Membership schemes giving free admission to UK properties

There are several membership schemes which, for a yearly payment, give you unlimited free visits to properties in the scheme. Membership may sound expensive but quickly repays itself if you are intending to visit more than 5 or 6 properties during a year.

It is also worth taking membership cards abroad on holiday as some countries also have reciprocal arrangements.

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Belton House by Wehha (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia CommonsNational Trust

Yearly membership gives free admission to all the historic houses and gardens, industrial monuments and social history sites owned by the National Trust in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Members also get free parking in all Trust car parks. It owns places like Penrhyn Castle in Wales, Mount Stewart House in Northern Ireland as well as Little Morton Hall, Hardwick Hall, Castle Drogo, Lindisfarne Castle, Knowle House and Igtham Mote. It also owns the Beatles houses as well as Back to Backs in Birmingham. Industrial sites include Quarry bank Mill, Dolaucothi Gold Mines as well as the Levant Mine and beam engine. For social history, there is Southwell Workhouse, the Back to Backs in Birmingham and Mr Straw’s House. Gardens in Trust ownership include Stowe Landscape Gardens, Hidcote Gardens, Sissinghurst Castle.

The Trust is one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom. It has extensive land holdings in Cumbria, Peak District National Park, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. It also owns beauty spots like Box hill. Operation Neptune allowed it to buy over 700 miles of coastline threatened with development.

The National Trust has reciprocal arrangements with the National Trust for Scotland, Manx Heritage and fourteen different countries. More information.

There are no discounts for seniors at Trust properties, although Members aged 60 or over who have been members for at least five years, can get yearly reduced senior membership. More information.

Craigievar Castle by Richard Slessor (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Wikimedia CommonsNational Trust for Scotland

This performs a similar function to the National Trust. It has a range of heritage properties including Gladstone’s Land and the Georgian House in Edinbugh. There are castles like Culzean, Broderick and Falkland Palace, as well as smaller stately homes like Crathes Castle and the Hill House. It owns several properties in the Royal Borough of Culross. Industrial properties include Robert Smail Printing works, Preston Mill and Phantassie dove cot. Gardens include Threave Castle Gardens, Inverewe and and Pitmeddan. It also has extensive land holdings on Ben Laws, Mar Lodge Estate, Corrieshalloch Gorge, The Hermitage, Glencoe and St Abb’s Head.

The National Trust for Scotland has reciprocal arrangements with the National Trust and organisations in many other countries. More information.

Membership is cheaper than National Trust and is cheaper still if paying by Direct debit. More information.

StonehengeEnglish Heritage

English heritage has over 400 properties throughout England. It owns prehistoric sites like Stonehenge and Grimes Graves flint mines as well as large stretches of Hadrian’s Wall and its associated forts at Chesters, Corbridge and Housesteads. Reculver towers are built on a Roman fort as are Bowes and Brough Castles. Other castles include Dover, Framlingham, Bolsover, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth. Ruined Abbeys include Rievaulx, Buildwas, and Thornton. Then there are places like Audley End. More information

English Heritage also offers members concessions on other attractions. Up to six children children get free entry with each adult member. In the first year, English Heritage member get half price entry to Historic Scotland, Cadw and Manx Heritage Sites. From the second year, entry is free. Members get free admission to OPW Heritage Ireland from the first year and also new Zealand Historic Places Trust. Membership information

Edinburgh CastleHistoric Scotland

Historic Scotland is responsible for heritage properties in Scotland. This includes the prehistoric remains on Orkney including at SKara Brae . Maeshow and Ring of Brodgar. There are brochs at Mousa, Dun Carloway and Glen Elg. There are collections of carved Pictish stones in the museums at Meigle and St Vigeans as well as free standing stones at Aberlemno and Sueno’s stone in Forres. Ruined castles include Huntly, Threave, Cardoness, Edzell, St Andrew’s, Urquhart and Dunstaffnage. There are the great Border Abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh and Dryburgh, as well as Iona. There is Dallas Ddu Distillery and Fort George, as well as Edinburgh and Stirling Castles.

Members get 20% reduction on all purchases in Historic Scotland Gift shops and this includes post cards as well as guide books. There is half price entry to English heritage, Cadw and Isle of Man in the first year and free entry from the second year. It is cheaper to pay by direct debit. More information.

Caernarfon CastleCadw

Cadw is Welsh for 'to keep' is the guardian for heritage properties in Wales. These include the great Edwardian castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech, as well as smaller castles like Criccieth, Ewloe, Dolwddelan and Castell de Bere in the north. In the south are Cheptstow, Raglan, Caerphilly, Carreg Cennen and Castell Coch. It also owns Roman remains like the walls at Caerwent and Carleon amphitheatre. There are the ruined abbeys of Strata Florida, Bassingwerk, Valle Crucis and Cymer. There is Penmon Priory and the Bishop’s Palace in St Davids. The museum at Margham has a fine collection of carved Celtic stones.

Membership includes 5% off purchases over £5 in Cadw’s gift shops. Members get half price entry to English Heritage, historic Scotland and Manx Heritage properties in the first year and free entry from the second year. More information.

Ilmington Manor by AJD / Ilmington Manor via Wikimedia CommonsHistoric Houses Association

HHA is an organisation of owners of stately homes and gardens. All the properties are still lived in and have a completely different feel to National Trust properties. The public can join as a Friend and this gives access to some of the best known stately homes in the country, including Beaulieu, Blenheim Palace, Burghley House, Castle Howard and Woburn Abbey. There are also places like Haddon Hall, Abbotsford and Berkeley Castle as well as many smaller and less visited properties. Many are well loved family homes and there may be knitting and other personal items left lying around. In some of the smaller less visited places like Shipton Hall and you may be taken round by the owners. All are very different and all worth visiting. Friends also get free admission to splendid gardens like Drummond Castle, Painshill Landscaped Garden as well as Brynbella Gardens which is only open to Friends. More information.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 4 Comment(s)

  • LH
    about 6 years ago
    I am a life member of the National Trust and make good use of my membership, but I like to try out different memberships in different years so was a member of English Heritage recently, RHS as I wanted to go to Chelsea on a quieter day, Woodland Trust, RSPB, Butterflies, Wildlife and Wetland Trust are other memberships I have tried on some previous years as then you visit different places in the year. I am currently a member of HHA and that also gives you the opportunity to visit houses in an HHA group which are not normally open to the public, but you do have to pay extra for these visits which often include lunch or tea.
  • supernanny4
    about 6 years ago
    As well as National Trust membership, I am also a member of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society), the Art Fund and the RSPB. These 4 memberships cover quite a large number of place and I feel I am doing my bit to support charities. The article was interesting and informative.
  • Ian.Waugh
    about 6 years ago
    We took out joint annual membership of Historic Scotland (nicknamed Hysterical Scotland by some) - which also allowed our two grandchildren free entry - some years ago (after moving back 'home' north of the border). Have enjoyed many Scottish attractions and also - as stated in the article - free entry to a number of English Heritage sites when visiting the south... We were first put onto Historical Scotland by our neighbours in Essex, who told us they'd joined when on holiday, and had chosen annual membership of the Scotland version because, for a lower annual fee, they'd get their free English site entry from year two onwards. So it's not only we Scots who are a bit canny with our pennies :-)
    Ian W
  • yorkshirecat
    about 6 years ago
    A very useful and informative article, thank you. I am a National Trust Member but had not realised I could use my card in some other countries. I am also a member of the RSPB and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust which, for a small monthly fee provide me with free parking and access to some delightful nature reserves and free or discounted attendance at organised events, walks and workshops. All very good value for a keen photographer, birdwatcher and naturalist.