 for a couple. For an extra £6 you can include children (and grandchildren) under 18 (children under 5 are free anyway). Senior discounts are only available to someone over 60 who has been a member for at least 5 years out of the last 10.
If you take out annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, then you will receive a free set of binoculars. Click on National Trust to take up this offer.
If you are over 60, then you could join the National Trust for Scotland and save about 20% on their standard adult membership, whilst still being able to access all National Trust sites.
Which to Join?
In conclusion, if you particularly enjoy visiting stately homes and gardens and normally don’t have any children with you, then Historic Houses comes out on top on basis of cost and the number of top class properties available to visit.
On the other hand, if you often have children/grandchildren in tow, then National Trust becomes the better buy charging only an extra £6 to include several children, rather than Historic Houses’ £25 per child.
Also membership of National Trust gives access to hundreds of other sites including industrial monuments and social history properties, plus coastline and countryside sites. So if these are also of interest to you then the National Trust might be your choice.
You could of course change between the two every few years or so – as I do. Alternatively, if you are a stately homes fanatic, you could join both!